Last year, the Nashville-based, beer focused Rhizome Productions brought Nuit Belge to New Orleans, an event significant in that it featured rare, high-end, Belgian (or Belgian-style) beers paired with local fine dining restaurants like Shaya, Balise, Angeline, and Restaurant NOLA. Both sides of the equation were well thought out and it was heaven for a food-focused beer nerd in New Orleans.
This year, fourteen new and returning restaurants bring their pairing chops once again to Generations Hall on Friday, February 3 to explore the complex and subtle nuances of Belgian style beer and how to integrate them with the perfect dish. (Tickets and more info here.)
Chef de cuisine Jonathan Lomonaco of new participant Patois plans to serve a farro cake with a vegan demi-glace, quick-pickled mushrooms, and topped with cashew butter. Lomonaco and Patois executive chef Aaron Burgau thought that pairing the 3 Fonteinen Zwet.be sour porter fermented with lambic yeast with a vegan dish would be a benefit to both vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Another newcomer, Compere Lapin, will also serve a non-meat focused dish, the Spanish tapas-inspired pan con tomate with whipped lardo, which will be paired with the highly popular and hard to fine Belgian brewery Cantillon's apricot lambic, Fou Foune.
Primitivo returns to the event with a smoked turkey neck dish served with grits, golden beets, smoked pecan, and radish, paired with the strong dark Trappist ale Achel Bruin. Domenica signs on for the first time, pairing the beautifully blended 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze with an octopus and green tomato insalata atop a squid ink croccantini cracker.
One of the more interesting participants in the mix, La Thai, will pair Belgian IPA De Ranke XX Bitter with a crawfish red curry with Thai basil and fire roasted corn grits with smoked gouda. IPAs are often paired with spicy foods like curry as well as boiled crawfish, so it should be fun to see how this enhanced pairing works.
FRERET BEER ROOM
The Freret Beer Room opened in November with the specific goal to focus exclusively on its beer list and food to complement it. A step further than the several restaurants with great beer lists in the area, this new eatery is created around the intersection of beer and food, playing with the multiple flavor profiles of different beer styles and ingredients. Everything's made from scratch in house, including the pasta, with the exception of the Wildflower and Leidenheimer bread and the cheese on the cheese plate, which comes from St. James Company, where owner Eli Gay worked before the Freret Beer Room opened.
(Coincidentally, Gay attended Nuit Belge last year serving cheese from St. James, which will be at the event again this year, without him.)
The food menu, created and executed by Charles Vincent, founder and former partner at The Glass Onion in Charleston and just previously to his exec chef position at Freret Beer Room, was at La Petite Grocery.
The mussels are served with a thicker smoked oyster and tomato aioli rather than a broth, which is so delicious you'll be requesting extra grilled bread to sop it up. Or just lick it off the bowl, no worries. The house gumbo is made with roast chicken, andouille, and okra, and served with potato salad instead of rice. The grilled Two Run Farms pork chop often sells out, so jump on that if you see it. The sandwiches rotate frequently (as does the rest of the menu) but the house made chorizo sandwich with grilled greens, a fried egg, and chimichurri sauce is pretty legit. (Pro tip: the braised collards are some of the best you'll find in the city besides at your mama's.)
DTB SOCIAL HOUSE
Former Commander's Palace chefs Carl Schaubhut and Jean-Pierre Guidry, who have already opened Bacobar on the Northshore, are bringing Cajun food to Oak Street with their soon-to-open DTB Social House. (DTB stands for "down the bayou.") Although the development of the beverage menu is still in process, Schaubhut says that "the concept from a beverage standpoint is emphasizing beer just as much as wine."
GREAT BEER PROGRAMS IN NOLA
Other restaurants with strong, deliberately well-curated beer programs include Boucherie, Pizza Delicious, Pizza Domenica, Ancora, The Company Burger downtown, and Vessel. The beers are chosen for food friendliness as well as unique tastes, styles, and ingredients one would expect to also find in the cuisine.
Nathanial Zimet, who owns Boucherie and Bourree, has also brought his food to the beer side, teaming up with noted beer bar The Avenue Pub to consult on the menu, train the chefs, and provide the cured and smoked meats used in the dishes. Zimet has also brought his Purple Truck over on multiple occasions to provide dishes to pair with specific beers and breweries.
For a food-focused town like New Orleans (and "focused" might even be an understatement) it's taken a while for beer to be taken seriously at all levels of dining. But now, there are better beer lists at restaurants (even at places like August and Commander's Palace), and many special beer pairing dinner events at breweries and eateries around town, especially during Louisiana Craft Brewers Week, which is the last full week of September every year.
Food is a critical part of beer education here, and it looks like we're moving toward graduation soon.