For the architects of great buildings, there is a trial-and-error stage—rough drafts give way to fully formed thoughts that are copied meticulously onto blueprints. Once these notions are fully fleshed out, three-dimensional brick-and-mortar constructs are created. The result is something tangible.
There’s a parallel in the culinary world. When given free reign to test new ideas in an environment that values plates created outside the box, talented chefs thrive—and diners rejoice. Case in point: The Drafting Table, a simply appointed reworking of the defunct Hill Street Tavern that’s located in the Pencil Factory Lofts at the corner of Hill and Decatur streets.
Aside from the namesake antique workstation that greets visitors at the front door, this new eatery echoes a vibe of playful experimentation in its bucolic atmosphere. It’s difficult to place a finger on it at first. There’s the massive bar (the only leftover of Hill Street Tav’s heyday), and dark wood and deep reds dominate an environment punctuated by Edison bulbs strung from pot-rack chandeliers. Framed prints of aged building schematics give a touch to the theme. It’s thrown together, but with intent—a dedication to the gastro-centric watering holes of yesteryear.
When you sit in one of the rough-hewn booths, however, and finally have a chance to look over the menu, it hits you: old-world in feeling, but turbocharged. Ah, we get it now.
“It’s a farm-to-table type of restaurant, which you’ve heard a lot about lately,” says owner Doug Caylor. His original brainchild, Midtown Tavern, has been slinging great bar food in a friendly, no-frills environment for years now. “We wanted to expand on [the farm-to-table] idea, but try things from all around the world. We don’t want to follow a trend. We just want to make fun, great-tasting food, from the catsup to the main entrée. Nothing is overlooked, and there’s passion and longevity. That’s kind of our motto.”
It’s not only a motto, but a practice. Crafted by Executive Chef Hunter Keels (Caylor wanted “a place where this kid can really show off what he can do”), the entrées hover in the $20-and-under category, and occupy that sweet spot where familiarity meets imaginative preparation. The curried oxtail is a not-to-be-missed cornerstone; duck breast with Israeli couscous catches the eye; and sharables, like the pizza with smoked ham, almonds, cinnamon and pineapple, come out of left field—but are magical.
Paired with 20 craft beers on tap—plus a laundry list of boutique wines that are sure to be new to all but wine snobs—The Drafting Table is the embodiment of unassuming. Come for unpretentious, killer food, and, when dinner’s over, belly up to the bar and watch the game.
“We’re calling ourselves a gastropub with a great social atmosphere,” Caylor says. “Leave your cellphone in your pocket while you’re here and just have a good time.”