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Bar review: Craft Bar Kitchen in Lutz knows its stuff

First impressions matter. Upon entering Lutz's Craft Bar Kitchen, mine was wow, this place is freezing cold. Since that isn't a useful observation, I moved onto the sleekness of this new restaurant's interior.

Brushed-metal wall art, swirling with blues and silvers. Edison bulbs in starburst fixtures. Black ceiling, white walls and wooden floors. A private dining area tucked into its own room in the back corner. Weathered brickwork, granite bar top — the works. Clean but not sterile, comfy but with class.

Then I sat at the bar, where the bartender kicked it right off with an introduction, a handshake and a quick explanation of the restaurant's concept — house-made ingredients; fresh purees, juices and infused syrups; an Asian-inspired new-American menu — and recommendations off the cocktail menu (the Maple & Things, a smoked old-fashioned, is very popular). New first impression: pretty good.

I perused the cocktail list, which included several immediate standouts. As promised, house-infused syrups — agave, rather than simple — factored into many drinks, along with various combinations of muddled fresh fruit, herbs, juices and premium spirits.

I went with the Florida Fashioned; Geneva went with the Slim Shady. The former is a spin on the old-fashioned — the old-fashioned, Manhattan and mule variations are common themes on the menu — which replaces bourbon with McGavin's scotch and adds an element of tartness by way of lemon and grapefruit bitters. The addition of a burnt orange adds additional citrus flavor and aroma.

The Slim Shady is an attractive drink, made with Chopin rye vodka, lemon, raspberry and brown sugar. The garnish is a raspberry stacked on a lemon wheel, speared with a branded toothpick and served in an angled glass, giving it a unique look. Both cocktails were fantastic.

Behind the bar is a moonshine still that appears to be in working order. It's for decorative purposes, of course, but even if it was pumping out white lightning, it would have a lot of competition from the well-selected spirits, which is whiskey-heavy and features many less-common brands.

Scotch drinkers with a few extra bucks to burn will want to take a look at the Macallan 18 (which is sherry cask-aged), while Cognac drinkers might enjoy the 1738 from Rémy Martin. American whiskey fans have lots to choose from, with deep cuts like Amador (hop-flavored, from California), Kinsey (Pennsylvania), and Clyde Mays (an "Alabama-style" whiskey from Kentucky, bottled in Florida).

Above the bar is a small whiskey barrel, used to age cocktails. The current selection, which will be ready for an upcoming special event, is a barrel-aged Vieux Carre. A 5-liter Redemption Rye barrel is coming soon, which will allow for a pretty substantial expansion of the current barrel-aging program — a feature that I'm always glad to see.

Solid marks so far, but then, a minor gripe. For a bar that borrows a buzzword from the current beer movement, Craft Bar Kitchen's beer menu could use some editing. I know it's pedantic, but there are misspellings, incomplete product names, brewery misattributions and general weirdness (Orange Blossom Brewery from . . . Pilsner?) throughout.

But the quality of the beer selection is quite good, but when compared to the detailed and accurate wine list, carefully constructed food and cocktail menus and overall attention to detail represented throughout the rest of the business, I think a little clean-up of the beer menu itself should be a priority. Beer is important, too!

Typos aside, Craft Bar Kitchen left a good impression. This is premium stuff — an upscale restaurant experience in an environment that's entirely accessible. You could come to have drinks and watch the game just as comfortably as you could come for a fancy celebration dinner. Great service, a well-picked selection of beer, wine and spirits, and a strong list of house cocktails. That's a great start.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

Craft Bar Kitchen

17669 N Dale Mabry Highway, Lutz; (813) 302-9189;

craftbarkitchen.com

The vibe: A modern, casual-upscale restaurant, focusing on craft cocktails and premium spirits.

Food: Sides, salads, appetizers and shared plates, $6 to $18; entrees, $17 to $70; desserts, $6 to $8.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5 to $7; wine, $8 to $13 by the glass and $25 to $46 by the bottle; liquor, $8 to $15, with some ultra-premiums ranging $25 and up.

Specialty: The house cocktails include several variations on the old-fashioned, Manhattan and mule cocktails. Try the popular Maple & Things, which spotlights house-smoked Old Forrester, supported by maple syrup, Angostura and chocolate bitters. Or switch it the other way and go Florida Fashioned: McGavin's scotch, lemon and grapefruit bitters, fresh citrus juice and a torched lemon peel.

Hours: 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday ; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.

Bar review: Craft Bar Kitchen in Lutz knows its stuff 09/01/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2016 4:50pm]
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