The first spoonful of creamy beer and potato soup was a celebration of flavors and textures to the palette. At first the smoke of the bacon rushed the palette and then quickly stepped aside for the creamy and peppery finish. The dish was paired with Ramble on Red from NoDa Brewing – a smooth blend of malt and hops with slight hints of rye. I’d call it their flagship beer, but all beers made by NoDa Brewing are of such quality and popularity that they qualify as flagship beers. This perfect start to NoDa’s Beer Pairing dinner at Harry’s Grill and Tavern left me feeling lucky that a brewery of NoDa’s quality is right here in my hometown and a restaurant of Harry’s caliber is located within walking distance of my house.
Harry’s has the perfect ambience for a beer pairing dinner. The inside is dark and classy as an American tavern should be. The wooden bar is finished in a black gloss and has an ample number of stools to belly up for a local draft beer or signature “Harry Cocktail” like the Harry Truman (Woodford Bourbon, soda, bitters, and muddled fruit). Or take a seat on one of the comfy sofas scattered throughout the lounge. It’s the perfect spot for a date or drinks with friends away from a noisy sports bar environment. Of course, there are a few TVs if you just have to catch the game.
Second course was an heirloom romaine salad with jicama, oranges, cranberries, and a citrus vinaigrette paired with the Hop Drop and Roll IPA. The best words to describe the salad are fresh and clean. Of course, all lettuce should be fresh and clean, but I’m talking about the overall flavor of the dish. The bright notes of the jicama and fruit really opened up the taste buds for what was to come. The beer was the biggest of the night coming in at 7.2% ABV and awash with similar citrus notes as the salad from the 12 varieties of hops. The IPA is a quick flavor punch that finishes well and doesn’t linger. However, I felt that the choice of a strong citrus beer with a strong citrus dish needed a bit more contrast. This was a theme that would be replayed through the rest of the courses. The notes and spices from the ales were replicated in the dishes. Sometimes this works, but sometimes contrast and complimenting flavors are needed.
Next were citrus crusted scallops with a vanilla apple compote and ale reduction sauce. Have I mentioned that I hate scallops? No matter how I have tried them, they always disappoint me. Chef Michael Smith (who is all of 26 years old and an amazing talent) changed my mind. Mrs. G had to stab at my hand as I tried to steal a scallop from her plate once mine were finished. The scallops were cooked perfect with an almost bread like crust. The vanilla and apple from the compote helped mellow out the sharp sweetness found in most scallops. The course was paired with Jam Session Pale Ale, one of my go-to beers in Charlotte. It’s a mild pale ale with lots of notes from the cascade hops.
I was most looking forward to the fourth course – cinnamon and pear braised pork shanks with Gordeous Pumpkin Ale – and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was fall of the bone tender very similar to an osso busco. The dish was well seasoned with many seasonal spices found in the pumpkin ale – a perfect match for the fall squash medley that accompanied the meat. I have the same opinion about pumpkin ales as I do about scallops. However, I heard NoDa’s was different. That I would like it. I did, but wasn’t blown away. I admit that it’s me, not the beer. The ale is brewed with pureed pumpkin, allspice, cloves, ginger, and brown sugar. The flavor is heavy on the ginger which is probably the only reason I found this pumpkin beer acceptable.
Dessert was the Great American Beer Festival Silver Medal winning Coco Loco Porter. Think big, chocolate malts that you would expect from a porter but with a slight tropical feel and slight toastiness from the toasted coconut. Coco Loco is truly heaven in a glass. The beer is so good that I almost forgot what we ate – a medley of biscotti which were good but couldn’t compete with the Coco Loco.
I was excited to be a part of Harry’s Grill and Tavern’s first beer pairing dinner. The food was excellent and the beer just as good. NoDa Brewing was the perfect choice to go along with the North Carolina theme that completes Harry’s draft choices. Hopefully, this is the first of a regular series. Will we have a Birdsong or Triple C dinner in the future?