Of all the trips I’ve taken or will take in my self-appointed role as a doughnut ethnographer, Detroit may not be the most touristy destination or have the most exotic-sounding treats, but I’d say visiting Hamtramck to explore the larger-than-life world of Polish pączki (“poonch-key”) had me drooling the most. For one, I love jelly doughnuts. For two, pączki are unlike typical jelly doughnuts and they can even be enjoyed spiked with a shot on what others call Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras but in the Upper Midwest everyone knows it as Pączki Day, which I got to write about for TheTakeout. Take that, other immigrant doughnut styles.
It’s not in the realm of doughnuts, but when you’re raised on these chocolaty or cinnamony or sometimes pruny treats found at every self-respecting Jewish delicatessen, you gotta shout it from the rooftop. Or from The Takeout. My love letter to rugelach.
While some places like Memphis, Kansas City, Austin, and the Carolinas are synonymous with regional barbecue, cowboys, Gauchos, and denizens of California’s Central Coast have our own: Santa Maria BBQ. Straight outta the 805, this technique is all about red oak and those 7-second grates. It can be chicken, fish, or various cuts of beef. But really, it’s about tri tip, as explained in The Takeout.
In this op-ed for FSR (Full Service Restaurant), I tackle the topic of overly long draft lists. From 31 flavors of ice cream to–more to my point–99 bottles of beer on the wall, consumers want what they want—so, why would any bar manager or restaurateur limit their patrons’ options? And yet, not to throw the good folks at places such as the Yard House under the bus, but the Irvine, California–originated chain with some 60 locations offers between 130 and 250 beers on its tap lists. Typically, no fewer than 30 of them are IPAs. And while bright, fruity West Coast IPAs are miles apart from chewy, richer imperial IPAs, I think the customer becomes bombarded by options and stands a good chance of not being able to zero in on the beer that best suits the meal. Put in idiomatic terms: Sometimes less is more.
Most Asian-American restaurants serve the beer from the cuisine’s country of origin: Typically 33 Beer at a Vietnamese restaurant, Tsingtao when eating Chinese, Sapparo to go with Japanese, and Singha for Thai food.
That’s essentially saying that every hamburger served overseas should only be washed down with Budweiser. More and more operators are awakening to the realization that they can do more, both in terms of their beer menu and their customers.
So I took a look at what some of the best Asian restaurants with stellar beer programs had to say about that.
As a testament to how great of a job my friend and colleague Ken Weaver did as the Beer Editor of FSR (a trade magazine for the, wait for it, Full Service Restaurant… and yes there is a QSR magazine), it took two of us to replace him when he left. That means every other month Jeff Cioletti pens a column about beer in FSR’s “Liquid Intelligence” department along with 8 beer reviews, and then we switch off. For my first column in the June 2016 issue, inspired by that thing we get inversely proportionally to beer (the sun. I’m talking about sunshine.), I tackled the heady subject of beer menus at pubs with killer patios/beer gardens.
If the editors at Draft know one thing, it’s that a late night of drinking great beer calls for a late morning of eating a worthy breakfast. So I pitched my hometown for their Best Breakfasts series. I was limited to just 3 spots + a late night bites hotspot. I would’ve had an easier time writing this if I could’ve picked my favorite 13 places. Alas.
Amid the brewery acquisitions and Portland’s westside invasions, Pioneer Place is now flooding with beer courtesy of The Yard House, a sports pub/family dining restaurant that also, most likely, presents more tap handles than any single establishment in Oregon: 130. Yes, one hundred and thirty beers on draft. So let’s first focus on a bunch of numbers.
First, from their own press release in July, 2012, “Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) announced that it has agreed to acquire Yard House USA, Inc. for $585 million.” Olive Garden is another restaurant chain in the Darden Restaurants portfolio. More numbers:
34: number of television sets throughout the Yard House, all airing games.
42: The number of the 130 total taps pouring beers from the Pacific Northwest. This actually represents the largest number of regionally brewed beers in the chain.
57: Locations in said chain, spanning 20 states.
250: The most taps presented at a single restaurant, which I believe is the Irvine, Calif. spot where it all started back in 1996 when, according to their own About page, “the craft beer revolution began nearly 20 years ago.”
3: Light/Lite beers available from the two largest brewing companies.
67: Number of six-tops at the Portland Yard House. (Scratch that; two of those are four-top tables.)
1: Master sommelier employed by Darden Restaurants. George Millotes is one of 219 such experts in the world. I’m told several Cicerones (with apologies to Ray Daniels, those are the sommeliers of the beer service world)
All of the above underscores the impressive stats this outpost brings to downtown Portland that, truth be told, does not feel very Portland. If you want the geekiest beers on the westside, you’re going to head to Bailey’s Taproom. But Bailey’s’ 24 taps made me realize, Yard House offers as many taps as the top 7 beer bars in the city. Quantity over quality is never the better option, but here’s the deal: if you can get over the Yard House being a $585 million chain from Orange County, in a neck of these urban woods populated by other chains such as Qdoba, Jimmy John’s, and, egads, Buffalo Wild Wings around the corner if you want the lowest common denominator of sports bars, at least there’s a level of quality accompanying all those screens and mile’s worth of draft lines. Upon being invited in to explore the over the top menu, I’m happy to report that the Brussels sprouts atop “ripped” potatoes–described to me by their corporate executive chef Carlito Jocson as, “because potato skins are too eighties”) are crave-worthy. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are pretty good for being this far west of 82nd Ave. You can order any of the tacos “vampire” style which entails grilling cheese on the outside til it becomes crunchy and hand-holdable.
And most importantly, among those nearly eleven dozen taps, every level of beer drinker will find something with his or her name on it. Yes, there’s behemoth light American adjunct lager. But I also lost count of how many great IPAs they had on–yes, multiple IPAs because whoever tag-teamed on the beer list knew we demand such things. Boneyard RPM? Check. Boneyard Hop Venom to boot? Check-check. Ballast Point Sculpin is in the mix as well. The cider section alone trumped most places’ attempts at placation. When the house beer being aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is ready, you bet I plan to pop down into this basement-level resto and try it.
Speaking of how over the top they go, you can pair a Base Camp S’more Stout with the largest friggin’ s’mores brownie. The marshmallows were toasted to perfection though I found the brownie itself a bit dry. I guess that’s where the wet stout comes in handy.
Good to know:
YARD HOUSE PORTLAND
Sun-Sat 11:00amFood Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm | Fri-Sat 1:00amAlcohol Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm | Fri-Sat 1:00am
Mon-Fri – 3pm – 6pm
Sun-Wed – 10pm – Close
That I love beer is a given. So when I get to write about beer in combo with my other favorite things, it’s sheer joy. The first time I went to New Orleans I was just 22 years old and happened to discover Dixie Blackened Voodoo, the heritage brewery’s first all-malt beer, just a year earlier. But at 22, my focus on exploring the Big Easy was anything but craft beer-oriented. After visiting again in 2001 to attend Jazz Fest, that’s when my love affair began and it turned into an annual pilgrimage. In fact, I typically find myself there twice a year. I LOVE NEW ORLEANS. Greatest American city! But I felt I may never get to write about it in the context of a beer story until, to use a very poor metaphor given its history, the tide started rising post-Katrina, sparked in some ways as a means of economic recovery. I know that was NOLA’s (New Orleans Lagers & Ales) impetus and they’ve grown into the city (that care forgot)’s largest brewer.
From DRAFT (vol 8.1, 2013), Laissez les bons temps brewler (let the good times brew).
Got Burger? was the title All About Beer (Vol. 32, Iss. 3, 2011) went with for this expose of America’s prime burger’n’beer towns. These include not just overall awesome cities like Los Angeles and Kansas City but other microclimates, too, including Ypsilanti (MI), Adamstown (PA), Portland (OR, aka Burgervana) and, um, New York City.