Stop us if you’ve heard this before: “What’s for dinner?” — “I dunno. Let’s go out.” — “Okay. Where?” — “…I dunno.” It’s an all-too-familiar scenario in this modern landscape, where the same chain restaurants and pubs spill from one community, town and city to the next. It almost gets to the point where the prospect of choosing a new and exciting place to eat can be as daunting as choosing what to make at home, doesn’t it? Not to worry, friends. If you find yourself in this predicament, and are within driving distance of Schomberg, then Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar may just be the antidote to your “dining out disenchantment.”
What makes this new and casually upscale establishment unique is that it features only a small collection of core menu items, which are augmented by ever-changing dishes that are influenced by whatever is fresh at the time. Now, fair enough: you’ve heard it all before—just about every restaurant out there claims “quality” and “freshness” as two of their fundamental values. Heck, even fast-food joints throw these words around often enough. The difference at Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar, however, is that freshness means the restaurant is only open four days a week. It means that the menu items outside of that core collection are the product of creativity and experimentation. And it means that seasonal flavours play a significant role in your dining experience.
“There are a couple of really popular dishes that we have,” explains owner Nicole Stamcos. “The braised beef tenderloin, the farm chicken and the risotto are items that people have been really happy with. But keeping the menu small allows for consistency amongst those key items while giving us the room to go with the flow based on what’s fresh and in season to remain new and interesting. We order everything on Wednesday and get it ready for Thursday through Sunday.”
Fresh and handmade doesn’t stop at the food. The drinks, too, are handmade to order. Fresh ingredients are combined with upscale culinary and mixology techniques like dehydrators and smokers, flower-infused concoctions and high-quality syrups. The Cherry Sour Smoked Bourbon, for example, has been distilled in an oak barrel by the restaurant’s own bartender. “It’s obvious when you have one of our drinks that what you’re experiencing is quality,” Nicole says proudly.
When it comes to the “Beer” part of Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar, only craft beer is on tap, which comes from local, independently-owned breweries. “Our supporting and promoting craft beer is in line with what we are trying to do, which is displaying your passion with the handcrafted skills that you have,” says Nicole. The restaurant rotates through the beers that they carry, so there is always something unique for customers to try.
“It’s the same for the ciders we carry,” she explains. “Even our water is independently canned water from Ontario. Any soda or ready-to-drink cocktails we have, we try to promote people that are local owners. I’ve always tried to support small business, but right now with the pandemic, it’s even more important than ever. That’s going to continue to remain a focus of ours once we are able to reopen.”
It’s this renegade business model of Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar which makes it stand out from the competition. Here, it is all about the experience. It’s the way the meal is put together, and how the drinks are smoked right in front of the patrons that lend to an ambience which cannot readily be found elsewhere. One can see and smell the attention to detail, as well as taste it. The layout is open-concept to encourage a communal feeling—including a harvest table where multiple groups can be seated. “It’s not just about what you’re ordering,” Nicole explains. “Not just a place to get something because you’re hungry and then leave. It’s more about sitting down and understanding that our servers are extremely knowledgeable about what’s on the menu, what the chef is doing and what flavours are being used, what drinks are available and how they’re made. It’s a very interactive experience.”
Unfortunately, this unique business model was a bit of a double-edged sword during the pandemic. The level of freshness that is a hallmark of Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar meant that Nicole and her staff were unable to offer take-out and curbside pickup. “That’s not what we are offering,” she says. “That’s not what we’re about. We did, however, hold a few special events during the shutdowns where we would sell really high-end products like uncooked meals that you could do yourself at home, and nice products that you can’t get at your local grocery store.”
Even though the restaurant has not been open very long, the community response has been remarkable. Nicole admits to being blown away by the number of people who have become repeat clients and have fallen in love with the restaurant. “They are so thrilled to have this,” she states. “They book in advance and ask me if they can plan events three months out.”
See for yourself why Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar’s catchphrase is “A safe place to drink an Aperol Spritz.” Enjoy casually upscale dining in an atmosphere that is relaxed and social. Nicole says, “All of these things we do is the way we say ‘Welcome, everybody’ to a place that goes above and beyond your typical pub experience.”
Craft Kitchen & Beer Bar
214 Main Street, Schomberg
Story by Katherine Ryalen