Weyerbacher began brewing in 1995 and from 1998-2001 they operated a brewpub in Easton. 1995 is a rather significant year in our local history. Allentown’s downtown anchor for a century, Hess’ Department Store, had entered its death throes. The Bethlehem Steel stopped production. 1995 was the year we began to rebuild. 20 years later, the brewery that began at that bottom hosted a dinner in a new 11 story building at the center of a revitalizing Downtown Allentown. This 20 year rebuilding effort is just beginning to hit its stride and a great deal of the content on this blog will exist in places that are part of this economic movement. On this night, during this 5-course dinner, and with this beer – we served to toast the redevelopment that has already happened and the redevelopment that is to come.
The meal started with a toast. An oyster. Verboten. I did not expect to be served an entire beer with each course. But, the toast arrived with an entire pint glass and – that’s fantastic. This course was my least favorite of the evening. The mignonette overpowered the oyster. I say that as a guy who likes oysters raw, with little to no accompaniment. The reason for that is I love the oceanic taste a fresh oyster provides. This toast was prepared very well and served beautifully. It just wasn’t my thing. The same can be said for the Verboten. I was pleased to hear the announcement that Weyerbacher was discontinuing this one. There is nothing wrong with it at all. It’s just that given the amazing options in their catalog – this is one of the weaker ones.
Then came the fluke. And it was on. Whatever apprehension I felt following the oyster and Verboten evaporated into the Belgian banana-y boozy warmth of Merry Monks and the bright and light fluke with a hint of spice and the anise-y, exotic bite of Thai basil. This light ceviche and the tripel matched perfectly. Had I come to dinner and ordered only this – I would have been satisfied. (That is the refrain for every remaining course)
Arugula. Honey. Ghost Chile Vinaigrette. Last Chance IPA. (I ordered mine without the cheese curds because I hate cheese with the burning passion of a thousand suns. I imagine the creamy dairy flavor of the curd was a great juxtaposition with the spicy arugula and ghost chili vinaigrette but whatever, cheese is the worst.) This course tasted like one of the last hot days of August when you are sick of the heat but can feel the winds beginning to change so you cheat on your anger with a notion of savoring the swelter – just before it finally passes. Heat and spice and hops. Very nice.
And then this happened. If that last course tasted like the last day of summer, this course tasted like the ideal winter evening. This was the best course of the night. This remains one of the best things I have ever eaten in a restaurant and that sentiment was shared among the friends that joined me. This is how short rib is done. It was perfectly cooked. I can’t describe it in anyway but – this is the short rib that every short rib wants to be. Vanilla parsnips and cherry gelee offered savory-sweet counterpoints to the deep flavor of the beef. Initially, they seemed like diversions but as experienced, they unlocked more of the flavor of the beef and completely brought the meal together. And the firm farro bed added more earthiness and gave the whole dish a grounded, wintry feel. The contrasts and similarities and everything was just so damn good. Everything complemented everything else. The whole of the meal was the sum of its parts. The Tango was matched perfectly. It was like drinking the alcoholic and liquefied version of the flavors that defined the meal. I dance in the memory of this plate of food and this beer. The idea to return to blogging, and to begin blogging about food may have been born at this very moment. I need to tell people about this.
Confession time. At this point in the meal, I was good and buzzed. I realized that I had an early meeting and oops. Well, thing is, I normally hate all dairy (not just godawful cheese) and I avoid dessert at all costs. With my buzz on, I dove right into the panna cotta and it was pretty okay. It was expertly prepared. Alas, given that I was not entirely drunk (or close to it), the dairy won the day and I couldn’t truly love the dessert. My friends sure did though.
What a meal. 20 years after everything collapsed this fantastic meal was able to be experienced with a brewery that began in a Lehigh Valley covered in the ashes of a lost economy. This meal was shared on the concrete floor of the new economy – in the brick and steel of a region coming back and standing on its own again. On this January night, with the best brewery around, in one of our best new restaurants – we were able to enjoy what has come to pass. I am looking forward to watching the next steps.
(Blog note: This dinner occurred on January 20th. Since then, The Hamilton has hosted similar dinners with Stone Brewing, Victory brewing, and Wigle Whiskey. I mention this because you should pay attention to their twitter so you don’t miss these fantastic occurrences.)