A ‘grand slam’ burger at Craft Public House sports pub

CorrespondentApril 3, 2014 

  • Craft Public House

    1040-601 Tryon Village Drive, Cary


    Cuisine: American

    Rating:* *  1/2

    Prices: $$-$$$

    Atmosphere: family-friendly sports pub

    Noise level: moderate to high

    Service: uniformly friendly, generally attentive

    Recommended: burger, fish and chips

    Open: Lunch and dinner daily

    Reservations: accepted for parties of 20 or more; call-ahead seating available

    Other: full bar; accommodates children; limited vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.

    The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: * * * * *  Extraordinary

    * * * *  Excellent. * * *  Above average. * * Average. *  Fair.

    The dollar signs defined:$ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.

Just inside the entrance to Craft Public House, a partition wall behind the host stand bristles with a display of 36 draft beer tap handles. A sort of trophy case of brews that have seen time in rotation behind the bar, the collection is dominated by the names of local brewers: Aviator, Big Boss, Triangle, Duck Rabbit.

You’ll find a dozen more of those handles in current use behind the bar – a modest number by modern pub standards, though the quality and variety of the selection is more than sufficient to justify the “Craft” in the restaurant’s name.

But if you’re thinking that “Public House” implies a cozy Old World atmosphere, think again. “Sports Pub” seems a more suitable description for Craft, whose most salient decor feature is the unbroken line of TV screens that ring the large, open dining room and bar.

The menu looks pretty much like your standard sports pub offering, too, covering all the usual bases from nachos and wings to burgers and fish and chips. Even the handful of listings such as three-cheese arancini, chianti-braised short ribs and the like aren’t out of line with what you’d expect to see on a modern pub menu.

The kitchen’s batting average is solid, with near misses just frequent enough to earn Craft a spot squarely in the middle of the sports pub lineup. Occasionally, it manages to surprise you with a home run.

Fish and chips, for one, feature beer-battered cod filets that come as close to the traditional chip-shop ideal as you’ll find in these parts. So close, in fact, that even a purist will happily overlook the fact that the “chips” are not the traditional thick-cut British version, but French fries. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the fries are house-cut and quite good in their own right.

The starter list delivers a surprising hit in the form of house-baked pretzels. Served warm with hot mustard dip in ample portion for sharing, they’re refreshing in their simplicity and a fine nibbling companion for one of those craft beers.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a positively baroque presentation of drunken pork nachos serves up a plate-eclipsing pile of warm tortilla chips topped with succulent shreds of beer-braised pork, caramelized onions and gooey melted cheese. If only they’d stop there, instead of gilding the lily with a zealous spattering of a cloying barbecue sauce.

Buffalo wings, another pub staple, come a little closer to the mark. They’re jumbo and juicy, though the skins could sometimes be more crisp.

Pizzas have become another obligatory pub stable, and the Craft kitchen turns out a respectable rendition with a light, bready crust and a wide assortment of topping options. It won’t take the place of the pies you get at your favorite pizzeria, but it scores a solid hit by pub standards.

If Craft’s fish and chips are a home run, their burger is a grand slam. Made with 8 ounces of local grass-fed, dry-aged beef, ground fresh and grilled to order, it’s served on a house-baked pretzel roll or butter-toasted bun.

The burger comes standard with lettuce, tomato, Muenster cheese and roasted garlic aioli for $10. That’s a bargain, given the premium cost of dry-aged beef – not to mention the fact that the price includes a side (house-cut fries, sweet potato fries, steamed broccoli or salad). Optional toppings – thick-cut bacon, avocado, house-made chili – add $1.50 each to the tab.

I opted for the no-frills version, and I’ll confess I was skeptical at first. But while my brain was telling me that dry-aged beef is wasted on a pub burger, my taste buds begged to differ. It was, simply put, one of the best burgers I’ve had in recent memory.

On my next visit, I couldn’t resist trying the dry-aged New York strip. The cast-iron seared beef was a shade undercooked, but flavorful enough that I couldn’t help but wonder why it came with a bland “creamy peppercorn sauce.” For my money, the burger is the way to go.

At least until next week, when a new menu is slated to come out. According to Brian Cordileone, who opened Craft last August with Michael Robbins (the partners previously operated a Rudino’s in this space), they’re tweaking the offering to include more affordable fare such as shepherd’s pie and country-fried steak. They’re keeping the dry-aged rib-eye, but will switch to grilling it over flames with the aim of improving consistency.

The beer selection continues to evolve, too. In February, Craft Public House was the first restaurant to offer the English-style porter brewed by the fledgling Fortnight Brewing Company. Once that keg is empty, the tap handle should make a proud addition to the trophy collection. or

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