Tuesday, January 21, 2014

CRAFT Beer Market - Handcrafted Food Folly

CRAFT Beer Market
CRAFT Beer Market, a beer focused restaurant chain where everything’s served on tap, first started in Calgary, AB, recently opened their third location in Edmonton. I had the opportunity in November to tour the space, weeks ahead of their planned opening date, to see what they were planning and to find out more about what CRAFT Beer Market was all about. The space itself was very large and impressive, although still far from complete, it looked like it was going to seat quite a lot of people inside. The front area of the main floor consisted of a combination of booths, and bar type seating situated by floor to ceiling windows. Meanwhile the back area of the main floor boasted an impressively sized bar, surrounded by seating, as well as additional booths along the walls, and a room filled with kegs of beer. There was more seating upstairs, along with a massive kitchen, which they informed me they would baking the majority of their own bread in, except for their brunch bread which would be provided by Popular Bakery.

Beer Flight
Like many other restaurants that have opened recently, they have adopted the very popular motto of “fresh local food”, which I find has become a meaningless cluster of words that too many restaurants use, but few actually back up by informing patrons where they source their ingredients from. Unfortunately CRAFT Beer Market falls into this category, with very little mention to customers as to where their chickens, bread, and produce comes from. Although they emailed me a list of their suppliers as I’d requested, when perusing Heritage Angus Feeb and Pinocchio Ice Cream. The list they had emailed Moo also included Popular Bakery, Poplar Bluffs Organics, Care Bakery, Maple Hills Farms, Community Foods, Erdmann’s Gardens, and Smokin’ Iron Farms, but these business names were nowhere to be found on their menu. Even a listing on the side of their menu, or a handwritten chalkboard placed prominently within the restaurant indicating their suppliers would have been great, as I believe part of supporting local is letting people know where the ingredients are from, so they can support these businesses as well.

CRAFT Beer Market
The food itself had its ups and downs. The Hawaiian Ahi Poke consisted of chopped tuna, cucumber, and ginger, tossed in garlic (“gralic” on their Edmonton website on the date this post was published) and sesame soya vinaigrette, served with crispy wontons. The wontons were a nice contrast to the smooth and soft ahi tuna, which tasted refreshing, but the tuna and vegetables could have been chopped finer, as everyone’s first attempt at trying the dish resulted in the tuna falling promptly off the wonton and onto the table.

Baja Fish Tacos
The cheese infused pretzel bites served with mustard and roasted garlic aioli were soft and plump, the roasted garlic aioli was creamy and complimented the cheesiness of the pretzels well. However, the mustard provided was too thick to be a dip as it did not keep its hold on the pretzel once scooped up, the taste was also too hot, overwhelming the fragrant, yet gentle cheese taste.

Hawaiian Ahi Poke
The patty in the classic burger was unfortunately very dry and flavorless, while the baja fish tacos with spiced grilled basa, cabbage, pico de gallo and CRAFT signature hot sauce could only be described as soggy and severely lacking in flavor despite the hot sauce. Lastly my charcuterie and cheese board arrived sans crostinis, and without any explanation as to what meats, cheese and condiments were being provided, leaving the four of us to taste and try to guess what was provided. The cheeses were not overly exciting, jalapeno havarti and a rubbery brie, while the meats were likely salami and prosciutto. The condiments included the same hot whole grain mustard that was served with the cheese infused pretzel bites, a slightly sweet and somewhat tart condiment – possibly rhubarb – and lastly a condiment that none of us could confidently identify. After far too long a wait, we were able to flag down a server to obtain some crostinis to go with the charcuterie board.

Charcuterie Board
I’ll sum up our experience with the grand opening event itself via my suggestions for improvements below, as I felt that the event itself was not very well executed or planned as I’d expected for a restaurant group that had experience opening more than one restaurant.

Ways to improve future grand openings as CRAFT Beer Market Expands:

  • If having more than one grand opening event, especially back to back, indicate on the invitation if it’s a Media/Business/Etc. grand opening - Without this indication, neither my friends nor myself realized there was more than one grand opening occurring and even though we thought it was on different dates, simply assumed that someone read the date wrong. We had planned to attend together until we contacted CRAFT Beer Market and found out we had actually been invited to grand openings on different dates. I’m not sure if it’s common to have more than one grand opening event back to back, but identifying the target audiences on the invitations would be helpful in avoiding confusion in the future.
  • Try to keep all of your patrons warm – Upon arriving, everyone had to line up outside as they were only letting in small groups of people at a time. As a result, both sets of double doors were open at the front of their restaurant all night. We were sat in a booth near the front of the restaurant and felt chilled our entire visit, even with our jackets on. Although we asked the hostess if there was any possible way for them to try to keep at least one set of doors closed, they weren’t closed until we decided to leave.
  • Put your best food forward – I know how stressful, chaotic, and disorganized large events can become. But when you invite media to a grand opening event who will likely be writing reviews, make sure to do your utmost to ensure the best tasting, presented, and executed food is sent to your guests. Of course, this should apply at all times, but can be harder to do when the staff is new and inundated by hoards of eager and hungry people.
  • Make sure you have enough appetizers – If you advertise free appetizers on your invitation and through your servers, make sure you’ve made enough for the guests who RSVP and show up on time. The server told us there were two appetizer stations in the restaurant, as well as servers that would be roaming throughout the restaurant with other appetizers to sample. We got to the grand opening at 5pm sharp, the time the invitation said the event was beginning, yet we could only find one appetizer station. We all took turns wandering around looking for the second station, but never did find it. As well, none of us ever saw any servers come by with appetizers to sample. In my experience it’s unusual for invited guests to have to purchase food at a grand opening event. Had I known in advance that I would have to wind up paying for my own meal, I would have skipped the grand opening and visited CRAFT Beer Market on another night when it wouldn’t be so busy and the service would have likely had been better. From other grand openings I’ve attended, usually the point of it is to allow people to taste a variety of the restaurants signature dishes, as well as to meet owners, managers, and chefs and find out more about the restaurant.

CRAFT Classic Burger
Overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the food, service, or overall grand opening experience, particularly if compared with others that I’ve attended that have been much more organized and where someone from the restaurant actually came around to speak or at least check in on those in attendance. I might consider a future visit to the restaurant to retry the food, although I would’ve hoped that they would’ve worked harder to push out the best quality food they could have at an opening night event. The chaotic service was understandable given the sheer volume of attendees that evening. However, I'm in no rush to go back, given their menu wasn't all that enticing and is mostly your standard bar type fare. But if you're looking for a plethora of beers available on tap, CRAFT Beer Market does deliver on that.

For another perspective on the CRAFT Beer Market grand opening, check out @thepolishviking's blog post on Dine & Write.

CRAFT Beer Market
10013 101A Avenue NW
Edmonton, AB  T5J 0C3
Twitter: @CRAFTbeeryeg

CRAFT Beer Market on Urbanspoon

(Note: There was no financial compensation from CRAFT Beer Market for this blog post, although they provided two free beers and limited free food. Any review provided by me will completely reflect my thoughts and opinions – good or bad, and will not be swayed by having free drinks and food provided.)

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