I hesitated a bit when I saw the red carpet, velvet ropes and the host, standing hands crossed, outside Craft & Vine. My friend Becca and I had agreed to go casual for a dinner of tapas and wine at the new downtown eatery, but now, in my yellow jeans, gray T-shirt and pale blue scarf, I was worried: Was I too casual?
No worries – as I walked up, the host broke into a smile, opened the door and swept me inside. As our waitress later explained, Craft & Vine styles itself as a ’20s-inspired cocktail lounge: There’s the impressive entrance, a long lit bar (with wines on tap!), bartenders spiffed up in vests and ties, sleek booths dressed in studded upholstery – and an appropriate warm and intimate atmosphere filled with chatter and boisterous laughter.
The restaurant boasts plenty of seating, including the bar, high tables, the booths and a long community table, which seats about 10, which we’d thought we’d try (or I did, and Becca good-naturedly went along). Note though: The table features high backless stools – a bit awkward if you’re on the short side like me; plus, you have to steal an extra stool to stash your purse or coat.
If it’s the ’20s, drinks come first, and it’s no different here. The eatery boasts an impressive craft cocktail and wine list, including wines available by taste or one-quarter of a glass, along with the usual full. I’ve always wanted to be able to order just a small taste of a variety of wines, so I was more than thrilled to see my dream come true at Craft & Vine.
I started with a viognier, which was sweet and light, very similar to a reisling, while Becca went for a cocktail that had also caught my eye – the Moscow Mule, basically a vodka tonic with the addition of ginger beer. We’re both vodka tonic girls, so we thought it was terrific, with the ginger beer adding just a bit of spice and extra depth without the burn of actual ginger.
Compared to the huge drinks list, the menu is fairly small, but there’s a lot of variety: bar snacks and charcuterie/cheeses; tapas from the garden, sea and farm; and wood-fired pizzas. Naturally, we also asked our waitress about that evening’s desserts, too, which include homemade truffles and zeppoli, before mapping out our meal.
First up was a dish of shaved Brussels sprouts with preserved pear, nugget-like toasted pecans and wide shavings of Parmesan cheese. When our waitress set the dish down, I caught a whiff of funkiness that made me hesitate. But like a good cheese, it’s the taste that counts, and it was very, very good. I liked the sweet bits of crisp pear and the thin shreds of sprouts, but what made the dish was the honey cream that was poured over it, transforming it into a decadently rich, creamy slaw.
Next up were the diver scallops on top of Appalachian red grits with ham crisp and herb oil. It was a pretty dish, with the crisp, thin slices of ham standing up like sails. But the grits needed some more salt and flavor, and the scallops, though good, weren’t as meltingly tender as I’ve had (actually, one of the best scallops I’ve ever had was at Craft & Vine’s sister restaurant, Frog Hollow). And the ham crisp? We both tasted it, but it had the texture and flavor of greasy, pork-scented butcher paper.
We wrapped up our tapas with Craft & Vine’s version of greasy bar food: a spicy wood-fired pizza dressed simply with sauce, mozzarella, sopressata (Italian salami) and Calabrian hot peppers; and the fried rabbit “wings” with honey and Southern hot sauce. The pizza is called The Spicy One for good reason – it’s hot, even if you avoid the bright red peppers (the heat is in the sauce). The pizza is Chef Sean Wight’s personal favorite, and I could see why, with its crisp texture and the nice and hammy sopressata.
The first time I’d ever had rabbit was at Wight’s Edgefield Grille, in a salad charmingly named Peter Rabbit in the Lettuce Patch. So I was glad to order rabbit again here. The wings made me laugh since there was a definite “crook” to them, but this was serious eating. The meat was moist and so tender; the breading was crusty, crunchy and flavorful (Southern cooks would be proud); and I liked how you could adjust the heat of the sweet wings by dipping them into the little pot of red hot sauce.
We’d decided on dessert well before our meal, and Becca ordered it: the zeppoli, fried balls of dough dusted with confectioner’s sugar and flavored with rosemary. The texture was unbelievably airy and perfect, just melting away on the tongue, but Becca nailed the taste right away. “It’s like sweet and sour chicken,” she exclaimed upon her first bite. I tried another one and had to laugh and agree – the first taste that hits you is totally reminiscent of that soft, doughy Chinese sweet and sour chicken breading.
With our dessert, Becca also ordered coffee – and it was beautifully presented on a silver tray, with a French press.
That night we talked – a lot. And laughed a lot. There was table hopping and meeting new and old friends. At one point, I looked around and realized that as long as we’d been there, hardly any tables had turned over – and every one of them was filled with people doing the same thing we were doing: sipping great drinks, snacking on creative new dishes and enjoying a fresh and unique restaurant experience, whether they were dressed up or dressed down.