Coquette Charcuterie Garni Beer Dinner

I've been to my share of high end beer dinners over the years. It was Will Meyers and the chefs at Cambridge Brewing Company that showed me how perfectly and skillfully beers could be paired with food. When we visited Northern California and had lunch at the esteemed French Laundry, our sommelier picked a great pairing of beers to complement Thomas Keller's food. When we moved to New Orleans, we enjoyed beer dinners at Donald Link's Calcasieu and Nathanial Zimet's Boucherie. They've all been great, and I've learned something important about beer and food at each one.

I have never been to a beer dinner like the one I attended this past Thursday night at Coquette.

When Jeff Schwartz, bar manager of Coquette, told me that when he and Chef Michael Stoltzfus sat down to plan the menu for the beer dinner, he realized that although beer can do almost anything wine can do and better, forcing a beer dinner into the wine dinner format does a disservice to how fun and social beer is. So they decided to do something a little different with their beer dinner and I think it worked spectacularly.

When we walked upstairs and into the upper dining room on Thursday evening, the center of the room was taken up completely by one long table with 35 place settings. The upstairs bar was pouring three beers at the outset:

I started with the Piraat (an terrific Belgian IPA), and Tom tried the Bornem Dubbel, an abbey-style ale that neither of had tried before.  Beers in hand, we went to the first table of hors d'oerves:

My Piraat, the housemade soft pretzels, and three amazing cheeses: (L-R)
Backsteiner, a Bavarian raw cow's milk cheese; Caerphilly, a cow's milk cheese from Wales;
and La Tur, a soft 3-milk cheese (goat, cow, and sheep) from Piedmont, Italy

There are all the awesome things on my plate! The Backsteiner (the strongest of the three) and the Caerphilly both had these amazing chutneys that complemented them beautifully.
We took our beer, cheese, and pretzels and wandered around a little bit. We knew a few of the guests (Cole Newton from Twelve Mile Limit, Dan Stein from Stein's Deli, Ron Swoboda from Crescent Crown) so we said hello, and met some new people, and mingled. It was very, very chill. Also: delicious.

The second table of goodies had housemade potato chips, some sort of crack-laced creamy dip, and a variety of fresh pickles.

My best guess: Beets, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and cucumber??
By this point I'd moved on to my second beer, trying Bornem Dubbel, and Tom was drinking the light, crisp, low-ABV (5%) Bavik Pils. I had one a little later as well, and while the Bavik certainly lacked the complexity and depth of flavor that the other beers that night had, it was actually a terrific palate cleanser and a nice way to break up the intensity of the beer and food we were having.

Oh! Also had a couple of passed apps: a fried oxtail ball with a peach (??) chutney as well as fried oyster topped with what I thought I heard as "ghost caviar"

Oyster with the Bornem Dubbel

After drinking, chatting, and making general merriment, it was time to sit down.  The staff had poured out the beer to go with the dinner, Troubadour Magma Tripel IPA. It looked beautiful and smelled delicious. 

Troubadour Magma Tripel IPA

The Troubadour Magma Tripel IPA is from a small, and new-ish (only about 10 years old) brewery in Belgium called The Musketeers. The brewers sought to combine the hop bitterness of a West Coast/American IP with the fruity yeast characteristics of the traditional Belgian tripel. Dry-hopped with Simcoe hops, it smelled just gorgeous- a citrusy, floral, spicy aroma. I found this beer to be dangerously drinkable. For a big beer which combines two other styles of big beer, I found the beer to be incredibly flavorful but also balanced between malt, yeast, and hops.

We sat and Jeff said a few words about the dinner in general, how it came to be, and what we would be soon eating. In a nutshell: "cabbage, potato, and pig."

And then the charcuterie garni came out.

Oh, my goodness. The base of the dish was cabbage/sauerkraut, which could not be seen at first given that it was covered by a GIGANTIC MOUNTAIN OF MEAT. Let's see: pork belly, glazed, roasted, sliced thin; pork cheese sausage, a pork herb sausage, merguez sausage, ham, some sort of pig trotter terrine covered in panko and deep fried, and boiled potatoes.  THIS SHIT WAS BANANAS AND TOTES AWESOME. (what do you think of my sophisticated review parlance???) I wanted to keep eating everything but I knew that to do so would be to court the fate of Monty Python's "wafer-thin mint" diner. It was also served family style, so we were eating and conversing with our fellow diners, drinking beer, chatting with the chef and to Jeff as they each stopped by. We shared with each other the memories that this food evoked- the ham was the best I've tasted since I was a kid in Hartford, CT and we would buy our hams, sausage, and hot dogs from a local German family meat market. The couple across the table from us reminisced about their honeymoon, when they arrived in Alsace, and were served the comfort food they craved both back then and then this evening with us. 

Stoltzfus and Schwartz had successfully created the kind of atmosphere they had set out to create- one of hospitality, unpretentiousness,  fun, conviviality. 


After the platters of demolished charcuterie were cleared away, Christy Hanson from the Global Beer Network (Coquette's beer distributor- also a division of Crescent Crown, I believe) got up again to talk about the last beer of the evening, Scotch de Silly, a scotch wee heavy brewed in Belgium. Apparently there's a fairly significant history of Scotch ales being brewed in Belgium, which is pretty interesting and something I didn't know about before. This particular beer, the Scotch Silly, has been brewed off the same recipe since World War I, when British troops (from Scotland) were stationed in the Belgian village of Silly, and I guess that was that. Scotch de Silly uses exclusively British Kent hops, and is brewed according to traditional style.

The beer was lighter in color than I expected, but still had a wonderful deep maltiness. Also less sweet than I expected, which was a good thing- most of the sweet notes were primarily in the aroma, and the subtle hop bitterness and spice overtones lessened the sweetness in the taste. Great mouthfeel, very drinkable- a bit of booziness at the start, but finished pleasantly dry.

OK, beer discussion out of the way, let's talk about dessert:

Scotch de Silly with something DELICIOUS LOOKING in the background! What could it be? 

Waffles! With whipped cream, Steen's whipped butter, chocolate ganache, strawberries, and blueberries

Bitter chocolate mousse cake. Not pictured: tart de fromage
The waffles were made to order- warm, malty, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, not too sweet... sweetened it up good, though, with berries and chocolate ganache and maple syrup and butter with Steen's cane syrup whipped into it. The chocolate mousse was bittersweet and paired particularly well with the Scotch de Silly. The tart de fromage was like the perfect combination of cheesecake (taste) and key lime pie (consistency and texture.) Everything went well with the Scotch de Silly, and I practically assaulted the pastry chef as he was coming out of his kitchen telling him how much I loved his desserts.

Happily, Tom got me out of there before I was able to lavish any other sloppy complements on the organizers. And we walked home. And passed out.

It was a good night.