Like many families, every Easter mine congregates to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious brunch. This tradition is bolstered by the presence of champagne and mimosas, both of which I wholly support, but there’s something else I look forward to popping the cork on each year – saisons.
For me, there is no beer-style more evocative of and so perfectly suited for springtime as saisons. These farmhouse-style ales of Belgian and French origin convey myriad flavors, many of which epitomize the season on which we are currently and pleasantly entrenched. Esters and phenols from saison yeast strains bring on vibrant bouquets rife with grassy, floral, fruity, spicy and, depending on the presence of Brettanomyces or other wild yeast strains, funkiness often described as “barnyard” in nature. Beer aroma doesn’t get more springtime-in-the-country than that.
On the flavor front, absolutely no type of ale or lager is as unpredictably wide-ranging. Saison’s guidelines are just about the loosest of any style category. A fan of variety, this is what makes saisons my personal favorite. Wrestling a cork from a bottle labeled “farmhouse ale” is always an adventure. My taste buds might encounter a boldly fruity, herbaceous quaff with tight champagne-like bubbles or a spicy, flowery ale with a sticky, fluffy, snow-white head and the driest, sharpest finish imaginable.
When searching out some brunch recipes built to marry with saisons’ wealth of characteristics, I consulted the culinary minds at Breakfast Republic. This early-to-midday chain has spots in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas and the East Village, with an Ocean Beach location debuting this month at the former site of OB Warehouse, and a Carmel Valley location coming this summer. If you’re looking for inventive breakfast and brunch fare served in tandem with eye-opening adult beverages, this is your spot.
Breakfast Republic owes its popularity and success to items like shrimp and grits, breakfast bacon mac and cheese, and flights of pancakes or French toast. It’s a strawberry and mascarpone cheese-infused version of the latter that the chain’s kitchen- eam chose as an ideal go-with for a fruitier-flavored saison. And for a drier, spicier or more herbaceous farmhouse ale, they selected their Breakfast Jambalaya, a traditional take on the Cajun classic with shrimp, andouille sausage and fried eggs. The recipes for both of these dishes are included here for your home-kitchen experimentation. When looking for the best saison to pair, feel free to cast a wide net – there are exceptional versions of this style brewed the world over – but know there are plenty right in your own backyard.
Great local saisons include The Lost Abbey’s Brett-infused spring seasonal Carnevale Ale, as well as its year-round Red Barn Ale. They come from the same San Marcos brewery, but taste completely different. Still, each makes for an excellent springtime indulgence. The same can be said for Saison Rustique from Vista’s 100% wild-ale operation Toolbox Brewing, which brings wine-barrel vanillins and grape mustiness into the equation. Other flavorful and thirst-quenching San Diego County offerings include BNS Brewing’s Saloon Girl, Iron Fist Brewing’s Hired Hand, Modern Times Beer’s Lomaland and Second Chance Beer’s Saison Solare, any of which will go well on your brunch table come Easter and beyond.
Societe Brewing’s Lorah Smith keeps her co-workers fed and her Facebook followers salivating
Last year, I took a job at Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company. Having been a long-time fan of that operation, I’d had the pleasure of getting to know numerous members of the Societe team prior to coming aboard. I’d long admired their deep-seeded appreciation for beer and the brewing process, and looked forward to working with like-minded souls in that regard. But I had no idea that I’d also find common-ground where my culinary passions are concerned.
One of my biggest concerns in spending five-days-a-week at Societe was how I was going to resist the urge to consume The Pupil, The Dandy, The Butcher and their cousins on a far-too-frequent basis. It remains challenging, I’ll admit, but I manage somehow. As it turns out, there’s even more to be tempted by at my workday digs—namely a constant barrage of home-made, edible goodness brought in on plates and platters, in tinfoil and Tupperware, and always warm, odoriferous, fluffy, gooey, piping hot or otherwise desirable thanks to its maker, Lorah Smith.
To many, Lorah is “Travis’ wife”, and while that is true from a literal sense (she does sport a wedding band bestowed upon her by our brewmaster), to her family at Societe, she is so much more—kind-hearted spearhead of our charitable and humanitarian efforts, coordinator of our offsite beer-dinners, maternal herder of cats and nourisher of the masses. I found out about that last one after being treated to three days of tasty baked goods during my first week of employment. Many dishes, both savory and sweet, have followed. So, too, have dozens of conversations about food and her daily cooking conquests, proof of which are presented via her appetizing Facebook timeline.
I instantly felt a kinship with Lorah. We’ve both been bitten by the cooking-bug, but she’s far more prolific than I am these days. I marvel at her output and creativity. There have been times when she’s made more food than her audiences can consume. Keep in mind that her audiences regularly consist of her hungry-man husband and trio of kiddos, and the 20-plus employees of a brewery where more than half of those folks have completed a challenge that involves consuming a two-and-a-half-pound burrito and full-serving of imperial stout in less than 20 minutes. To outcook these folks is quite the feat.
If you’re not impressed yet, a look at some of the dishes she’s fixed up ought to do it: herb-crusted rack of lamb with balsamic-glazed portobellos and chevre-stuffed potatoes, home-made pho, New Orleans-style Asian braised pork belly, chilaquiles with hatch green chile salsa, and carnitas made from a pig that Travis guy butchered himself. Then there’s the hearty chili made with meat from a bear gifted to the Smiths by local beer-scene gadabout Bobby Mathews, which was both exotic and delicious! And keep in mind, these aren’t things she busted out for special occasions. These are days-that-end-with-a-Y territory. The woman just loves to cook and can do it well.
So, when it came time to focus on a local culinarian with chops, gusto and some recipes to share, it was a no-brainer that I shine a light on this generous gastronome. You can call her “Travis’ wife” if you insist, but you’d do just as well to refer to her as “chef.”
Bangers and Mash with Braised Cabbage and Beer-Onion Gravy
Paired with The Haberdasher English IPA or The Pugilist Dry Stout
Yield: 4 servings
Place the potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the potatoes are fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add 2 cups of onions and sauté until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Place the bangers to the skillet and add enough beer to cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the bangers are fully cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. You may need to add more beer to keep the bangers covered at least to the halfway mark as the liquid evaporates. Once the potatoes are tender, drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the milk and 5 tablespoons of butter and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, then cover to keep warm.
Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and some of the broth from the bangers to help wilt it. Cook until slightly tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove the bangers from the broth and keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce the onions and broth mixture by half to create a thin gravy. Add Worcestershire sauce, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder as desired.
To serve, place a mound of mashed potatoes onto a plate and top with a sausage. Ladle the onion gravy on top of the bangers and mash. Spoon some cabbage on the side and serve immediately with an English-style IPA or dry Irish-style stout.
Paired with The Savage Feral Dark Ale with Cherries
Yield: 6 servings
For the Filling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the batter, cut the milk and butter into the remaining dry ingredients and set aside. For the filling, place the cherries in the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar with the cornstarch. Stir in the boiling water, then pour the mixture over the cherries. Pour and spread the batter evenly over the cherry mixture. Evenly sprinkle the remaining sugar over the cobbler. Place in the oven and bake until the cobbler top is golden-brown and cooked through, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes.
Serve warm alone or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Either way, pair this dessert with a Flanders-style red ale or barrel-aged, cherry-infused sour ale.
—Recipes courtesy of Lorah Smith, Events Manager & Director of Charitable Giving, Societe Brewing Company
With a name like Bitter Brothers Brewing Company (4170 Morena Boulevard, Bay Ho), one might think it a bit of a standoffish operation and think twice about attending its “family dinner” events. But taking part in one of these affairs is actually rather sweet. Company co-founder Bill Warnke was a professional chef for many years before getting into the beer-biz. Not only does all that experience mean he has chops in the kitchen. It also means he has a vast number of friends in kitchens all over San Diego County. It’s these very taste buds that help make Bitter Brothers’ Family Dinner series so special. Read more »
When one goes out to dine on Convoy Street, they come expecting fantastic dishes hailing from nearly every culinary culture throughout eastern Asia. It’s what this Kearny Mesa thoroughfare is best known for, and rightfully so. No other microbial section of San Diego boasts such a dense and impressive concentration of Asian eateries. I’m used to coming across everything there, from kung pao, kanpachi and kimchee to jellyfish, frog’s legs and chicken intestines. But recently I stumbled upon something undoubtedly American—in fact, I’m relatively certain this satiating wonder could only ever happen in this country—that I immediately knew I needed in my life. Enter the chicken-fried cheeseburger.
Hopefully that paragraph-break provided you sufficient time to pull yourself up from the floor. Just reading those words floored me. It was one of those moments where you wonder how something like that doesn’t already exist. This instinctual query seldom fails to predict a good thing and that was certainly the case with this delicacy, a product of the kitchen team at Common Theory Public House (4805 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa). It was crispy on the outside while retaining all the juicy, meaty mammal-appeal one desires in a traditional burger. Throw on some fun toppings—scallions, horseradish-accented Havarti cheese and an herbed bacon aioli—and epic-status was achieved.
“Our whole approach on food is to create delicious pub-fare with an upscale twist, while providing emphasis on making the dishes pair-able with our craft beers,” says Common Theory co-owner Cris Liang. “The idea behind this dish was to fulfill the craving for a delicious chicken-fried steak, so our twist on this authentic Southern-style cuisine was to create a burger version that could be enjoyed in the palm of your hands. Southern comfort-food and a refreshing beer. What else do you need?”
On the beer-front, there’s plenty to choose from. The beer was actually what led me to check out Common Theory in the first place. (Have I ever mentioned I’m pretty into beer?) I found Thorn St. Brewery’s Got Nelson? India pale ale a great brew for cutting through the richness of the burger, but there were dozens of other beers on-tap that would have fit the bill.
Recent visitors to Convoy have probably noticed that craft-beer has crept its way into the equation for many restaurants, new-and-old. So much that, each month, a promotional event called the Convoy Flight takes place, where a selected guest brewery will put numerous beers from its portfolio on tap at four designated businesses—Common Theory, Dumpling Inn’s Shanghai Saloon, O’Brien’s Pub and SoHo—so guests can enjoy ever-changing pub-crawl experiences.
Craft is big-business on Convoy now, but it actually wasn’t part of the equation for Cris and business partner Joon Lee when they decided to go into the hospitality business.
“Now, everyone knows and feels how important craft beer is, even the non-craft drinkers and the craft beer haters…who will soon be converted anyway,” Cris says with a chuckle. “After a year-and-a-half of searching for a location for a hospitality business, and going through multiple concepts and business plans, a light-bulb went on in my head. My friends and I were always searching for and drinking craft beers, constantly buying different bottles to try at home, spending every weekend visiting breweries. We loved craft beer, craft beer drinking was on the rise, and a space good enough finally became available, so we dove in head-first and here we are celebrating more than two years in business.”
I’m glad they took the plunge into Convoy’s rising pool of quality ales and lagers. More craft beer and a most-decadent and inventive take on the almighty burger are good things .So good that I’ve been thinking about that deep-fried gem ever since having it. Now it’s time to share the dish with all of you—along with the recipe thanks to the generosity of Common Theory. Give it a whirl or roll down Convoy and indulge in the genuine article. Either way, you’ll want to do it with a beer, of course.
Somehow, I’d never heard of Andrea. It’s possible that you haven’t either. But after a San Diego Beer Week campaign that saw her collaborate with such big name venues as Gordon Biersch, Mike Hess Brewing, KnB Wine Cellars, Monkey Paw and South Park Brewing, loads of craft beer enthusiasts are now familiar not only with her name, but with her confectionery handiwork as the namesake sweets maven behind local business, Andrea’s Truffles. It’s fitting she should collaborate with craft brewers. It’s their entrepreneurial spirit that partially inspired her to start her own business.
“I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 1999, but left the biz in 2006 to have a normal life,” Andrea Davis recalls with a chuckle. “But when I revamped my truffle recipe, it was something everyone seemed to want. It seemed like everyone was starting their own business. It was such a great time and awesome vibe, so I just went for it.”
Her first and staunchest supporters early on were Hanis Cavin and Sara Stroud, the co-owner couple behind the Carnitas’ Snack Shack chain. Eateries that champion craft beer as passionately as they do pork in all its delicious forms, the provided Andrea a nice introduction and indoctrination into the flavorful ales being brewed throughout San Diego. The symbiosis that could be attained between those beers and her sweets fast became obvious.
“When I first started trufflin’, I spend a lot of time at Carnitas’ Snack Shack in North Park. Different brewers were always in and out of there. Hanis would always give them a truffle and a new relationship would begin,” says Andrea. “When they got their beer-and-wine license, Hanis handed me two bottles of Green Flash Double Stout to make truffles with. After that, it was all over…in a good way. There is such a sense of community with my beer-centric pals, so much support and love.”
From Valentine’s Day beer-and-truffle pairings at Mike Hess Brewing in North Park to a Truffles On Tap pairing series for The Patio Restaurant Group to custom truffles built around the flavor profiles of specific beers, she is like a sugar-fueled whirlwind swirling all over San Diego County. Andrea is wild about all of her craft beer collaborators, but says her latest source of pride and joy is a carrot cake truffle commissioned by beer bar baron Scot Blair to pair with a beer his brewpub, Monkey Paw, had a hand in producing with Escondido’s Stone Brewing Co. and award-winning local homebrewer Juli Goldenberg called 24 Carrot Golden Ale.
A Belgian strong ale brewed with lactose, carrot juice, raisins and spices, it was billed as carrot cake in a glass. The truffle’s white chocolate coating creates a creamy, buttery component to mirror the cream cheese frosting elements of the beer while actual carrot cake, cinnamon, ginger and raisins take care of the rest. It’s a tasty example of Andrea’s creativity and ability to step up to even the most challenging and outlandish of beers.
A trio of holiday-ready recipes (including the one for those carrot cake truffles) are the gift of this generous dessertier this yuletide season. Further evidence of her giving nature will be provided on December 11 at the newly debuted AleSmith Brewing Co. tasting room in Miramar when her specially crafted gingerbread truffles are paired with AleSmith Noël, a traditional Belgian-style Christmas ale brewed to support the Beer to the Rescue anti-lupus fundraising campaign. Consider them sweets from the sweet.
Basic Chocolate Truffles
Yield: 16 truffles
16 oz. heavy cream, room temperature
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 oz. unsalted butter, cubed
16 oz. dark chocolate (preferably 70% cacao)
Mix the cream and semisweet chocolate in the top vessel of a double boiler over low heat. When the chocolate is almost melted, turn off the heat and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk the butter into the mixture, several cubes at a time. When the ingredients are completely incorporated, pour the chocolate into a foil pan lined with plastic. Place the pan in the refrigerator and let cool for at least 12 hours.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator and cut the chocolate into squares or use a ball-scooper to dole into equal-sized segments. Melt the dark chocolate in the top vessel of a double boiler over low heat. When the chocolate reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit, maintain that temperature, being sure not to overheat it. One at a time, dip the truffles in the chocolate to coat then place on a Sil-Pat lined sheet pan to cool and set. Serve.
Andrea’s Tricks to Trufflin’
Carrot Cake (AKA “Blair-rot Cake”) Truffles
Yield: 50 truffles
Paired with Juli Goldenberg / Monkey Paw / Stone 24 Carrot Golden Ale
20 oz. white chocolate (preferably Callebout)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch kosher salt
1 Tbsp plus pinch ground cinnamon
prepared carrot cake (preferably produced using Betty Crocker’s carrot cake recipe), cut into chunks
1 lb. white chocolate, for coating
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 cup walnuts (optional)
sea salt flakes (optional)
In a large stainless steel bowl, combine 20 oz. of white chocolate with the cream cheese, heavy cream, ginger, vanilla, salt and 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon. Transfer the mixture to the top vessel of a double boiler over low heat and stir occasionally until the ingredients are completely incorporated. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Spread the mixture into an even layer, then gently push chunks of the cake into the chocolate. Cover snugly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Remove the plastic wrap then invert the chocolate-coated cake onto a Sil-Pat-lined baking sheet with a one-inch lip. In the top vessel of a double boiler, heat half the remaining white chocolate and cinnamon. When the mixture is melted, turn off the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate. When the mixture is smooth and lukewarm, drizzle the white chocolate over the carrot cake or cut the cake into equal-sized square portions and dip in the melted white chocolate, one at a time, returning each truffle to the pan to cool once coated. Garnish with raisins, walnuts and sea salt, and serve.
Yield: 14 ounces
8 oz. granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch salt (preferably from La Jolla Salt Co.)
14 oz. blanched hazelnuts, whole or pieces
Mix the sugar, vanilla and salt together in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the mixture is halfway melted, stir in the nuts and continue stirring until the mixture takes on a golden-brown color and there is a shiny gloss over the nuts. Remove from heat and spread the mixture over a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Let cool. Serve or transfer the nuts to an airtight container for storage.