ONCE Beer: Hooray beer!
Which is lucky, really, because that's what I got at this month's ONCE event, the most recent themed dinner from JJ Gonson and the amazing peeps at Cuisine en Locale.
Previous ONCE dinners have involved eating insects, dining in Hell, consuming good fortune, and being brunchy. They're always unexpected, creative, locally sourced and completely delicious. So even though The Boy and I are not particularly beer people (we're more into creating cocktails), we weren't going to pass this up.
As always, the menu was up on the board (this is the second half):
As people began to arrive and mingle, we snacked on popcorn topped with nutritional yeast:
and homemade pretzels.
The set-up for this event was more casual than the usual ONCE dinners; rather than table seating, there were groups of chairs arranged throughout the space.
This made for a more low-key party atmosphere, but also meant you had to keep an eye open for the arrival of the next course. Case in point: we almost missed the arrival of the crockpot of Allagash rarebit.
I've only know rarebit as a comfort food dish served over toast. This was not that. It was a strong, sharp kick in the pretzel.
And then JJ (check out the fabulous purple pants!) welcomed us and explained the next course.
We were each to take an oyster and a shot of beer, and join in a group toast. Prost!
(Thanks to Janna, the hand model.)
Oh, also, as noted at the beginning, I'm not a beer expert. So I don't remember what we drank to toast, but it did balance beautifully with the oyster. Hints, anyone?
I also don't remember much of the beer I tried during the night. Most people brought stuff to share, and there was a lot of discussion at the sampling table.
Next, JJ brought around ploughmans (i.e. cheese and chutney sammidges).
The cheese was a bold, sharp two-year-old Cabot, paired with pickled peach chutney made from last year's harvest.
The bread was from Pain D'Avignon in Hyannis (who created the decadent lamb confit burger for Lamb Jam in March).
I believe there are few things in life finer than a nice cheese sandwich (the default comes with Branston pickle) so this course made me very happy.
When we'd arrived that evening, JJ was outside with a kettle grill, firing up chicken wings for the next course. "They're really just a vehicle for the sauce," she said.
The wings were tender and juicy, with a sweet/sour coating. But yeah, whatevs. Tangy, creamy bleu cheese sauce.
And then pork tenderloin from Stillman's. This was a revelation; I'm used to pork being either pink and dry-ish (i.e. ham) or white and juicy (i.e. pork). This was pink and ... springy. Yielding. Bouncy.
Next up, short ribs. The photos do not do justice to the fatty, sweet, perfectly sauced fabulousness.
But wait, there's more meat. Brisket, braised in porter, served with organic sauerkraut. Deep and sweet and sharp and bright and crunchy and flippin' lovely.
Another way this ONCE dinner was unlike the others: a distinct lack of veggies. Not that there's anything wrong with that. When the subject is beer food, you don't expect salad.
But at the same time, I enjoy En Locale's skill with seasonal produce, because they understand that sometimes the simplest preparation is the most effective. I still think their best dishes were the sauerkraut/beet juice course and the kale salad course at the Hell dinner.
But really, the only veg for beer is potato, and the next course was a double-stuffed Yukon Gold topped with an emerald fiddlehead fern.
We've been making the most of fiddlehead season this year, so it was nice to see them here. Also, fabulous fluffy cheesy potato!
Next up, a perfect lamb samosa with a little more of the peach chutney:
And then a perfect accompaniment for beer: nachos!
(Actually, just calling them "nachos" is unfair; it suggests they're somehow in the same category as the unfortunate objects you get from a gas station. It would be akin to saying I write about food, just like M.F.K. Fisher.)
There was pulled pork; there were from-scratch refried beans; there was a bright, fresh, early corn relish. It was heavenly.
Okay, enough of the meat — time for dessert! Well, kinda sorta. Almost.
Five words: bacon-as-meat-candy tart.
Again, the photos don't do it justice. How to capture the warm, buttery crust? The salty smokiness of Trevor's bacon? The sweetness of caramelized onion topped with caramel????
The tart was served in tiny squares, which was just fine; the flavors were so rich and intense that anything larger would have been too much. This was perfect.
And finally, around three hours after the popcorn appetizer, we reached the final course: a puddin' cup of dark, complex chocolate mousse made with Berkshire Brewing Company's Imperial Stout.
By this time, we were sleepy and floaty and very happy. Everyone seemed to be wearing the same expression as Eric and Nicky:
Outside, the night was stormy; torrential rain, flashes of lightning. Inside, things were pretty damn good.