Friday, July 16, 2010

BEERflections ~ French Quarter Beer Dinner

A big sloppy sappy shout-out to my main man, the passionate accountant with a heart full of beer, the one, the only, John Bumgarner. If it wasn’t for the magical mysterious combination of his love for French Cajun and good beers, the very first beer dinner at the superfantastic French Quarter of downtown Vero Beach, FL would never have been. So to you John, thank you very much.

And to Spence, Ed, Debra, and everyone at French Quarter, thank you for the opportunity to share the world of tasty beers and tasty foods amongst yourselves and your fabulous patrons. From the very beginning it has been a true pleasure which has enriched and blessed both my person and my spirit. You are good people. I know this. John knows this. And if they didn’t already, Vero Beach will know this… maybe even the world. The only limit to dreams and fantasies are only the ones we impose on them ourselves. So without further ado, let’s talk good beer, good food, and the burgundian bliss that is their natural bedfellow.

Left to limitless beery machinations, it was my mission to pick out the beers for our up-and-coming inaugural dinner on June 16th, 2010. With the fine fare of French Quarter in mind and the likely mix of virginal and tested beer dinner palates, I eventually landed on a triumphant trio:
  • Bells Oberon – appetizer
  • The Bruery Saison Rue – main course
  • Young’s Double Chocolate Stout – dessert

My modus operandi behind these indomitable beers was simple yet savory, thoughtful yet breezy. Bells Oberon is the classic American wheat beer as far as I am concerned. Bright orange with a chance for clouds along with freshly squeezed essence of oranges, Oberon is a Florida summer afternoon. Saison Rue from The Bruery offers up a dry, musty, earthen nose while her palate offers a different perspective of rye and spice, peach and apricot skins, and a rustic, caramelized finish. Bringing to mind the wild side of New Orleans alongside the down to earth atmosphere of her people, Saison Rue was quite at home in our own little French quarter. For dessert, there could be only Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. A savior to the name of stout, what’s not to love about her silky smooth melted milk chocolates and cream with a sprig of vanilla bean married with toasted malts redolent with black chocolate covered espresso and cacao beans? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. Fear not the darkness for within one will find tasteful enlightenment.

Decision firm, I deposited the chosen beers unto the highly qualified and uber-talented hands of chef-extraordinaire, Ed Fialkowski. A veteran of the Vero Beach culinary scene, Ed has been there, done it, and I am sure in some instances, invented it. Comfortably at home in the cozy kitchen of French Quarter with reigns free and fabulous, Ed set to once more weave his maestro magic into a beer dinner extraordinary.

The short two weeks inbetween beer drop-off and dinner premiere were so fast as to be unaccountable. Before I knew it, the day was time and the evening was nigh. A normal day off, I spent the first half relaxing at home before primping, prepping, and dressing up. Jeans, a casual button down shirt, and flip-flops is dressed up for Kristyn Lier, Vero Beach native of relaxed designs. Equally casual and pleasantly relaxing was our beer dinner. From 5pm-9pm, the whole of the dining hours was dedicated to both beer dinner attendees and regular diners. Beerly-minded patrons were asked to RSVP their preferred dining time while the rest was left to congenial relaxation and mutual good times. A refreshing twist to a seemingly untwistable burgundian odyssey deserves a firm ‘Well done.”

Rolling in early as I am want to do when both time and circumstance align, I debuted in a giddy flash with menus in hand. The three courses that those lucky RSVPers (and potential dining candidates unbeknownst to the beer dinner festivities at hand) had to drool about were:
  • Oberon steamed mussels with garlic, herbs, diced tomato, and a touch of cream. Beer: Bells Oberon.
  • Braised led of duck and scallop served alongside creamy garlic mash, green beans, and raspberry jus. Beer: The Bruery Saison Rue.
  • Warm chocolate walnut pound cake alongside cappuccino ice-cream and mango sauce. Beer: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.

Like I said: Ed is a genius. As evidenced by the smacking lips and congenial cadence of tasteful appreciation, tis fair to say that I was not the only one who thought so.

All the fine guys and dolls in casual dress with Cajun flare who keep the heart of French Quarter beating were equally jiving with honest enthusiasm and curiosity from start to finish. Lingering long after closing time, we all savored the fruits of Ed’s laborious love. From my heart to yours; from our first beer dinner to our second, cheers and yum!

But let’s focus on the dinner at hand.

A mix of personable peeps and peepettes, John and Patty included of course, other well-known attendees that night included Rob, Cathie, Mary, Mike, and Paula along with a few new faces I grew to know, some better than others. In particular, I truly cherished the many conversations with Paul and Fran, a lovely couple of fine standing and engaging history. A bottomless wealth of personality and humor, they brightened my evening immensely, a large feat given how bright the evening was to begin with.

As peeps mosied in and mosied out, I held off on savoring my beer dinner adventure until John and Patty arrived. I wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for John’s enthusiastic introduction, and so I wanted to share that first moment of burgundianvana with my main man. In the meantime, I parlayed with the beer dining patrons inbetween lounging at the bar, being the fashionable fly of a beer ambassador that I am. Not that long after my other posse of peeps had left John and Patty arrived and from one good group of friends to another, it was an endless rollercoaster of laughter and memories.

Whilst schmoozing and lounging, I supped on a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale paired with a plate of their toasty nutty garlicky breads dipped in an accompanying plate of freshly poured virgin olive oil. Btw, easiest unintential food pairing ever. Further on, I found faith with a little bit of Grimbergen Double. Yes, the monks have landed and filled my wine glass, vessel of fermented beauty, with their blessed tidings of barley, hops, yeast, water, and inspired tastefulness. Belgium and her inimitable bounty of beer bliss is largely responsible for the passionate jump start in my beerly blessed life and to Belgium and her inimitable bounty of beer bliss I shall always have a special penchant for. Grimbergen Double duly savored, it wasn’t but a few moments later that my dear duo rolled in and our own little beer dinner expose began.

It should be noted that every day now French Quarter offers up a minimum of 4 tasty beers to righteously match their equally flavorful dishes. Along with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Grimbergen Double mentioned above, they also currently offer Yuengling and a rotating selection from Abita of Covington, Louisiana.

And now back to our dinner at hand.

Beer ambassador bar-fly extraordinaire that I am, so too are John and Patty. Scootching up close to the counter and the fabulous Debra, we set out for our first course: fresh mussels steamed in equally fresh Bells Oberon for which an accompanying glass awaited our supping patience. Ah… yet another classic Burgundian pairing. Forget the white wine. Take any zippy zesty orangey hefy witty beer and steam those mussels to your heart’s content. Trust. Bobbing contentedly amongst the Oberon and steamed mussel juices were herbs, diced tomatoes, and a dash of cream while garlic danced about. The mussels were plump and meaty in all the right ways, leaving behind the only vision worthy of their journey: a mountain of empty shells. Equally tastetastic was the ocean of juices in which they swam, an ocean lavishly soaked up with the accompanying toasty nutty garlicky bread thingies. Fantastique! A beautiful beginning if I do say so myself.

With a few moments inbetween the appetizer and the main course, our topic du jour ranged from beers to the classic movie series, The Thin Man. Ever a diggable duo of deductively digressions and burgundian hijinks, I do love my Nick and Nora and their little dog, too. Bantering away, it was with unbeknownst flourish and aplomb our main course graced the countertop before us. A hush descended as our eyes soaked in the decadent visage of braised leg of duck dressed in a raspberry jus and kept company by uber creamy and uber garlicky mash with the crispest green beans to ever cross these lips. The other best morsel to cross these lips in that timeless moment of foodvana was the braised leg of duck.
Pinch me all you want for this is no dream.
This is real.
This is melt in the mouth fall off the bone tender succulence the likes of which ravaged these tastebuds of mine in flavortastic synergy.
Duck can be a foul fowl but not in the hands of Ed. Oh no. Duck such as this is found on fine china in the classiest of restaurants and in the royalist of castles. Lucky for us though and unlucky for them is that no fine china or regal castles are needed to enjoy the best damn duck in Florida and quite yin the USofA. Toss in garlic mash dotted with whole cloves of roasted garlic that equally melt in the mouth and green beans delightful in their snappy simplicity, I was hovering in a burgundian high of cloud-topping proportions.

Judging by John, Patty, and previous dinner compatriots before us, I was not the only one. As much as I could eat Ed’s braised leg of duck with raspberry jus that literally took him 8 hours to prepare, dessert and her companion darkly awaited. Taking a breather, I eventually meandered my way back to the bar. But first a pause, a moment…

And a beer. More importantly, the beer with which this fabulous duck fantasia was paired. Enter the one and only Saison Rue from The Bruery out of Placentia, California. A bottle-conditioned (as all Bruery beers are) saison, her earthy musty nose brings forth the farm and her ducky inhabitants frolicking in fields asplender while her palate matched the unfolding flavors of her sweet and meaty insides with precision. Plump, meaty, spicy, and just a tad fruity, a marvelous marriage indeed.

Beery justice done and starting to feel pleasantly sated, dessert descended in decadent company; Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Yes! A personal treat, she is always a classic and always good. Being one to buck the trend, I rather enjoy her naturally bottled self versus the newly introduced widget can. With dark dreams lurking about, a shake and a focus later, it was all about one of my favorite childhood desserts: coffee ice cream. In the case of Ed and French Quarter, it was a cappuccino ice cream with the very real pound cake of chocolate and walnut proportions. Know why pound cake is called pound cake?
Think about it for a minute and get back to me.
Pounds aside, nothing was going to keep me from the plate of decadence and a new favorite adult dessert: stouts. Specifically Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. With a dab of fresh mango salsa which saw her way into my belly all by her mangoey lonesome via spoonly transportation, it was about halfway through each that I called it a night. Wall touched yet not breached, I was now sated and full. Indulgence is bliss. Excess is pain. There is a difference, though many often forget.

Enter the kitty bag.

Dessert duly stashed, I simply basked in the warmth of good company. Closed for the evening, her staff slowly wound down while Ed snuck out of the kitchen to visit for a few minutes. Not one to outstay my time, farewells were eventually bid and to my car and home I tread.

I love my hometown of Vero Beach. I’ve sought out her sheen and her rust in many places but none were ever Her. In being home, I have found a freedom to spread my wings both within and without. No matter where I am, home is where the heart is and the heart is always home. The French Quarter is a part of that home; for many unforeseen months and years ahead, I anticipate many tasty adventures together.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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