Chefs’ Dine Around
From time to time, we’ll schedule a beer dinner. One of our accounts will coordinate with our Head Chef JP Thomas, and, together, they’ll work out a menu and pairings.
They’re always a great time. JP really has a knack for pairings, and we’re lucky to have him.
We’re also lucky to have an organization such as MAC in town. Formally known as the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, they’ve been great friends to the brewery for years. A non-profit, we’ve hosted Pint Nights for them, worked on Pop-Up Beer Gardens with them, and, last week, worked with them on their take on the traditional beer dinner: the Chefs’ Dine Around.
MAC’s Chefs’ Dine Around is a mix of a beer dinner and an old-fashioned progressive dinner party. If you’ve never heard of a progressive dinner party, it’s like a grownup version of the Around the World drinking parties you may have had in college. Once you graduate and learn how to cook, you do the same thing with food. Each home creates a separate course, and the attendees go house to house.
Sounds like a good time? Well, MAC does the same thing, except, instead of going from house to house, they pile the attendees into one of their trolleys and tour between five of Cape May’s award-winning restaurants, serving dishes paired with one of our beers.
So, we arrived at the Emlen Physick Estate — MAC’s headquarters — on a beautiful, clear, and breezy early autumn night, and we boarded one of their trolleys with 25 strangers who quickly became friends.
The first, the farthest west, and least restaurant-y stop was Seaside Cheese out on Park Boulevard, where we savored our cheese course.
If you’re a fan of cheese, you’ve got to stop by Seaside Cheese the next time you’re in town. They claim to have over 135 different cheeses at any given time, and it certainly smelled perfectly cheesy inside.
Owner Steve White greeted us, and, after we’d gotten situated in our seats, he explained the plate of delectable cheeses in front of us. We had a double cream brie that was ridiculously gooey; Abbaye de Belloc, a semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese from France; a spiced pumpkin gouda from Holland; a Morbier, a semi-soft French cheese; a raspberry BellaVitano, which is sort of a mix of parmesan and cheddar, but then immersed in a raspberry ale — easily the best thing on the plate; and, finally, a Wisconsin blue cheese called Moody Blue. The plate also included a few sliced strawberries, soppressata, prosciutto, and an edible orchid.
“We’re really lucky to have three cheeses from France,” Steve said, “because of the big explosion over in France. A cheese factory blew up. All that was left was de brie.”
Not only does Mike know his cheeses, he knows his cheese puns, as well.
JP paired the cheese course with our 5-Spiced Brown Ale, Mop Water.
“I chose it because it’s a lighter beer,” JP said, “but it’s got enough pop to keep your taste buds stimulated because the fat in the cheese will coat your mouth and lower your palate’s ability to taste anything. I wanted to make sure we had a nice, clean palate, and the spices will help to get your taste buds going.”
And a fantastic pairing it was! Everyone raved about the BellaVitano, but the best pairing — by far — was the pumpkin gouda. We often refer to Mop Water as our “pumpkin-less pumpkin beer”, so the spices in the beer brought the flavors of the pumpkin out of the cheese and put them front-and-center.
We even gave the orchid a try. It had no flavor at all, and this writer felt a little weird eating a flower. One bite was enough.
We piled back into the trolley, a little warmer for the Mop Water, and made our way to our second course.
Nestled among the Victorian B&Bs on Jackson Street lay the Mad Batter. The restaurant associated with the Carroll Villa Hotel, its winding, connected dining rooms are indicative of many of the restaurants in Cape May — many of which are in converted homes.
Chef Lisa Erdley created a mirin-marinated Chilean Sea Bass with a warm glass noodle salad, seaweed, and sweet soy. JP paired this with our Belgian Strong Ale, Devil’s Reach.
“It’s got a fruity ester on the finish,” JP said, “which sort of has an umami flavor that I thought would go well with the Asian Chilean Sea Bass. The Chilean Sea Bass is also a higher fat fish, so the higher alcohol in Devil’s Reach will blend well with that.”
And, man, did it ever! This was one of the best pairings of the evening: the subtle sweetness of Devil’s Reach brought out the not-so-subtle sweetness of the Asian sauces. It was a match made in culinary heaven.
“I honestly feel that this combination is going to be great,” JP said as he sat down to sample his pairing. “Yeah. That goes perfectly.”
“It’s an excellent pairing, John,” agreed one of the guests.
We lingered over the dish for a while before moving onto our next stop, the salad course.
Elegant does not even begin to describe Union Park. The restaurant in the famous Macomber Hotel on Beach Ave. is awash in white table linens and perfectly-placed silver. The ghosts upstairs in the Macomber have some fine eatin’ downstairs.
Seriously. It’s haunted.
Regardless, Chef John Schatz created a delicious salad with roasted purple potatoes, corn, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, chipotle aioli, and an herb vinaigrette. JP Paired it with our Pale Ale, Always Ready.
“It’s a nice, light, easy-drinking beer,” JP said. “It has a nice hop aroma and a nice clean finish to it that I thought would go well with the salad course. It should pick up rather well with the roasted potatoes and the arugula because arugula has a lot of peppery flavor to it that should blend very well with this beer.”
This was a nice pairing, with the smoke from the chipotle and the pepper from the arugula balanced well with the fruitiness and tropicality of Always Ready. Furthermore, with the lower alcohol level, this was a welcome respite after two beers over 7%.
“I think I’m going to get a growler of this tomorrow,” one of the guests said.
We rolled into Aleathea’s for the entree. Another of Cape May’s Victorian gems, Aleathea’s is the restaurant of the Inn of Cape May, putting us up in their well-appointed banquet hall.
They tend toward fishes and steaks, making this the perfect place for our entree of pan-fried, panko-crusted grouper over risotto and sauteed spinach, topped with crab tomato basil vin blanc and finished with micro greens.
JP paired this dish with our double IPA, Coastal Evacuation.
“This is one of the better beers we make,” JP said. “Coastal has a lot of citrus to it, it has a lot of that sappy, piney flavor to it. It also has a little bit of an alcohol burn, which should go well with the pan-fried grouper. The fat in the oil will be cut by the high alcohol in the beer, so that should play well together. The citrusy flavor of the beer will go super well with the fish. You’ll find that the aroma will accentuate the tomatoes and the other complements to the dish.”
This was extraordinarily well-paired. The citrus played nicely with the grouper, which was tremendously fresh. The surprise of the pairing was the risotto — we didn’t expect the Coastal to bring out the buttery cheesiness of the risotto, but everything about this dish went perfectly with Coastal Evacuation. Even the garlickiness of the spinach was well-matched by Coastal.
At this point, we were absolutely stuffed. JP had only eaten half his fish, and this writer left an entire bite behind. However, dessert lay in wait — luckily it was only around the corner.
Yet another Victorian home-turned-restaurant, the walls of the Merion Inn are covered with antique theatre posters, with its maze of connected rooms reminiscent of nearly every other restaurant in Cape May.
Chef Greg Baudermann created a delicious almond citrus torte with lemon curd and fresh berries. Impossibly both filling and light simultaneously, everything about this dessert was delicious. JP paired it with our newly-canned Oktoberfest.
“It’s a very malty beer with a slight sweetness to it,” JP said. “It should go very well with the dessert course. This dessert is going to be sweet and has a little tartness to it, so it should balance very well with the maltiness of the Oktoberfest.”
We’ll admit, we had our doubts about this pairing going in, thinking that the Oktoberfest would be too malty for a sweet dessert. However, we should know better than to doubt JP. This pairing was perfect. The tartness was balanced by the maltiness, letting the delicate sweetness of the torte shine. It was excellent.
By the end of the night, we’d made a few new friends. One of the notable things about the dinner was that many of the people we’d spoken to were from out-of-town, some visiting for a wedding or someone’s birthday. One couple, in town for a wedding, was truly taking in all the beverage opportunities that Cape May has to offer, having dedicated the day prior to exploring some of the great wineries in the area.
This is the second year we’ve participated in this event, and we hope there are more to come. If you don’t get the chance to check it out next year, at the very least, we’ve got five good pairing ideas for you! Swing down, grab some beer, and try your hand at these dishes.