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)

Frasca - Boulder, CO

In Boulder, CO is a beautiful restaurant that any food lover would appreciate. It's not cheap, it's not your every day type of restaurant, but the food is delicious and the service is impeccable.

The moment you sit down at Frasca, you get a sense that you're about to take long culinary journey. After being seated, the Maître d' is promptly at your table to pour you a complimentary glass of a project wine of the owner and chef of the restaurant. Of course being on tour I had to kindly and regretfully decline. (SO SAD!!!) This kind of sets the tone for the whole meal. You don't come to Frasca to get in and out and plow through your meal. It's a place you go to enjoy a nice ambiance and a a well executed meal with excellent service.

The servers at Frasca have a working knowledge that rivals any restaurant I've ever been to. If you don't know what kind of wine you'd like with your meal, just ask and they'll bring one right over. If you don't know what something tastes like or what an ingredient is, they'll bring the knowledge of a well seasoned chef straight to your table.

The Starter: They started us off with a plate of Salumi which is a sampling of 5-6 different offerings. A prosciutto, salami, a single olive, a couple yellow beets, some grissini, and some horseradish sauce. I often wish I could assemble flavors like these and eat them in moderation like you're forced to in restaurants. If I had any of these at home I'd be on my carpet eating out of a jar of olives dipping 5 sticks of prociutto wrapped grissini in horseradish sauce. I have a problem and that problem is great tasting food.

At Frasca you have the choice of ordering a la carte or going with the 4 course tasting menu. Each category features 4 choices with the desert selection obviously featuring 7 options (a couple require a supplemental fee). I highly recommend, whenever at all possible, getting a pris fixe meal, because you're already there to enjoy a wonderful dining experience. You might as well go all out.

Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Asparagus Soup with King Salmon Salad
Antipasti: My good friend Jan joined me for this meal. Jan got the asparagus soup. This was definitely the most decadent tasting asparagus soup I've ever tasted. If butter tasted like asparagus then this would be butter soup. It was delicious and the salmon on top just sent it over the edge. An absolutely perfect seasonal dish with the most asparagus flavor you can cram into a dish. Most delectable.

Colorado Lamb Shoulder “Spiedino” White Beans, Roasted Pepper and Capers
My lamb was a bit tough but the flavor was perfect. A mixture of the gaminess of lamb and the smokiness of the grill. The white beans and arugula were an amazing complement to the dish as well. Just the right pepperiness to the delicate flavor of the white beans. I was getting extremely excited for what was to come.

Four Story Hill Farm Rabbit “Agnolotti” Marsala “Brodo” and Pecorino Gran Cru
Primi: Of course if there is wild game on the menu I'm going to select the dish. These agnolotti were so f***ing perfect. I hate them for that. I hate them for this broth too. It seemed to be some sort of consommé with such rich flavor I could drink it as a coffee substitution in the morning. The rabbit inside was so smooth and flavorful it made me borderline emotional. And trust me getting me to show any emotion is difficult. Just ask Em!

Russet Potato Gnocchi Stonington Maine Lobster, Peas and Basil
I can honestly say I've never eaten gnocchi so smooth, but not mushy. I always think about making gnocchi and then I remember how pain staking it is to get perfect gnocchi. So why not order it at a James Beard awarded restaurant and taste what it's SUPPOSED to taste like. Perfect pairing of lobster chunks with the slight sweetness of peas and fresh basil. A beautiful dish that you'd have to be crazy not to love.

Maine Diver Scallops Ceci Beans, Chard and House-Made Pork Sausage
Secondi: The story behind these little morsels is this. There is a lady in Maine who personally dives for these scallops. By hand she has a crew of people working for her who dive down and hand select these scallops from the ocean floor. Before they are shipped across the country to various high end restaurants she must give the OK. From what we were told you don't want to work for this lady. She only selects the greatest quality scallops and I imagine takes the rest home for some clam chowder right? HA!

Anyways, our scallops were flown in the day before so they were about as fresh as they could be. So what does that translate to in real terms. Well first off the scallop has the most lightly beautiful oceanic flavor. I'm not saying it's fishy. That would be grossly incorrect to call them fishy. They are just so fresh. The texture is a lot like that of pan fried fois gras. It's tender and just enough texture to cut with the side of a fork. Absolutely beautiful. The scallops were so good I don't even remember what the accompanying parts of the dish taste like.

Chocolate “Torta” Hazelnut Buttercream, Bananas, Valrhona Chocolate Ganache, Hazelnut Crumble, Banana Gelato
Dolci: It's kinda hard to turn down an option like this. I love chocolate and I love hazelnuts. If you can imagine what this flavor combination tastes like, visualize the flavor in your head and multiply it times 10. That's about how yummy it is. I just wish I had a couple more bellies to try all the deserts and all the dishes from this meal.

In closing, this meal was not the cheapest of meals. But it also wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had. It was however, one of the most memorable. Not only for the food, but the impeccable service and care the staff treats you with. If you're even a short driving distance away from Boulder you MUST try this place out. Frasca is a restaurant that I see returning to in the near future.

--Joe Kwon

Visit Frasca's website for information about booking and their current menus.