Memorial Day has come and gone, and so has our first ever Food Pairing Challenge. We at Beer Buzz were honored to have such great competitors in our first ever challenge, and think the results turned out incredibly well.
The theme of this Memorial Day challenge was grilling. Our competitors, Hy-Vee‘s Chef Marty Lowry and Frankaboutfood.net‘s Frank Reiter, were provided four beers around which they were asked to design a menu. The beers were provided in order of the courses, and they were asked to center their menu around a barbecue being held to celebrate the holiday.
Here’s a summary of the play by play, with the winner of each round. At the end of the post, vote on the competitor you felt had the best Overall Menu.
Winner – Frank’s Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Marty’s Grilled Antipasta with White Balsamic Reduction
Frank’s recipe won this pairing in a deluge of votes. The spicy peanut flavor really seemed to appeal to our commenters. For some, the vinegar in Marty’s recipe seemed to be too strong of a contrast, but for most, I think the pairing of spice with the pilsner was the deciding factor.
In my opinion, the vinegar included in Marty’s recipe is not enough to upset your pilsner palate. Both courses are very good approaches to pairing with the beer. The difference appears to me to center around how the dish fits in the overall evening. If I were preparing the dish as a standalone dish to be paired with this beer, Frank’s recipe wins. If I am just starting a long night of dining and sipping with friends, I’d probably prefer to go with Marty’s lighter fare.
Winner – Frank’s Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
Marty’s Grilled Sea Scallops “Ceviche,” Black Beans and Rice Salad
This one started out neck and neck, but Frank’s grilled vegetables gradually gained ground on Marty’s grilled sea scallops. The inclusion of seafood on the grill simultaneously attracted people and made some nervous about the pairing with a Saison. The simpler, “farmhouse”, flavors of the vegetables won out in the end.
Seafood is a very common pairing for Saison, especially steamed mussels, so the inclusion of shellfish here really made sense to me, especially considering the higher gravity of the beer. Because Tank 7 is such a robust ale, I felt the pairing with vegetables may not quite balance out the heavyweight beer.
Winner – Frank’s Spinach Feta Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce
Marty’s Black and Bleu Beef Tenderloin Salad
Frank won this round handily, as everyone seemed intrigued by his Mediterranean approach to this beer. The feta cheese, spinach, Tzatziki, and lamb all work together in a way that seemed to resonate with readers. The Table Rock Red is a beer that is incredibly well-balanced, and is very flexible with cuisine, as it seems to get out of the way and complement the dish at the same time. Marty’s approach seemed to be loved by everyone, as well, but the consensus seemed to be that Frank’s dish was more intriguing to people, or was heartier than the salad proposed in Marty’s menu.
For my part, I love a Tzatziki sauce, but I also love blue cheese. I’m not one for lamb most of the time, so I’ll vote for Marty’s dish on this one. If I were to make Frank’s, I would sub in the Turkey burger, but I love some good beef and blue cheese with this beer, so Marty claims my vote in this round.
Winner – Frank’s Fire & Ice Pineapple Dessert
Marty’s Grilled Banana Split
In the dessert course, I chose a pretty difficult beer to pair, as Three Blind Mice is not really an optimal dessert beer. The chocolate and roasted notes are nice, for sure, but the hops can really get in the way when trying to pair with something sweet.
That may be why both competitors decided to include 3BM as one of the ingredients in their desserts. Marty took an old-fashioned classic, homemade ice cream, and put a decidedly delicious spin on it by making Three Blind Mice Ice cream and then putting it on a grilled banana split. Frank made a sweetened, chocolatey, reduction sauce out of the beer and then used it to top his grilled pineapple shortcake. Both also included vanilla ice cream, so you can see they were both coming from the same idea but got wildly different results.
The winner was Frank, but not by much. He won by two votes, one of which was from his wife, so this one was VERY close. Also, several of the voters said they’d prefer to make a combination of the two desserts, incorporating ideas from each into one super-dessert.
For my vote, I’ll go with the grilled banana split. As a matter of fact, I did that just on Sunday. It was a variation (sadly, no homemade ice cream), but if you’ve never grilled bananas and eaten them with ice cream, you are missing out. If I could, I would also vote to combine the desserts into a super-mega-dessert-buffet. (There are no rules in dessert, right?) Unfortunately, there are rules to this competition, so my vote goes to Marty’s inclusion of Three Blind Mice Ice Cream and grilled bananas.
Final thoughts and voting:
While Frank doesn’t say so explicitly in his descriptions, he seems to be taking each course and centering it entirely around the beer. The influences of his dishes seem to be widely varied, with only the beer and the grill in common. Marty actually states up front that this was not his approach, and that his strategy was to design an entire menu into a larger theme.
Both approaches are nice, but the structure of this competition seems to lend itself more to the course-by-course approach used by Frank. If this were a real dinner, would it have affected how you felt about each course?
Vote below for the Overall Menu you prefer. Does Frank win all four courses and the Overall Menu category? Does Marty take the Overall Menu and show that the entire evening is more than the sum of its parts?