Craftsman, a Vail Valley hotspot, reopens with a bigger menu, new space

When Chris Schmidt left his position as executive chef at Vail’s Sweet Basil in 2017, he was burned out on fine dining but not cooking itself. Within a matter of months, he and his wife Janelle, also an industry vet, opened Craftsman, a souped-up sandwich shop in nearby Edwards.

“I just wanted a low-key, quiet place,” he laughed.

But Craftsman, with its crowd-pleasing menu (mushroom pastrami, crispy avocado sammy, stacked Cubano), extensive vinyl collection and highly curated beer taps, was a hit from the day it opened. It was never quiet, it was never under the radar.

For five years, the order-at-the-counter spot, located in a small space in a strip of shops, was bursting at the seams with lines out the door. It became a destination unto itself and even the pandemic didn’t slow business–in fact, folks fleeing the city for the Vail Valley just made it busier.

“Seeing that line stressed me out,” Schmidt says. “It was getting hard to control busy times.“ And so, when the much larger Gore Range Brewery space across the street came up for lease last November, Schmidt jumped on it. “This was a natural move for us,” he said.

Nearly a year after signing the lease, Craftsman Brew Co. (note the new name) officially opened its doors on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 0105 Edwards Village Blvd.

It’s fairly impossible to move a treasured restaurant and retain its original essence, and yet, from the look of it, Schmidt and team have done just that. Throw open the doors and find a space dominated by a swoosh-shaped open kitchen, moody black matte walls, and huge windows — all with an energy that practically pumps through the speakers.

The new location is twice the size of the original and has a wood-fire grill, something Schmidt says is a game changer. “I love cooking with live fire. [The oven] is my favorite element of the kitchen.”

That oven, plus the size of the kitchen, allows Craftsman’s menu to expand from sandwiches to include small plates and large-format items that never could have existed in the original space. The coal-roasted yams, all creamy and nutty, complete with a lime yogurt sauce and hazelnuts, are a must-order. So is the lobster roll, which is a refreshed version of the longtime favorite shrimp roll with curried aioli and puffed rice. Some classics remain: The dreamy mushroom pastrami, the cult-favorite Schmidt Mac cheeseburger, the hot chicken sandwich.

Groups should order the whole fish tacos, a DIY platter of crispy fried fish (yes, head, tail, and all) with corn tortillas, smashed avocado, salsa macha, and other fixings.

Another change: Schmidt has jettisoned the order-at-the-counter model in favor of full service. “I never thought I’d do it, and I kept fighting it,” he said. “But then I started thinking about how we would find the tables, and we have a 50-person patio. We would be running around everywhere.”

Beer has long been a big part of what Schmidt does. He had a carefully curated list of rotating favorites at his old location and has continued that across the street (along with a robust bar program). And as the new name indicates, Craftsman plans to brew its own beer with guidance from Lee Cleghorn, a friend of Schmidt’s and the owner of Outer Range Brewing in Frisco. (In 2020, Schmidt opened Bird Craft, a Thai-style fried chicken kiosk, inside the brewery.)

The brewhouse isn’t ready yet, though, so for now, the team is working on repairs, installing new tanks, and hiring a head brewer. Schmidt is adamant though that the beer will stand on its own and will eventually be canned under the name Craftsman Brew Co. If all goes well, Schmidt expects to be brewing within a matter of weeks.

As for Craftsman’s original space, after establishing a devoted following, Schmidt isn’t letting it go. Instead, he’ll recast it early next year as In Bloom, a blistered-crust pizza shop with fresh oysters and amaro (if you need a comparison, think Cart-Driver). It too will be full service.

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