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Friday, January 22, 2010

McKenzie Brew House (Glen Mills) - Belgian Beer Reserve Dinner 1/21/2010

I was honored to be one of the lucky beer fans in attendance at McKenzie's first beer pairing dinner. Special Guest Speaker, Don Russell, was there. He gave insight on Farmhouse Ales and shared a drink at each one of the guest's tables. Brewers, Ryan Michaels, and Gerard Olson spoke about the crafting of their wonderful libations. Dosings of brettanomyces, and bacteria in wine barrels, or at bottling have led to extremely rustic, and tasty beers that aren't often found in this pocket of the United States. Tastefully, attenuated ales that have garnished respect from the well known Great American Beer Festival.

The dinner started with a pairing of Saison Brune Reserve with an artisan cheese plate of Cashel Blue, Red Dragon Cheddar, Cabra Romero, Manchego, and Smoked Caciocavallo. I felt the pairing was a nice match, having nice similarities, and contrasts. If I had to pick the best match of the bunch, I would say the Manchego went best.

Next was the Grisette paired with a Roasted Beet Salad. Grisette is a lighter version of a Farmhouse Ale that was given to the farmers and miners as a refreshment after a long day's work.

The Saison Vautor (Vulture in French) was paired with Sea Bass.
The light, neutral fish took a backseat to the wonderful GABF winner ('07 & '09).
I'd say that was a good thing because this beer is certainly a shining star that stands alone in any arena.

Following the wonderful GABF big boy, was the Biere d'Hiver from 2007 paired with a Roast Pork Loin. These biere de garde style beers are meant "to store".

This was such a wonderful pairing, as the caramelized sugars on raisins, apricots, and and brandy accented the caramel, vanilla, toffee, and gentle spicing from the beer.

Finally, they wrapped up the meal with the Cuvee McK paired with an almond cake soaked with espresso, and filled with a ganache, and coffee butter cream. Delicious ending to a wonderful night.

I look forward to more events like this from McKenzie Brew House. It was a winner on all counts. Thanks to all involved for such a wonderful night of food and beer!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Pub at Wegman's (Collegeville) - San Marzano Margherita Naan Pizza

Appears a small(maybe 8-9"), oval shaped Middle Eastern style flatbread with some cut pieces of tomatoes, melted, skim mozzarella, and slivers of basil with a drizzle of olive oil. Perhaps a touch of char around a few of the bottom edges of crust. Good thing we ordered a few other things for the 3 of us because we all looked at each other when the waitress dropped it off. Serious lack of substance here, even for $6.00. I can appreciate "different" fact, I welcome it if it works. I don't think I would ever be inclined to order this based on appearance alone. - 2

The crust was about as well as anticipated. An unleavened flatbread that seems to be a bit softer than expected on the inside. I can't knock it too much. For a "pizza" though, it probably isn't the best item to use. I would say the same thing about a tortilla, or an English Muffin. While you achieve some sort of end result, it's not always leading to the best results by way of creativity. - 2.5

The sauce...ok, so it's not really a sauce per se; rather cut pieces of the highly sought after San Marzano tomatoes, which I use in my personal pizza sauce at home. The fact that it's not a sauce and simply cut tomatoes is forgiven. The downside of the tomatoes...they weren't rinsed. While these San Marzano's had the signature sweet & less acidic flavor to them, they still contained that bitter canned flavor that you get unless you rinse them. I've been using Varasano's method of rinsing canned tomatoes for the pizza sauce(or in this case, just cut tomatoes) for a few years with good results. - 3

The cheese may have been the best part of this pizza but in no way was a shining star due to the uneven placement and holes left on a portion of the pie. I thought it was ok. It had a nice, flavorful, fresh chewiness that was weighed down by some of the other things going on. - 3.5

Overall, I wasn't really a fan. I appreciate the attempt at something different but I don't have a desire to repeat the meal. I was under the impression that some of the cooks would be preparing the food. I was naive to think that this was a scratch kitchen. It clearly wasn't in terms of preparation, presentation, and flavor. The naan, itself can be found over near the dairy foods, and the San Marzano's are in with the canned tomatoes. It's not hard to see where I'm going with this. Someone grabs stuff off the shelves, assembles per instructions, and heats. - 2

Total Score: 2.6/5

As a side note...we had a bowl of soup, this pizza, and Tuscan fries, along with 2 beers for the table. I believe the damage was $28(tips are included here). The bowl of soup was decent, though I believe it was simply a canned, or pre-prepared style soup that may have been tinkered with. A bit salty. The fries were salt and herb overkill with an absolutely dreadful dipping sauce that they called "finishing sauce". I'm not sure what it was but it tasted like oil, dates, and tamarind paste. I believe you can actually purchase the finishing sauce in the store but I wouldn't bother after getting a taste here.

On to the beer:
The takeout beer selection is decent. They've got a spot dedicated to some of the local PA breweries. They've also got the well known macro's, and quasi-micro's available. For the most part, I feel a bit underwhelmed perusing these aisles. This beer selection caters to gateway beer hounds, who have had some good beers and are ready to start exploring the different fermented creations of the Brewniverse. Unfortunately for those like myself, we ventured down that path many years ago and it takes a bit more to get us excited. Not all is bad though. There are some winners to be found in the bunch...some of the better, well known German & Belgian beers, Allagash Brewing from Maine, along with limited selections from Port Brewing and Russian River Brewing in California. In closing, the way I feel about this takeout section is the same way I feel about going to some concerts...I like the band but sometimes the fans ruin it for me. When I see employees answer a question about a beer as, "It's a Belgian Ale", or when I hear a middle aged couple try to figure out what the different colors on the Chimay bottles stand for..."I guess the Reserve means it's aged like a wine, and the Red is like an Irish Red Ale, and the White is a Belgian White Ale"...or the two cool college chums on a mission for shotgunning "dark" beers, it makes me feel like the ruler of amateur hour. I am grateful that the option is there though. It beats the old field that was there before.

Wegman's Website

Pub at Wegmans on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ortino's (Schwenksville) - Hot Wings

The texture may be one of the best wings I remember having in a long time. Crispy outside with a moist, juicy center. The sauce sticks to this crispy outer shell but that crackly outer shell makes these nearly outstanding. - 4.5

The sauce is of superior quality. Keeping this one simple plays to the benefit of the wings. It's mostly Frank's Hot Sauce with perhaps a touch of margarine, or oil and some extra shakes of garlic powder. - 4

The flavor...alriiiight! That's what I'm talking about. Juicy meat, crisp skin, and very slightly modified Frank's Hot Sauce sticking to the wings. Nice hot pepper and garlic with vinegar flavor melding along with the crisp wing. Wow. Very nice stuff. - 4.5

Edibility is excellent, as well. I can go much hotter than the typical hot wing, so this simple, modified Frank's Hot Sauce version was suitable for continued eating and kept me coming back for more. I ended up slamming double digits on day one and I couldn't wait to get into the leftovers the following day. No need for the blue cheese unless you love blue cheese. I happen to enjoy blue cheese but I wouldn't put it on till my last bite because the sauce is so uncorrupted that you have to respect the simplicity of it all before introducing any foreign elements. - 4.5

Overall, I would be eating these once a week if I didn't have so many other food items to attend to. Everyone I know that has had these, have spoken highly of them. Even my buddy, Eric(egajdzis) speaks highly of them and he's about as picky as I am, if not more with local cuisine. Grab 'em and enjoy! - 4

Total Score: 4.3/5

Ortino's has 5 taps featuring local Pennsylvania craft beer, or other beers featured from the Philadelphia area, or beyond. There are also 2 large coolers directly to the right when you walk in with different six packs of craft beers, imports, and macro/malt liquor. Straight ahead, there is a mix of malt liquor and craft beer with other microbrews featured in the Philly area and beyond. A nice beer find for the Philadelphia suburbs.

Ortino's Website

Ortino's Restaurant & Take Out on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Earth Bread + Brewery (Mount Airy) - Traditional Flatbread

Appears a 14" round pie with small rectangle cuts, opposed to the traditional American "slice" cut. those hearth baked pizzas. They may call this Flatbread but it's more of an Americanized Neapolitan style. Not sure of whether EB+B uses all oak to fire the hearth, or not. I'm pretty certain they don't use the mandated San Marzano's, or the buffalo mozzarella but the slow rise dough, and quick cook in the wood fired oven make it a nice replica. This one, though is topped with greens, a few onion pieces, and a light vinaigrette. Those charred air bubbles on the outer rim call out, as each family member starts claiming a piece that contains one of those bubbles! - 4

The crust is beautiful. Thin interior, soft, pliable outer rim that gives to a firm grip. The aforementioned CO2 bubbles in the outer rim, along with a very thin, crispy underside that has just a millimeter's worth of crackle before becoming artisinal bread-like. Check out this view of the underside below. Lovely char marks show a high temperature cook in just a short period of time. I'm not sure of the actual temperature of that wood fired oven but it's got to be in the 650+ range to get something like this. The taste itself is a bit neutral and reminds me of French Bread, which is fine. A slow rise usually yields a bit more of a (what I call) fermented beer-like, flavor. Not really getting that here but it's ok where it stands. - 4.5

The sauce is tasty. Probably based from a decent canned Roma variety. It has a sweet, tangy flavor with a tiny bit of acidity found in the finish. - 3.5

The cheese is good. Part skim mozzarella balls melted evenly around various spots of the pie. As it cools off, it hardens and molds to shape of the top layer. Tasty flavor though that seems to fit with the crust and house sauce. - 4
Overall, this is a nice treat. Nice flavor coming together, and a crust that's tough to beat. Real wood fired pies are always a nice find in the Philly area. I know of a few other spots that do's just a matter of getting out there. - 4

Total Score: 4/5

The beer pictured is Earth's own beer, XII. This is a nice winter spiced ale to enjoy while having one of the delicious flatbread pizzas.
Owners, Tom Baker & Peggy Zwerver opened this brewpub shortly after the demise of their popular craft brewery, Heavyweight Brewing of Ocean Township, NJ. The Philadelphia area has welcomed the duo with opened arms as Tom and Peggy bring their fermented creations to the Philadelphia area, which loves both beer and pizza.

Earth's Website

Earth Bread + Brewery on Urbanspoon