Brandon Johns is not just one of the coolest people I know, he is one of the bravest. I mean, seriously? Starting a restaurant in this economy?? And stocking it with locally sourced and seasonal food, still not a sure thing even in this town? Wow. That’s just gutsy.
Not only is Chef Johns committed to local food, he is similarly committed to local beer. This past week, the Grange held its Spring Beer Dinner which highlighted the best of food and brew.
The first beer served was Arbor Brewing Company’s Tree Fort beer. This is a light, refreshing “lawnmower beer” that has improved with every batch. It is, quite simply, the beer you’d want after a long day of mowing. It was a perfect start to the dinner and was paired with a variety of snacks, Brandon style. I say “Brandon style” because “Patti style” snacks are a bag of Doritos, take it or leave it. But at the Grange, we got homemade chips (yum!), popcorn popped in bacon fat, deep fried pickles and deep fried smelt with OMG I never had before but promptly fell in love (and, as someone at our table said, “I get the feeling that the Superbowl at Brandon’s house wouldn’t have pretzels). I could have eaten that stuff all night and felt I got my money’s worth. The salty, crispy, fried deliciousness paired perfectly with the lighter ale.
Next, we had sauteed lake trout over spelt and leeks. The beer was New Holland’s Golden Cap Saison Ale. This beer is made with spelt and so it paired very well with the spelt. (I just realized that we had smelt and then spelt and that is kind of cool). Golden Cap is an updated version of a traditional farmhouse ale. You see, back in the day, the farmhands would drink beer (water was icky and unsafe) and if you feed your workers a 9% Trippel, well, they are going to be sleeping instead of, er, hoeing. Thus, a lighter beer! (Okay, this one has an a.b.v. of around 6% but still).
The next course featured Arcadia’s Whitsun Ale paired with paella, rabbit & shrimp over gold rice. I have to confess some hesitation to eat Thumper but he’s pretty good! Whitsun is a wheat beer, full bodied & toasty with some hints of caramel. The toasty body paired very well with rice and Thumper (Brandon kindly remember that I don’t eat shellfish and had a special dish just for me! That’s the kind of service I’m talkin’ about).
The “main” course was a smoked pork shoulder but I got another special dish of homemade pasta. People love to get me crap for not eating pork–and I do miss it–but I am so glad that I got this dish instead! It was delicious and paired well with the fourth beer, the Dark Horse/Arbor Dark Corner brown ale. If you haven’t had this collaboration ale, you need to get some before it runs out. It is the same recipe but different water and house yeast, and the brewpubs made totally different beers. Both are great–but both are different. Both went nicely with my pasta and Jeff reported that they were “perfect” with his smoked pig.
Finally, we had a selection of Michigan cheeses, including a ricotta that was–and I’m not gonna lie–like eating a pillow of deliciousness. The beer was Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale. This was the strongest beer of the batch. It is malted and oak aged, with a touch of molasses. Nice heavy beer to go with the light cheeses. It made for an excellent dessert course. Much better than chocolate, which I actually don’t care for.
I can’t say enough about this excellent dinner! We had wonderful dinner companions, including Ron from Rave Associates (who was knowledgeable and personable, as always) and a wonderful host in Brandon! I’m truly glad that we have such a cool–and brave–guy here in our little town.
Some day I’m just going to attach myself to you and go everywhere you go to eat. You get THE BEST food!
Love, love, love smelt! Grew up with the little buggers, deep friend in a little Drake’s? Yum. Monahan’s Seafood periodically does fried smelt as a lunch special, which is good because I’d never go through the trouble of frying it myself!