Spotlight On… Capital Craft!
“Don’t confuse us with ordinary.”
Not only is that the motto of Capital Craft in Green Brook, NJ, but it’s also emblazoned on the wall. And, believe us, you won’t.
When we visit our accounts for our Spotlight On… series, we’ll typically let them know that we’ll be coming, and we’ll tell them that we’ll be pairing our beer with their food. “Bring us whatever dishes you think people need to try when they come here,” we’ll say.
Most times, they’ll bring out, say, two or three entrees and an appetizer — still more food than our small team can consume.
However, at Capital Craft, the food — awesome, awesome food created by chef Kevin Ortiz — just kept coming. Mountains of coal-fired pizzas and gigantic sandwiches and inventive appetizers, intoxicating us with their swirls of enticing aromas, streamed out of the kitchen in a never-ending line of must-try deliciousness.
Needless to say, no one would ever confuse Capital Craft with ordinary.
Green Brook was not a place we’d ever really heard of in Cape May — it’s about two-and-a-half hours from the brewery door — not far from Piscataway, if that helps you. From the Turnpike, the early spring drive along the Raritan River was — quite literally — a breath of fresh air. Winding through Rutgers territory, it was a lovely drive until Route 22’s stretch of strip malls and cookie-cutter, fast casual restaurants.
“As consumers, we’re becoming increasingly more discriminatory about what we’re eating,” says Marketing Director Erika Desimone. “They’ve got food that comes out of zip-lock bags. You don’t know where it was sourced. It was prepared somewhere else, in someone else’s kitchen. You can’t really be sure what’s in it.
“So, along with ‘Gotta get to Capital Craft and try that exclusive beer from Cape May,’ we want to give them a dining experience that has that same allure to it.”
Capital Craft started as a vision by Basking Ridge natives Tom and Bonnie Graziano in January of 2016, evolving and innovating as craft beer has changed, even in the three short years they’ve been open.
“We’ve seen changes in the beer industry,” Erika says, “rises and falls in what people consider to be their favorites. What would sell a lot in year one sticks on the tap now. We all work hard to listen to our customers and figure out what that formula is. But, we’ve stayed true to our mission of staying with local craft breweries.”
You’re not going to find Big Brew on tap at Capital Craft — not even their “crafty beers” like Blue Moon or Magic Hat.
“And they beg,” Erika says. “They’ll do anything. They’ll sell their children. But we feel that it would take something away from why our core customers choose us in the first place.”
Yet, they consider themselves the “capital of craft beers,” and with 24 rotating taps, it’s not difficult to keep them flowing with excellent craft brews. While they try to keep to 75% New Jersey brews, it’s not uncommon to find a relatively unknown European brew on their list, as well.
“Balance is very important to us,” Erika says. “Seasonally, it changes. In the winter, we were heavier on porters and stouts. As we head toward spring, we’ll see an increase in our sours and ciders. There are lots of new sour blend beers that are appealing to the wine connoisseur: more berry flavors, juicy, heavy.”
“They used to be really big sellers,” Erika says. “People have been stepping back from those over-hoppy flavors. We still have them, but we’re more selective about the ones we throw on. We’re not just going to put it up there because it says IPA on it.”
“People loved New Year’s Resolution,” says Assistant Manager and Mixologist Joe Wasowski. “Always Ready, too. I really like the Summa Down Unda. It’s smooth. I think our customers will like it, too.”
“We’ve pretty much always had a presence here,” says Sales Manager Gary Rosen, “sometimes twos and threes.”
Manager Mike Barth places a lot of Capital Craft’s success on the knowledgeability and attentiveness of their staff.
“Obviously, craft beer is blowing up,” he says, “but still there are a lot of people out there who don’t know much about it. So, we like to give every guest that comes in here an experience and education and open their minds.”
For example, if someone comes in and asks for a Blue Moon, the staff can explain why they won’t carry it and offer up several (better) substitutions.
“We’re big on samples,” Mike says. “You can get a sample of absolutely anything that we have on draft to find the right pint for you.”
“Whether they’re at the tables, or they’re at a private event, or they’re sitting at the bar for happy hour,” he says, “we’ll go above and beyond.”
With the kitchen open until 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights, 10pm Sunday through Thursday, Erika considers the menu “tavern fare with a twist.”
“Everything on our menu — everything that our chef comes up with, everything that our pizza chef comes up with — has to fall under that tagline,” Erika says. “We’re not just going to do Arctic Char as a fish special; it’s going to be on a bed of purple jasmine rice because that’s cool.”
Capital Craft is “very careful” about where they get their meats, cheeses, poultry, and fish.
“Our fish is always fresh-caught,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s pulled right out of the water and it’s here.”
In addition, it’s an entirely scratch kitchen: the dressings, the dips, the sauces.
“We house-pickle our own vegetables,” Erika tells us. “So, when you order a burger, the pickle you get is made here.”
“We want to bring the best to the table without breaking people’s wallets,” Erika says. “We want to remain family-friendly. Our portions are always large, and we try to keep things fresh and interesting.”
Their quest to keep things family-friendly is evident in the atmosphere. While you might expect an establishment with 24 taps and a huge wrap-around bar to push the roudiness envelope, Capital Craft remains a place where families can scrape together the last remnants of their weekend on a Sunday evening, enjoying a burger or sharing a pizza.
Even their half-price happy hour remains subdued: more a meeting place for local blue-collar workers and pharma execs — and brewery reps: we ran into five other breweries while we were there — than a hangout for rowdy drinkers.
“The goal is to have the feel of an upscale, New York City gastropub — warm, rustic, inviting, and with the expertise behind the bar,” Erika says, “but be local enough where we can serve the suburban communities.”
Capital Craft is bringing much the same concept to a new location on Route 10 in East Hanover. Originally from nearby Verona, once Erika began working with Capital Craft, she knew that’s where they needed to be.
“The food choices on Route 10 are terrible,” she says. “Every restaurant is a chain restaurant. It’s one after another. When Macaroni Grill went out of business, I knew that’s where we needed to be. It went from being a chance in hell to being, ‘Holy crap, we got this! Now what?!?’”
Double the size of the original location, the Route 10 location will have seating for 250 and a 30-tap bar with thirty seats. The open kitchen will run the length of the restaurant, with new, state-of-the-art equipment. In addition, there’ll be a secondary bar on the first floor which will open to a beer garden, perfect for private, outdoor events.
However, the experience of a warm, small, welcoming establishment will remain the same.
“More to love,” Erika says, “but it’ll be a cool, intimate spot. It’s going to be spectacular.”
They’ll maintain the same basic menu, but the larger kitchen opens up multiple possibilities.
“We can be a little more robust,” Erika says. “We can carry more seafood. We’re looking to bring in oysters. We’re looking to bring in some high-end steaks. And look for chef dining experiences that will be exclusive, very limited, where you’re sitting at the counter and the chef will go through the tasting menu, paired with various beverages.”
However, Capital Craft will remain true to its mission of staying local.
“We love partnering with local farms,” Erika says. “Fossil Farms is someone we work with for some of our exotic meats.”
You won’t find them on the menu every day, but ostrich, wild boar, and bison have all made an appearance.
“We’ve had some really strange stuff,” Erika says. “We had a kangaroo burger once.”
It kept hopping off the plate. (Boom, tiss!) Okay, that’s a horrible joke, but one that would likely appeal to Capital Craft’s pizza chef, Brad Weinstein, who often names his creations with some sort of pun.
“We did a Reuben pizza for Saint Patrick’s Day,” Erika tells us, “and it was called ‘Did I Studdard?’”
We chowed down on a Boogie Nights pie while we were there: a garlic-parmesan-ricotta white pizza with sausage and basil. Anyone who’s seen the Mark Wahlberg 1997 breakout film, Boogie Nights, will likely understand the connection to white sausage. A thoroughly excellent pie, the fruitiness of Summa Down Unda was perfectly balanced with the spiciness of the sausage.
“I always get a snicker when I see a cute, wholesome family of four all splitting a Boogie Nights,” Mike joked.
Other pun-worthy pies have included Imnottellnya — a dessert pie with Nutella topped with sweet honey vanilla ricotta and finished with a strawberry Abita jam — and Khaleesi Pie — fire-roasted shrimp and mozzarella topped with a cilantro lime dragon fruit salsa, splashed with blood red Sriracha.
Maybe Brad will bring that one back in time for the Game of Thrones premiere on Sunday.
We were seated at a table for eight, and the food covered the entire table. We needed to come up with some sort of system to keep things organized as Marketing Assistant Kristen Taylor — who is learning to love these excursions — snapped her photos.
The presentation of their Prime Rib Sandwich was picture-perfect.
“It’s our best-selling thing, by far,” Erika says.
Served on an impossibly buttery roll with crispy onions, horseradish mayo, gouda cheese, and a French onion au jus, the house-smoked prime rib was shaved razor thin, making it — by far — the lightest prime rib sandwich in creation. The sweetness of Summa Down Unda paired well with the fattiness of the still-lean prime rib, cutting through each bite perfectly. Served with a side of their house-made bread-and-butter pickles, it’s easy to see why it’s their best seller.
Two words: fried octopus. Served over a bed of purple Okinawan sweet potatoes, the presentation was striking. Prepared with their “secret K.O. rub,” we detected a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg. While it was delicious with Summa Down Unda, this is a dish we could see pairing well with Mop Water later in the year.
They presented their Crispy Brussels Sprouts to a very skeptical writer. For years — years — everyone from his mother to Brand Ambassador Mary Bracilli has been attempting to convince him that Brussels Sprouts were an edible thing, to no avail.
These were good.
Sweet. Crunchy. Remarkably not slimy. With a whole-grain honey mustard glaze and roasted shallots, had these Brussels Sprouts been on the menu as a child, life may have turned out quite differently.
“Really one of the most unique things we have is the Stuffed Plantain,” Mike says. “It changes hearts and minds every single day.”
Stuffed with mojo pork, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, then topped with melted cheddar, pico de gallo, and a honey-Sriracha-cilantro drizzle, we can see why it changes minds. Sweet and spicy, the Cococabana they currently have on tap will probably pair beautifully with this dish, with its hints of coconut dancing beautifully with the Sriracha drizzle.
Their coal-fired garlic herb and white wine chicken wings were outstanding. Perfectly cooked, the flavors of the garlic and herbs were sublime when married with the kiss of kiwi in Summa Down Unda, cutting through the light spiciness of the chicken.
Even restraining ourselves to only one bite per dish, by this point we were absolutely stuffed, and we still had a gigantic Smoked Brisket Sandwich waiting. With only a light smoky flavor, Summa Down Unda cut through the spiciness of the chipotle barbecue sauce, blending beautifully with the beef.
Capital Craft hosts Taco Tuesdays each week, with $3 tacos and $5 margaritas, as well as a themed trivia the first Monday of each month. April was Seinfeld, and — little-known fact — Hank likely would have cleaned up. In addition, they host Brewers Brunches from time to time, and we hope to get in on some of that action this summer.
Ultimately, Capital Craft is a great spot for just about everyone, whether you’ve worked a nine-to-five, or you’re looking for a spot to bring the kids.
“I love when I walk in and feel that everyone’s having a good time,” Erika says.
For more information on Capital Craft, see their website at capitalcraftnj.com or call (732) 968-5700. Online ordering, private events, and catering available.