I love beer. And I love food. So it stands to reason that I LOVE a good beer dinner.
I’m not quite sure how I really became a foodie… My dad is a plain burger, no seasoning on his fries, NO sauce ever of any kind, pizza-hating kind of guy. (Pizza hating!) My sisters are both pretty picky eaters. (Chicken tenders and cheese fries are the safest way to go for these two.) My mom probably is the most adventurous. But they’re ALL well-done burger people. I know several of them have commented “Ew.” on my Instagram burger shots upon seeing a beautifully topped, bit into, pinkish-reddish burger.
Yet somehow, a foodie I am. I work on the food team in my company’s marketing department. So somehow between a childhood of PB & J sandwiches and super-well-done burgers, and my growing up and life in the foodservice industry from restaurants to working in catering to my current job, I’ve become a full-fledged foodie.
Now. Back on to this beer dinner!
The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, NC never fails to impress. (Saxapahaw in itself never fails to impress either!) We get to The Eddy Pub about once a month probably. It’s one of Ben’s and my favorite local places. We recently brought a few other foodies from our Culinary R & D team from work from Pennsylvania to The Eddy, and the hard-to-impress were impressed and still talk about it.
We knew we would be lucky to live close to all this great beer when we moved to NC, but we found that we’re extremely lucky to live close to some extremely talented chefs. And Chef Isaiah at The Eddy is our absolute favorite.
The Eddy has a private room attached to the pub where they hold their beer dinners. They hold these dinners with different local breweries fairly often. And this most recent one was a dinner with Steel String Brewery.
The ambience is always phenomenal at The Eddy’s beer dinners. There’s typically some kind of flower or plant that is plucked from a local farm for use in one of the dishes, and they use the small flower buds in an understated, but perfect, centerpiece. The private room has a rustic feel to it, and you sit at one of two long tables, amongst the other foodies eager to see what Chef Isaiah and the brewery have in store for us.
The actual pub (minus the private room) boasts amazing sunset views, with the Haw River in the background only making it better. It’s literally the most beautiful spot I’ve visited in NC in my year since my move.
I’ve always been appreciative of my non-beer loving friends for entertaining my long-winded chats about the beer style I’m drinking or the 17 things I love about this brewery and the 27 things that I taste in the beer in my hand and why the flavors should all be there, or when I explain in depth what a “beer clean” glass is or why I wish this beer had a better malt backbone, or when I explain that a Lindeman’s Framboise isn’t at all indicative of the fruit lambic beer style because it’s sweetened post-fermentation, or when I explain that when a beer geek describes a beer as “catty”, that it’s really just a nice way of saying that it smells like cat pee, and that it usually comes from Simcoe hops and is entirely acceptable in American IPAs and similar styles. These friends are damn near saints. They listen to my beer geek talk ALL. THE. TIME.
I feel like Chef Isaiah is the same way about food that I am about beer. The food geekiness oozes out of him. He probably talked for 2 minutes just about how he made the popcorn biscuit for one of the courses by popping popcorn and then taking it and grinding it down to a powder to make it almost like cornmeal, and then using that to make biscuits. He talks about the processes and equipment he used and the mistakes he makes and how he turns them into something else amazing.
And nearly every ingredient he uses in his dishes is something from a local farm or something that just happens to be growing right outside the pub, like pine needles from the trees lining the walkway to The Eddy.
Steel String was one of the 106 breweries I had visited last year, and I was very impressed with their gose. We left the brewery with a growler fill of it. And we really reserve growler fills for outstanding beers, because we just have so damn many bottles at home that we need to drink!
For a beer dinner, keep in mind the 3 guidelines for pairing food and beer. You can read more about these guidelines and why they work and what else doesn’t work on my recent blog post about pairing food and beer here: How to Pair Food and Beer. First, you always want to match intensities. You don’t want either the beer or food to overwhelm what you’ve paired it with. Then, you can find complementary flavors, find contrast, or even both.
Here’s the amazing food and beer from that night, along with my notes on the pairings:
First Course: NC flounder tartare with goose egg béarnaise, cilantro juice, goose egg whites, beet powder, and micro bull’s blood paired with Der Schneid Berliner Weisse
I can hear the voices of my mother and sisters in my head already – “Ewww! You ate something with bull’s blood in it?!”
Calm your shit… It’s just a type of beet.
This dish was beautifully plated, and a nice, approachable dish for the first course. The Berliner Weisse really shined here. A Berliner Weisse is known for being aggressively sour with a light body and a dry finish. It’s a wheat-based beer with high carbonation.
The intensities between the beer and food were a little off. The beer consumed some of the more delicate flavors in the dish. Carbonation in beer is a good palate cleanser, and the beer’s flavors don’t linger, so this actually did work for me in the end.
Second Course: Grayson cheese with mayhaw jelly, charred spring onions, and red buds paired with Pretty Polly American Wild Ale
This was one of my favorite pairings of the night. Chef Isaiah talked about loving this horribly stinky cheese. I always think that a stinky cheese like this belongs with a farmhouse ale, wild ale, or Brett beer because of the similar flavors of funkiness or farmey barnyard character.
The cheese was definitively stinky with a creamy but slightly sharp finish. The beer stood up to it and cleared your pallet for the next bite. The brightness of the beer scrubbed the pallet well, despite minimal carbonation. The jelly added depth to this dish and made the pairing even better by providing a slightly sweet, mildly fruity balance to the dish, while also providing some contrast to the beer.
Everything on the plate was edible. As we walked outside to leave the dinner, I spotted the red buds on one of the trees and contemplated pinching a bud off to sample again.
The Pretty Polly was one of my favorite beers of the evening. I had picked up a bottle of it the other week, and immediately regretted not picking up more than one. The dry hopping makes this amazingly complex.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of proper glassware! This is a beer dinner, folks! Lots of time has been dedicated to working on the pairings and preparing a menu to highlight each and every flavor of the beer and the food. The beer geek (or as my husband would call me in this particular instance, “beer snob”. And I’m good with that!) in me applauds a brewery for bringing glasses that highlight each particular style of beer, or even for just bringing one type of glass like a tulip glass that generally is good to use for tasting any beer. (It’s just a little bonus that this glass actually is branded with the beer’s name. Bonus points to Steel String.)
Pint glasses were NOT made for beer, people. I accept that they exist and will likely always exist in different places and circumstances. But I have to 86 them at a beer dinner. You wouldn’t give someone a straw to sip soup with because you’d be missing out on the aroma. This is the same concept.
Third Course: Popcorn biscuit with red eye gravy, bacon lardon, NC shrimp, sweet pea puree, and pea shoots paired with Dooley Black Saison
The popcorn biscuit was really intriguing. I love popcorn. And I love biscuits. This was a marriage that just seemed like it was always meant to be. The bacon was the rockstar of this dish and was perfectly salty, fatty, and thick. I love a good piece of crispy, crunchy bacon, but I could eat this thick, fatty bacon all day long without even giving a second thought to wanting a nice crisp to it.
Dooley Black Saison has cold brewed coffee added to it. This isn’t your standard saison. I love coffee, but I truly didn’t love it in this beer. Saisons are dominated by fruity flavors, are moderately spicy, and sometimes have a tart sourness to them. It just didn’t work for me with the coffee added.
I understood the coffee/breakfast food pairing, but it didn’t hit it out of the park for me.
Fourth Course: Curried quail with paw paw ginger sauce, roasted daylily shoots, cleaver pesto, lambsquarter, spinach, and young garlic pakora paired with Cryin’ Holy Double IPA
Fantastic dish. Fantastic beer. Fantastic pairing. And again, it was beautifully plated.
The IPA was very well-balanced with a good malt backbone and an approachable dry bitterness. It had a lemongrass and grapefruit finish. The malt backbone complemented the roastiness of the quail skin. And the lemongrass and grapefruit finish contrasted the curry with perfection. The IPA made the spiciness of the dish pop even more and really put this dish over the edge, in a good way.
Cryin’ Holy was another favorite beer of the night.
Fifth Course: Dark chocolate mousse with pine needle merengue, orange froth, sweet focaccia, and caramel powder paired with Turn Table Session Saison
This dish was a champion I definitely didn’t expect. The pairing of sweet focaccia and chocolate mousse was a pleasant surprise. By themselves, they would have just been good. But the point of the dish was the two working together to create something unexpected and truly delicious. The pine needle merengue was the icing on the cake, almost literally.
Also, only a badass would pluck pine needles from the pine trees standing outside the window and make something truly incredible and edible with it.
I didn’t love that this was paired with a session beer, and I would have loved to have seen this with the Cryin’ Holy Double IPA to really highlight the pine needle merengue. But the chocolate in this dish may not have agreed with that pairing either. My heart says an American Barleywine may have worked phenomenally with this dish, as American versions of the beer are highly hopped with a rich and intense maltiness that would have supported the chocolate mousse well. The intense maltiness would have contrasted well with the sweet focaccia, too.
Few breweries have a full repertoire of beer styles available, and this dish is extremely complex on its own. The Turn Table Session Saison is one I could drink all day long. (Which is good, because that’s the entire point of a session beer!)
Steel String produces some solid beers that I continue to seek out. (The week after the beer dinner, I couldn’t help but to drive out to the brewery for round two of some Steel String beer. The Rubber Room Dry-Hopped Rye Pale Ale was just calling my name.) Cheers to the brewers and entire staff at Steel String (some of whom I sat beside during the dinner)!
And as long as I live near Saxapahaw, I’ll keep going back to The Eddy Pub for more great beer dinners. I love the risks they take with their food. Each dish is a creation just for that dinner, and at the next dinner, there’s a completely new and refreshing lineup awaiting. The Eddy has a lot of heart, and Chef Isaiah’s love for food absolutely shines through in each dish.