Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Go Ahead; Make a Liar Out of Me

I recently featured Dan Schneider of The Stirling Hotel as a Guest Blogger, and he penned a great account of a recent New England Beer Dinner held at his pub. As an afterword, I added that he and his hard-working, topnotch staff would take a brief hiatus from beer dinners--at least until Spring arrives. 

What does he do? He orchestrates a "mini-beer dinner" by having a tap takeover with Southern Tier on March 10 at 5 PM. The event will feature some rare ST beers paired with three "prix fixe" courses. Extremely rare and limited Four Headed Woolly Mammoth, 2XSMaSH DIPA, Where the Helles Summer? and Live will be on draft and paired with whatever his wunderkind chefs Ryan and Brandon can come up with. Considering what they've already generated from the Hotel kitchen, it's probably safe to say that at the very least, the dishes will be phenomenal.

"Hoss" adds that it "won't be nearly as extravagant as our regular beer dinners, but should be a fun time." I suppose he can hide behind a technicality when it comes to my writing that "In any event, Schneider and company will take some time off before presenting another beer dinner..." because, technically speaking, this event is not a beer dinner.

But with those beers and three courses, he's walking a very thin line. I will have to attend just to see that the line isn't crossed, I suppose.

You probably should, too. As soon as I have more info as to menu items and price, I'll share it.

This guy is wearing me out! But, sheesh! What a way to go...

The PubScout

Friday, February 26, 2016

Guest Blog: Dan Schneider of The Stirling Hotel

I've already written extensively about the gem of a pub up in Stirling, NJ called the Stirling Hotel. Deceptive in its small front facade, but big "out back" and very big inside when it comes to beer and food, this place is a craft beer and good food lover's dream. Dan Schneider is the manager of the place, and last month he hosted the first ever beer dinner at the hotel, a Colorado Beer and Game Dinner. It was so wildly successful, he decided to do another in less than a month, a risky move in most venues.
But not here. That's because "Hoss" Schneider follows a simple principle: If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. At a Schneider beer dinner, therefore, there is no chance of failure, at least with things over which the hotel has control. Food prep and presentation, beer pairings, service and decor are all meticulously planned. 

Inclement weather, for example, would not be one of those "planned for" things. Or tornados. Neither are previously scheduled responsibilities  for those, like me, who would have loved to attend, but could not.

So the day after the dinner, I (as the millennials would say) "hit up" Dan for a summary of the dinner. Always a gentleman, and ever-dedicated to the cause of good beer and good food, he provided the account below.
If you, like me, couldn't make this event, you, like me, will wish you could have. Here's Dan's account:

We hosted about 40 people for our New England Craft Beer Dinner. The theme was not only New England craft beer, but the dishes were all playful renditions inspired by classic New England cuisine.

The heated tent was tastefully decorated by Meghan Bury in a nautical theme, with buckets and seashells adorning each table. Among the forty guests I'd estimate that only five or so were repeats from the first dinner. (Apparently, word gets out.)

Brewery reps in attendance included John Kleinchester (Two Roads Brewery), Pat Fondiller & Joe Garcia (Smuttynose Brewing Co), and JJ Fitzgerald & Seth Osten (Hunterdon Distributors).  Each was kind enough to take part once again, giving us background info about their respective breweries and expert descriptions of the beers.

Cape Cod Oyster with Cucumber Rice
Our welcome cocktail, crafted by our resident mixologist Danny Moeri, consisted of Barr Hill Gin with honey-horseradish simple syrup, cucumber water, and fresh lemon paired with a Cape Cod Oyster with cucumber ice & horseradish foam. (I never even heard of horseradish foam!)

First Course was a play on the lobster roll, with toasted brioche, brown-butter poached lobster, scallion aioli, and frisee. It was a huge hit paired with Maine Beer Co.'s Peeper, an American pale ale, light bodied with bright citrus notes and hints of lemon.

Lobster roll
Second Course was inspired by Boston baked beans. Chefs Ryan Chatfield & Brandon Campney made their own pork sausage, accompanied by a white bean puree and a smoked molasses sauce. Allagash Saison, with its spicy Belgian yeast character and dry finish served as a counterpoint to the house-made sausage and creamy bean puree.

House made pork sausage 

Third Course was Ryan & Brandon's take on New England Clam Chowder. Seared Halibut rested atop potatoes & celery root in a silky clam veloute with bacon lardons and herb oil. 
( Veloute? Lardons? Who knows these things?)

John Kleinchester from Two Roads gave a little background about the Connecticut brewery and explained that the tart wheat beer Geyser Gose was a collaborative effort with Evil Twin that utilized ingredients of Icelandic origin, including moss, herbs, sea kelp, skyr, and birch smoked sea salt. Together, the dish and the beer had a beautiful interplay of briny flavors reminiscent of New England's rich nautical history.
Seared Halibut atop Potatoes and Celery Root

Thanksgiving dinner was our inspiration for the Fourth Course. Smoked Duck Breast was served with cranberry glaze, apple-walnut bread pudding, and parsnip puree. Instead of beer, we opted to go with Downeast Cider House Maple Blend from Massachusetts. This unfiltered cider, fermented with ale yeast and brewed with a hint of maple syrup and roasted pecans, was a great accompaniment to a wonderfully prepared dish. The fruity and nutty aspects of both the dish and the cider worked together in a way that brought each to another level. (Cider? At a beer dinner? with a main course? Talk about pushing the envelope...)

Smoked Duck Breast--paired with cider!
Our good friends at Smuttynose were kind enough to provide us with the only keg in New Jersey of their marvelous dessert beer, Rocky Road Stout. Pat shared a few words about the brewery, which after more than twenty years in the business is continually expanding and currently working on becoming a certified "green" brewery. (I'm already green...with envy.)

Fluffernutter Whoopee Pie
The beer is brewed with Marshmallow Fluff (a New England creation, who knew?) as well as cacao nibs and is then aged on amaretto soaked oak chips. Once we procured a beer with Fluff in it, we knew that Fluffernutter whoopie pies were the only way to go for dessert. They served as a light-hearted end to what we hope was another great food and beer experience for our guests. We want to thank our chefs, management team, and most importantly, all who attended for making our New England Craft Beer Dinner such a memorable night.

Brewery reps hoist a glass to The Stirling Hotel
Photo credit: Pat Fondiller
 Man, this guy has skills! He not only manages, he can write! In the interests of full disclosure, Dan (via John Baldassarre except for the one at left) provided all the pictures as well. And those pictures were superbly shot, making The PubScout wish he had altered his schedule to attend. (Did you see that Duck?) The Stirling Hotel leaves no detail to chance as the picture below of a typical table setting will attest.
Photo credit John Baldassarre

In any event, Schneider and company will take some time off before presenting another beer dinner, and if Winter's expected early exit occurs, the next one could take place in the outdoor Biergarten. As soon as "Hoss" sends me the date, I'll share it with you.

We'll need to clear our schedules.

The PubScout

Monday, February 22, 2016

Two Pubs: One Parking Fee

The Tigers don't have this problem
In what has become a tradition at the end of the District 12 wrestling tournament, I usually meet up with the South Plainfield coaches to re-hash the great moments while we re-fill our pint glasses. Given their team’s success on the mat (32 consecutive district titles and a recent State Group III Championship), they have every reason to hoist a few.

Me? I don’t need a reason beyond the act of hoisting and enjoying.

Brewer Tom Zuber, NJCB Chief Mike Kivowitz and me
 But we decided to convene this year’s session at the Garden State Ale House (nee George Street Ale House) in New Brunswick this past Saturday. As fate would have it, NJCB’s Mike Kivowitz and Company were warming everyone’s cockles with some excellent beers at a Winter Cask Fest a half-block from GSAH. And they were aided and abetted by the beer staff at the venerable Harvest Moon.

The wrestling/beer session was set for 8 PM, but the cask fest was from 2 PM till 11 PM—or till the casks kicked. So my son Cody (a former wrestler himself) and I headed to the Hub City around 5:30 PM.

Bill, Pooja, Dave and Natalie
Parking in the Church St. deck, we walked the short distance to the Moon and found the place as packed as the parking deck. SubScout Natalie Lay (who may attend more beer events than I do) had been there since the opening with her friend Pooja and her husband Dave. She said the capacity really hadn’t changed much since the 2 PM opening.

It wasn’t hard to see why. Kivowitz and Moon brewer Kyle McDonald had an array of Jersey beers that acted like a magnet to Garden State beer geeks:

Carton Brewing – Don’t Panic ESB
Bolero Snort Brewery – BraveHorn Scotch Ale with whiskey oak
Departed Soles Brewing Co. – Philoso-Rapper with honey and Cherries
Conclave Brewing – Mexican Morning cask
Demented Brewing Company –Gluttony Stout on Vanilla Beans
902 Brewing Co. – Inconsiderate Dawg Porter cask conditioned / secondary with vanilla beans
Tuckahoe Brewing Co. – Saison de Loon, a funky Brett Saison
Kane Brewing Company – Head High double dry hopped with Simcoe and Citra
Little Dog Brewing Company – Dry-hopped (Cascade) DuckBoy American Pale Ale
Spellbound Brewing – Maple Peppered-Bacon Coffee Porter
Harvest Moon Brewery & Cafe – OCEANUS, Hazelnut Coffee Imperial Stout on the hand pump and double dry-hopped Luna DIPA and more
Gene Lynch presents Mike K. with an award...

With four-ounce or eight-ounce pours available, quaffers could sample a nice variety of good Jersey stuff—some of which are not always available. For example, the Carton Don’t Panic is not easily obtained outside the brewery and is always on cask. 

With more quaffing set for later in the evening, yours truly had to pace himself while relying on son Cody to serve as a surrogate taster, a role which he has been taught to relish since he was a Great Dane Puppy.

First up for me was Bolero Snort’s Bravehorn Scotch Ale, and, truth be told, it was so good, I would have been happy if that were the only cask there. But it wasn’t.
Harvest Moon’s Luna DIPA and Kane’s Head High were also extraordinary, as was Tom Zuber's Gluttony from Demented. Spellbound’s Maple Peppered-Bacon Coffee Porter was as tasty as it was unique. Gretchen Schmidhausler’s Duck Boy Pale Ale (Little Dog) was what we’ve come to expect from NJ’s first GABF Gold Medal-winning Biermistress, and Oceanus was hazelnut-flavored chocolate milk with coffee in a glass—adored by some attendees, but too sweet for others according to my totally random and unscientific poll. Personally, I liked it. I also enjoyed the regular menu Hoppy Monkey that Dave Czapka recommended.

Only two of the offerings exceeded 8% ABV, and Demented Tom’s Gluttony was one, prompting the affable brewer to complain that even HE couldn’t get a full pint of the stuff. (Well, maybe not here. But back at the brewery in Middlesex, I doubt that’s the case.)

Anyway, Cody and I had more drinking to do up the block, and we wanted to put some food in our bellies first. We walked for 30 seconds up to the Garden Street Ale House and, because this place was hopping, too, grabbed two seats at the almost-full bar. Matt, a most knowledgeable and convivial barman, brought us some menus after handing us a very extensive beer menu and dutifully asking what we wanted to drink. Normally, I’d have ordered a beer immediately, but I wanted to have a look at the food menu first.

The Great Dane Puppy and his Azacca
I asked Matt what he thought was good (and what would go well with a Founder’s Azacca IPA), and he pointed to a Chicken Caprese sandwich and an Ale House burger. Cody got the former and I, the latter. Matt’s beer/food recommendation was dead on. The Chicken sandwich was both large and delicious according to Cody, who got a second Azacca to help wash it down. My large burger was also perfectly done, and I had a Forgotten Boardwalk Morro Castle for dessert. I wanted to speak with manager James Zabib to learn more about the place, but he was busier than a one-armed paper hanger. I’ll have to return for a chat and a few beers. It’s a tough job, I know….

The Big Ale House Burger
The South Plainfield Crew showed up and jumped on the Azacca (except for one guy who only does Jack and Coke), and they loved it. I even had a spare four-ounce pour ticket from The Moon that I gave as a congratulatory present to the head coach.

But I doubt he was able to use it, because I learned that almost every cask at The Moon kicked by 8 PM, and the Tiger coaches were probably not done celebrating by then.

What with the Region Wrestling Tournaments coming up this weekend, we’ll likely have to find a celebratory spot, and either of these places would work.

Beer Nuts

Or depending upon the outcome, we could celebrate at both.

Two good pubs for one parking fee…that doesn’t happen often.

The PubScout

Sunday, February 21, 2016

And The Bad News Is...

Brian Boak is closing up shop! The Pubscout enjoyed his beers as much as chatting beer with him. Brian and his beers will be missed. Good Luck to him!

Thanks for enjoying my beer and thanks for all the memories. It is time to pack it in. BOAKS will be closing up shop by the summer. Stop by one of our Farewell Tour events. We have several festivals lined up and we are setting up bar events. Have your local bar or store order the last round of BOAKS, before it is all gone. If you are in PA, Stockertown is my distributor. If you are in NJ have them call Kohler or myself (sorry I cannot sell directly to individuals). Bars can call me directly to set up a BOAKS Farewell Tour Event. After the summer you may see me at different events having fun with the friends I have made while in the business. Brian Boak will never go away completely, it’s too much fun.
March 5th Philly Craft Beer Expo at The Navy Yard
April 8th & 9th AC Beerfest Atlantic City Convention Center
April 21st Gray Lodge Pub Northeast Philly (a not to miss event)
May 14th Mt Hope Beerfest Renaissance Festival Grounds Manheim PA
June 4th Philly Great Beer Expo (Last planned festival at the moment, should be crazy) 
More events to be announced!!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Back in the Beer Dinner Business

When Uno’s Brewer Mike Sella returned from Red Bank this past July to the tanks he tended for fourteen years, he was unsure about the resumption of his famous beer dinners—but dead sure about being happy to be back. After all those years, Sella’s rep for making good beer and running good beer dinners was solid.

The Cypress Boys!
 So it’s good to know he’ll be sponsoring another one on February 29, and this one is in conjunction with the increasingly popular Cypress Brewing in Edison. I had occasion to chat with the Cypress brewer Jason Kijowski about this development:

PubScout: Why has a beer dinner using Cypress taken so long, given the popularity of Cypress beers?

JK: We were quite surprised about the popularity of our tap room given our short time in business, so we needed some time to get a handle on that before we started working with others.

PubScout: Why Mike Sella and Uno?

JK: I've been a huge fan of Uno and in particular Mike's Station House Red Ale since the brewpub first opened.  This seemed like a perfect fit given both our proximity and my appreciation of his brews. (Ed. Note: The new beer is called Riley’s Red Rye in honor of Sella’s red-headed daughter.)

PubScout: Have you or had you ever attended a Sella/Uno beer dinner in the past?

JK: I have not.

PubScout: What obstacles do you or did you need to overcome to make this happen?

JK: Collaboration on the recipe, fitting time in our schedules to brew at both locations, menu and beer pairing selections.

PubScout: How much will this type of exposure help Cypress?

JK: Uno’s is in our backyard and has a great reputation in the area, especially among craft beer drinkers.  Collaborating with them is a natural fit for us and will greatly help us introduce the local patrons to our brews.

PubScout: Do you plan other beer dinners with other restaurants and brewpubs?

JK: Yes tons of them, they just don't know about them yet!

PubScout: What was the thinking behind setting the date as Feb. 29?

JK: We wanted to do it on a Monday, and that date gave both breweries enough time to prepare.  There really wasn't any leap day significance.

That will likely disappoint lovers of Sadie Hawkins day, but the menu they are putting forth should soften the blow.

Cheese & Crackers Welcome Course- 32 Inning Ale

Lentil Soup prepared and served with Cypress Nut Brown Ale

Tri-color salad with lemon IPA dressing and Cypress IPA

Empanadas with fresh jalapeƱo and green olives- Ike's IPA

Pork Tenderloin in Red Rye Dijon sauce, served with caramelized onion, Fingerling Potatoes and Asparagus- Riley's Red Rye
Tartuffe- Vanilla Ice Cream in a dark chocolate shell with raspberry coulis- Cypress XO Imperial Stout

At an all inclusive price of $65 it should prove to be worthy of Sella’s storied beer dinner history. And for those who have not yet sampled Cypress’s wares, you’re in for a treat. The fun starts at 7 PM, though many of the old-timers gather around the bar a bit earlier to, um, get it started properly. Feel free to join us.

Contact Uno’s at 732-548-7979 to purchase tickets.

The PubScout

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Comedy of Errors Leads to Balkan Paradise

Some of the coolest things have come into being by accident. Check out this page or simply Google “products invented by accident.” I had been aware of many of these, but I never thought a mistake—or a few of them in succession-- would yield such positive results.

I had to be in Alexandria, VA for a funeral service of a relative. The missus and I took a room for the night so we wouldn’t have to drive back to Jersey on the same day. Arriving after 4PM, I was looking for a nice pub with some good pub-grub and decent craft beers where we could grab a bite and a brew before heading to the funeral home for the evening viewing. Once I patched into the motel’s wireless system (always an adventure), I began my online search for a nearby spot. I thought I called the number of a place called the Cosmopolitan Grill, and spoke to a desk gal.

 “Embassy Suites, how may I direct your call?”
“Do you have a pub called the Cosmopolitan Grill in your place?” I asked.
“Yes, sir we do. Would you like me to connect you?” she inquired.
“No, I just need to know if you have a nice craft beer list,” I said.
“Yes, sir, we sure do,” she replied, with the sweet vocal warmth that characterizes most Southern folks.
“OK,” I said. “We’ll be in shortly.” And I hung up.

I think that was where the mistakes came into play. Maybe it was the Yankee speed with which I said “Cosmopolitan” that threw her. Or maybe she had a hearing problem, which I doubt. Because the Embassy Suites restaurant/pub is called The Crossroads Grill, not The Cosmopolitan Grill.

So, after double checking the menu of The Cosmopolitan Grill to insure that the missus would find something she liked on the menu, we dropped our gear, jumped into the car and told WAZE-y Daisy to get us there.

It wasn’t far—maybe three miles from our motel—and we had our eyes peeled for an Embassy Suites. But when WAZE-y Daisy said to make a turn where no Embassy Suites was in sight, we got confused. The confusion continued after we made the turn and saw a sign for the Continental Grill—next to a Gold’s Gym, in an otherwise nondescript strip mall.

“I don’t know about this place,” said the missus. “Should we even go in?”
Hungry and thirsty, I said, “What the hell. Let’s go in and look around. If it seems fugazy, we’ll have WAZE-y Daisy find somewhere else.”

And we walked into a beautiful, nicely appointed setting, with soft Maurice Chevalier music playing that gave an immediate European feel to the place. Having once been to Zagreb back when Josip Broz Tito still held Yugoslavia together, I had a sense of dejas vu.

Two things were immediately clear: one, this was not an Embassy Suites; and two, this was definitely not an Embassy Suites.

We were seated by a young, classy, welcoming European waiter named Zied who asked what we would like to drink while examining the decidedly Un-Embassy Suites menu. I mentioned to Zied that I was a craft beer drinker and reviewer, and as is my wont, I gave him my card. I ordered a Warsteiner Pilsner (Zied verified that I had made a good choice), and we began looking at the menu.

Many dishes were from the Balkans, and as we were deciding, Zied brought out some strange-looking bread with what looked like butter with curds in it. It was actually hot, housemade lepina with housemade kajmak (pronounced “kyma”), which is nothing like butter with curds in it. It was absolutely delicious and very fresh. And while we were enjoying it, another fellow came and sat down at our table.

Ivica Svalina
He introduced himself as Ivica (Ivan) Svalina, the owner of the place. He began a fascinating discourse with us about his place, his history as a chef and a refugee, his weekly six-hour trips to Amish country to procure his special grass-fed beef, veal and lamb, his commitment to freshness, the success of his two daughters and his disappointment with Trip Advisor for dropping his restaurant from #2 to # 28 despite mostly rave reviews from patrons. It was like sitting down with an old friend even though you had never met before. But more about this hard-working guy later.

 The missus ordered a Grilled Shrimp and Rice dish, and I, feeling adventurous and bold ordered something called cevapcici to accompany my Warsteiner. Cevapcici are small homemade sausages, and apparently a staple of many countries in the Balkans, although they may assume different names. I ordered the smaller portion of seven and these were astoundingly fresh, well seasoned and literally trying to escape from the lepina they arrived in. Had I ordered the larger quantity of ten, it would have been an all-out prison break, but they were so very tasty and went so well with the Warsteiner. Zied also delivered a most delicious shareable salad that tasted as if it had just come from a garden out back.

 We had gotten there a bit early, so the restaurant only had a few folks sitting at the bar, but as the dinner hour approached, the place started to get busier. Zied informed us that the place is usually bustling with business, especially on weekend nights when reservations are required. He said there have been nights when no more reservations would even be taken as well.

Ivica Svalina and his wife Amela are getting set to open another venue in Old Town Alexandria; it would be their third place, the Balkan Grill being the other. Cosmopolitan Grill is located on Rt. 1 and not precisely in downtown Alexandria, and once the new place is up and running, he hopes Trip Advisor reconsiders its location placement as true Alexandria, which it should.

 This place was, in my humble estimation, nothing short of fabulous, especially considering that a comedy of errors had brought us there. And I was happy to have that confirmed by no less an authority than Vladimir Solujich—aka The Serbian Nightmare—in an online exchange I had with my highly intelligent former student discussing the place’s Balkan authenticity. And I’m not just calling him intelligent because he’s acquired some rare and highly valued “cold medicine” called slivovitz for me from his dad. Well, maybe a little….
Vladimir Solujich--The Serbian Nightmare
And if The Serbian Nightmare says real “cevaps” go great with beer, I’ll attest to his Balkan expertise.
But what is surely not a nightmare is Ivica Svalina’s story; it is classic American Dream stuff—arriving with little to nothing, working hard to get ahead and achieving success.

If you’re ever in Alexandria, check out the Cosmopolitan Grill.
You will not be sorry.
And just to be sure, here’s the correct phone number: 703-360-3660.

The PubScout

The Cosmopolitan Grill
7770 Richmond Hwy

Alexandria, VA 22306