The new Braindead Brewing in Deep Ellum has been receiving lavish public attention for almost a year now… never mind that they did not open until March, and house-brewed beers only appeared a couple of weeks ago. Friends and fans’ adoration and support has been so steady that I fear few have approached the experience critically.
Having visited Braindead periodically since their soft opening, I must confess that although the commercial craft beer selection is excellent nothing from their standard kitchen menu has been that exceptional. It is solid, delicious pub food — better than many places — but not something I would rave about as some do. And with only first-batch, new-brewery house beers on tap right now, I will leave comment on any of those for a later time.
However, with the NTX Beer Dinner they hosted on Tuesday night Sam, David and the whole Braindead crew really accomplished something special. They put out a six-course beer-pairing dinner focused on local North Texas breweries that was not only exceptional quality but a memorable event as well, filled with brewery personnel from across the Metroplex.
The opening course was the chef’s twist on elotes, an appetizer of grilled corn on the cob slathered with avocado cream, Parmesan cheese and dusted with chile powder. It was served on a skewer as guests arrived and socialized and was paired with Braindead’s Gritz, their take on a pre-Prohibition cream ale style. The addition of corn to the mash with the wheat and barley in this 4.4 ABV session beer made it an easy food-beer match.
After seating, the next course was a light salad of a red radicchio leaf stuffed with blackberry quinoa and a blackberry vinaigrette. Served with a firkin of Community’s award-winning Witbier doctored with blackberries made this a complete pairing, although for taste I prefer their newly canned “Razzy” Raspberry Witbier much more.
With the obligatory veg out of the way to satisfy mothers everywhere, it was time for some serious fatty gorging. The course following was cheese tortellini with a red wine-glazed ham and brie sauce, with the brie lending a rich, earthy flavor almost of mushrooms to the salty, winey pork. A perfect pairing came with Lakewood’s spring seasonal, the saison named Till and Toil, that had been aged in red wine barrels and which played off the dish beautifully (not to mention my second-favorite beer that brewery has ever produced).
The next beer was a special firkin of Peticolas’ Royal Scandal that was dry hopped with the last bit of experimental hops used in their recent collaboration beer with San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing, a bud so new it has no name and probably the last we shall ever taste of it. This came out with a seared flank steak sliced thin and medium-rare on top of a creamy cauliflower puree and spicy romesco sauce that was as smooth and flavorful on the buttery steak as a two-tone gravy.
The only thing that could possibly have topped the steak was the next course of roasted glazed duck. The kitchen unleashed a bombshell after a slight delay by serving the glistening bronze ducks whole and family-style with sides of crispy fried duck feet, dropping them mid-table on heavy cutting boards with bowls of duck-fat jus made with the paired beer, Martin House’s new Toadies-inspired Bockslider. With half-bare serving pans of a wild rice pilaf and candied pecans before us, the succulent waterfowl were torn apart and devoured like roadkill as if we were all starving coyotes. (My mouth is watering just composing this paragraph. Duck. Fat.)
For many the duck course was the highlight of the evening, and I also thought as much but was unexpectedly amazed by the dessert pairing: rum-roasted pineapple with shortbread, rum raisin ice cream and a stout caramel. With this dish, brewer Drew Huerter served a small-batch Caribbean Stout made on his own equipment, a dark roasty beer brewed with rum-soaked espresso beans. Espresso was immediate in the nose, with more dark roast coffee in the profile and stout elements still present, not washed away by coffee or lactic flavors — in fact, it was not very sweet at all. At a surprising 8.5% ABV it had a light body with bitter flavors and finish, and I’m afraid sweetness of any kind in the beer might ruin the clean blend of stout and coffee.
Not much rum was detected in the stout until paired with the sweet ice cream tempered with the dry shortbread and fruit. The two played together perfectly, and the pairing of this beer with this dessert course might rank as one of the best food-beer pairings I’ve ever encountered at any event. Certainly, the Caribbean Stout (which I enjoyed another glass of afterward) may be one of the best beers I’ve ever had from Huerter.
Congratulations, Braindead team. You’ve impressed me.