Beer is no longer a menu afterthought. A growing number of bars and restaurants have made the drink their central focus, while others are helping customers pair beer with entrees, elevating what was once an everyman's drink into a culinary powerhouse.
Beer is no longer a menu afterthought.
A growing number of bars and restaurants have made the drink their central focus, while others are helping customers pair beer with entrees, elevating what was once an everyman’s drink into a culinary powerhouse.
101 Beer Kitchen, which opened last fall at 7509 Sawmill Rd., is a beer-front-and-center restaurant.
Owners Thad and Jessica Kittrell serve hefeweizen (unfiltered wheat beer)-steamed mussels, housemade pretzels with beer-cheese spread and chocolate stout cupcakes. There is beer in the pizza crust and beer batter on the perch sandwich. The staff has been trained to help customers match beer with entrees, and the restaurant is currently hosting a series of beer dinners, pairing multi-course meals with the beers of select craft brewers, such as Goose Island.
The Short North Pint House & Beer Garden opened in April at 780 N. High St. It not only serves a menu of more than 70 beers but also has a house India pale ale used in marinara sauce on pizzas and pasta and in the batter for the fish.
Craft beer and food pairings are “sort of trendy right now,” said Mike Gallicchio, co-owner — via the CSG Group — of the Pint House. “People have always liked beer, and there have always been aficionados, and I don’t see that going away. But right now, beer really is the big thing.”
Even Cameron Mitchell’s latest restaurant, the Pearl, which opened in the winter at 641 N. High St., is a “gastropub” with a not-so-subtle beer-centric vibe.
“The Pearl’s menu was designed around beer,” said Ryan Valentine, beverage director for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. “For example, oysters and stout go well together. We’ve even created beer-style posters that match up our menu items with different types of beer.
“Beer and food work well together, and pairing them has been kind of the last frontier in food and beverage pairings. People are realizing it pairs with food just as well as wine.”The trend is a national one, and it’s gaining steam.
Locally produced craft and house-brewed beers, as well as beer sommeliers and beer-food pairings, topped the list of hottest beer-related alcohol trends, the National Restaurant Association said. Locally produced wine and beer ranked No. 8 on the list of hottest trends in the restaurant industry in 2013, up from No. 12 in 2011.
“The rising popularity of home-brewing and at-home chefs has created a demand for restaurants serving quality craft beer and food products,” said Jessica Kittrell, of 101 Beer Kitchen. The Kittrells discovered beer-food pairing through years of home-brewing, before opening the restaurant. “We’re in a Food Network era of growing consumer knowledge and thirst for good, full-flavored products,” she said. “We demand more now.”
It’s also spurred, in part, by the growing number of craft breweries.
“Craft brews are helping beer reclaim its place at the American dinner table,” Julia Herz, director of the craft-beer program for the Boulder, Colo.–based Brewers Association, said in an interview with QSR Magazine. “People really enjoy craft beer and how it pairs with food.”
At the end of 2012, Ohio had 58 craft breweries producing just shy of a million barrels of beer a year, the Brewers Association said. Ohio added 14 craft breweries last year. Nationwide, 409 craft breweries opened last year. Craft-beer sales grew 17 percent in 2012 and 15 percent in 2011.
The number of breweries nationwide now stands at more than 2,400, more than twice as many as were operating in the U.S. before Prohibition began. In 1980, there were fewer than 90.
Craft beers tap into the growing demand for locally produced and artisan products, and local breweries are producing more interesting and complex flavors and brews than large breweries, elevating their culinary status, Valentine said. “American craft brewers are taking old European recipes and doing interesting things with them. For instance, Rogue (Ales & Spirits, based in Newport, Ore.) makes a traditional English brown ale with hazelnuts,” adding a twist to the flavor.
The Columbus beer scene has had a growth spurt lately as well, as more beer-themed venues have opened, such as the Daily Growler at 2812 Fishinger Rd. and the Crest Tavern gastropub at 397 Crestview Rd. They’re joined by new craft brewers such as Four String Brewing, Hoof Hearted Brewing, Seventh Son Brewing Co., Zauber Brewing and the Buckeye Lake Brewing Co., which is also a restaurant.
As a result, restaurants feel the competition to stock a growing selection of interesting and rare beer varieties. Restaurants have to “keep an eye out for more rare and scarce beers because people are looking for something unique,” Valentine said. “They are definitely a lure for people who are really interested in beer.”Off the menu
• Speaking of beer-focused venues, Miller’s Ale House, a Florida-based sports bar and restaurant chain that has more than 60 restaurants nationwide, plans to open its first Columbus location at 1201 Olentangy River Rd. An opening date wasn’t available yesterday.
• The Knotty Pine near Grandview Heights has officially closed, and the space at 1765 W. 3rd Ave. is now occupied by Rude Dog, a restaurant owned by Jason Lusk. Rude Dog now has three locations in central Ohio. Knotty Pine filed for bankruptcy and entered receivership late last year. The receiver had been seeking a buyer to remain open.
• Yerba Buena, the food truck of the bricks-and-mortar restaurant El Arepazo, has returned to Clintonville after nearly a one-year hiatus. It is located at 4490 Indianola Ave.
• Mellow Mushroom, which has restaurants at Polaris and in Dublin, has a limited time “High on Thai” menu, featuring Thai-inspired dishes such as a Sriracha sauce veggie crunch hoagie sandwich and chicken curry pops. The promotion runs until July 14.
Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at email@example.com.