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The new 1865 Craft House and Kitchen serves fresh, modern American cuisine in an upbeat atmosphere 

It's Friday night on a front balcony stylishly lined with Sunset magazine-style landscaping and young jasmine vines. Though the restaurant's only been open 2 1/2 weeks, patrons are making themselves at home. One group is passing around brightly wrapped presents, likely for the guest of honor—no doubt the next bright graduate let out of the Cal Poly gate.

A few college-aged guys holding rocks glasses and pints are checking out 1865 Craft House and Kitchen's street-side entryway, as singles like to do. My husband, Greg, and I walk up the new cement path, past the "Just opened" sign, to two smiling hostesses and the dining manager, Melody Forsell.

click to enlarge CURB APPEAL ... This tasteful building has been gorgeously redone. As the sun goes down, flame features and modern fireplaces romantically light the balconies. Worried about parking on Monterey? Please don't. There's plenty of parking in the back. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • CURB APPEAL ... This tasteful building has been gorgeously redone. As the sun goes down, flame features and modern fireplaces romantically light the balconies. Worried about parking on Monterey? Please don't. There's plenty of parking in the back.

They greet us with upbeat energy, as if they've been expecting us. We don't have a reservation, which is no problem, and Melody takes the time to give us the tour of the newly opened restaurant. We have our choice of two outdoor balconies, bar tables, two downstairs rooms full of dining, and upstairs platforms of tables.

The loft seating by the bar casually cozies up against a wall saying, "Eat. Drink. Be Happy," written in preserved moss, a motto we later see scrawled on the bottom of our bill. We feel it's our duty to take that advice. In my mind, I hear my Irish-American Grandpop slurring a little as he leans over the bar and holds up a pint, "Eat. Drink. Be happy, dear. Life is short." It's a good message ... always.

click to enlarge EAT. DRINK. BE HAPPY. The three friends who own 1865 Craft House and Kitchen, chef Bernard Livingston, sous chef Luis Gomez, and the crew of 60-plus employees have a simple wish for you. It's written in preserved moss on one of the bar walls. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • EAT. DRINK. BE HAPPY. The three friends who own 1865 Craft House and Kitchen, chef Bernard Livingston, sous chef Luis Gomez, and the crew of 60-plus employees have a simple wish for you. It's written in preserved moss on one of the bar walls.

Just before 7 p.m. half the tables are occupied by a scattering of families with young children, college-aged groups of friends, and couples our age and older. Gastropub ghosts of the restaurant's past life as Pappy McGregor's still linger in the scent of beer, grilled meat, and french fries while the sound of Motown mixes with baseball commentary from the sound system and TV screens galore. One screen covers an entire wall along the open staircase up to platforms of seating between angular beams.

A "wall-terfall" leads to the bar, and electric lights glow along the liquor display. Exposed white beams, industrial air tubes, and high ceilings give off a modern and airy vibe, and dashes of white tablecloths topped with clear vases holding sprigs of wheat and wildflowers add a homey touch.

As we take it all in, Greg—who works in construction and has hands the size of Wreck-It Ralph—surprises me by ordering the most, shall we say, "feminine" drink on the cocktail menu to start: the Unicorn Paloma. It's basically a $12 Cadillac Patron margarita on the rocks, with a pink and black salt rim, plus a flashy blue butterfly tea ice cube that melts into purple. I, on the other hand, begin with a Barrelhouse Stout.

One of our servers tells us not to underestimate the vegetables. Vegetables? We may need to reconsider our 1865 Cobb salad, which is our vegetable of the evening (though the bibb lettuce comes extravagantly shrouded in julienned marinated grilled chicken, egg, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, and blue cheese crumbles).

Chef Bernard Livingston used to work at Vegetable Butcher in SLO, and one of 1865's owners is vegetarian, which must be why one of the best items on the menu is actually a $5 side dish: The Roasted Elote Off the Cob is like the traditional Mexican street corn found at the farmers market. This grilled elote is a creamy spiced-up bowl served in a cast iron skillet. The corn—packed with flavor and those marvelous charred specks from the grill—is shaved from the cob and topped with chunks of soft queso. The corn elote also appears on the menu as the "Dip Duo," served over house-crafted flour chips and guacamole.

click to enlarge UNICORN FOUND Unicorn Paloma is one of many fab cocktails on the drink menu. This magical Patron Silver grapefruit cocktail is chilled with a butterfly tea ice cube and rimmed in pink and black salt. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • UNICORN FOUND Unicorn Paloma is one of many fab cocktails on the drink menu. This magical Patron Silver grapefruit cocktail is chilled with a butterfly tea ice cube and rimmed in pink and black salt.

The large brewhouse menu has plenty of choices to fulfill the "Eat" imperative from the restaurant's motto: appetizers of signature wings and mussels and Harris Ranch burgers with delicious aiolis and perfectly seasoned, crispy beer battered fries; flatbreads with prosciutto and arugula; Cubano and stuffed portobello sandwiches on soft baked brioche; and American comfort food like jambalaya and applewood bacon macaroni and cheese.

Big appetite eaters will love this place. Case in point: The Bavarian pretzel and beer cheese fondue appetizer (with spicy andouille sausage optional) could feed an entire Aussie rugby team. The pretzel is soft and texturally perfect, and the fondue is definitely British style.

As for "Drink," I do my part by enjoying the playful and creative Central Coast Sunset Mocktail—topped with pineapple foam and colored with lime, orange, and cranberry juice—which is making me rethink juice a bit.

click to enlarge ABUELA'S CREAMED CORN Served in a skillet, the roasted corn off the cob elote side dish will make you rethink eating veggies as a duty. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • ABUELA'S CREAMED CORN Served in a skillet, the roasted corn off the cob elote side dish will make you rethink eating veggies as a duty.

"Be Happy"? Definitely. This is the place for local prime rib. For the purists, there's the entree served with red skin-on mashed potatoes and organic rainbow carrots. There's also poutine, a Quebec-style appetizer: prime rib over beer battered fries topped with cheese curds.

click to enlarge UPTOWN SLIDERS Don't you deserve Prime Rib in your sliders? These babies are dipped in au jus, topped with Swiss and onion straws, and served with your choice of fries. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • UPTOWN SLIDERS Don't you deserve Prime Rib in your sliders? These babies are dipped in au jus, topped with Swiss and onion straws, and served with your choice of fries.

We order from the sandwich board and commit to the prime rib dip sliders. I declare my allegiance after one flavorful bite. Those two sharable, local prime rib beauties are as tender as filet mignon, topped with the right amount of Swiss cheese and tasty onion straws in warm, soft brioche buns. The sliders are served with fresh, homemade ketchup and horseradish aioli. The flat fries—perfect size and texture—are addictive: non-greasy and seasoned with skill.

Desserts are all house-crafted "indulgences," including beignets and a tangy lemon tart.

As we say our goodbyes, we vow to come back when we need our next comfort food fix. The friendly staff thank us, and the entire kitchen crew peeks out and waves. Eat, drink, and be happy. Done! Δ

Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is always happy when she eats and drinks. Send libations and three cheers through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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