Local Eats: Spanky's / Fullsteam Pairing Dinner

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.

1st Course- El Toro Cream Ale
Pan seared Scallops, Chanterelle Mushrooms and
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!

2nd Course- Carver Sweet Potato Lager
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.

3rd Course- Rocket Science IPA
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.

4th Course- Hogwash Hickory Smoked Porter
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.

5th Course- Working Man’s Lunch (Moon Pie-inspired stout)
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.

Gavin and Sean
(Organizer/Manager Spanky's Restaurant, CEOptimist Fullsteam Brewery)

Shoya Izakaya - Doraville, GA

Atlanta, Georgia . . . The city seems like a huge metropolis to someone like the likes of me from Durham, NC. In fact I consider it to be one of the top 10 biggest cities in the US. Maybe I'm just naive. Atlanta is currently only the 33rd largest city in the US by population but packs more quality restaurants than some of the big boys. Shoya belongs in the big city, it produces super fresh seafood and yakitori while seemingly at full capacity at all times.

This is a long post so bear with me, I promise that some of these foods, as bizarre as they may seem, are truely delicious and deserve your attention if you stop by this strip mall eatery.

You may or probably have no clue what I'm talking about when I talk about Izakayas. Think of an izakaya like your local sports bar that you frequent that also sells fresh grilled chicken hearts. Izakayas are drinking establishments through and through, they just happen to serve up substantial Japanese eats. But don't come around here looking for wings and/or fries or you'll be sorely disappointed.

Tako Wasabi - Raw octopus with marinated with pickled wasabi leaf
I will say this, the order that these pictures show up are purely the order that we ordered this gargantuan meal. My cousins know how to eat. My girlfriend Em, she knows how to eat. We start with the palette cleansing raw octopus that has been marinated with pickled wasabi leaves. It's pungent to the nose, but nice and subtle to the palette. Think of it like drinking ocean water while someone shoves wasabi up your nose. It's pleasant, trust me.

Sea Cucumber Sunomono - Variety of seafood, cucumber and seaweed with vinaigrette
A lot of what Asian food is is texture. A lot of times we use the main piece in a dish as the medium for the sauce that surrounds it. If the main piece has a great texture it's like a win win for us. Sea Cucumber is light in flavor when fresh, and almost crunchy while being soft at the same time. The classic soy vinaigrette that comes with this dishe is nice and over powering to work in harmony with some of the "interesting" flavors of the sea cucumber.

Mountain Root Salad - Shredded mountain root, scallion, daikon radish, baby greens, and seaweed
And speaking of texture, sometimes, the texture of some dishes is just too hard to swallow. This is one of those that is a bit much for me. My cousins seem to love it, but I just can't seem to get around the consistency of the mountain root. It seems all crunchy like an Asian pear when you bite in to it, but then the slimey, mucous, consistency starts right in. It's like the inside of an okra without the seeds.

Ankimo - Steamed monk fish liver with ponzu sauce, scallion, and chili radish
I know the idea of eating a steamed fish's liver seems a bit far fetched. After all usually the experience we have with fish liver is cod fish liver oil. Supposedly really healthy for you but also some of the fishiest nauseating smell, am I correct? Well ankimo doesn't hold true to this assumption. The flavor is very mild, and the texture is much like a firm pate. This dish is extremely rich so don't go popping several into your mouth or you may just ruin your meal. The flavor is very much like a particular, but once you forget that it's monk fish liver, you actually start to like it a lot.

Ko Mochi Shishamo - Grilled half dried smelt fish(with eggs) with sea salt
I don't know how to explain to you that these dishes are not as odd as they seem. If I didn't grow up eating fish roe, then the idea of eating an impregnated fish would seem far fetched and gross. But I know how delicious fish roe is. Yes these fish are grilled whole with their egg sack intact. Yes they still have the head attached. But trust me, if you get beyond all of the aesthetics of it all, it's an extremely delicious dish.

Gindara - Grilled marinated silver cod with dashi soy sauce
I just realized I may have come to the first "normal" dish on this list of food. Silver cod is a nice oily fish with tons of flavor and there is an almost molasses-y sweetness to this fish. I can only say one thing umami(delicious).

Shishito Peppers - Served with lemon and sea salt
I wonder if these thin skinned peppers are in season. Eating Shishito peppers is like playing Russian roulette. You may or may not get one that's really spicy and will turn your mood south. At the same time though, maybe you can just consider it a reason to keep eating! There isn't much much that needs to be done with shishito peppers, just pop them in a broiler and get them a little charred sprinkle some sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and that's it. Simple.

Chicken Heart and Japanese Conch - Served with lemon and sea salt
This was only my second experience with an izakaya. My first time was at Yakitori Totto in NY, NY. And my first time I had to eat chicken hearts as well. Remember I was talking about texture and how important a roll it plays in asian cuisine. Well, chicken hearts are nice and chewy and have a very meaty flavor to them.

Funny enough these two dishes came out at the same time and seem to have very similar textures. Though the flavors couldn't be farther apart, the texture is very similar. Conch tastes a bit fishy but in that steamed clam sort of way. Not offensive, just good.

Chicken Meat Ball - With Cheese
Funny enough, when I was going through these pictures to create this post, I got to this picture of the chicken meat balls and was more grossed out than any other dish. Just the thought of putting american cheese on what looks like a glorified hotdog made me a little grossed out. I can say though that this meat ball is safe for the kiddies. They'd probably love how it comes on and stick and has cheese on it. Very juvenile, but also comforting in the same way.

Pork Onigiri - Two rice balls with bbq pork
Onigiri comes in all different variations with all sorts of fillings. I obviously gravitate towards anything pork. I am what I eat I guess. I wasn't so fond of their preparation of this onigiri. I was expecting a grilled rice ball with a nice crusted outside and a smokey flavor, but instead these were wrapped and grilled and lacked all that I love about grilled rice balls. However, another not-so-difficult to eat dish. Easy on the palette and the texture is quite easy to stomach even for beginners.

Chicken Skin - Served with lemon and sea salt
How many times have you wanted to eat the chicken skin off of a nice fried chicken wing only to be told that it will give you a heart attack? Well this dish is for all those times. It's just what you think it tastes like. Crispy, fatty, goodness. And oddly enough, it's not as rich as you would think. In other words, they remind me more of a potato chip fried in lard (YUM!) than a stick of butter.

Chicken Gizzard - Served with lemon and sea salt
If I were to hand you a skewer and said "here eat it, it's chicken gizzard." Would you? Well I guess that's not fair, you'd be out of your mind to eat a skewer of chicken parts from who knows what source and eat it. I digress. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is, if you don't give it a try on your own account, then you may never know the wonders of odd chicken parts. The gizzard is almost 100% texture. The flavor is light and what flavor you do get from it can easily be covered with the lemon and salt that goes along side the dish. The texture is crunchy though. At first you don't think that any meat product should be so crunchy but then you forget what you're eating and the next thing you know you're snacking on gizzard.

Tonkotsu Ramen - Egg noodles in creamy pork soup with roast pork, boiled egg, and more
And so we get to the final two courses, noodles and dessert. Kind of. So it's no secret I love noodles. So easy to eat, filling, and portable. These are the japanese versions of the famous ramen noodles. Don't get the water boiled out and set your timer to 3 minutes for these bad boys though. You're never going to get the richness of creamy pork broth without a ton of effort and time. I want to believe that tonkotsu ramen is one of the more classic ramens because I love to eat it at any chance I get. The broth is nice and creamy and the trimmings are superb. Now if I could just get this to dehydrate well.

Tan Tan Ramen - Egg noodles in spicy soy-chicken soup with pork, boiled egg, and more
Just based on the flavors going on in this ramen dish, I would venture to say it's influenced by chinese cuisine. The broth has more kick and the ground pork reminds me of chinese dan dan noodles. Either way, I'm in love with this dish and would probably go back to Shoya just for these noodles.

Okonomi Yaki - Japanese pan cake with pork, egg, and vegetables
The first time I heard about okonomi yaki was when I was studying to be a food lover watching Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. His episode on Japan really opened my eyes to a lot of Japanese cuisine. I called this dessert only because it was so late in the game showing up to the table, what else could it be? Think of okonomi yaki as a japanese "Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity". It's a pancake of sorts, filled with all sorts of savory goods, fried on the griddle, and topped with bonito flakes and japanese mayo. I also like to call it a cardiac arrest. It's dangerously decadent and probably should come with a warning label for the roof of your mouth.

Anyways, I'm sorry you had to sit through that one. It was a long road but you've made it. Now go out and get some good eatin' done!

--Joe Kwon

For more info on Shoya click on this link.

Päffgen - Köln, Germany

We arrived in Köln at what seemed like 5am. In fact it was already 10am and there was so much that needed to be done. I needed to find a place to eat that was authentically German. I don't know if there is a certain way that finds you sitting in a Hausbrauerei (brew house) where you're surrounded by old wooden tables and old men serving you beer without you even asking for it, but I've done it.

The story of the Die Hausbrauerei Päffgen (Help me translate please!)

I'm sitting here in a place that seems to only fit in the 1800s with wooden everything and big men with big guts greeting you with nothing but a scowl and a demi-glass of beer. What more could you ask for! Well, maybe a menu in English. I ask our very large, very German, beer serving gentleman if he could please help me order a most German meal fit for none other than, himself. He quickly jots down illegible numbers on the back of a coaster as well as 2 tick marks for the two beers sitting in front of us. After deciphering the numbers and finishing off the rest of my beer, the gentleman returns, scowl in tow, I say "We'll have the 3/4 meter of Bratwurst and the Beer-marinated pork roast with crackling", he cracks a smile as if I've just made his day, and I can't wait!

Hausbrau Päffgen (the house brew)

Here's something that you need to know about this brew house, or maybe this is the case for all brew houses, if you sit down they will give you a beer. If you finish your beer, they will give you another beer. In fact you're gonna have to work pretty darn hard to NOT get a beer.(partial movie quote) This is great if you can drink more than one beer without falling over. For a light weight like me, it's a bit of a stretch, but I'm in the mood to have some good German food, and of course to feel like a German again (thanks Werner and Helmut)!

The long wooden tables of which I speak

The beer was very nice, light, but very full bodied and easy to drink with fine bubbles. I noticed as the man would walk by with beers in hand that there would be plenty falling over his hand onto the ground. A great archaic sense comes over me as if I'm about to gnaw on a leg of turkey or see a whole pig strewn out on our table.

German Mustard. Great with everything!

Biermarinierter Krustenbraten mit Bratkartoffeln und Krautsalat (Beer-marinated pork with crackling, sauté potatoes, and coleslaw)
This dish was a bit different from what I expected. Different but so good! when i thought of what might come out I envisioned a braised leg of pork with the meat falling off the bones but instead it was more like a couple thick slices of ham that just happens to taste of sweet beer.

Krautsalat (Coleslaw)
The krautsalat was just amazing. Nothing like I've ever tasted before. Slightly sweet and very crispy. The potatoes that accompany the dish were fried in butter and pork fat it seemed and were so rich there was no chance of finishing them.

Frische Bratwurst (3/4 meter) mit Kräutersenf und Röggelchen (Bratwurst with herb mustard)
I can honestly say this was a unique experience. The brat is actually one long 3/4 meter of bratwurst that was very soft and much thinner than what we see in the states, it is served with a herb mustard that is much more sweet than it was spicy. I don't know if it would be possible to stomach all of this behemoth by yourself and especially not if you've just eaten a pound of pork shoulder.

The beer handlers. Ingenious!
I've eaten many many German dishes in my day and none of them can shine a light to this meal. I'm so thrilled that this turn of events got me to Päffgen. I hope to come back to Köln soon so I can experience another great meal!

--Joe Kwon

For more information click here.