By Nicole Shein | Photos by Brandon Vick
Quick–what foods should you eat when you’re drinking beer?
If you answered “chicken wings” or “nachos” or “I don’t like beer,” you need to visit Tap & Table, where general manager Jaime Barclay will quickly disabuse you of the notion that beer only pairs with greasy, junky football fare. And chances are that if you’re a lifelong wine sipper or cosmopolitan drinker, she’ll also make it her mission to find a beer, or even two, that will bring you over to the brew side.
I do enjoy beer, so when Barclay, along with owner Joe McBane and executive chef John Green, invited me into Tap & Table for a special food and beer pairing, I jumped at the chance. Located at Corn Hill Landing, the restaurant capitalizes on its riverside location by keeping the interior modern but minimalist, so that diners can focus on the beauty of both the view and the food.
My tasting began with a sophisticated, bistro-style salad of baby greens and mixed marinated olives, topped with a perfectly sunny-side up organic egg. Perched alongside were several asiago cheese crisps. These, along with the creamy, just-cooked white of the egg and its lush yolk, stood in stark but delicious contrast to the salty, slightly bitter salad itself. As I cut into the egg and allowed the yellow yolk to flow onto the greens and olives, Barclay brought me my first pour: an Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing. This beer was a deep brown in color with a head of pale foam, and its taste seemed to echo and accentuate all of the salad’s flavors at once, somehow; it was velvety, rich, bitter, creamy and bracing.
Tap & Table sources many ingredients locally, including its pasta, which comes from Flour City Pasta. I enjoyed a black pepper fettucini with a fine dice of roasted parsnip, turnip and sweet potato, ribbons of bright green baby tat soi, and a decadent truffle cream sauce. The root vegetables offered bright bites of sweetness and earthy character, while the greens saved the dish from being too heavy. Once again, the beer that I drank alongside this dish was both contrast and complement. Sierra Nevada Tumbler Brown Ale, a medium-bodied but very clean tasting ale, not only cut through the richness of the truffle cream, but also underscored the hearty earthiness of the vegetables.
Next up, pork belly and scallops with Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, a Flemish sour ale. I’ve never tasted anything quite like this beer, or this pork belly, for that matter. They were a match made in gourmand heaven. The pork belly—which undergoes a complex process of curing, slow-roasting, salting, pressing and cooling before being served up with sweet seared scallops and a bright, surprising carrot puree—is simply sumptuous. Although it’s less fatty than pork belly can sometimes be, resembling something more akin to the Platonic ideal of a pork chop, the Cuvee’s delicious blend of acidity and sharp sweetness cut through any lingering richness from the meat. This ale was a beautiful amber-red color and tasted delightfully fruity, (although there is no fruit used in its production), slightly fizzy and altogether unexpected. It paired equally well with the sweet, tender scallops and with the pickled vegetable relish plated atop the proteins.
Excited by my surprise over the Flemish sour ale, Barclay and McBane poured themselves a small portion and sat down to talk beer with me.
“Beer is a social beverage, and it’s meant to be shared and enjoyed together,” said McBane.
Barclay, whose own love of beer is evident in her enthusiasm about the subject, explained that the servers at Tap & Table are happy to describe unfamiliar beers to curious—or hesitant—customers, or to give them a sample to help them expand their palate. As at their sister establishment, the Southwedge’s Tap & Mallet, all the restaurant employees are kept up-to-date on the ever-changing tap selections.
“We have a diversity of styles,” says Barclay, “but we love progressive, interesting, super-fresh beers that you won’t find elsewhere and that are fun to pair with our dishes.”
Which brings me to dessert. Full disclosure: I was skeptical that even these professionals could find a beer that I’d enjoy with executive chef John Green’s amazing little cranberry apple cobbler. But they pulled it off, by pouring me LaTrappe Koningshoever Dominus Quadrupel. This deep amber beer offers a big, upfront richness that mellows into a finish bitter enough to cleanse the cobbler’s sweetness. The dessert and the beer were ideal dance partners, ending my tasting with a finale that I could not have anticipated enjoying so much.
Tap & Table offers small and large plates, several charcuterie platters, salads and burgers (including a quinoa-based vegetarian version), all with an emphasis on the seasonal and, in some cases, the unusual. They’ll be putting game meats like antelope, red deer, wild boar and even kangaroo on the specials menu, but ensure that their meats are produced sustainably. Their menu changes frequently, as testimony to their commitment to freshness—and to the fun that Green and crew have both in the kitchen, and at the bar.