By Spencer Ackerman
It’s a recession, after all, so earlier this month, Tom Colicchio asked Craft’s executive chef, Damon Wise, to come up with an inexpensive menu. Such was the origin of Damon’s Frugal Fridays at Craft. It’s a menu of small plates: six-inch pizzas, meat on a stick, food in a jar, three-ingredient salads, raw fish, offal meats. I checked it out on Friday.
Long story short: it’s a success. Dinner for four ran to around $130, and that was due primarily to a hefty drink tab incurred while waiting nearly an hour for a table. My three dinner companions were all vegetarians, so I didn’t have the fullest sampling of the menu, but vegetarians can have a great meal — ricotta-dolloped pizzas with, of all things, black cabbage; wonderfully dressed fennel salads with pickled cherry peppers; and for those that eat that well-known vegetable, fish, a nice crudo of bass with lemon gelee. Order two plates for yourself and keep a menu at the table if you’d like more. You’re encouraged to order as the mood strikes you.
By far the most important part of Wise’s offerings are the offal meats. When I come back, I’ll find some people prepared to share some duck hearts with me, but this weekend, with no one to help me eat any off-the-beaten-track meat, I opted to listen to my dog’s advice: Crispy pig ears — four of them — with a deviled-egg salad and crescent moons of celery. When Kingsley is extra-special good I’ll buy him some pig ears, which immediately focus his concentration. Put a long, leathery ear in front of him and he’ll be out of trouble for an hour, paws grasping hold of either side of the ear for an optimally efficient chewing experience.
I now understand what he gets out of it. Pig ears are tough, and Wise doesn’t try to disguise it. Instead he crisps up the skin wonderfully, so your first bite crunches before you settle in for a salt-filled porky chew. Indeed, take time to chew these things well — they’re pleasantly savory, for one thing, and for another, they’ll break down any inhibitions you have about eating nontraditional meats. That’ll be important as the economy brings us closer to the civilizational decay of a Cormac McCarthy novel.