An address on West 22nd Street in the Heights sounds like it would be hard to miss, but even six months into living in the neighborhood, I'd somehow never driven by Kraftsmen Café. I only learned that the artisan bakery served dinner when I tried chef-owner Scott Tycer's excellent pork belly and risotto dish at Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair last month. The onetime enfant terrible chef cut his teeth at ambitious fine dining restaurants Aries and Gravitas, but today, he's best known for loaves and pastries made from wholesome, sustainable ingredients.
On Friday evening, I found that the same care that goes into the breads served by many of Houston's top restaurants is also present on the food menu. Breakfast and lunch hint at that quality—not everyone offers raclette and house smoked brisket as breakfast taco options—but dinner, served Thursday through Saturday, is where Tycer returns to a homey version of his former glories.
The 19th century textile mill that houses the bakery was empty when I arrived except for one gentleman getting coffee. The emptiness amplified the spacious, Brooklyn-esque warehouse feel of the place. And it meant that I alone got to enjoy a basket of warm, cornmeal-pressed English muffins while I decided whether I'd order the fried chicken or burger with fried pickles, the chimichurri lamb shank or the smoked pork chop. Ultimately, I went with my server's recommendation, an appropriately bready selection for my surroundings.
Enclosed in buttery shortcrust, the chicken pot pie was just the right comfort for a relaxed night in my 'hood. Creamy sauce speckled with herbs blanketed big chunks of chicken, along with tender carrots, green beans and corn. I got double the veggies, thanks to a light, bright side salad. Not enough restaurants make chicken pot pie from scratch, fewer still surround the filling with crust on all sides, and almost none get all the elements right. Kraftsmen does.
Strangely for a bakery, only one of the desserts listed on the menu was available the evening I dined at Kraftsmen. Luckily, it was the one I was already planning to order. I didn't expect to finish the baseball-sized cube of malleable bread-and-custard fusion, but as the powerfully vanilla-flavored ice cream melted against the warm edifice of the dessert, I felt compelled to clean the plate. And now, the desire to return is equally strong. There's a plate of handmade pasta calling my name.