"Order wisely and you'll eat really well for a modest sum. Order not so wisely and you will likely end up disappointed."
85 10th Avenue, New York NY 10011 (b/n 15th and 16th Street; map); craftsteak.com; 212-400-6699
Service: Food came quickly, but our server was not particularly attentive in a quarter-full restaurant
Setting: Bar area at Craftsteak, reasonably well-spaced tables for a lounge
Compare It To: Craftbar
Must-Haves: Pull-apart rolls, fried oysters, half-steak and fries, ice cream sandwich, cupcake
Cost: $35 includes beverage, tax, and tip
Grade: B+ for the pull-apart rolls, fried oysters, half steak, fries, ice cream sandwiches, and the cupcake Everything else we tried on the menu: C
The come-on is irresistible. Top Chef's Tom Colicchio (one of my favorite all-time cooks) puts a low-price comfort-food lounge in the bar area at his fancy-pants Craftsteak. He told me himself recently at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival that the half-steak with fries was a great deal: six ounces of dry-aged bone-in strip steak and fries for $14.50. In my not-thin-but-getting-there state this deal seemed to be the best way to practice portion control while eating beef.
The rest of the menu is equally appealing for the same comforting reasons: fried oysters, oyster roast, deviled eggs with country ham, corned beef and cabbage egg rolls, sliders, fried mac and cheese, chicken fried cod and hash browns, lamb spare ribs, grilled cheese with country ham, burgers and hand-cut fries, brisket, sauerkraut, and provolone reuben, Wagyu nachos, meatball, gnocchi, and smoked mozzarella casserole, ice cream sandwiches, and cupcakes.
We were powerless to resist such a menu, so we descended five strong on Halfsteak, determined to take its measure by ordering as much of the menu as we could. Would we walk away comforted to no end or disappointed by the unfulfilled promise of a great concept badly executed? That, serious eaters, is the question.
It turns out the answer is a little bit of both. Halfsteak was half good and half bad. Order wisely and you'll eat really well for a modest sum. Order not so wisely and you will likely end up disappointed.
Being serious eaters, we are going to accentuate the positive. Though they are nowhere to be found on the menu, the pull-apart rolls are a must-order here. They're impossibly light—crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside. It would not be unwise to order another set of six. They are that good.
Follow the rolls with the fried oysters ($6.50). You get four crisp, greaseless bivalves placed back in their shells topped with smoked cole slaw. Sounds delicious, right? They are.
The corned beef and cabbage egg roll ($6.50) is, to its credit, much more corned beef than cabbage, and its wrapper is light and thin if not quite golden brown.
Lamb spare ribs ($9.50) were slightly fatty, as they always are, but they were nicely charred, had a lovely Greek herb spice rub, and came in a pool of soothing raita.
The half-steak with fries ($14.50) was just like Tom said it would be. The six-ounce bone-in strip steak was cooked slightly more than our requested medium-rare, but it had a proper sear and char and if you gnaw on the meat on the bone you do get a hint of funky, nutty, minerally dry-aging. It's just enough steak if you've had one fried oyster and one of those great pull-apart rolls. If you need a little more savory sustenance, the terrific salty fries will do the trick.
Dessert was two kinds of ice cream sandwiches (each $4.50), one with oatmeal cookies and ginger ice cream, the other peanut butter cookies with caramel ice cream. Both were perfectly executed. The cookies were halfway between crunchy and soft, and the insanely creamy, vividly flavored ice creams were the perfect consistency and texture you want in an ice cream sandwich (no rock-hard ice cream sandwiches allowed). The banana cupcake ($4.50) was just as good. The banana frosting was not cloyingly sweet, and the cake was moist and light. This is the banana cupcake against which all other banana cupcakes will be judged.
What you just read was the good part of the meal and the menu. What follows—and I am going to keep this brief—is the bad and the downright ugly. Chicken fried cod ($9.50) was salt-free cod fish sticks; fried mac and cheese ($6.50) was totally forgettable and blah, and that's hard to do given what's in it.
Anything between two pieces of bread should be avoided here: the sliders ($6.50) were dry and mealy, as was the burger ($11.50). Neither patty had the slightest bit of internal moisture. The grilled cheese and country ham sandwich ($11.50) was a greasy disappointment. The brisket, sauerkraut, and provolone reuben ($11.50) had dry slices of brisket on bread that was way too thick for the sandwich.
Wagyu nachos ($13.50) had no discernible Wagyu beef flavor. It did have some dark pellets that suggested they were made out of beef.
Order carefully, and you can have a great, bargain-priced meal at Halfsteak. The pull-apart rolls, the fried oysters, the half steak and fries, and a cupcake or ice cream sandwich comprise a seriously delicious dinner. Just avoid the bad food that held so much promise when the menu was written.