Contemporary fine dining restaurants and specialty beer breweries have several points in common. Both take pride in using only the best ingredients. In concept, flavor takes precedence over convenience, and accordingly, both charge higher prices and cater to sophisticated audiences willing to pay those prices.
In the U.S., upscale operators and specialty brewers also combine a grounding in tradition with some audacious experimentation. And both are finding financial advantages by expressing a local identity, they deliver an experience that relies on a sense of place for some of its pleasures.
In fact, specialty or “craft” brewing shares so many characteristics with fine food that Italy’s “Slow Food” movement often showcases American craft beers at their events.
So it’s puzzling that great food and great beer aren’t more often found in the same place here at home.
WHERE GREAT FOOD, BEER ARE PAIRED
Excellent beer thrives in many small brewpubs and multi-tap bars where the food may be uninspired: great beer is as likely as not to be paired with wings and smothered nachos. There are exceptions: Hopleaf in Chicago; RFD (Regional Food and Drink) in Washington, D.C.; beerbistro in Toronto, or Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia offer the diner innovative fare alongside a terrific beer selection. These are “beer-centric” restaurants, where the owners appreciate that wonderful beer deserves great food.
But what about the reverse: how often do restaurant owners realize that great food deserves wonderful beer?
No restaurant worth its Zagat rating would maintain a wine selection that consisted of a half dozen brands of white zinfandel, and yet many beer lists are exactly that: several different breweries’ interpretation of a single style of beer lager. However, there are perhaps 70 recognized styles of beer made today, from delicate to robust, to suit all manner of dishes.
The most natural meeting place for fine beer and food is in the regional cuisines of the world where beer already plays a role. Belgium, with the world’s most diverse beer culture, has the most highly developed cuisine a la bi