Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tasting Our Way Around Brewer's Plate 2012

Brewer's Plate 2012 brochure next to Khyber Pass Pub's savory "Khyber Gumbo" (chicken, andouille sausage, rice, and scallions).

Brewer's Plate 2012, one of Philadelphia's biggest tasting affairs of the year, filled many a stomach at the National Constitution Center on Sunday, March 11. The eighth annual fundraiser was hosted by Fair Food, a local nonprofit dedicated to bringing locally grown food to the marketplace and promoting a humane, sustainable agriculture system for the Philadelphia region.

The theme this year was “The Farmer and the Artisan.” True to its name, the VIP experience at Brewer's Plate celebrated the region’s farmers, brewers, and chefs for their artistry in taking simple raw ingredients and turning them into edible masterpieces. This year, Brewer's Plate united gourmet food from 25 local restaurants with craft beer from 25 local breweries. The participants highlighted the Philadelphia region’s abundant and diverse food system with interactive tasting stations and star-studded demonstrations.

Crowds flocked to the National Constitution Center, filling up the ample two-story multiple-room space inside.
Participating restaurants and breweries (like the Dogfish Head representative pictured above) were just as excited as the attendees!
One of our favorite dishes of the night was courtesy of London Grill. Their Korean BBQ pulled pork lettuce wraps topped with ssam (fermented bean paste) were absolutely mouthwatering. The pickled kimchi was pert and refreshing, deliciously undercut by unctuous, juicy pork. The ssam also added a distinct depth of flavor. What a way to start the smorgasbord!
London Grill's other offering were veal ribs. The ribs had been sitting a while, so they were at room temperature; we're sure it would be delicious hot. The rib we chose was a bit greasy and a little underseasoned, but had nice flavor in the connective tissue.
Troeg's Brewing Company had quite the assortment of goodies. The Tandoori chicken--or rather "the English bastardization of tandoori," as one Troeg representative indicated--tasted more like chicken tikka masala; the dish had a nice pungency with a punch of cayenne and cinnamon. The English sausage with sage in puff pastry was underwhelming. While the puff pastry was nice and flaky, the sausage was cold and soft, with no discernible sage flavor. The brownies were decent. The light, almost spongy, treats were dusted with powdered sugar and did not possess any deep chocolate flavor.
Triumph Brewing Company provided a refreshing twist with their Schwarz bier floats. The black lager--light in body and finished dry with roasted malt--was paired with Franklin Fountain's excellent vanilla bean ice cream. The unusual combination of bitter beer and sweet ice cream grew on us over time as the flavors melded, especially with the malt undertones of beer.
South Philadelphia Tap Room had their version of steak tartare. The tartare was served on a puffy shrimp cracker and pickled veggies, topped with a fragrant jalapeño cilantro purée. The bite had nice textural contrast.
Stateside brought appetizers and desserts to the table. The cured day boat scallops with orange and sunchoke represented your standard ceviche, but dessert was absolutely heavenly. The chocolate panna cotta with Dogfish Head Indian brown ale and sea salt was creamy and silky smooth. The salt gave it an almost caramel-y taste, with the beer adding an espresso-like tone. Amazing!
Southwark's take on the classic BLT was the MLT: mutton, lettuce, and tomato. Playfully captioned as "Miracle Max's favorite" (The Princess Bride shoutout!), the bite was clearly British in nature. The mutton was reminiscent of tender tongue, although the pungent tomato paste overwhelmed.
Tria offered two types of crostinis: Peppadew pepper, sweet coppa ham, and tomato basil relish (pictured) and Bluemont reserve cheddar with apricot mustard. The former's tomato relish overpowered the small bite, but the savory charcuterie and sweet pepper flavor was excellent. The latter's cheese was woodsy, with the mustard adding a pungent, fruity tone.
White Dog Café wowed us with its buttery sliders. The slider, reminiscent of a hearty Cuban sandwich, was composed of Sweet Stem Farm smoked ham, gooey pepper jack cheese and grilled brioche with a pickle slice decorating the surface.
Representatives from Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse served up slices of artisan cheeses and breads. We tried the Jean-Louis cheese--redolent aroma and horseradish-like undertones--on cheese ciabatta and cheddar--firm and nutty--on rosemary ciabatta.
At one of the star-studded demonstrations of the evening, Iron Chef Jose Garces cooks up Distrito's famous Victory Golden Monkey-braised pork carnitas and salsa verde tacos.
Eclat Chocolate had a host of chocolatey goodness ready to try, including Victory Hop Whallop-infused beer truffles, Calvados liquor caramels, and red wine truffles. They also had samples of their Obsession Bars (including the crunchy goodness of the PHL Pennsylvania Dutch Pretzel) and Single Origin Chocolate Mendiants (including Ecuador's intense 70% Cacoa dark chocolate and Arriba's creamy 66% Cacoa milk chocolate).
Bent Spoon's artisan ice cream was another clear winner of the night. They dished up three different flavors: Dark Chocolate Bourbon Stout (61% chocolate, bourbon, and Yards stout), Nugget Apricot Nectar Sorbet (Troeg's seasonal sorbet), and Dark and Storm King Caramel (with a bit of organic ginger, salted caramel, and swirled in a Victory Storm King base). It was some of the creamiest, most decadent ice cream we'd ever had. The trio of flavors each had their own complexities and refreshed our palate. 
In the speakeasy area that showcased local spirits and a variety of desserts, Cookie Confidential was one of the many vendors serving up decadent treats. Cookie options included savory-sweet maple bacon oatmeal (bacon pairs well with EVERYTHING) and hibiscus coconut (a tropical adventure!).

Other favorites that we couldn't snap pictures of?
  • Bar Ferdinand's lamb merguez sausage, topped with whole grain mustard aioli and Spanish onion kraut, on top of toasted brioche; the contrasting ingredients worked well together and exploded with flavor in our mouths
  • Capogiro's tart and refreshing lemon vodka sorbet
  • John & Kira's wide assortment of chocolates, including their elegantly-painted ladybugs (in mint, raspberry, and honey varieties) and Eagle Ranch "Pistachi-oh" chocolates
  • Rembrandt's tea smoked pork belly, dripping in sweet sauce; the skewer was incredibly tender and unctuous. What a way to finish our evening!
We're already looking forward to next year's Brewer's Plate! Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with a Fair Food representative!

--Nicole Woon and Eesha Sardesai

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