"Rain and they shall come," could
be the motto for 300 determined noshers who braved lousy weather
for a day of grazing and boozing in Williamsburg.
The June 7 event was the fourth annual "Critic’s Choice Summer Beer and Food Festival" at the Brooklyn Brewery on North 11th Street.
Jointly sponsored by the Brooklyn Brewery and the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF), the festival included 20 critically acclaimed Brooklyn restaurants and 25 domestic and international breweries.
"We see beer as being part of the same culinary tradition that the AIWF was founded on," explained Tom Potter, CEO of the Brooklyn Brewery and the chapter chair of AIWF-NY.
The AIWF was the brainchild of Julia "French Chef" Child, Robert Mondavi of the Robert Mondavi Winery and the late Richard Graff, a West Coast vintner. They formed the institute to "promote health and well-being through the enjoyment of good food and drink and the fellowship that comes from eating together around the table."
Paying heed to the AIWF’s principles, chefs participating in Saturday’s festival, sampled each other’s dishes, and diners roamed from table to table nibbling on specialties and sipping great brews.
Previous festivals spilled out onto the closed-off North 11th Street with a stage set up for the bands, a miniature golf tournament and even a hoola-hoop contest, but the rain was so heavy and steady Saturday that the band, chefs and guests all stayed inside the Brewery’s cavernous tasting room. Brave souls who insisted on dining al fresco snacked under rain-soaked tents. Taking a breather between dishes, festival guests danced to the foot-stomping country tunes of the Brooklyn Brown Grass Band.
Even the chefs whose kitchens regularly produce more haute than down-home, beer-friendly fare rose to the occasion. Saul Bolton, of Restaurant Saul in Cobble Hill, offered a meltingly tender braised pork belly surrounded by spicy red beans given a jolt of refreshing sweetness by peach salsa. Only a hearty beer like the Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout, with its deep, bitter chocolate and coffee aromas, or the Brewery’s malty Brooklyn Brown Ale could accompany the big flavors in Bolton’s dish.
Grill master Laura Taylor, of DUMBO’s Superfine restaurant, used a bitter endive leaf as a canoe for smoky, jumbo shrimp. A dollop of the mysterious "Green Goddess" dressing lent the delicious mouthful a retro spin.
Zakary Pelaccio, of the newly opened Chickenbone Cafe in Williamsburg, served two bruschettas - a spicy version made with chopped Polish kielbasa, dill and pickles - and another of subtly flavored pork confit (meat cooked and stored in its own fat) that was cooked down to an unctuous, pate-like topping. A clean-tasting Brooklyn Pilsner helped to cut the richness of the pork.
Adding to the good-stuff-on-bread category, Sam Barbieri of Pete’s Waterfront Ale House in Brooklyn Heights, placed succulent slices of his award-winning barbecued beef brisket on brioche rolls and served the sandwich with a side of sweet potato hash.
On a lighter note, Caroline Fidanza, of Diner in Williamsburg, heaped slices of French baguette with tangy artichokes marinated in olive oil and lemon juice for a refreshing hors d’ oeuvre.
Spins on the sandwich included the crisp mini-tostada topped with grilled shrimp and mango salsa from Prospect Height’s Tavern on Dean; and the luscious duck and mushroom samosas from Oznot’s Dish in Williamsburg. Each of Joshua Shuffman’s flaky, phyllo samosas was filled with sweetly scented duck, earthy mushrooms and moist raisins; palate-cooling mint chutney served as a dip.
Marc Elliott, of Whim in Cobble Hill, preferred to leave the cooking to others. As an accompaniment to his just-out-of-the-drink Wellfleet oysters, Elliott perched a slice of lemon or lime on each half shell. For those who can’t leave well enough alone, Elliott, a long time Grateful Dead enthusiast, supplied squirt bottles of sauces named in honor of his favorite band’s songs. "Mexicali," "Friend of the Devil," and "Stella Blue" were three that added spice to his contribution.
Aaron Bashy, of the Minnow in Park Slope, another restaurant specializing in simple fish preparations, lined a plate with braised cabbage and potato slaw then topped the mix with diminutively sized, boldly flavored bluefish cakes. Creamy paprika aioli added a smoky note to Bashy’s original dish.
Two chefs cooked to a different drummer. Adam Rose, of Soma in Williamsburg, was the single participant to offer soup - a briny clam chowder made with Brooklyn Brewery’s lager - with a side of goat cheese and pecan salad tossed in a pleasantly sharp dressing.
Thomas Ferlesch, of Thomas Beisl, an Austrian restaurant in Fort Greene, was the lone chef to serve dessert. His Milchrahmstrudel, more of a feather-light souffle than a traditional strudel, was made with farmers cheese and served atop a puddle of sweet but not cloying vanilla sauce. It ended the feast on an elegant note. Beer and souffle didn’t cut it, but the clean apple taste of Original Sin Hard Cider, pressed in New York City, paired nicely.
And there was so much more: tamales, Jamaican lamb patties, pate with figs and roast chicken salad. There was beer brewed in Maine, Vermont and Baltimore; beer brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium; German rye beers; and Japanese brews flavored with orange peel, nutmeg and coriander. There were tables of hard ciders, calvados, sakes and, hailing from good ol’ St. Louis, Fitz’s Root Beer.
If critics determine an event’s success, then all 300 "critics" who attended the fourth annual "Critic’s Choice Summer Beer and Food Festival," would give the production a unanimous thumbs up.
Chickenbone Cafe (177 S. Fourth St. at Roebling Street in Williamsburg). For reservations, call (718) 302-2663.
Diner (85 Broadway at Berry Street in Williamsburg). For reservations, call (718) 486-3077.
Minnow (442 Ninth St. at Seventh Avenue in Park Slope). For reservations, call (718) 832-5500.
Oznot’s Dish (9 Berry St. at North Ninth Street in Williamsburg). For reservations, call (718) 599-6596.
Restaurant Saul (140 Smith St. between Bergen and Dean streets in Boerum Hill). For reservations, call (718) 935-9844.
Soma (192 Grand St. at Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg). For reservations, call (718) 302-9800.
Superfine (126 Front St. at Pearl Street in DUMBO). For reservations, call (718) 243-9005.
Tavern on Dean (755 Dean St. at Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights). For reservations, call (718) 638-3326.
Thomas Beisl (25 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene). For reservations, call (718) 222-5800.
Waterfront Ale House (155 Atlantic Ave. at Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights). For information, call (718) 522-3794.
Whim Oyster Bar (243 Degraw St. at Clinton Street in Cobble Hill). For reservations, call (718) 797-2017.
For more information about events at the Brooklyn Brewery, located at 79 N. 11th St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, call (718) 486-7422 or visit their Web site at www.brookl
For more information about The American Institute of Wine and Food, call (800) 274-2493, or visit their Web site at www.aiwf.com.