This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Carl York is the general manager and handles the wine at Craigie on Main in Central Square, where he's been for just over six months. Before he was at SHO Shaun Hergatt in New York. When Eater spoke with York he was planning the wine pairings for Craigie's upcoming "Road Less Traveled" dinner.
What's the busiest time of the week? I would say Friday and Saturday night are both extremely busy, and that's pretty much for the duration. Definitely in the until-9:30 window. Tuesday can be a sneaky busy night as well. We usually pick up a tremendous amount of covers as Tuesday rolls on from the start of service onward. That tends to be a good sort of local night at the bar towards the end of the evening for people that are in the industry or live in the neighborhood.
What percentage is reservations versus walk-ins? On a Friday or Saturday we're probably upwards of 90% reservations, and on a Tuesday, which would be our biggest walk-in night, we're probably 55 to 70% reservations.
What's the weekend walk-in wait for two people? We will obviously try to get everyone a table, they might just end up being seated waiting at our bar, which on a busy Saturday can be an hour and half. And then we'll try to get them a table if there's a cancellation or something of that nature.
How many seats are in the dining room? The bar and dining room together is 99, and we have eleven seats just at the bar.
What about brunch reservations? For brunch you can usually get a reservation right up until the day-of if you have some flexibility on Sunday. I would say as Saturday goes on the book gets progressively more full, but if you're flexible on a Sunday we can usually fit you in if you call morning-of.
How would you describe your clientele? For me that's kind of the best part about Craigie. We get people who run the gamut from my age to slightly younger, so mid to late twenties right up to retirement age. We get a really good cross section of people that are business people, working professionals, industry people and also a good amount of people from both Harvard and MIT. There's a really diverse cross section and I don't know that I could pin down what demographic hits us the most.
Do the different demographics tend to order the same? I would say yes, they do. It's kind of remarkable. You can't peg down a group of five businessmen that come in from, say, Novartis and are all in their 40's or 50's and say these people will definitely get tastings and a group of 25-year-old's won't: that doesn't happen. I don't mean it to sound too cliched but that's why it's so cool; you get people who are really interested in food who come in and for the other people maybe it's a splurge and maybe it's not - I don't want to speak for them - but they definitely come in as our serious diner crowd. And for whatever reason we're fortunate that most people don't come in and get, say, just an entree. They'll come in for three courses or six courses or what have you.
What's the most popular dish right now? Barring the popularity of our not-on-the-menu burger, I would say the most popular dish is probably whatever fish Tony's doing right now with what we call our quinoa suit. It's these crusted fish with a really delicious fried and then sort of pulverized quinoa, so it kind of changes based on whatever the fish is. And we've had marked increase in the popularity of our pig's head, which we can't really figure out why, but it's awesome.
What's the must order dish? For adventurous diners I would definitely recommend the pig's head for two entree, and as an appetizer the one that is frequently absolutely hammered is the pig tails, or when we have fried smelts on that's really popular too and really delicious.
Are those your personal favorites, too? The smelts, definitely. I would probably eat the venison were I coming to Craigie this [yesterday] evening. It's a savory, red spice marinade on the leg with a venison and guanciale sauce, which is awesome.
When you're not at work, where do you go to eat? One of our sous chefs, his wife opened a bakery on Washington Street in Brighton called Treats on Washington. My girlfriend, my son and I head over there at least once a week for a sandwich and some pastries. Besides that on Monday when I'm at work but not really working I really like Mary Chung's for Chinese food, particularly the spicy peanut noodles.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated? We recently did a vegan tasting that was a secret. That was a pretty good one. Besides that, it's not strange more than it is all too common that people sit down and they've reserved for four people but show up at six, and in our dining area we really on have one table that sits six people, so trying to juggle those people around and get them all chairs can always be interesting. On Saturday night we had a table of six with two people at the head on the table. Their server in particular handled it really gracefully.
How has Craigie been different from previous experiences? Diners come in and they're amazingly trusting, more so than any other place I've been. And I don't mean it in a they're naive kind of way, but they actually take recommendations from staff really, really seriously and I think the great thing is that more often than not that works out for them really well. That level of trust I have not been privy to in the past, and maybe it's that New Yorkers are just jaded know-it-all's or maybe it's because we just do a really good job, I'm not sure. It's especially rewarding for our staff to think that they sort of led these people down a path, and they leave and they're like, stoked, like really excited, over-the-moon happy. We get a lot of personal thank-you's in that way and it's really great.