All the money that e'er I had, I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e'er I've done, alas it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit to memory now I can't recall,
So come fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all.
Roger Baylor from NABC closed a successful second night of Varanese’s first-ever beer dinner, Thursday February 7th with that lovely quote from The Dubliner’s The Parting Glass while raising a glass of NABC’s Tunnel Vision. This is why I enjoy participating in these kinds of dinners here in Louisville. While my body is privileged to gain sustenance from the feast in front of us, my soul benefits from breaking bread with new faces in my community. I count this as an important aspect of enjoying food. Even the most divine culinary projects experience a loss without the camaraderie of other eaters.
The meal itself was such a win. It leaned on the heavy side with four courses, three of which were fairly protein rich. While some course meals feel like a journey, this one was far more like a picture book. Each course had it’s own identity and flavor profile. Roger Baylor also spoke in between each course, sharing what to look for in the pairings, and stories about the beer. We started the meal with an NABC brew that was new to me, the Hoosier Daddy. It was a lovely malty, biscuity greeting to the evening, and I will drink that beer over eating bread and butter any day.
The meal opened with crispy fried quail legs which was true to it’s name. The crisp and gamey quail was paired with a mildly fruity barbecue sauce and served with delicate onion rings with a horseradish cream sauce. A few diners at my table thought the horseradish was too mild, but I found that the onion and horseradish played well together instead of overwhelming each other. It all paired very well with NABC’s Black and Bluegrass, a brew of black pepper, blue agave, and lemongrass. Each sip mirrored the previous bite of food.
Our table was particularly pleased with the second course, a salad of arugula and frisee, topped with bacon lardons, with toasted sunflower seeds, and croutons. It was tossed very sparingly with a lemon and cracked pepper vinaigrette and nestled in the middle was a perfectly poached egg. My dinner guest remarked smartly that it was somewhat like a deconstructed hollandaise. The combination of the oozing egg and fatty bites of bacon lardons was balanced by the zesty lemon and pepper. The bitter NABC Elector also helped punch up my salad greens and tone down the richness of the egg and bacon. An occasional crunch of crouton or toasted sunflower seed added a nice depth of flavor.
The main and third course, they served the popular NABC Hoptimus. Once one of my favorite beers, Hoptimus’s strong flavors had become exhausting to me. However, when paired with hearty beef short ribs in a rich buttery porter sauce, it was a delight. The meat was served with toasted barley and carrot risotto which greedily soaked up the rich sauce and added a nice chewy, nutty flavor. It was a nice touch to utilize an ingredient used in beer, like barely, for the entree. Topped off with buttered cabbage, it was hearty, warm, and decadent comfort food.
The meal closed with a mild chocolate orange cheesecake that got mixed reviews at our table. Some guests at our table felt it wasn’t sweet enough. I felt the sticky marshmallow sauce provided plenty of sweetness without making the cheesecake taste too sugary or dominating the tangy cheese flavor of the cake. The pretzel crust didn’t add anything for me but the pairing was boon to this course. The orange in the dessert really popped the citrus in the Solidarity ale.
We closed the event with a glass of Tunnel Vision and Roger’s toast, mentioned above.
Varanese will be hosting dinners monthly, paired with either wine, beer, or bourbon. At $49, this meal was priced modestly and a good date night splurge. I recommend checking them out. Not only is the food delicious, the atmosphere is treated with care. There’s normally a small live band (even on weekdays), big glass windows, and the staff are courteous and attentive. The manager and chef take care to stop at every table.
Chef John Varanese was recently honored in Best Chefs America and was named restaurateur of the year by the Kentucky Restaurant Association. More information about Varanese can be found atwww.varanese.com  or Facebook.com/dinevaranese .