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March 2010

Franklin's New Brewer Plans to Make a Best Beer Bar even Better

There's been a changing of the brewing guard in Hyattsville.

Charles Noll, Franklin's first and only brewer, has returned to upstate New York. In his place, owner Mike Franklin has hired Mike Roy, a New Hampshire native who was brewing and bottling at a Boston area brewpub chain.

Understandably, the switch caused some concern among Franklin's regulars. It caused a little concern for me. After all, I did just name them a Best Beer Bar. That means something, folks. Sure, Franklin's has also been touted by The Washington Post and the Washingtonian, but it's the seal of approval from your favorite blog that carries the weight around here. Charles was a talented brewer who built a loyal following and put the brewpub on local beer geeks' maps.

So how does Mike Roy follow that? By building on Charles' success and putting his own signature on the brewpub.

Although Franklin's is a favorite among local beer enthusiasts, the restaurant side of the operation is the money maker. Given the rise of craft beer and the notoriety Franklin's has gained, owner Mike Franklin sees an opportunity to improve the brewpub's brewing operation, a lot.

When Mike hired Mike (I know, this can get confusing), the owner told the brewer that if nothing else he expected him to maintain the popularity of the beer program. Ideally, though, both Mikes want Franklin's to be among the premier craft beer spots in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Based on the beers Mike Roy has produced in his short time at Franklin's, the new guy just might do it.

"You don't need 100 taps to be a great beer bar," Mike Roy told me. "You can have 10 taps and have a great beer bar."

(Quick aside. During the transition from Charles to Mike, the production of beer dropped a bit. As Mike Roy gets his new lineup of beers brewed, Mike Franklin put regional craft brewers on tap, including Heavy Seas, Troegs and Dogfish Head. He could've cut back on the number of beers available or put something cheaper on draft, but he didn't. That's worth noting.)

Out of the gate, Mike Roy is giving local beer geeks exactly what the want: hops and Belgian-style beers. Big, hoppy beers were a signature of his predecessor, and they will remain a staple of the Franklin's lineup, but they won't dominate the draught list as they did. Even Mike's first hoppy beer wasn't an IPA. Instead, Mike led with his hopped Scotch-style ale, Hop Zen. Scotch ales are traditionally a favorite of the malt-head set, thanks to their sweet, rich character, but Mike adds just enough hops to not only balance the malt, but give the beer a pronounced bitterness. It's a good beer.

In a couple weeks, the Hop Zen will be followed by a double IPA he's calling Hop Madness. Here again, Mike goes a little nontraditional. Most double IPAs follow the recent craft beer trend of big alcohol bombs (not that I'm complaining), ranging anywhere from 7 percent A.B.V. (Hair of the Dog's Blue Dot) to 18 percent (Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA), with most imperial IPAs pushing double digit A.B.V.s. So where does Mike's Hop Madness come in? At about 8 percent. As breweries continue to wage Cold War-like campaigns to make bigger, badder beers (See BrewDog v. Schorschbraeu), Mike is rolling out a double IPA his customers can quaff a couple of without  falling off their stools.

During our interview, Mike gave me a sneak peak of the double (yeah, it's a good gig). While the beer is still a couple weeks from finishing, the flavors were all there. The bitter Columbus hops were braced with a dark, caramel malt, and the Simcoe buds gave the beer a beautiful citrus, hoppy nose and taste. It's going to be a good beer.

In addition to the hoppy beers, Mike has brewed a couple Belgian-style ales, Golden Opportunity and Dubbel Vision. If anything, this is the style Mike plans to use to make his name. Golden Opportunity is a 6.5 percent Belgian-style golden ale that's a little sweet and fruity, with the tell-tale clove notes and enough carbonation to give the beer some bite. Dubbel Vision, a Belgian-style dubbel, is richer than the golden ale, with a slightly molasses-like character, but only bit higher in alcohol 6.8 percent A.B.V. Of the five beers Mike has on draught now (there's also a red ale, dry stout and a porter) these two Belgian-style ales are his best. (If you're keeping score, Mike has made a golden ale and a dubbel. So yes, a Belgian-style triple is on the way. One day, that triple might be available by the bottle in Franklin's General Store.)

Mike also plans to tinker with Franklin's standards: the Twisted Turtle Pale Ale, the Bombshell Blonde, the Sierra Madre Pale Ale, and the Private IPA. It's not yet clear how different these beers will be, but Mike says that when he's done, only the names will be the same.

Belgian yeast strains and hoppy Scotch ales aren't the only things Mike brings to Franklin's. He's also started a blog to keep customers informed about the beers on tap and what's coming up. It's part of his plans to interact with his new regulars, so they can stay in the loop on what he's brewing and he can find out what's working for them and what's not.

Mike says he likes feedback and enjoys interacting with his customers. I might chalk this up to a new employee saying the right thing about his customers, but Mike is a gregarious guy. I stopped by Franklin's to do a quick interview, but we ended up talking for two hours, including a good 30 minutes on yeast strains, hops and beer brewing software. When we were done, he waded into the crowd waiting for him at the bar.

During our conversation, we also covered how he got from Boston to Hyattsville. In short, Mike's previous job at the brewpub chain Beer Works wasn't the best situation and Franklin's gave him the opportunity to take over the brewing operation of a thriving business.

He actually cut his teeth at the do-it-yourself brewery, IncrediBREW. By guiding novice brewers through the brewing process, Mike ended up cranking out dozens of beers a week and learning a lot about raw materials, yeast strains and the brewing process.

Now he's in a situation where he can use his 10 years of brewing experience to make a good beer operation great. And as head brewer, it's his vision that will take the brewpub where he and Mike Franklin want it to go.

"The day that I rest on what I did in the past is the day I need to get out of this industry."

The House of Independent Producers: Viva la ScoREVOLuTion!

INDMER1 Confession: I sometimes buy wines because I like the label. Not 'label' in the sense of the producer, but the actual paper on the front of the bottle. I know, I should know better, but some are so very, very shiny! Usually the actual wine is just kinda 'meh,' and sometimes I end up with a (well deserved) polished turd. Every once in awhile, though, the method yields a winner.

Wandering around Wagshal's the other day, this guy pictured at left jumped out from amongst the domestic Merlots. Look at that label! Its like a gothic parody of an old school Bordeaux bottle, complete with blood vomiting roosters, for chrissakes -- If Tim Burton designed a wine label, this is what it would look like. While nowhere on the label does it actually say who makes it, the back sports a compelling mission statement:

To capture terrior in its most raw form and to preserve the integrity of the wine world by rebelling against the 100 point rating system. A wine of sustainable and environmentally friendly farming. No advertising.

Below this, in bold black and red, a call to arms:Scoreve
This is just my kind of iconoclasm. I absolutely loath the 100 point system, and whoever this producer was, I could tell he felt similarly. Sold! I picked up the 2007 Merlot, and its sister 2007 Chardonnay, for $12.99 and $13.99, respectively.

INDCHARD It took a surprising amount of research to figure out who actually makes this stuff. Independent Producers appears to be the pet project of Christophe Hedges, Sales & Marketing head of Washington State's biggest winemaker, Hedges Family Estate. About five years ago, HFE stopped sending their wines to the big magazines for review, rightfully asserting (in this writer's opinion) that the assignment of numbers to wine is both absurd and detrimental. Christophe, a self described 'hipster,' and former score junkie, is very vocal on the subject on the Netterwebs: check out his delightfully bizarre Xtranormal video on the subject here (careful, it is frakkin' NSFW). This brand is the culmination of his philosophy, and is unabashed in its message.

In addition to the heretical appeal, these wines are also pretty drinkable, both displaying those cold-climate characteristics that make Washington State wines so appealing. The Merlot is mouth filling and round, with lots of chocolate and raspberries on the nose, and a dark and dirty, dry, smooth-tannined finish. The Chardonnay is nice and steely, with subtle notes of pineapple and pear; though a little low in acid for my taste, it made a fine compliment to my dinner salad with balsamic and oil. Anyhow, I give them both a solid 92...

Just kidding.

I am pretty sure these wines are new to the area, so it might be some time before they are commonly available. As I said, I got mine from Wagshal's, and I will update here as I spot them around town. If you have a good relationship with your retailer, tell him to contact Roanoke Valley Wine Company, who I believe represents the brand throughout the region. And if you try them and like them, tell a friend, as the ScoREVOLuTION will not be advertised.

Spring is In the Air (Finally) and Lamb Burgers are On the Grill (Most Definitely)

DSCN5117 It's wet, it's overcast, and my yard looks like crap. But, you know what? Spring is here, and I'll take the damp weather and yard work over snowdrifts and blizzards any day.

I don't know about y'all, but that was a long damn winter. Having grown up in Florida, snow was always kinda novel. By the end of that third massive storm this season, I was over it and really over shoveling it.

So bring on spring! Let me enjoy grilling outdoors again. Let me closet the coats and break out the shorts. Let me replace my cabin fever with spring fever.

As spring is about all things new, I figured I'd do something new with the old burger recipe. I've also paired the burger with a jug of fresh beer made by D.C.'s newest brewer.

First, the burger. In the two years I've been doing this grilling column, I've never written a straight-forward burger post (my sole burger post includes seaweed salad). Why would I? Everyone does burgers. I mean everyone. At one point last year, Food & Wine, Gourmet Magazine, Food Network, the Washington Post and Chow were all running burger recipes on their Web sites. That's a lot of high-profile instruction for something so ubiquitous. I don't even think hot dogs get that kind of attention, and they've been a stable of the charcoal and Weber set for generations. The thing is, dogs and burgers are two of the easiest things to grill. But they're so near and dear to us, that writers write about them and TV people talk about them.

Including me. It's spring, so I figured area grills will be pulled out of hibernation any day. And something tells me that if you're not tossing on dogs, it's going to be burgers. Rather than heading down the same, tired burger path, though, I figured I'd once again give you the option of doing something different: goat cheese stuffed lamb burgers with avocado and mint mayo.

After all, Lamb is the meat of spring (for both tender and grizzly reasons). When paired with goat cheese and avocado, you have something special on your hands ... and dripping down you chin and arms (the sandwich gets a little messy). However, if lamb isn't your thing, substitute ground beef. Just be sure to use an 80/20 mix and skip the butter I add to the recipe. If you go with a leaner ground beef, keep the butter.

DSCN5114 In the interest of full disclosure, I screwed up my lamb burger. I mixed shallots into the ground lamb before making the patties and stuffing the burgers. All that handling and mixing overworked the meat. I loved the flavor of the shallots in the finished burger, but the texture was too dense. It was more meatball than burger. In the future, I'll skip the shallots and work the meat as little as possible.

The trick to doing these lamb burgers is adding fat. The lamb is very lean, so you have to do something to moisten the burger and give it some flavor. I decided the best way to handle this was to stick a pat of butter in the middle with the goat cheese. That way, when you bite into the burger, the warm, liquefied goat cheese and melted butter spill out ... down your chin and arms (seriously, get a napkin).

I added the avocado for the same reason I added the butter. The avocado is a fatty fruit that does nothing but good things for burgers. And if avocado works well with beef -- it does -- it should work well for lamb -- it does. Avocados also make me think about warm weather, cold beer and boat drinks, all of which I'm jonesing for right now.

DSCN5129 To go with the spring burger, I swung by Franklin's in Hyattsville for a growler of brewery fresh beer. There's a new brewer at Franklin's, Mike Roy, and he's cranking out some quality ales, including a Belgian-style golden ale he's named Golden Opportunity. (I'll fill you in on Mike and his plans for Franklin's later.)

The beer is hazy gold in the glass, with the traditional fruit and clove notes the style is so well known for. At 6.5 percent A.B.V., it's easy to put away a few of them.

Access to a quality brewery is a hell of a treat. There's a lot of focus in the craft beer community these days on aging beer and vertical tastings, but it's just as nice to be able to fill up a growler a few feet from the tank the beer was just brewed in. The only thing is, once you open that growler, you have to drink the beer within the next 24 hours or so to ensure it tastes its best.

That's an observation, not a complaint.

Grilled Stuffed Lamb Burgers with Avocado and Mint Mayo
(Makes four servings)

1.5 lbs. ground lamb
4 oz. goat cheese, preferably with herbs
2 tbs. salted butter
1 avocado, cubed or mashed
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

DSCN5100 An hour before you're ready to start grilling, prepare the lamb burgers. Take enough of the ground lamb meat to form a thin patty. Season with salt and pepper. Take a bit of the goat cheese and place it in the middle of the patty. Place a tab of butter on top of it. Now, take the same amount of lamb and form it into a second patty. Place it on top of the butter, goat cheese and other patty and pinch the edges of the patties together until the sides are closed and you have a single lamb burger (this burger can get thick, so make sure each lamb patty isn't too big ... unless that's what you're going for). Repeat for the rest of the burgers. You can also do this the night before. Season both sides of all the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

For the mayo, simply combine the mint and the mayo. You might need to add a little lemon juice, but taste as you go and do what works for you.

DSCN5107 To grill the burgers, set up the grill for off-heat cooking. So make sure you have a hot spot and a cool spot. When the grill is ready, place the burgers on the hottest part of the grill, close the lid, and cook for eight minutes or until a crust forms (Watch out for flare ups). Flip the burgers, close the lid and cook for another five minutes. Move the burgers over to the cool spot on the grill, close the lid and cook for a final three minutes.

Remove from the grill and allow to rest. This should give you enough time to prepare the avocado. As you can see in the photo, I cubed mine. Do that or mash it up. It doesn't matter (my wife would like to point out that mashing the avocado makes the sandwich easier to eat). Just make sure to add the lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Now, build your burger and enjoy.

John L Sullivan and Paddy: Two New Drinkin' Buddies for St. Pat's

Selfdrive_st_patrick1 So when Saint Patrick was ministering to the druids and such of Northern Ireland in the 5th century AD, do you think he had any inkling as to what people would be doing in his name 1500 years down the line? History and hagiography agree, the man himself was a bit of a hardass, more into fasting and prayer than, say, drinking copious amounts of crappy green beer. On top of that, did you know he is more traditionally associated with the color blue than green?

Calling a spade a spade, I think its fair to say the whole thing is a farce. Everyone knows the celebration these days has nothing to with a long dead bishop... but it needn't be only about Car Bombs, shamrocks, and silly green hats. Celebrate the great nation's history and get a buzz; drink some whiskey!

Ireland has a fabulously long history of distilling, dating back over a millennium! Whiskey making was once a sort of national pastime, with thousands of stills, both sanctioned and illegal, running full-time throughout the country. Unfortunately, economics and international competition were not good to the Irish distillers, such that today a mere three distilleries remain. Because of this, seeing a new label is rare, so the fact that St. Pat's 2010 brings us two new brands is downright inconceivable!

JLS1 John L. Sullivan

This guy has been on the market for a few months now, and I am afraid the WaPo beat me to the punch. But no matter, it's still a pretty damned good whiskey. JLS is made at Cooley Distillery, the last Irish-owned distillery in the country, which already has some renown for its Connemara and Tyrconnell lines. The spirit -- named after the turn-of-the-century sportsman, and America's first millionaire athlete -- is double distilled in pot stills, then aged in single-use bourbon barrels. This unusual last step adds a depth of color unusual to the species, yielding a pretty, pale gold. Lots of vanilla, some peach, and a hint of allspice on the nose. JLS is a little more oily than most Irish on the front, with the flavor of malted brown sugar, proceeding to a rather smooth, rye-accented finish. If Jameson or Bushmill's is your usual dram, you will definitely notice the difference, but may very well enjoy its more forward "American" personality.

JLS is available at several local stores including Schneider's, Connecticut Ave Wine and Spirits, Ace Beverage, Dixie Liquor, and Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, for in the neighborhood of $24 / 750ml bottle. I've also seen it around at several area bars in both DC and Virginia, including Cafe Saint-Ex, Marvin, O'Sullivans, The Passenger, and Againn.

Paddy1 Paddy

This new brand is actually quite old, and one of the more popular in its homeland. Paddy was once the flagship brand of the Cork Distilleries Company, which named this, their first attempt at a bottled spirit, after their best salesman, Paddy Flaherty. Paddy has a reputation for being one of the softest, smoothest whiskeys produced in Ireland, a country already known for the easy goin' stuff. The spirit pours a dark burnished yellow, like an older Chardonnay. The nose is quite malty, with a floral note, some melon, and a touch of sweet vanilla. More malt meets you on the attack, along with lots of banana, proceeding to a soft, oak-dominated finish. Being so mild, fruity, and light, this is almost the perfect intro whiskey for your novice friends; still, it is definitely complicated enough to give the connoisseur something to ponder.

Though I remember Paddy fondly from my study abroad period in Dublin, the brand has never really been marketed in the US, so I was shocked when I saw it at The Gibson the other day. I know that they have a good supply, and that Potomac Wine and Spirits nabbed a couple cases, which they are selling off at $31.99 / 1 Liter bottle. Supposedly, the distributor (RNDC) brought in about 70 cases to test the market, so there has got to be more out there somewhere. Let us know in the comments section if you track it down. If you find Paddy to your liking, let your favorite bars and retailers know, and hopefully they will put some pressure on RNDC to make it a regular item.

A Restaurant By Any Other Name Is Not a Gastropub

Gastropub: (British) A public house that serves high-quality food.

This Wiktionary definition is the best I could find for gastropub, but it's illustrative enough. A gastropub is generally understood to be a public house (read: bar) that serves equally high-quality food and beer. In other words, a place you're just as likely to go for a few great beers as a nice meal. The concept hasn't been around all that long, but it has certainly found traction here in D.C.

Well the term has found traction, the establishment of actual gastropubs, not so much. Jamie Leeds (above) is the co-owner and executive chef of one of D.C.'s two gastropubs, Commonwealth. Granville Moore's on H Street, is the other. I would be just as inclined to visit either for a few quality ales as I would their upscale dishes. 

Yet, a Google search of the terms "gastropubs" and "D.C." pulls up a number of restaurants that either refer to themselves as gastropubs, or are referred to as gastropubs. Againn is clearly a restaurant. So is Brasserie Beck. Both have good beer selections (Beck's selection of Belgian beers is excellent, in fact), but the small bar areas, large dining rooms, showcase kitchens and raw bars (is that a new trend, too?) indicate that these places were designed to be restaurants, not drinking establishments. Rustico, which was named D.C.'s best gastropub in 2008 by the City Paper, could be a gastropub, but Beer Director Greg Engert and the management of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns Rustico, are very clear about the fact that it is very much a restaurant.

48580022 This also goes for the NRG's beer palace, ChurchKey. One floor below is Birch & Barley, ChurchKey's sister establishment. Executive Chef Kyle Bailey offers several dishes that could be served in any white tablecloth dining room in the District, including pan-roasted skate and braised pork cheeks. But because burgers and flatbreads are the focus up stairs, ChurchKey is not a gastropub (though, the deviled duck eggs with duck pancetta and sweetbread dishes nearly do the trick). And though Birch & Barley diners have access to all of ChurchKey's 555 beers, the six seats at the bar are an excellent indication that this is a place geared toward diners, not drinkers. Fortunately, no one at NRG refers to either establishment as a gastropub, so there's no issue here.

Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped Urbanspoon. The restaurant review Web site lists ChurchKey and Birch & Barley as gastropubs. It also lists, Againn, H Street Country Club (you know, the place with the mini golf) and Scion in Dupont Circle as gastropubs.

Therein lies the problem; the more people misuse the term, the less meaning it will have. As Leeds puts it, the term gastropub is becoming the new bistro. Beer is trendy now, and the gastropub concept is closely aligned with it. And like the term bistro, gastropub is the exotic new concept. It's British, and right now things that are British are nearly as trendy as beer. So why call your restaurant a restaurant, when you could call it a gastropub?

On the other hand, it's fair to ask what difference does it make what a restaurant calls itself. Without a true definition, gastropub is more of an adjective than a noun, so it describes establishments rather than defines them.

The thing is, I like gastropubs. Back in 2004, my friends Emma and Tom turned me on to gastropubs during a trip to London. They lived around the corner from The Junction Tavern, a beautiful old pub in London's Kentish Town neighborhood. The Junction specializes in real ales from local breweries and offers an upscale seasonal menu. It's a model gastropub, and a fantastic one at that. Ever since then, I've been very interested (maybe a little giddy) when a new one opens up in D.C. -- and disappointed when it turns out to be just another restaurant.

To gain some clarity on the subject of gastropubs, I e-mailed David Bulgar, a reviewer for the British pub review Website, Fancyapint. David has visited his fair share of gastropubs.

So David, what's a gastropub?

58290018 "I think most English drinkers would define a gastropub as a pub that focuses on restaurant quality dining, often serving modern British cuisine. Some gastropubs manage to operate as a good place to simply go for a pint as well as food, while others kill the drinking experience by looking and feeling to much like a restaurant, not a pub."

Maybe Brasserie Beck does fit the definition. But as he said, the establishment should be as much a pub as a restaurant.

When Commonwealth opened in 2008, D.C. finally had its own gastropub. The decor is a nod to the concept's British roots (though not necessary for a gastropub), but more importantly, the beer list is solid, with a respectable mix of British and American craft beers on draft and in the bottle, as well as pair of handpumps mounted on the bar. Keep in mind, Commonwealth came along a year and a half before ChurchKey and its five handpumps opened its doors. Like the Junction, the food coming out of the kitchen struck the right balance between traditional pub fare and smart, upscale cuisine. Given all the Irish bars we have around D.C., I know not to expect anything more interesting than the perfunctory shepherd's pie or fish and chips, and an ice-cold Smithwicks. Leeds, however, offers a menu of local, organic, sustainable dishes and pints of real ale.

And it's because of the attention Leeds and her business partner Sandy Lewis pay to the beer program that makes Commonwealth as much a drinking destination as a dining spot.

As David said, this is what separates gastropubs from restaurants.

58290023 A gastropub, he said, is "first and foremost a pub. It will have all the features of a pub, i.e. a bar, an area for simply drinking, without the need to order food. An English drinker will be able to distinguish between a bar, a pub and a restaurant a mile off. Pubs are generally older, serve a range of ales and lagers on tap, and have simple wooden chairs and tables, maybe a pool table and or dart board, and sell crisps and nuts as snacks; bars tend to be newer buildings, the often do not serve draught ale, and commonly only serve bottled lagers, they will have more modern furnishings, and would not have darts, pool, the crisps and nuts etc, in their place will be a cocktail menu and louder music. A gastro pub is distinctive because it will look more like a dining room than a drinking room, with tables set with menus, wine glasses, etc."

Walk into Commonwealth or Granville Moore and the bar is the very first thing you see. At Againn and Beck, the first thing you encounter is the hostess stand, followed by the raw bars.

58290002 Now that the gastropub trend is gaining steam in D.C., in name at least, I went back to Commonwealth to talk to Leeds. Commonwealth was envisioned as a gastropub that would have a robust beer program, casual, but elevated cuisine, and ultimately a place that would be responsive to its neighborhood clientele. Leeds said Lewis developed the beer program, while the menu was her design. Wanting to do something besides seafood (Leeds and Lewis also own Hank's Oyster Bar), Leeds decided a gastropub would give her the chance.

To be honest, even Commonwealth wouldn't fit David's strict definition of a gastropub. In Britain, he said, most gastropubs are old pubs that decided to upgrade their menus. Well, London has a lot more old pubs than we do, so unless Leeds had taken over the kitchen at the old Mr. Eagan's, Commonwealth and Granville Moore are the closest we're going to get to true gastropubs.

Although beer was always a focus of Commonwealth, Leeds said she's surprised that her gastropub has become such a destination for area beer enthusiasts. Leeds said Commonwealth remains focused on catering to its Columbia Heights neighborhood, but its beer sales are "through the roof" thanks to all the regional traffic the bar gets.

Now, compare Commonwealth to Againn. I don't mean to pick on the place, but it's the latest restaurant to call itself a gastropub. Its beer selection is fairly large, but it's heavy on the familiars (Harp, Stella, Dogfish Head, Heineken), and has several multiples from a few breweries. Mind you, it's great that they carry five or six different beers from Founders and Brewdog, but it also shows a laziness or ignorance about beer. Rather than taking the time to select a few beers from a variety of breweries, Againn has padded its beer list by selecting many beers from a few breweries. Also, the staff is either too new or too indifferent to know much about the beer list. If you're going to run a gastropub, the staff should be knowledgeable about the beer. Situated between the raw bar and the dining room, Againn's bar seems like most restaurant bars: a place to have a drink while you're waiting on your table. It just doesn't feel like a place you want to spend an afternoon or evening drinking. 

Does this mean Againn is a bad place? No, it just means that it's a restaurant, not a gastropub. In fact, it has all the makings of being a good restaurant, and it doesn't have to call itself a gastropub to achieve that goal.

So if I want to go out for a nice meal, I may go to Againn. If I want to try a few quality beers, I may head to ChurchKey. But if I want both, I'll go to Commonwealth or Granville Moore's.

Dining Out For Life 2010

DiningOutForLifeWEBlogo Times are hard, and as such, I have been eating out a lot less, as I am sure a lot of you have, as well. Eating in is all well and good, but every once in awhile, it's nice to have someone else take care of the prep, cooking, and cleanup, isn't it? But when the bucks aren't rolling in like they used to, how do you justify such a frivolous expenditure? Looking for an excuse? Thanks to Food & Friends' 14th Annual 'Dining Out for Life,' you may indulge with a guilt free conscience, assured in the fact that your lapse in willpower is helpin' out some folks whose times are a good deal harder than your own.

For 20 years, Food & Friends has supported thousands of our neighbors living with cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses, providing them with groceries, hot meals and nutritional counseling. Through the diligent work of some 6,500 staff and volunteers, Food & Friends prepares and delivers over 3,000 meals a days, disseminating them to 2,600 clients in DC and surrounding counties.

Food & Friends is the only group in our area providing these kind of services at no cost to their clients. As you might expect, this sort of thing doesn't come cheap -- and that's where you come in. Dining Out For Life is one of F&F's most popular fundraisers, and participating is a cinch! Simply dine out at one of the 150+ participating restaurants on Thursday, March 11th, and a percentage of your bill will be donated to the cause, anywhere between 25% and 110%! Just make sure you tell the host you are their for Food & Friends, and they'll take care of the rest.

A full list of participating restaurants is available here, a small selection of which are accepting reservations here on OpenTable. Take a look, find your favorites, note their contributions, and book your table now, as spaces are filling up fast!

Eliza and I did some volunteer work with Food & Friends this past Thanksgiving, and I can honestly say you are not likely to meet a more open and warm-hearted group of people, doing more honorable work. Please, treat yourself this Thursday, and help them keep the goodwill going.

Bourbon Peach Pork Chops On the Grill: A Meal Fit for Terrapin Beer

DSCN5059 Typically, when I do these posts, I come up with a theme or dish to focus on and then find a beer to pair with whatever I grill. Today, though, I'm doing it the other way around. Today, I'm starting with the beer.

Last year, we were lucky enough to see the arrival of Terrapin beer, in Virginia anyway. As the South's craft beer culture continues to develop, a few bright stars have emerged, including the Athens, Ga., brewery. It may not be as big as Abita, the granddaddy of Southern craft beer, but Terrapin is a brewery to be considered.

(Quick aside; Terrapin is brewed locally by Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., yet you can't buy Terrapin in the state of Maryland. Kinda funny when you consider that the mascot for the state university is a Terrapin. Does this mean that Maryland fears the turtle? I think it does.)

I first came across Terrapin a few years ago while living in North Carolina. At the time, the brewery's flagship beer, Rye Pale Ale, was one of the few rye beers available, at least in Chapel Hill. As a beer, it's fantastic. The malt and hops balance out that signature tart rye bite, resulting in a rather crisp ale.

It's also somewhat remarkable to have a rye ale as your signature beer. The style isn't for everyone. While challenging beers, such as Saisons, barley wines and double IPAs, are increasingly common styles for craft breweries these days, back in 2002, relying on a rye ale to be your bill-payer beer was ballsy. Sam Calagione may be known for making unique beers, but he keeps Dogfish Head's lights on with his easy drinking Shelter Pale Ale and the 60 Minute IPA.

Fortunately, Terrapin's gamble paid off when founders Brian Buckowski and John Cochran picked up a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival just six months after putting their Rye Pale Ale on draft.

Since then, Buckowski and Cochran have rolled out an impressive line of craft beers, including Gamma Ray, a barley wine made with wheat; Hopsecutioner, their big, bitter, hop-stinky IPA; and a coffee oatmeal imperial stout called Wake 'N' Bake (I have no idea what the name refers to, but I feel compelled to point out that the brilliant artwork on Terrapin's labels is done by Richard Biffle, who did cover art for such bands as the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Jerry Garcia. Again, I don't know why this is relevant.).

The only bummer here is that if you live in the District or Maryland, you're going to need to head into Virginia to find any of these beers (I bought the ones for this post at Total Wine in Alexandria). I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a Georgia beer can't cross the invisible borders of D.C. and Maryland, while I can get a beer from Denmark (WinterCoat) on draft at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown. To think otherwise could mean liquor laws are arbitrary, contradictory and antiquated.

DSCN5063 So all this is to say, Terrapin makes some fantastic beer. In honor of that -- and to have an excuse to talk up the brewery -- I decided a tribute to Georgia was in order. And you can't think about Georgia without thinking of peaches and pork. (Well, you probably can. I certainly can. But bear with me.)

Now, it would be fair to point out that we are not in peach season. That's why I'd wait until peach season to try this recipe, or use canned peaches. What you don't want to do, is use the "fresh" peaches from Chile like I did. They're completely flavorless. I should've gone with canned peaches as I initially planned. Like canned tomatoes, canned peaches can be just as flavorful as truly fresh peaches. And because the peaches are roasted and added to barbecue sauce, it doesn't matter that they're skinned.

I also used sweet yellow onions. Ideally, I would've used Vidalia onions (grown in southern Georgia), but we're a couple months away from their short season. In the meantime, sweet yellow onions, or red onions, are a decent substitute.

Basically, this is a post I should do in June, but have done in March. What can I tell you? I lack patience.

Setting aside my poor peach pick (ah, alliteration), the menu of grilled, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops, grilled sweet potato fries and cornbread works really well with Terrapin's Rye Pale Ale (not to mention the India Brown Ale, Big Hoppy Monster imperial red ale, and the Hopsecutioner).

The beer wasn't the only thing I headed into Virginia for. I picked up the chops at Let's Meat on the Avenue. Steve Gatward runs a great little butcher shop in Del Ray. While you can buy bone-in pork chops at any grocery store in the area, Steve will cut them as thick as you want (I chose "very") and french the rib bones so they'll look good when photographed. Good butchers like Steve are too rare a commodity.

Making a run to Virginia for pork chops and beer might seem like a bit much, but a couple pints of rye ale and a two-inch thick chop glazed with peach barbecue sauce will make the excursion seem well worth it.

And who knows, maybe one day Terrapin will make its way into D.C. and Maryland, saving me a little gas and time. With any luck, peaches will actually be in season.

Grilled bone-in pork chops with bourbon peach barbecue sauce
(Makes four servings)

DSCN5041 4 bone-in pork chops, thick cut
3 sweet potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion or sweet yellow onion
2 peaches, in-season fresh or canned without syrup
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 bourbon
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
3 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke
3 tsp. of garlic powder
1 stick of salted butter
Honey, optional to drizzle on the cornbread
Salt and black pepper to taste
Barbecue seasoning, optional

I made corn bread to go with the pork chops and sweet potatoes (naturally). I always follow the recipe for sweet cornbread on the side of the corn meal package. It has never failed me. The cornbread takes about 20 minutes to prepare and bake, so feel free to take care of it while you're waiting for your grill to come up to temperature.

If you're going to make the barbecue sauce, do so the night before. Halve the peaches, coat them lightly with canola or vegetable oil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime, combine the ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and garlic powder in a pot and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the peaches should be incredibly soft. Carefully remove from the tray and place in a bowl or, preferably, a food processor. Puree the peaches or crush in the bowl. Add the rest of the barbecue sauce, combine and taste. If the peaches aren't sweet enough, you may have to add a bit more brown sugar. Adjust the seasonings until the barbecue sauce is to your liking. Once you're happy, cover the sauce and stick it in the refrigerator until you need it.

The morning of the barbecue, season the pork chops with a barbecue rub. Steve Raichlen has a great recipe for an all-purpose barbecue rub. If you don't have a rub of your own, I highly recommend his. If you don't want to use a barbecue rub, make sure to season the chops with salt and black pepper before putting them on the grill.

DSCN5036 An hour before you're ready to grill, pull the pork chops out of the refrigerator so they can loose some of the chill. If the rib bones were frenched, wrap them with aluminum foil so they don't blacken. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. This will be for your sweet potatoes. Either quarter the potatoes by cutting them from end to end, or break them down even further by halving the quarters. Place the sweet potato slices on a baking sheet, cover with a little olive oil or canola oil, salt lightly and pop them in the oven for 45 minutes. This will fully cook the potatoes. Their time on the grill will allow them to pick up some additional color and flavor.

DSCN5022 As for the grill, set it up for off-heat cooking. That means you need to have a hot spot, where the coals or burners are concentrated, and a cool spot where you can move the food after it has seared. When the grill is ready, place the pork chop on the hot spot and cook for about 5 minutes, or until grill marks form on the meat. Flip and sear the other side for about five minutes. Move the chops to the cool spot and glaze with the bourbon peach barbecue sauce. Close the lid and allow the chops to cook for about three to five minutes, depending on how thick they are (the thicker the chop, the longer the cook time).

Open the grill, flip the chops and glaze the other side. Now, place the sweet potatoes directly over the heat and close the lid for three minutes. Lift the lid and check the sweet potatoes pieces. When char marks form, turn the pieces. Also, flip the chops and glaze again. Close the lid and cook for another three minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, the pork will be ready. Remove, plate and eat. Just make sure you do so with a Terrapin.