MELISSA Monosoff distinctly remembers what she calls her "aha!" beer moment.
Monosoff, a master sommelier at Savona Restaurant in Gulph Mills, was working at Maia, the sadly short-lived eclectic American restaurant on the Main Line. She was trying to find the right wine pairing for an appetizer of barbecued house-smoked eel served with a foie gras torchon and hazelnuts.
"I tried different Alsatian wines, a Pinot Gris," she said. "Not this, not that - nothing worked. It was the eel that was driving me crazy, with its combination of sweet and smoky. Then the lightbulb went off. It's not wine at all - oh, my God! It's beer. Belgian Chimay Red, which is also a little sweet and smoky, was perfect. From then on, I was hooked."
Monosoff now frequently turns to the complexity of beer when she's looking for the ideal flavor match for everything from bitter summer salad greens to sushi to chicken and vegetables on the grill. "You'd be missing something if you didn't experiment with beer and food pairings," she said. "Beer makes so many foods taste better."
With the third annual Philly Beer Week kicking off tomorrow, a riotous 10 days of 872 brew-related events at more than 140 bars in the city and 'burbs, it's no secret that Philadelphians love their beer.
Thinking about how the many complex flavors in craft beer can work with food takes the whole beer experience to the next level.
"That's something wine drinkers don't always realize," said Erin McLean, director of Tria's Fermentation School, the ongoing education academy concentrating on Tria's toothsome triumvirate: beer, wine and cheese. Originally directed just to Tria staff, the academy also offers fun classes for the general public, including the upcoming Beer for Winos, offered by McLean and Monosoff in July.
"We're so spoiled in Philly," said McLean, who combines an education background with a passion for food and drink. "We have an amazing array of beer available to us from all over the world. Beer offers as complex a tasting experience as wine does, so why not explore it?"
Al Paris has been attending his own version of Beer U. in the past year. Paris, a familiar figure on the local restaurant scene for more than two decades, is executive chef at the newly opened City Tap House, an ambitious craft brew pub in a stunning lodge setting that would be right at home in Vail, Colo. Notable for its 60 beers on tap - each line fed straight from a changing array of kegs - City Tap House's impressive beer program is managed by beer steward Andy Farrell , who, along with company culinary director Brian Cooke, a former general manager at the Fountain at the Four Seasons, worked with Paris to develop the beer-friendly menu.
"We did a lot of tasting," said Paris, whose culinary background includes extensive experience with Californiawine. The chef found himself surprised at just how similar wine and beer pairing could be.
"I thought I knew what I liked, but the more I tasted, the more my flavor profile changed," he said.
Pairing light beers with lighter foods and darker beers with heavier foods is a pattern familiar to wine drinkers, added Paris. "And you can often correlate wine to beer - for example, taste the astringent, tannic qualities found in really heavy Barola or Cabernet in a more heavily hopped beer."
Philly's love of beer is downright historical, said Paris.
"Pennsylvania once had more beer breweries than England and Ireland combined," he said. Pay a visit to the City Tavern, in Independence National Historical Park, and you can quaff a pint of Thomas JeffersonAle, one of the restaurant's Ales of the Revolution, brewed to 18th-century specs by locally based Yards Brewing Company.
At MidAtlantic, Daniel Stern'shandsome neighborhood taproom on the ground level of the Drexel Science Center, chef de cuisine Steve Lamborn came up with an array of craft-beer matched dinners for Philly Beer Week.
"Our emphasis is on both the cuisine and craft beers of the mid-Atlantic region," he said. Each evening, from Monday through June 11, he's creating a $35, three-course menu to pair with the likes of Cricket Hill East Coast Lager, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Erie Railbender Ale.
"Beer can be much more forgiving than wine when you're eating something tricky like red sauce, artichokes or asparagus," he said. A hoppier beer, like Indiapale ale, is the perfect complement to traditional bar food and anything with spice. Lamborn makes a zippy dish of pork "wings," boneless pieces of pork shoulder fried and tossed in a molasses chili sauce. "The heat of the wings and maltiness of a beer like Troegs' Troegenator are just made for each other."
Paris' beer-loving menu includes an outstanding sausage trio of lamb merguez, bratwurst and sweet fennel, an array of brick-oven pizzas, mussels spiked with spicy chorizo, roasted garlic or shaved fennel and a daily supper that might include a pan-seared grouper (Monday) or suckling pig (June 11).
When pairing, said Paris, think about matching the flavor notes in the beer - the citrus, earthiness or sweet fruit - with like foods. A few more general thoughts: The hoppier and more bitter a beer is, the stronger flavor profile you'll need to stand up to it.
For vino lovers, red wine is akin to ale and white wine to lager. Hop-forward beers can stand in for a more acidic wine.
But, Paris added, "Really, there are no hard and fast rules. The point is to be adventurous. Try matching complementary flavors, and then try contrasting pairings to see how you like them."
"Just like with wine, there are guidelines, but no definitive right or wrong. Whatever you like is the best pairing for you."
Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20100603_Menu_with_a_brew__Chefs_refine_the_art_of_pairing_beer_and_food.html#ixzz0ppUPIAhR
When he opens his neighborhood bistro, Adsum, this summer, Matt Levin will include ingredients sourced from the Southwark/Queen Village Community Garden in many of the dishes he serves. It’s an idea that he says he’s been kicking around for months. Last week he met with the garden’s members to try to formalize a plan to use their homegrown hauls, and is currently awaiting an answer from the group. “I got a lot of positive feedback from individual gardeners,” Levin told Grub Street. “They still have to vote on it, but I think its safe to say that I will be utilizing something from the garden in someway.”
The ability to walk through a garden, pick carrots out of the ground, walk back to the restaurant and prepare a dish with them is an alluring prospect for the chef. “I’ve always tried to keep things local and support my neighborhood,” Levin said. “It’s kind of hard to get more local than three blocks away.” In the coming weeks Levin will begin reaching out to more of the city’s community gardens in order to source a wider selection of locally-grown ingredients.
Retirement hasn’t been easy for Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix. He’s tried twice, but says he didn’t enjoy it much either time. Last month he announced a new partnership with local caterers Max & Me, who it turns out he had been working with as a consultant almost from the moment he bid adieu to his namesake restaurant at The Rittenhouse hotel in 2008. That restaurant he opened shortly after retiring from an 18-year run at the Four Season’s Fountain restaurant. “I always enjoy the teaching aspect of my job,” Lacroix told Grub Street. “After consulting for two years, training their staff, I accepted Max & Me’s offer to become a partner.”
The new job offers some excitement, Lacroix told us. “It’s great for me,” he explains. “Catering is new for me, so it’s a new challenge. A challenge is not boring, is it?”
Between stepping away from The Rittenhouse and signing on fulltime with Max & Me, the 69-year-old chef kept himself busy bicycling, traveling and working as a private chef for his wife. “She took good care of me for 40 years,” he said. “It is my time now to take care of her.”
This Thursday, June 3, Lacroix will lead Gusti d’Italia, a cooking demonstration and small plate tasting at the National Constitution Center, which coincides with its exhibit Ancient Rome & America. Following that he will participate in a charity dinner at Loews Philadelphia Hotel on June 6 that benefits the Cardiovascular Institute of Philadelphia, and will turn up again at the Vetri Foundation’s Great Chefs Event benefiting Alex's Lemonade Stand on June 15.
Eric Paraskevas of terra and Mackenzie Hilton of Mercato are appearing on Chopped tonight at 10pm. You can ROOT on Hilton at a viewing party at Valanni starting at 9:30. There will be ROOT cocktails to help you cheer on the chef in the private dining room in the back.
Paraskevas will be busy at terra where he’s hosting a Victory Beer Dinner The dinner features 5-courses and 5-beers.
By Kellie Patrick Gates
Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr plans to bring a little Frankfurt to Frankford.
Starr hopes to open a 10,000-square foot, mostly outdoor beer garden at 1210 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, near Johnny Brenda's Tavern, this summer.
“The emphasis is absolutely on beer, in the spirit of German and Austrian beer gardens,” Starr said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. The menu isn't set yet, he said, but the food will be “consistent with that concept,” although there may be a few lighter, healthier options, as well.
The beer garden will have about 250 seats outside and between 80 and 90 inside. The outdoor seating will be enclosed with a wall that already exists at the site. No drawings or plans are ready yet.
The concept is quite different from Starr's other projects, which include the Asian fusion POD in University City, the comfort food with Brady Bunch décor at Jones in Center City, and Tex-Mex with a side of kitch at El Vez, to name just a few. Check out http://www.starr-restaurant.com/
When asked why create a beer-focused venue, Starr said, “I'm always looking for something new to do. I get bored with myself.”
Starr admits that while he has a cold one now and again, he's not even that into beer. “I'm a wine guy,” he said. “Or, if I want a real drink, I have a martini.”
But Starr knows plenty of people have a special place in their hearts for fine beers. “This is a beer city, absolutely,” he said. “There's even a neighborhood called Brewery Town.”
Why plop it down in Fishtown? Starr thinks it's an up-and-coming place. “It has a nice scale to it. It is a true community,” he said. “Fishtown feels right. I can't put my finger on it – I just felt it.”
Starr said Girard Avenue – close to his Frankford location - “is a great avenue that will and needs to be developed. It has good bones.”
The beer garden project won the approval of Fishtowners at a Fishtown Neighbors Association meeting earlier this month, where attendees voted in support of Starr's project, 158-11. Starr also recently got the zoning variance he needs to operate.
Fishtown Neighbors President Neil Brecker is thrilled that Starr is coming. “When you have somebody of the reputation and stature of Stephen Starr, who is known for creating not just restaurants but destinations ... and he decides to put a one-of-a-kind place in your neighborhood, it's a reflection of that neighborhood,” he said.
Brecker also sees an opportunity for the Fishtown-Kensington area to capitalize on beer tourism, what with Starr's project, Johnny Brenda's, Yards on Delaware Avenue and the Philadelphia Brewing Company on Amber Street.
Starr says local brews will definitely be joining German and Austrian imports on the menu. His people are still working on which ones.
FNA and Fishtown FACT are known for their disagreement on one development under construction in the neighborhood: SugarHouse. FNA opposed it. FACT enthusiastically supports it. But FACT co-founder Maggie O'Brien is just as pleased about the beer garden as Brecher is. “I think it's the perfect idea,” said O'Brien, who says she's a big fan of Starr's. And nothing could better complement the growing number of art galleries on Frankford Avenue than a biergarten, she said.
“Frankford Avenue before was a dump, and now it's really being revitalized,” said O'Brien, with compliments to the New Kensington Development Corporation for its work. “I have an art gallery around the corner from my house,” said O'Brien. “Who would have ever thought that?”
O'Brien has lived in Fishtown for 25 years. "Before, when I told people I live in Fishtown, they would say, 'Eww!' People didn't realize what a great place it was," she said. "Now they say, 'I wish I could afford to buy a house in your neighborhood.' Stephen Starr is giving validation to what we've known all along.”
On the issue of SugarHouse, Starr is more closely aligned with FNA than with FACT. When asked what the proximity of SugarHouse, and, further south on Columbus, Foxwoods, would do for his business, Starr said, “I think they do nothing for it. I'm not a big fan of the casino thing.”
The neighbors did have some concerns about Starr's proposed restaurant. The biggest issues were parking and noise, FNA's Brecher said. He said that the Starr team said there will be no live music, which helps with the noise. “The acoustic expert estimated that taking into account the 25-foot high walls, the expected sound levels would be approximately 50 decibels,” Brecher said.
Starr said Monday the acoustics expert is also looking at baffles and other sound-reducing options.
To ease parking concerns, there will be off-street, valet parking in a nearby lot, Starr said. “I normally don't like to do that, but that's what they wanted,” Starr said.
He went into the project thinking it wouldn't be needed, he said. “We want to do a neighborhood-y place. A place that caters to the city, as opposed to the suburbs,” he said.
Starr figured most of his customers would walk to the beer garden, and still expects a lot of foot traffic. But the neighbors at the FNA meeting told him that a lot of people drive to Johnny Brenda's from other parts of the city, and they expect that will happen at his new place, too.
If the beer garden does open this summer, it will be just months behind another new Starr restaurant that will open at 20th and Chestnut on April 20th. Starr says he's turning an old “divey-diner” into a 90-seat, authentic – not-Americanized – Mexican restaurant. A connected, but thematically separate space will hold a 35-seat cocktail lounge. Starr hired the owner of Milk and Honey (http://www.mlkhny.com/newyork/newyork.php), located in New York's east side – to develop the cocktail menu.
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