Thursday, June 4, 2015

Surly Brewer's Table

Surly's Beerhall as empty as you are likely to ever see it!
I think it's time for some Food Porn on this site!  Those who follow me know that in addition to being a huge craft beer geek, I'm also a foodie.  I've already done a review of Surly's new Beerhall as of February of this year HERE and I've been back several times since for food, beer, and even made one of the cool tours over Easter Sunday.  It will be known that while I don't love every single Surly beer, I would certainly qualify as a "Surly Fan-Boy" by most people's reckoning.  Just look at the number of Surly beer reviews I've done this year!  Well, how can you make me even more excited about Surly's new digs?  You open the upstairs restaurant, that's what!

A view of the Brewer's Table
While the food down stairs at the Beerhall is still well above average brewpub quality fare, many of the dishes have a hearty and rustic bent well suited to the surroundings.  That pork shoulder is a wonder for Minnesota BBQ!  However, the seating is all first-come and "get to know you neighbor" and it gets very busy and loud down there. Coming in from almost an hour drive away, I want to know I'm going to be able to get a seat!  The Brewer's Table is Surly's answer to these issues--a smaller fine dining restaurant located on the second level of the building, aiming at the more adventurous eating crowd.    They take reservations (Yay!) and also walk-ins if you are lucky, with some additional seating at the small bar within.  The restaurant is visible from the upper level hallway through sound-damping thick glass, but you can barely tell you are in a crowded brewery once inside.

We were greeted and seated quickly at a two-top table along the outside window, with a view of the huge derelict granary building at the back of the property.  I so want Surly to paint a huge mural on that thing!  The warm spring sun was just dropping in the sky and shone through the windows onto our table with a welcoming glow.  A few more people were seated outside on the small upper patio area, overlooking the busier Beerhall patio below, but it was a bit too chilly for us to want to be out there.

Our server, Sam, came over to meet us promptly and gave us a little run-down on the menu.  The menu consists of several smaller snack plates, appetizers, and some larger meat courses.  Everything can be shared tapas style, or ordered for individuals.  There is also a pre-set 5 course Chef &Brewer Pairing Menu where each course is paired with a 4 oz beer--the only caveat is that the whole table has to order this so that all the plates come out at the same time.  This is pretty much like having your own little private beer dinner!  Sam was very knowledgeable about the food and beers, and she offered to pair any dish we wanted with a beer as well!

The beer list was impressive--with a whole separate bar and tap system for the restaurant itself.  Most of the beers listed in the Beerhall were available, as well as a couple only offered at the restaurant like the food friendly sours Pentagram and Misanthrope.  One can order 4 oz sample of anything for a slightly hefty $3 (which allows more tasting, but adds up a bit in cost), 8 or 16 oz versions of most regular beers, or 10 oz pours of the higher gravity or sour beers.  Lots of options for different drinkers!  We each ordered a different sour to taste along with the dishes, and I had to get a Todd The Axe Man since we can't find that out my direction.

We started out our epic dinner with the mysterious Beer & Bump--a secret frequently changing special from the Sous Chef paired with a mystery beer.  Roll the dice and see what you get!  We were incredibly excited by this first dish and it set the tone for the rest of the evening.  Our beer was Mole Smoke (the Mexican spiced version of Surly Smoke and one of our favorites).  This was paired with a cold fresh shrimp ceviche with a jalapeno-lime-cilantro sorbet, fried plantain chips, and bright fresh citrus.  Holy cow was this amazing!  Spice level was on the edge for your garden variety Minnesotan, but for us this was stellar.  This dish was fresh and happy, very evocative of the summer to come.

Next we shared the fried green tomato--not bad, but Sj is from The South and it didn't quite stand up to her standards.  This was probably the least favorite dish of the night, but still good.  With this we also shared the panzanella--a fried bread crumb salad with pickled grape tomatoes, olive puree, and white sardines.  The flavors and textures of this dish were very bold and unusual.

Fried green tomato and Panzanella

At Sam's suggestion we ordered the cauliflower, which I'll be honest is one of my least favorite vegetables.  But hey, live a little and try something new!  This dish was lightly fried and served over a carrot puree with Thai flavored dressing and topped with fresh chili shavings and cilantro.  The Thai fish sauce laced dressing really brought in a lot of flavor and umami to an otherwise bland vegetable, and I was suitably impressed with the dish!  I would order this again in heartbeat.

And then time for our shared main dishes.  We started with the lamb sweetbreads.  Nope, these aren't really bread.  Sweetbreads are an organ meat (usually thymus gland) and are rarely seen in restaurants that aren't high-priced and usually French.  I've never seen lamb sweetbreads before so we had to try them.  The dish was more a take on Greek flavors with a yogurt and citrus based range of flavors that really complimented the distinct lamb-iness of the dish.  While we both liked the dish a lot, we have had better treatments in the past.  This is a challenging dish for the uninitiated.

The winner of the whole shebang for me was the Pork Jowl.  Again, using an unusual cut of meat, the Chef knocked this one out of the park.  Served with faro grain, hazelnuts and picadillo, the star of the show was the pork with that perfectly crispy skin, and amazing no-need-for-a-knife tender meat.  This is one of the best dishes I've had all year and will dream of it.  You owe it to yourself to try this one.  Oh, I was so busy eating that I forgot to take pictures of the main courses so you'll have to use your imagination!

And of course we had to have dessert!  The dish sizes were not huge, so I wasn't feeling quite as full as some restaurant visits, leaving me with a bit of room the course I usually ignore.  Sj ordered the bright and fruity avocado panna cotta, while I ordered the chocolate peanut sphere.  Both showed excellent technique and presentation, appealing to the eye and creating even more enjoyment from the dish.  Both were excellent, but the best part of my dish was the pairing with a 4 oz pour of Barrel Aged Darkness.  Yes, that was a great way to top off a fantastic meal!

Tastes even better than it looks!

We both heartily enjoyed our visit to Surly's Brewer's Table.  The setting was clean, polished, and professional.  The service quick, educated, and friendly.  The food options were somewhat adventurous and might be a little intimidating to some, but I recommend trying something even if it sounds "weird" to you--based on our experience you won't have a bad plate here!  For a little reference, I would already put this place in my top three favorite places in Minnesota for an amazing dinner with a great beer selection, along with The Happy Gnome and Butcher & the Boar.  None of these are cheap dining experiences, but they ARE true experiences and worth the money and time involved.

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