One of the great things about having your own radio show is that people sometimes invite you to do stuff. When Fish On Chef Maurice Catlett and Plate Catering Head Chef Jen Blakeman appeared on Sip & Bite with the Rehoboth Foodie (you can listen to that show by clicking here), they were kind enough to invite me to one of their first beer dinners at Fish On in the Villages of Five Points. I decided to kick it up a notch by inviting long-time Delaware food writer Pam Carlson George to accompany me (she was recently on the show along with food writer/critic Matt Amis. Hear that one by clicking here).
Pam does not sugarcoat her comments about food, so her overall positive take on the event is a tribute to the chefs and the entire Fish On crew. With some fanfare, Fish On GM Matt Patton, Catlett and Blakeman unveiled the guest of honor, Smokey the Christmas Pig. In a nod to the holiday season, Smokey had a red tree ornament in his mouth rather than the traditional apple. Catlett and Blakeman had deboned the entire animal (no small feat!) and cooked all the evening's pork in the cavity. Juices from the dark and savory skin intermingled with the shredded pork shoulder, ribs and pork belly to make for a delicious taste. Not one bit of Smokey went to waste, and we thanked him with a round of applause.
I was treated to my first Reach Around of the day with a glass of Mispillion River Brewery's Reach Around. Up to now, I had only had it in the can (Hari Cameron carries it at a(MUSE.), and the draft version was even better. The brew was paired with one of my favorite sandwiches, the Vietnamese Bành Mí. A cross between the French and the Asian history of Vietnam, the fresh French baguette was properly crispy on the outside with a soft, yeasty interior. It was layered with slices of smoked pork, Shishito (a sweet Southeast Asian pepper), crunchy sprouts, pickled onions, carrots, Kewpie mayo (a Japanese version; smoother, thinner and tangier than our standard mayo) and pickles. No, not the regulation Bành Mí (which traditionally sports pickled daikon, cilantro and jalapenos, but no pickles or sprouts), but quite delicious in its own right. That's the great thing about ethnic dishes; you can dress them up any way you like and it usually works.
The Chefs' version of a spicy and crunchy banh mi sandwich1/5 Chocolate cake with pecan bacon icing. The biscuit is a cookie.2/5 3-Pork ramen bowl. Check out that egg!3/5 Pork Rib Salad!4/5 The good-natured and generous Smokey.5/5
One of my favorite holiday brews is Tröegs Mad Elf. The potent little Elf (at 11-12% ABV) is delightfully redolent of sweet cherries, but not so much as to be cloying. I first met The Elf at Matt's Fish Camp when Tröegs Brewery first introduced it. That was before I knew it was so potent. ‘Nuff said. The accompanying course turned out to be the perfect salad: One that contains pork ribs! Grilled radicchio, Clementines and kale made the perfect resting place for two meaty, glazed ribs dotted with festive pomegranate seeds. I could eat that kind of salad all day long.
I met a new brew that night: The refreshingly light and lemony Brooklyn Sorachi Ace. I'll pause to tell you a little bit about it, because you should try it: Named after the Sorachi region of Hokkaido, Japan, the Sorachi Ace hop was developed by a large Japanese brewery in the late 1970s. A cross between British Brewers Gold, Japanese “Beikei No. 2” and the famed Czech Saaz, it had a unique lemony-herbal scent, but was deemed too odd to manufacture in quantity. In 2008, the Sorachi Ace hop was quietly revived by a family farm in Washington State. Less than a year later, Brooklyn Brewery made it the star of this, one of their favorite beers. Dry, sharp, and crackling with flavor, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace is reminiscent of lemongrass, verbena, dill and lemon peels. You heard it here first, kids! Try some. I think you'll like it.
The cracklin' Sorachi Ace was matched to the Triple Pork Ramen Bowl, spotlighting braised pork shoulder, ever-so-slightly-sweet pork belly and roast pork dashi (dashi is the savory base for miso soup). The kicker? A perfect soft-boiled egg (cut in half, yet! Take a look at the photo in the gallery), Chef Catlett's mom's really-and-truly-buried-in-the-ground kimchi, and strips of toasted nori. In a word, it was delicious. I love Vietnamese food, though sadly nobody serves it around here. But between the Bành Mí and this Ramen bowl, I was transported for just a moment to either Pho Ha in Philly or the perfectly-fine-in-a-pinch Saigon Vietnam restaurant in Newark, De. Do you have a favorite Vietnamese joint in the northern hinterlands? Tell us about it below.
In keeping with the theme of all-pork, all-the-time, Chef “bowtime showtime” Jen Blakeman presented an impossibly moist chocolate cake with … wait for it … bacon pecan icing! Accompanying the cake and looking very much like a buttermilk biscuit was a banana bacon cookie. The biscuity texture combined with the sweet/savory taste of bacon and pecans worked perfectly with a glass of very dark and rather smoky, Dominion Oak Barrel Stout brewed just up the road in Dover, De. High notes of bourbon and vanilla stood nose-to-nose with the bacon and pecan cookie.
SoDel Concepts continues to expand its wine and beer dinners, so keep an eye on the Breaking Chews news scroller here at www.RehobothFoodie.com for the schedule.