Articles from: September 2009

Beer On The Menu: Rankled by Reluctant Restaurants

We like wine with a good meal.   A smart wine pairing can make a good, or even great, meal memorable.   Most restaurants offer a good red and white wine selection to pair with everything from light salads to chicken, seafood and beef dishes.   However, many of these same restaurants, so attentive to the wine tastes of their clientele, overlook the fact that some diners would rather enjoy a good beer with their meal.  With the proliferation of craft brews it would make sense to offer something beyond the usual Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Amstel, Heineken, etc.  If you prefer the familiar and comfortable beer, more power to you.   But if you’re adventurous…a real Wanderlush at heart, then broaden your horizons and seek out these amazing froths.

Which leads me to my next question:  Why haven’t restaurants (some, not all) caught on and catered to the ever-growing market of fine beers and ales and included them on their menu?  Are they afraid people may actually like something beyond the blah, ho-hum domestic swill that’s been literally and figuratively rammed down our throats for so long?  Could it be the cost?  True, many craft brews are above the usual price point of common domestic and imports, but even more are affordable and within our reach, cost wise.

Now if you think a beer with your meal is a little too blue collar or pedestrian, consider the fact that many craft brews are made with the same meticulous effort wine makers put into their products.  There are light bodied Abbey and Belgian style beers; fruit and spice infused beers; stouts, pale ales, lambics, meads (honey beer)—plus a whole host of microbrews that use a galaxy of ingredients to create some very interesting flavor profiles that are pushing the envelope, in terms of taste.  Many of these beers go well with a whole variety of foods and would be a welcome addition to any menu, yet they are often overlooked.

Before heading out my wife and I, as well as our friends, like to look on-line and check out restaurants that carry craft beers we enjoy, or would like to give the old taste test.   Some of the names alone warrant a second look: Arrogant Bastard, Flying Dog… I mean brewers are an odd bunch by their nature, and it is certainly reflected in their beer names and labels.

Back to the food: Just keep in mind that a beer, like a good wine, shouldn’t overpower your meal, and vice versa.  The flavor profiles of the beer and food should be as close to each other as possible—enhancing each other to elicit the good qualities of each.  There are some exceptions to this rule, so experiment and see what tastes good. Let your taste buds be your guide.

Brewed Over Miami

Saturday, August 28, 2009, the Wanderlushes headed south to Miami in search of fine beer and good food.  Now, Miami may not seem like the place you’d expect to find good microbrews, seeing its proclivity for martinis and mojitos, but we were pleasantly surprised.

After a surprisingly stress-free drive down I-95 we stopped in to the Titanic Brewing Company restaurant, which is located in Coral Gables.  Known for their high quality offerings, we plunked down at the Titanic’s polished wood bar (which offers you a front-stool view of the beer tanks behind the bar) and ordered several of their signature beers, mine being the delightful White Star Ale; a pale ale that’s light on bitter, yet still retains a degree of hoppiness.  We noshed on some wings and conch fritters, which both paired well with our ales.

After finishing we decided to consult our friend Mitch’s Garmin GPS device for directions to our next pit stop.  This indispensable little piece of technology was useful in navigating the twists and turns of Miami’s roadways (though the device’s pronunciation of Brickell butchered both the posh avenue and Edie the singer’s name.)

We decided to head to the Yardhouse,  a chain restaurant located in Coral Gables that serves generous portions of delicious American cuisine with a menu that boasts over 100 domestic and imported beers.  Tables were at a premium even during that early-dinner, late afternoon hour…so we sat at the bar and ordered several appetizers and four beers, mine being the Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale on draft.  This microbrew, which Kim and I discovered for the first time during a visit to San Diego, is easily one of the most incredible microbrews in this country.  The Bastard has a nutty, almost chocolaty taste…and packs a bit of kick in alcohol content.  By this time a comfortable buzz was overtaking the four of us.  Or, in the words of a wise woman from Dover, Delaware, it was “getting dark.”  Literally.

After finishing our food and beer we headed to Gordon Biersch Restaurant and Brewery, another chain brewpub located on one of Miami’s most famous and historic roads, Brickell Avenue.  Gordon Biersch is located on the first floor of a modern office building and is comfortable and inviting, with plenty of televisions for watching sports and patio tables located outside.  Still full from all the apps we enjoyed earlier, food was definitely out of the question, although looking back it might have been a good idea to pack our bellies like hibernating beasts before quaffing the delicious 18-ounce pours of GB’s own draft beers, all of which are brewed on the premises.  I was a bit surprised that the restaurant wasn’t crowded, though Miami is like Las Vegas in that people usually don’t rise until 10 p.m. and don’t get their drink on until midnight or later.

Our third leg of the Wanderlush journey was the Abbey Brewing Company, in Miami Beach.  Now this bar, with a respectable beer menu, is almost a throwback to a bygone era.  It’s a beer-soaked anomaly in this chic and glitzy town.  It pulls no punches and offers up a fantastic array of some of the best domestic and imported craft brews you’ll find.  The establishment is small, at best, and boasts only a few booths and small, lacquered wood bar.  The wall décor is spare, and alcohol related, except for the stained glass window that proudly displays the bar’s name.  It is so local, even locals don’t know about it.  This is the kind of place you could expect to find the next Ernest Hemingway or Charles Bukowski sitting at the bar drinking a pint or two while discussing the death of literature in our time.  Yes, the floor is sticky.  Yes, that is cigarette smoke you smell coming from the next booth over.  Yes, that man at the bar with the yogurt-colored skin, five o’clock shadow and BO is staring at you.  Not because he doesn’t like you or your friends; no he and the rest of his bar mates are quiet drinkers who speak quietly and frown upon happy folks who stumble into this dimly lit den of desperation.  There was a jukebox (or was it XM Satellite radio?) belting out Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits.  Jen, our fellow Wanderlush, asked the barkeep if he could make a black-and-tan type of beverage using two different ales from the menu.  The bartender stopped, thought for a moment, and then told Jen that he could possibly make something like that but he would have to charge for both of the ales used in the process.  Jen decided to stick with one beer.  All of our beers were quite drinkable, and despite the saloon doors for the men’s bathroom and the otherwise indifferent stares from some of the patrons, we all enjoyed Abbey Brewing Company quite a bit.

Our last stop (thank God) was the Abraxas Lounge, which is also Miami Beach.  Relying on our sexy-voiced and reliable travel guide, Garmin, we navigated our way toward the beach in search of Abraxas Lounge, which was featuring several Stone 13th Anniversary Ales during this particular Saturday night.  However, on the way to the bar we were thwarted somewhat by heavy road construction taking place on the streets leading to and from the bar.  Kim called and a pleasant young girl told us there was a paid parking lot just a few blocks away.  Upon finding the parking garage we were greeted at the ticket dispenser by a heavy-set security guard who whisked the ticket from us, wrote something indecipherable on it and told us to place the ticket on the dash.  We followed the instructions and parked our car in a garage that had more dust on the ground than Pompeii after Vesuvius erupted.  Several cars were caked in it.  One unfortunate car had “graffiti” etched into the dust telling the owner to “wash me” and other vulgar expressions of derision.  After walking two blocks (and kicking off a lot of dust from our shoes) we made it to the Abraxas Lounge.  Classic rock music was playing as we headed to the bar to order drinks from the young bartender who earlier had helped us with directions to the bar.  Since there were several Stone Anniversary beers we all wanted to try (and since a palpable buzz hung over us all at this point) we split our orders into two beers each and sampled the fine Stone brews sip by delicious sip.  If you have an opportunity to sample the Anniversary ales, or any Stone Ales for that matter, I highly recommend finding it…even if it takes you on a long Wanderlush to new and different places.



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