Not quite sure how else to put it. I had high expectations for the special dinner event at Tampa Bay Brewing Company last night. I know how good their food is. I know how good their beers and the beers from Cigar City are. I knew it was going to be a great time. I had no idea how great.
To begin with, the setup was beautiful. The staff was amazing. And right off the bat, the food was incredible. Every place setting had a specially designed menu for the event, and multiple glasses for the different beers to be poured. Water was in plentiful supply. It was a delightful and relaxing, yet elegant setting.
While the guests stood around and socialized, servers brought around trays of hors d’oeuvres, three different selections specially prepared to match up with either Cigar City Jai Alai or the TBBC Wingers Orange Peel Pale.
All three were out-of-this-world delicious, and it was difficult not to go back for seconds or thirds, but everyone knew there was a lot of food still to come. After some mingling and chatting, we took our seats and were greeted with a welcome from John Doble, owner of Tampa Bay Brewing Company. I had the honor of sitting with head brewer Dave Doble (John’s son) and his lovely wife Windy and assistant brewer Brian Wing. Dave raised a toast to everyone, and the meal was underway. Much to my appreciation, each course was prefaced by a few words from head chef Ryan Kelly, explaining the idea behind the pairing with each beer.
We started with a simply delicious Roasted Yellow Pepper Helles Coulis with Jumbo Lump Crab and Grilled Asparagus, paired with Cigar City’s Hotter Than Helles Munich Lager. Light, crisp, and a perfect match.
The next course was Chili Crusted Nairagi (Hawaiian Blue Marlin) with Cucumber Carpaccio and Caviar, served with TBBC’s Old Elephant Foot IPA. The hoppiness of the beer contrasted but balanced well with the spice of the chili and the cool, fresh cucumber.
There was a very nice aperitif to follow of a Hefeweizen Hop and Mint Sorbet to cleanse the palate. It was interesting to notice how the mint completely negated the hops in the IPA, revealing almost exclusively the malt. A fun experiment.
Then we moved on to the fourth course: Coffee “Rubbed” Pan Roasted Quail with a Sweet Potato Tamale and a Spanish Mole Sauce paired with Cigar City’s Cubano Espresso Brown Ale. This may have been my favorite of the night. The mole sauce was intense and delicious and was expertly paired with the Cubano Espresso. The tamale was a nice surprise, soft and sweet and full of great flavor.
Then came the course everyone had been talking about: Pepper Crusted Grilled Kangaroo Loin with Truffled Celery Root and a Star Anise Iron Rat Reduction. This exotic plate was paired with TBBC’s Iron Rat Stout, the dark malty brew balancing well with the gamey, rich marsupial. The meat was tender, and reminded me of a good venison. The star anise reduction, made with the Iron Rat stout, enhanced the richness significantly.
Finally, the dessert. Chocolate Ganache Tart with a Graham Cracker Pretzel Crust and a Bourbon Orange Caramel. The decadent tart was paired with the equally sinful TBBC Vanilla Bourbon Moose Killer Barleywine. Sweetness, potency, flavor, richness… all together. This was the perfect completion to a truly stunning culinary effort.
Throughout the evening, we were treated to thanks and brief comments from Joey Redner and Wayne Wambles of Cigar City and Florida Brewers Guild Founder Ed Canty.
This was an event to be remembered, and I hope merely the first of many special beer pairing dinners to come. Chef Ryan Kelly is probably the best kept culinary secret in Tampa Bay, and I would love to see what else he has up his sleeve. His ability to match and balance flavors between the beer and the food is nothing short of genius. The Dobles and the Tampa Bay Brewing Company have put together an amazing staff of people, from the front of the house to the back, and I hope the get the recognition they deserve for it.
If you have not had the pleasure of visiting TBBC, put it on your to-do list. You will not be disappointed. The beer is great, the food is fantastic, and they just keep getting better.