Saturday, February 28, 2009

Habit

Yes, I’ll admit it; I’m a creature of habit. One of those habits is choosing a dining location by their beer selection. Sure there are some exceptions such as deciding to go out for sushi or to certain ethnic restaurants that have great food but no liquor license, but overall the beer offerings are as important as the food.

Last night we headed to Stillwater with Kat & Scott to try out Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar. This place has been getting some pretty good press for its food and I figured that they must have at least a passable beer selection knowing that they carry Lift Bridge. So over the river and through the woods we went.

Upon entering, the d├ęcor was less than inspiring and in Mag’s words “more Disney” than expected. Taking a look at the beer menu, the only local beer listed was Summit. Funny, I thought since I knew with 100% certainty that Lift Bridge had done a beer event here in the past. When asked, our waitress confirmed that yes; they did have Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison. Our drink order went in and we proceeded to figure out what dinner would consist of.

A long time later our drinks arrived, we ordered the plantain and tortilla chips with habanero salsa and queso for an app and our dinners. The appetizer was good, but not great and unfortunately that pretty much summed up the rest of the meal, too. I don’t know if they were severely understaffed or what the deal was but each time we ordered drinks it took an inordinately long time for our server to return with them. Had it not been for the fact that some friends (Brad, Dan, Jim and Julie of Lift Bridge) showed up as we were finishing the food I think we would have departed much sooner and headed over to Mad Capper where the beer selection is far superior and the service better.

I don’t mean this to be unduly cruel but in all honesty I’d choose Famous Dave’s over Smalley’s any day for the food. Add to that their abysmal beer selection (note: you can get a 40 oz of Mickey’s or Colt) and service and I can guarantee this is one place I’ll not be returning to.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back in the Saddle

After a too long hiatus, last night I made it back to growler fill night at Flat Earth. Armed with a basket of freshly made brownie bites in honor of Mike’s birthday, I received a warm welcome and no jabs about where I’d been (maybe the brownies worked their magic). My favorite sample was of their raspberry infused Belgian Pale Ale. While I was bummed they had run out of growlers of it earlier in the evening I was thrilled to be reminded that this is on the menu for the upcoming Flat Earth Beer Dinner at The Dining Studio that we’re going to. Last time I checked the chef was still working on the food menu but whatever is created I’m sure it’ll be great…the beer menu certainly is.

Once done there, Kat & Scott chauffeured me over to Ngon (better than the alternative of Kat trying to talk me through getting there after an inevitable wrong turn), where a small group of us had decided to go for dinner. There wasn’t a cask option, and apparently wouldn’t be for a couple weeks yet so I defaulted to one of my favorites – Surly Coffee Bender. Regular Bender doesn’t do anything for me, but the Coffee Bender is one of the amazingly plentiful coffee beers around town that is harder to find than I’d like. But Ngon seems to always have it on tap AND they serve it in Surly’s glass coffee mugs. Very cool.

Much to my approval our appetizer order included Ngon’s Cha Gio (egg rolls). We had these the last time I was there and I have been thinking about them ever since. For my dinner I almost ordered Hu Tieu hoac Mi Thap Cam, a soup similar to Pho. But when the waitress was taking our order someone asked about the Com Tams. The description she gave sounded good and I took her up on her recommendation of the Com Tam Bi, Suon, Trung. She said if you’re a pork fan then this is the dish for you. I am and it was!

As the meal wound down, the dessert menu came out and I couldn’t resist ordering the chocolate fire cake. I don’t recall the exact name and since it’s not listed on their on line menu suffice it to say that it is a mini-bundt shape chocolate cake with some type of pepper spice. The combination of flavors reminded me of earlier in the evening eating a brownie while drinking some of Flat Earth’s Hold Your Fire pepper beer. Both were excellent.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cheese & Beer = Bad Dreams


Picture a roofless bar with 4-foot high walls that sits on top of a hill and is flooded up to the level of the walls. My friends and I are sitting around in a flooded bar, up to our armpits in comfortable water, in the middle of winter, drinking beer and watching Cleo and other dogs swim around. Another unknown friend comes tromping up the hill to join us, leading his/her (faceless being) great dane, which was wearing roller skates on all four paws. As the dog gets closer, I see it has shaved feet; ugly, pink human feet.

Creepy. That was a dream I had last night. I'll often have really weird dreams if I eat after say 8 or 9 at night. I actually kind of enjoy it. But last night was the first time I've had Vietnamese food that late. I think the Pho from Ngon, as well as the beer and blue cheese I had earlier in the evening, conspired to cook up one of the most bizarre dreams I've had.

Anyway...

Kris and I had a chance to go to a private tasting of a Summit/Amablu cheese collaboration last night thanks to MNBeer's Ryan. Summit's Winter Ale was used in the making of Winter Blues, a St. Pete's Select blue cheese bathed in said beer. Kris has had a few of the Amablu offerings before, but this was my first time. We were both delighted with the cheeses served as well as with the Summit beer (of course). I'm generally not partial towards "fancy" cheeses, but I'll take small nibbles in the hopes that I'll one day acquire the taste. Luckily for me, Amablu uses cow milk to make their cheeses, which means they are not too funky for me to enjoy.

We got to the event right at 6, so we were able to chat with Mark Stutrud for about 15 minutes. I've had a chance to meet and speak with Mark on several occasions and I've found he's a personable, friendly, unassuming dude. Good guy. And it turns out that I actually have several connections with the Amablu folks. I used to work with one of the owners during my time working in Faribault. We were surprised to see one another at the event, but were glad for the chance to catch up. It also turns out that I and the President & Big-Cheese for Amablu, Jeff, used to work for the same company. Our paths never crossed as he had left the company prior to my joining the company. Needless to say, the conversation last night was as good or better than the beer and cheese.

Kris and I caught up with Kat and Scott at Ngon after the event at around 9 P.M. We had a few more beers and a late dinner of eggrolls and Pho and ended up leaving the restaurant, cheerfully content, as they were closing up.

Good times...good times.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Winterfestin'

Well, we made it through last night's Winterfest none the worse for wear. I think the fact that Kris and I were working at the event for the first hour helped us from over-indulging...not that there weren't ample opportunities to do so. I don't know about Kris, but I wasn't able to try everything I wanted to and I inexplicably tried a few I didnt' want to try. *shrugh* Such is life. Part of the problem was I spent a lot of time chatting with an empty glass. It was great seeing and chatting with a lot of old and new friends, but the empty glass in my sticky left hand set a poor example for much of the evening. Oh well. At least, this prevented me from saying anything too stupid to anyone.

So, what were the highlights of the evening, you ask? Hmm, tough to say exactly, but I'll mention a few.
  • Great Waters had a great beer line-up. I was able to try the peary Betelgeuse and the passion fruit Pup Tent. I was pleasantly pleased with both. I think Fitgers' El Diablo (strong barley wine) was my favorite for the evening, but I also enjoyed Surly's Three, Lift Bridge's Imperial Stout, Flat Earth's 2008 Winter Warlock and, for a bit of a change-up on the evening, Schell's U-bier. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to try anything from Barley John's or Rock Bottom and I was only able to get the Chipotle Wee Heavy from Town Hall (interesting beer, but not one I can drink more than a sip of). Finally, I was very happy with Brau Bros.' Sheep Head.
  • I struggled a bit with the crowd. I much prefer the typically very casual beer fest, but for some reason, Winterfest has turned into a bit of a dressy affair. Damnit, save the make-up, unstained and collared shirts, mousse, and high heels for a night club-hoppin and your fru-fru wine events! I get my fill of over-dressed d-bags at work. Fancy blouses, if very low cut, are still acceptable however...not on dudes though.
  • Friends, friends, friends! I had a chance to catch up with no less than four Eric(k)s, three Johns, three Ryans, a handful of Steves, a bucketful of Michaels, a smattering of Scotts and a plethora of other folks. Whee!
  • And the night ended on a bit of an awkward note as someone, who shall remain nameless, got "into it" with a brewer after the event over a matter of adding a couple of pieces of wood to a fire. I think a few too many beers on both sides of the issue were responsible. Ahh, good times...good times.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Why does my doughnut look like...


We’ll get to the doughnut in a minute but first you should probably have some context for that part of the story.

Last night we went over to Moto-I with Kat and Scott for drinks and dinner. Although I have had some sake I liked, beer’s really my thing and they have a pretty good tap beer selection. It’s all Minnesota brews and while I would prefer to see some Flat Earth or Lift Bridge in place of the Premium and Premium Light I get it that they have a wide range of customers, not just beer snobs like me. Last night my favor fell on Surly Furious and Summit Winter.

With the majority of the menu being small plates we ordered quite a few of them for sharing. My favorites were the beef jerky (nicely spiced, meaty and tender) and the bulgogi (excellent flavor although it could have been served with more kimchee). The wings were quite tasty, too, but a bit more of a spicy kick than I had been anticipating. Thank goodness there was beer to help cool things off.

After those and many more shared plates I spied doughnuts on the menu. Doughnuts, for all the evil they represent and for all the distress they may cause later, are hard to pass up. When they came out there was one plate of four very normal, round doughnuts and a second plate containing not only normal ones but one of, well, a different, phallic shape. I don’t know if someone in the kitchen was playing around with shapes or this was a true batter blunder but it no matter, it was still delightful in my mouth.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chili and beer

They go together like milk and cookies. They go together even better when the beer is on the house.

Sunday I had the opportunity to be one of the 12 judges for Town Hall’s Chili Cook Off and it was a blast. Scott was the only one I really knew but there were a few others I’ve seen before and the whole panel of judges seemed to have a great time. None of us were doing it just for the free beer but it was a nice perk.

There were 21 chilies entered but thankfully we didn’t have to try all of them; that would have been a lot of chili! As it was, each team of 3 judges sampled 5 entries in the first round and advanced their agreed upon top 2 to the semi-finals. There we each tried the additional 6 chilies the other judging groups had chosen.

The cream of the crop was evident so it really just came down to which chili would take the top spot. That honor ended up going to Pete, but since he wasn’t in contention for a prize, second place got the $200 gift certificate. I’m not sure who took home the people’s choice award as I had to leave before the chilies were even opened up to the public for a vote to get ready for a Superbowl party. I'll have to check that out the next time I'm up there.