American Grocery is one of my favorite restaurants in Greenville. It’s locally owned, it’s small, and they use local ingredients to make up an ever-changing menu. When I become independently wealthy, Chef Joe is the first one I’m offering a job to as my personal chef. His favorite animal is the pig. That’s all I need to see on a resume.
The “Grocery List” as it is appropriately called, includes tomatoes from Iszy’s Heirlooms, dairy from the Happy Cow Creamery, pork from Brickhouse Farms, lamb from Red Fern Farms, flour from Adluh.
Amidst this delicious backdrop, American Grocery hosted their first beer pairing dinner on Monday evening. Chef Joe teamed up with one of Greenville’s heavy hitters in the beer world, Cameron Read from the Greenville Beer Exchange, to match the perfect beer with the perfect dishes.
Here’s what they came up with:
mussel ceviche, smoked paprika, pickled mustard seeds
Lindeman’s Geuze Cuvee Rene
crispy smoked pork, summer bean ragout, sauce gribiche
Aecht Schlenkeria Rauchbier Urbock
local lamb, preserved lemon gnocchi, dinosaur kale, marinated tomatoes
Westmalle Trappist Tripel
chocolate semifreddo, coconut caramel
So, um, yeah. It lived up to the hype.
We arrived at 6:30 and were allowed to choose our seat at one of three long tables, community-style. First, a word on community-style dinners at restaurants. This is totally the way to go. The food and beers were great, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but it was the good company that made the experience a memorable one. We met a half-dozen new people, some of whom were beer vets, others just wanted to try some new things. Everyone was open-minded and we had a great time discovering, telling stories and getting to know each other.
Sure, you might sit next to some weirdos on occasion, but you just don’t have to talk to them. Odds are you’ll meet really cool people and perhaps make a new friend or two. That’s what sharing a meal is really about. More restaurants should do this.
Enough philosophy, onto the goods.
For the first course, Chef Joe was gracious enough to substitute beets in for the mussels. (The thought of eating mussels makes me want to gag. Gah!) However, my involuntary reflex caused me to miss out on a fantastic pairing, as the acidity in the ceviche would have paired perfectly with the acidic tartness of the geuze. The salad was still good, and the smoked paprika was a neat twist on the finish. I loved the geuze, but that’s a given for me these days. It was light, tart and dry, much like champagne.
It probably comes as no surprise, but the smoked pork was my favorite dish and pairing of the night. The pork was tender as can be, and the crispy breading coated the pork and gave it a subtle crunchy texture that separated it from mere barbeque pork. The choice of the smoked, dark, malty rauchbier with the smoked pork may seem like a no-brainer, and with good reason. The pork and beer pairing took each other to new heights, as soul mates who, while leading separate lives, achieved a measure of worldly success, but when together have the potential for world domination.
Moving on to course three, I was prepared for a small let-down. After all, where do you go from there? There was no such disappointment. Not when you have tender, local lamb with preserved lemon gnocchi paired with a trappist tripel from Westmalle that practically invented the style. The lemony citrus from the gnocchi, along with the vinegar spice of the marinated tomatoes and the richness of the lamb was accentuated exceptionally well with the fruity spice and intense malt backbone of the tripel. Well done.
For dessert? In normal-guy language was a chocolate brownie topped with kind-of frozen chocolate custard, coconut caramel sauce and cocoa nibs, paired with a bourbon barrel imperial stout. The use of the coconut in the dessert was genius, it totally meshed with the vanilla-coconut character from the bourbon barrel aging in the beer. A slice of nirvana.
My only suggestion for next time is to pour slightly larger samples of each beer. (Of course the lush would suggest that…) While I do understand we don’t want a bunch of drunks hitting the street, the samples were a hair on the short side, which meant that I had to ration my sips to stretch my beer through each course. Who knows, maybe that’s actually a lesson I should take home!
Overall, it was a delicious meal with thoughtfully paired beers in a welcoming atmosphere. Nicole and I had a great time, and we hope that AGR will team up with GBX to do this again.