If I Only Ate A Brain (And I Thought I Did) At Craftbar

I had a song for you Thursday night. It was in response to a meal Lauren and I ate at Craftbar:

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Specifically, it was in response to my first course: Sweetbreads. The song started like this:

“When a person’s mostly meat-fed

they can’t avoid a sweetbread

but from sweetbreads I obstain.

Yet if I were not an objecter

I could be Hannibal Lecter

if I only ate a brain.”

The song was a charming ditty, all set to be recorded, and then I learned something most troubling…

The brain I thought I was eating when I ate this delicious sweetbread…

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…was not a brain at all. For I have latently learned that sweetbreads are not brains but thymus glands. Cue the Food Network Encyclopedia: “Prized by gourmets throughout the world, sweetbreads are the thymus glands of veal, young beef, lamb and pork. There are two glands–an elongated lobe in the throat and a larger, rounder gland near the heart. These glands are connected by a tube, which is often removed before sweetbreads are marketed.”

And so you have it: I am not a brain eater. I am a thymus gland eater. And this being my first thymus gland, let me tell you: I enjoyed it. It was crispy on the outside and–well–succulent on the inside. For something “prized by gourmets,” it’s not as decadent as foie gras or as fragrantly suggestive as truffles, but it’s worth trying at least once in your life. Especially if you have an extra thymus gland lying around.

Lauren and I were at Craftbar because her infrequent visits to the city from D.C. make any arrival a cause for celebration. And since neither of us had been to Craftbar, we figured it was a good project for this site.

The space is much larger than the old Craftbar, which I used to walk past on my way to ‘wichcraft. But ‘wichcraft is no more and Craftbar is now a full-sized restaurant. Compared to Craft (where I went with Derrick and Melissa) it’s much more casual, with bright colors on the walls and lighthearted waiters. Ours helped us pick wines by the glass to match our food. He, in fact, brought several bottles over for us to taste. Lauren and I really liked that.

When I was gnawing on what I thought was brain, Lauren noshed on a terrific appetizer of “pecorino cheese fondue.” I was dubious at first because we all know cheese-eaters are an inferior species to brain-eaters (or thymus gland eaters) but Lauren’s appetizer took the prize. The secret was in its sweetness.

“There’s honey in here,” declared Lauren.

I didn’t disagree. I just ate whatever she gave me.

For my entree, I had what foodies frequently call “the best meatballs in New York.” (I thought those belonged to Rocco Despirito? Zing!) These are Craftbar’s Veal & Ricotta Meatballs:

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Light as a feather, stiff as a board: these meatballs are intimidatingly large and yet not overwhelming once they hit your mouth. I have a hard time justifying their appx. $20 price tag, but that’s for economists to debate. Would I get them again? To be honest: no. I don’t love meatballs that much. But these were well made.

Lauren had quail and we switched plates halfway through. I thought here quail was a bit dry in places, but I really admired the ravioli that came with it:

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Do you notice the truffle shavings on top and the herbs pressed into the dough? That’s what I call a classy ravioli. And that was my favorite part of the entree service.

For dessert, we shared brown sugar cake with apple and ice cream:

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‘Twas very tasty; ’twas consumed right quickly.

So in conclusion, Craftbar is a fine place to eat dinner. You can get exotic things like sweetbreads or comfort food like meatballs. Is it the best bang for your buck in New York? No, but it’s a welcome contribution to the scene. And if they start serving heart in a tin can, I’ll surely write a song about it.

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10 comments

  1. When I was a kid, my mother made sweet breads a few times a year, and told me that they were brains. Who started this deception?

  2. Those are what we call in Argentina “mollejas”(we, huge meat eaters).They are really good if grilled but their taste and texture depend much on the way they are cooked… so may be that was the problem ’cause they are “amazing”!

  3. My mom used to cook sweetbreads when I was a child. Older brother loved them. Me? YUCK! Want brains?…try scrapple. Mom made that too. DOUBLE YUCK. I just don’t have the taste buds for organ meats.

  4. In the U.S. sweetbreads are thymus glands, by decree of the FDA. In many other countries, it is the pancreas.

    Love the ditty! And with a slight rewrite, you could go to Babbo and eat the brain ravioli that Mario makes…

  5. I loved the song, it almost made me want to become a brain-eater. But I just don’t think I’ve got the stomach for it. I think I’ll pass on sweetbreads too. The ravioli look delicious though.

  6. “And if they start serving heart in a tin can”–I’ve have chicken heart on a metal skewer a la churrascarria’s, not much to write home about, or even write a song about. Really love your site, been a loyal fan four about a year or so now.

  7. I LOVE sweetbreads. Don’t see them on too many menus here in Portland but now and then they do turn up. And I’ll always order ’em. Yum.

  8. My first (and best) sweetbreads were at a restaurant on the Ile St Loius in Paris. I will never forget that meal. They were incredible!

    I too thought they were brains at the time, and wrestled with the fear that I would catch Kuru (or Jacob Krutsfields virus) from them. But the waiter recommended them as the house specialty, and how could I not order them? Only after I had decided that if I was goig to die from a rare virus, it should be one I got from eating something that tasted sublime. (As opposed to the ones you get slinking around in bath houses)

    Now 20 years later I am still alive, and somewhere along the line I too learned they were thymus and not sheep brains.

    I’ve yet to have them taste as good as those first sweetbreads, though.

  9. this evening was my first adventure into the world of sweetbreads. i really enjoyed my meal at a french restaurant in manhattan. i was feeling adventurous, obviously. and, i didn’t know what i was ordering. after the evening out – dinner and the theater – i looked it up on the i-net to see what i’d eaten. at first i thought it was brains, but then was led to believe it’s thymus. good thing i’m a very adventurous eater and that it tasted really good.