I had the pleasure of attending Spanky's first ever beer/food pairing dinner. Spanky's has been a Chapel Hill institution since the '70s, always reinventing ways of keeping up with the ever so fickle Franklin Street economy. Franklin Street's scenery is always changing. Restaurants find it extremely difficult to stay atop of high rent prices that plague the street while attempting to appeal to college students' meager budgets.
The evening was the brain-child of Gavin Toth, a manager at Spanky's and Sean Lilly Wilson, the "Chief Executive Optimist" of Fullsteam Brewery (@fullsteam) in Durham, NC. I honestly didn't know what to expect from the evening. Spanky's menu isn't really centered around well presented/fine dining dishes. It's more of a game-day stop with tons of comfort foods and great burgers. (try the "Huevos Burger" it's topped with an egg)
The menu was developed by Justin Bass and Seth Batchelor, two of the head cooks at Spanky's while the pairings were handled by Sean.
Local Beets topped with Vanilla Beurre Blanc
To be honest I was a little scared when I saw that the first course was going to be scallops. Scallops are tricky little things. It is very evident when a scallop is not fresh, it's very easy to over cook, the flavors surrounding the scallop must compliment the flavor of the scallop itself or it's made plainly obvious that no thought went into choosing the combinations. Lucky for us, this one was very well prepared, perfect med-rare, and the vanilla beurre blanc was such a nice combo. I will say though that the chanterelle's flavor was lost among the super rich/sweet beurre blanc. The pairing of the El Toro was nice to cut the heavy sauce and was able to stand up next to the sweetness as well. I could tell this evening was going to rock!
Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup topped
with Candied Bacon and Crostini
I'll go ahead and start with this nice seasonal from Fullsteam. It's such a nice crisp beer and is super easy to drink. I thought that maybe I'd be able to discern a bit of the sweet potato but I really only got some of the earthiness. So nice.
This soup was probably a bit spicy for some people but I loved it. It was packed full of flavor and the consistency was just right. Every bite of bacon you got was such like treat. I'm in love with dishes like this these days because of their mix of sweet with spicy.
Tabbouleh Salad with Apricots, Parsley, and
Feta Cheese in Lemon Vinaigrette
When I saw this course on the menu I immediately could picture what this dish would taste like and look like. It was almost too obvious a course for the meal with other super surprising dishes, so I felt like it was lost in the mix. The flavors were all there but they just weren't in the foreground. Especially being paired with an IPA, I would have gone with a bolder take on this dish. Lemon Oil? Fried Parsley? or maybe blooming the apricots in some brandy? It would have been a nice dish for a sunday brunch, but maybe not for this "punch you in the face with flavor" meal.
Hogwash-braised Beef Short Ribs with
Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and Southern Greens
The Hogwash Hickory Smoked Porter is by far one of the most peculiar beers I've ever tasted. It's not bad in any ways, it's just different. It's a savory beer? Can this even be possible. At first sip, you are really hit with that smell of smoke and it just seems to deepen in flavor the more it sits in your memory.
I'm about 90% full. I see this dish come out and my eye's widen. I LOVE SHORT RIBS. I've eaten short ribs all my life and it wasn't till recent years that these odd cuts started to get more light in the dining scene. It's a cheap, tough, cut of meat and requires at the very least to be sliced thin. Braising in the Hogwash Hickory Smoked Porter was a brilliant idea!
Of course I had to start by popping a whole croquette in my mouth and nearly burning the roof of my mouth. I thought they were done so well though. Nice and crisp on the outside with a hint of horseradish and nose burn with a nice hot center. THAT is what a croquette should taste like.
Now, the southern greens were quite possibly the best greens I've ever had. The perfect consistency, a nice mix of sour, salty, and porky. Sean hit the nail right on the head when he pointed out that the Hogwash, interestingly enough, paired better with these greens than the meat itself. Just thinking about it makes me want a huge bowl of the stuff.
Banana, Mascarpone and White Chocolate Crepes
topped with Caramelized Apple Reduction
At this point in the meal I'm usually about to fall over from an excessively heavy gut, or a sense of inebriation, but there's always room for some Working Man's Lunch. This nice stout that was inspired by the original "Working Man's Lunch" which consisted of a moon pie and R.C. Cola. Was there a desert?
Of course there was, I'd have to say after such a stellar meal this course fell short. Maybe it's the white chocolate (I absolutely despise white chocolate), or maybe it was just the fact that there was too much food, but I just didn't get the joy out of this dish. Then again, I'm a crepe snob. Perhaps Nutella and bananas would have been a better option for me.
All in all the dinner was an amazing success. If I had anything to suggest it would have to make the price point a bit more accessible. Other than that, bravo to the chefs, bravo to Gavin, Miles and Jen, and bravissimo to Sean and Fullsteam for an amazing brew.
(Organizer/Manager Spanky's Restaurant, CEOptimist Fullsteam Brewery)