Looking at my plate of “An”Imal Fries at Dana Point’s Craft House, I wasn’t sure about my plan of attack. Do I dare dip my fingers through the deep barrier of Thousand Island, which is so thick it resembles cable-laid rope? How will I appear to the patrons at the bar, thrusting my fingers into this pile of melty Cheddar, sweet caramelized onions and dressing? Do I pluck from the sides and avoid looking like some sort of madman?
“Fork, please,” I say to my server, who delivers with a wink and a nod. “I’ll probably need a few extra napkins as well.”
As I munched away, I noticed the wall filled with more than 80 whiskeys, complete with various Irish, Japanese, Scotch, Canadian and American variants, most of which can be had for around $10 to $20. If you’re feeling like something old and wheated such as Pappy 23, it’s on the menu for quite a bit more. On Thursdays, featured whiskeys are 50 percent off, and for an additional two bucks, the bartender can stir you up a proper Old Fashioned. If you’re a beer and whiskey fan, $8 gets you a 16-ounce draft beer and shot of Buffalo Trace during social hour, which is all day Monday and Tuesday and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Best deal on PCH? Maybe.
As a sucker for music-themed cocktail names, I go for a “Baby it’s Cold Outside” because of the recent controversy surrounding the song. It’s stirred perfectly, served in a highball glass with a large cube of foggy ice and cinnamon stick. It’s as if all of my favorite liquids got together in one glass to have a party: Templeton rye, Applejack, green chartreuse, Benedictine and bitters. Boozy yet balanced, it harasses me to stay for another.
Craving something gin and fizzy, I next order a Roxanne: a coupe glass with a lavender head, shaken with port wine and Luxardo Maraschino. Sometimes an egg-white-shaken drink can be a little funky on the nose, but this one puts the red light on it. It’s totally fruit-forward and somewhat jammy.
The social-hour eats menu is more than just fries and booze. Executive chef Blake Mellgren works with local fish purveyors to deliver the area’s freshest catch. On the special menu, $4 gets you a cup of clam chowder that is loaded with smokey bacon, diced potatoes and a creamy broth worthy of sipping from the cup. If shellfish isn’t your thing, go for the pork chile verde, which comes with a few tortillas for DIY tacos ($6). Beer or wine your thing? Mason Ale Works’ Jambi IPA is $4, and house wines cost just $5.
Craft House, 34094 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 481-7734; www.eatatcrafthouse.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest.