For many South Floridians, their local Whole Foods Market is the place to get organic greens and artisan cheeses and indulge in the by-the-pound prepared foods. At a few stores, they're even a place to stop in for a beer or two at the in-store bar while shopping. This past weekend, the Whole Foods in Coral Springs turned into a fine-dining establishment with a five-course meal paired with beers from Tampa's resident beer producer Cigar City Brewing.
If you follow this blog, it's filled pretty regularly with callouts to upcoming beer dinners. They aren't new and have been gaining in popularity in recent years. Rightly so. As Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York City has expressed vehemently in his book The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer With Real Food as well as his many public appearances, beer pairs perfectly with food.
The trope of the multicourse wine dinner may not die out any time soon, but the emergence of succulent and well-prepared foods matched up with the almost impossible breadth of flavors present in the sometimes-overwhelming number of beer styles has put sommeliers and chefs on notice.
Some beer dinners comes off as uninspired. Some are mere offerings of a restaurant's normal fare, plated lazily and in small portions so as to entice patrons back weeks later. Some do the pairings justice, with time put forth and care laid bare to offer something truly extraordinary and create a culinary experience.
Why all the waxing poetic? Because at this Whole Foods Market (which some would call a "yuppie supermarket"), expectations were blown away and an event unfolded that should make curious foodies think twice about what's going on at a place where one would normally pick up only a bunch of kale.
Leading the dinner were Whole Foods Coral Springs Marketing Team Leader Jonny Rose and South Florida Cigar City representative Phil Palmisano, who took the reins to shine some insight into what was going on in each glass. From expounding on the coriander and orange peel of the Florida Cracker to the origin story of Invasion pale ale, history, knowledge, and tasting notes all came together with friendly precision.
The food that came out of the kitchen was of equal standing of the world-class nature of Cigar City's brews. The courses rang out like a downtown chef-driven restaurant.
Florida Cracker White Ale paired with Peppadew Pepper stuffed with goat cheese and an array of Fontal, Robusto, and Capricho de Cabra served with crostini. Invasion Pale Ale paired with Yellowtail Snapper in a lemon butter sauce. Good Gourd Imperial Pumpkin Ale paired with Squash Pancake (zucchini and yellow squash) and mozzarella drizzled with a smoky marinara sauce. Maduro Brown Ale paired with Buzzed Bison Fillet rubbed with coffee, garlic, and cocoa powder. Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Brown Ale paired with Caramel Apple Cake filled with cinnamon pastry cream, topped with whipped cream and vanilla soaked raisins.
Of the five prepared dishes, this beer and meat lover fell in love with the bison: a tender cut of "the other red meat" rubbed down like a Turkish bathhouse with coffee, garlic, and cocoa powder. A spicy woodiness elevated the awe-inspiring power of a simple plate of meat.
The zucchini pancake was an intriguing twist on putting together vegetables, while the dessert, as pictured above, capped off the pairings with a mix of crunch, squish, and fluff from the multitextured cake.
"It really speaks to the talents of the chefs," Rose said of the breadth of this event. "The chefs who prepared the dinner are the same chefs that do the prepared foods, using the same high-quality ingredients that are found around the store."
That might sound like your typical spiel, but with the enthusiasm of everyone involved in putting this together, it's probably more of a mantra.
Being one of the stores in the area with a built in draft system, this location was uniquely positioned to be able to offer some uncommon draft selections, like Cigar City's Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. It's a benefit over just having packaged beers available. Many treatments and products go out only as kegs.
Will this happen again? Something similar will go down in Whole Foods locations throughout the area, especially as they've gotten to the point of selling out so quickly. This event couldn't even go across the Clean Plate calendar radar because it had sold out in record time.
In the future, we have a feeling the beers will come from South Florida brewers. "We like to support local as much as possible," Rose said. So say we all.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Instagram.