By Kristine Cannon
North Scottsdale recently welcomed a new neighborhood restaurant called The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen—where cocktails and craftsmanship come first, literally.
Specializing in hand-crafted cocktails and traditional, comfort food dishes with a global twist, The Craftsman’s menu was created by executive chef Christopher Nicosia.
“I want the food to be familiar but not predictable,” Nicosia says.
It boasts a variety of small plates, like AZ Hot Chicken Lollipops, Korean chili powder-dusted and freeze-dried kimchi-sprinkled popcorn, and a rotating menu of flatbreads that includes housemade lamb belly sausage flatbread.
There also is an even bigger selection of mouthwatering sandwiches, such as Wagyu pastrami, Jamaican-spiced crispy chicken, and a grilled cheese slathered with jalapeño-fig jam as well as intriguing signature dishes like the green chile braised volcano pork shank with jalapeño slaw and cilantro lime queso.
The Craftsman doesn’t skimp on the flavor.
The unique take on comfort food—a far cry from Nicosia’s time spent as executive chef of the now-closed, upscale southern Italian restaurant Sassi in Scottsdale—was a welcome next step for Nicosia.
“It was a great opportunity for me to do something other than the Italian I’ve been doing for most of my career,” says Nicosia, who started at Constantino’s Italian restaurant at Desert Mountain in the aughts and then accepted the executive chef role at Sassi, where he dedicated about a decade of his career.
“It was nice to be able to get out of that box,” Nicosia continues. “Not that I didn’t love that little Italian box—that’s where my heart and soul is—but it’s been nice to be able to stretch out and cook food that I cook at home.”
Nicosia says his personal favorite on the menu is The Craftsman’s scallop toast with sweet corn puree, bacon and candied chile.
“It’s like shrimp toast at an Asian restaurant, but the sauce is more of a sweet corn sauce. It’s just a fun little twist,” he says.
The Craftsman’s menu also includes a nod to two popular Sassi dishes: wood oven roasted branzino and its orecchiette.
The Craftsman’s version of the branzino, however, has more of a Southwest twist to it.
“I’m putting a little more of Arizona into my food when I couldn’t before—using chiles, using spices, using things that really never translated to Italian food,” Nicosia says.
As for the orecchiette, a house sausage with chiles, local greens and pecorino, “we will be making the sausage just like we always did,” Nicosia says. “The focus is more on the technique and the style and detail of producing it.”
This attention to technique is what also sets The Craftsman’s menu apart.
“We’re doing things just as a craftsman would—paying more attention to exactly what goes into the process of it,” he says.
The Craftsman is inspired by owner Letty Ebel’s late grandfather-in-law, Victor Ebel, a farmer-turned-woodworker.
Victor—who, along with his wife Laura Fuchtman, started one of the first Grade A dairy farms—spent his retirement making jewelry boxes, curio cabinets and grandfather clocks as well as custom furniture.
“Victor was an inspiration to us all. He was a hard worker and loved what he did,” Letty says.
“When he passed away, our family put ‘A Craftsman’ on his headstone,” she continues. “His memory and principles inspire us today for our new restaurant.”
Victor’s two grandsons, James and Jason Ebel, are no stranger to Scottsdale.
Jim and James, Letty’s husband, once owned the now-shuttered Two Brothers Tap House & Brewery. They have owned and operated Two Brothers and The Craftsman in Illinois since 1996 and 2016, respectively.
According to Letty, they’ve had the Scottsdale Craftsman in the works since last summer.
“We were not in a hurry and wanted to make sure we found the right location for our concept,” Letty says. “We found the building in November and finalized it at the first of this year.”
Letty describes the 6,375-square-foot interior as boasting “many different materials and details that speak to the skills of a master craftsman.”
That includes stone and woodwork, soft leathers, and greenery.
“It is a very inviting and comfortable space, which speaks true to our ‘come as you are’ attitude,” Letty says.
The Craftsman also features an on-site distillery.
Not only are select entrees and desserts infused with in-house distilled spirits and craft beers, but The Craftsman will also feature, sample and sell its own line of distilled spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, barrel-aged amaro, bourbon, and coffee liqueur.
Letty said The Craftsman’s main goal is to give people a “fun place to spend time and leave their worries at the door.”
“It really has a very casual, neighborhood feel,” Nicosia adds. “We want them to be able to come here several times a week and get a different experience.”
Menu prices range from $15 to $30, and it includes a kids menu that even features an item suggested by Nicosia’s daughter: a fresh fruit-filled chocolate waffle cone.
“My daughter is the one who said, ‘You should do this,’” Nicosia says. “It’s very simple: It’s a little chocolate chip waffle cone filled with so much fruit.
“We also want to make sure that they understand that, you know, kids are absolutely welcome,” he adds. “Because a lot of times, we know they’re the decision maker.”
The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen opened October 15 in the Hayden Peak Crossing retail center.
“The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen is the perfect addition to the stellar lineup of retailers and restaurants at Hayden Peak Crossing,” says Kerry Linthicum of CBRE, which arranged the lease. This new concept will be a great option for nearby residents and tourists seeking a creative casual dining experience in the area.”
The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen, 20469 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale, 480.401.1102, thecraftsmanaz.com.