The summer beer dinner season in Charleston got off to a strong start with well-attended downtown events at Chai's Lounge & Tapas and Carolina's, plus a rousing event this week in Mt. Pleasant at the Mellow Mushroom. The chefs and the kitchen teams at these three restaurants have delivered one successful beer dinner after another this year, and there's on the horizon.
The day after the summer solstice, on June 22, Chai's Executive Chef Derek Falta and General Manager Palmer Quimby teamed up with Victory Brewing Company's brewmaster and president Bill Covaleski (in town from Pennsylvania) for an elegant seven-course dinner in Chai's main dining room. Covaleski made a charming and informative presentation from course to course. Things kicked off with a crisp, hoppy pilsner served with appetizers of stuffed squash blossoms (wrapped like sushi) and fresh local stone crab claws. The menu featured a chilled avocado soup with watermelon/pepper foam with the zesty Whirlwind Wit, a deconstructed "B.L.T. salad" with the smoky Scarlet Fire ale, and stone crab cakes with a sweet corn puree and corn sweet pepper relish with the hoppy Pursuit Pale Ale. The main courses were a wreckfish ceviche (with watermelon and cucumber) served with the hearty Sunrise wheat beer, followed by a plate of thinly-sliced grilled leg of lamb with heirloom potatoes and goat cheese reduction and a glass of tart, earthy Wild Devil ale. A trio of berry pastries and sorbet accompanied by Victory's rare Helios and Storm King ales rounded out the meal.
On June 30, Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon presented a wonderful five-course "Lips of Faith" beer dinner at Carolina's with seasonal and rare ales from the New Belgium Brewing Co. Highlights included crispy pork rillette with mustard dressing served with New Belgium's Ranger IPA, and pan-sautéed squab with cornbread, bok choy, and New Belgium's fruity Le Fleur Misseur ale (conditioned with Brettanomyces yeast). The rich dessert of bing cherries, cream cheese, and charred toast paired nicely with New Belgium's rare TransAtlantic Kriek ale — a sweet 'n' tart cherry-red specialty.
The Mt. Pleasant Mellow Mushroom drew another big crowd on July 7 with a five-course dinner featuring ales from Winston-Salem-based brewpub Foothills Brewing. A variety of fruity and savory dishes prepared by Chef Paul Cawn (with the neighborly assistance of 17 North's head chef Brannon Florie) paired well with American and British-style beers presented by Foothills Sales Director Scott Smith. The hazy, clove-y Hurricane Hefeweizen provided a light start, matched with side of fried plantain chips and pineapple/black bean salsa. Hops and citrus flavors and aromas dominated the second course of Hoppyum IPA and local shrimp ceviche served over a pineapple slice with cilantro. Things got sticky and sweet with a plate of glazed baby back ribs and Foothills' fragrant and bold Indian Style Brown Ale, aged in bourbon barrels. A much milder Rainbow Trout ESB — brewed like a traditionally malty English ale — accompanied a very heavy pizza pie. This Mellow Mushroom serves a customized pizza as the main course with every beer dinner; this one boasted a roasted garlic base, topped with copious amounts of Colby jack cheese, shredded smoked chicken, red onions, red bell peppers, roasted corn, and dollops of fresh avocado. The dinner concluded with the popular imperial stout Sexual Chocolate alongside a petite chocolate/strawberry cobbler — a rich, sweet endnote for a filling feast.
Click the slideshow at the top right for visual highlights from all three summertime beer dinners.