Texas in Your Mouth

I'm a bit of a picky eater, beer dinners don't often appeal to me because one or two courses sound awful to me. The objection usually starts with the use of mushrooms which creep me out, but plenty of other foods turn me off enough to not care what the other courses are. The Wil Jenny's beer dinner Stella and I attended last night had no foods to turn me off. Plus, everything on the menu for the evening sounded wonderful. And as an added bonus, Wil Jenny's was pouring out of market beers so it really was to be a good dinner to try some new things.

It all started with a little free for all with the 7 or 8 Texas beers being poured. We went up, requested which beer we wanted to try and got a fairly substantial pour of 3 or 4 ounces. 512 Brewing sent up a couple of kegs so Stella and I started off with the 512 Wit and 512 Pecan Porter. The Pecan Porter was as good as it sounds. The pecan flavor really complemented the porter flavor well. It was my favorite new beer of the night. The Wit was good, lots of flavor, but not a style that does much for me. Next up were the St. Arnold beers, Elissa and Amber. Elissa was an IPA and was just okay, I didn't go back for more. Stella really liked the Amber and I had to agree, it was a pretty good Amber. I also tried the Rahr Ugly Pug, a black lager. Not much to it, I like the name more than the beer. Then I had my other favorite, the Real Ale 4 Firemen, a blonde ale. When we go to Texas I usually buy a sixer of the Firemen to have around to counter that Texas heat.

While we were drinking the Texas beers, servers would come out with some appetizer trays. After a couple of beers we were really thankful for the food coming out. Other people were too, because the servers were swarmed the first couple of times they came out. The first thing we tried and was the most available was a breaded and fried asparagus with a lemon dill sauce. I absolutely loved the fried asparagus, I probably had 10 of them over the course of the appetizer hour. The beef brisket meatball with bleu cheese sauce was fantastic. The poor servers tasked with the meatball tray were risking their well being by walking out of the door from the kitchen to the hungry horde. I had 3 or 4 of the meatballs and enjoyed every bite. Stella and I have a little disagreement about whether they were breaded or not. I don't think they were, but she insists that they were. In any case, they were delicious and I think they would make a fantastic meatball sandwich. The cheddar stuffed pretzels with Pale Ale Mustard were great as well, but I had one that wasn't stuffed (still was good) and I wished I could have gotten a little more mustard on mine. The pretzels weren't that plentiful, I think only 3 trays came out and we wanted more. By the end of the evening though, I was glad I didn't have an extra one.

During the Texas beer and appetizer hour, Boulevard Brewmaster Steven Pauwels showed up and helped pour the beers. When I went up and talked to him, he noticed that I wore the sweater that he wore to our January Gents KC meeting and he regretted not wearing his. I purposely wore it hoping we could be twins for the evening, but my plan was foiled by Pauwels trying to dress all Texasy. One of the other highlights of the appetizer hour involved the rattlesnake table display at the bar. It seemed to be a smoked rattlesnake body coiled up, about to strike. As I was standing in the middle of the room I looked over to the bar tables and saw Pauwels bend down to smell the rattlesnake and recoil back as if it smelled awful. It never occurred to me to smell it which, I guess, is reason #1243 why I'm not a Belgian brewmaster, I don't take the time to smell rattlesnake carcasses.
Trio of oysters

We were guided by the Wil Jenny's manager to find our seats so we could be served our first course. Wil Jenny's chef Royal Cheuvrant came out and described his idea for the evening "trying to put Texas in your mouth". If this were a Gents KC meeting, Texas would have meant something else entirely, but Chef Royal only meant the great food of Texas. Our first course was to be, unknown to me, a classic pairing of stout and oysters. Since this was a Boulevard event we were served Boulevard Dry Stout and a trio of oysters, a raw one, a fried one and a grilled one. The raw oyster was simply fabulous and tasted almost smoked, it was my favorite of the three. Most surprisingly, it was Stella's favorite of the three and she was very leery of raw oysters before she tried it. The fried oyster just tasted like something that was fried, not very distinctive. The grilled oyster had bacon on it and the bacon kind of took over. If I was Tom Colicchio judging on Top Chef, I would say that the oyster wasn't the star in the grilled and fried versions. Overall though, it was a great first course and really went great with the Dry Stout. Pauwels explained after that stout and oysters is a classic pairing because the salt from the oyster fills the void of the flavors that a stout has.

I should note that Pauwels and Boulevard salesman Damon McCracken* sat across the table from Stella and I. I'm pretty convinced that Pauwels sat across from Stella in an effort to woo her with his Belgian accent, but his slicky Euro style didn't work. The conversation turned to Chocolate Ale and just how shocking that whole week was for Boulevard and KC. They thought they brewed too much Chocolate Ale and thought it would be on shelves into the summer. They had no idea it would sell like it did. I think they're going to make more next year to try and meet the demand and also try to find the middle ground between the draft version and bottle version which were dramatically different.

*When you meet a Boulevard employee for the first time, you probably shouldn't say, upon hearing his/her name, "I've had one of your Nutcrackers before" 9referring to the employee's name on a bottle of Nutcracker. It turns out that sounds awkward and kinda creepy. Not that this happened, it's just a warning for you, the dear reader. 

Rattlesnake and rabbit sausage
The next course was what I was really looking forward to, rattlesnake and rabbit sausage paired with Single Wide IPA. Chef Royal explained that heat and IPA go great together so the sausage had a jalapeno jam on burnt toast with it. Unfortunately the jalapeno jam was much more sweet than hot so the pairing didn't work out that great. But, with the exception of the sausage being a little cold, the dish tasted wonderful. At our table, decorum was abandoned and we just picked up the sausage covered toasts and ate them like one would eat bruschetta. Chef Royal mentioned that you get surprisingly little meat from a $130 rattlesnake so my guess is this would be an expensive thing to have around all the time. But, I do so want more of it.

Braised pork belly
Next up was pasilla chili braised pork belly (the cut of pork from whence bacon comes) paired with Boulevard Amber. Pauwels explained that Amber pairs well with anything with a crust or sear because of the bready malt that is used in Amber. I'd love nothing more than to call Pauwel a filthy Flemish fibber, but, in this case, he wasn't fibbing. The seared and braised pork belly paired wonderfully with the Amber. I really enjoy the Boulevard Amber, but I've never enjoyed it more than I did after swallowing a bite of the extremely flavorful, tender and fatty (but the good kind) pork belly. Would I have enjoyed the pork belly without the Amber? Yes, it was my favorite food of the night. But, the Amber made it even better than that.

Buffalo loin
The chance to try the Boulevard Hoppy Unfiltered Wheat was the last factor in the decision to even post about this beer dinner in the first place. Boulevard is pretty good about getting their experimental brews out into the community, but since I can't drink it in my house, I don't often get to drink them. So I was pretty excited to try the Hoppy Unfiltered Wheat. Pauwels explained, after a hamfisted attempt to describe baseball and American football, that Hoppy Unfiltered Wheat was the brainchild of Boulevard cellarman Alex Rodriguez, whom they creatively call A-Rod. No mystery to this one, it's Unfiltered Wheat with a bunch of Cascade hops thrown in. It was paired with a maple black peppercorn buffalo tenderloin served with some bacon, corn and sharp cheddar grits. Again, a hoppy beer mixed with a spicy dish (black peppercorn). I'm a pretty big fan of buffalo meat so I was looking forward to this. Stella got the endpiece of the tenderloin which was a tad too done for her, but she absolutely loved the grits which is going to turn out bad for me because I didn't care too much for them. Like so many of my food issues, the texture of the grits kind of threw me off and I found that grits are aptly named, I'll bet Jason Kendall loves them. The grits flavor was great though. I really enjoyed my buffalo which was nicely medium rare. None of us got much of the maple flavor. It was just a little bit bland.

The Hoppy Unfiltered Wheat was very good though. It smelled a little like a Lagunitas Pale Ale, but tasted like Tank 7 with an Unfiltered Wheat base to me. While Pauwels was talking about A-Rod's creation, he was looking for a way to show A-Rod his appreciation based on our, the assembled diners' reaction to the Hoppy Unfiltered Wheat. I'm but just one of the diners, but I think the appropriate thing for Steven to do is to feed A-Rod popcorn today.

For dessert, we were served fried peach pies with butter pecan ice cream paired with Boulevard Long Strange Trippel. Do I even need to describe just how wonderful this creation was? It was a good as you think it could be. Or almost as good, as peaches aren't really in season right now and the peach flavor didn't pop as much as it would in peach season. But, that's a pretty minor criticism. Long Strange Trippel went wonderfully with the dessert, as it always does and Stella is now a fan of Long Strange Trippel (I don't think I ever shared any with her).

The meal left us completely stuffed and quite happy overall. I whisked Stella away while Pauwels was out talking to the rest of the diners so that he wouldn't have one last chance to woo her. Watching "Top Chef" when we got home was a bit of a mistake because most of the food on the show didn't look as good as it normally does. This was my second chance to try Chef Royal's food with beer pairings and both times I came away incredibly impressed. Maybe one day, we'll actually eat a regular meal at Wil Jenny's, Chef Royal has definitely shown me that I love his food. Also, if you find out a beer dinner with Steven Pauwels immediately reserve your spot, you'll have a great time, he's one of the funboys.

Full Disclosure: Stella and I were guests of Wil Jenny's and did not pay the $45 price for the dinner. The freebie did not influence my review of the food, beer or evening in any way, but you can be the judge of that.

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