Caribbean Cafe Beer Dinner
By Bobby Bush
Stephen Minton takes beer seriously. As owner and chef of Caribbean Cafe, a multi-beer restaurant in downtown Boone, North Carolina, he has ample opportunity to share his passion. A nice selection of micros and imports, ten on tap and another 66 in bottles, greet patrons. Hundreds of coasters and tap handles adorn the walls and ceiling of the Cafe's barroom. It's also obvious that many of his regular customers share Stephen's sentiments and appreciation. On a chalkboard above the crowded bar, the Beer Snobs of the Caribbean, a self-appointed group of aficionados, post ratings for seasonal beers. Among Oktoberfest beers, import Ayingers took top honors with 8.5 out of a 10 point scale. Beck's fall offering was last among eight, garnering a measly score of 3.8.
But the reason for this September Sunday night gathering was not beer alone. Chef Stephen had a special treat. As the bar filled, he repeatedly scurried back and froth from cramped kitchen to dining area. Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel was the beer of choice as we waited in the bar, along with 40 others, for the latest in a series of Caribbean Cafe beer dinners to begin. The dark ale, full of malty caramel flavor ushered along by a subtle spicy undercurrent, was pleasing, soothing. It was also the complementary beer for the evening's first course. Thin, lightly browned German Potato Cakes, covered with a cranberry-orange sauce, were hot and delicious, enhancing the Dunkel's gentle flavor profile.
Golden in color and topped with frothy white, Franziskaner Club Weiss ushered in the next course. The Munich brewery's only filtered brew, this spritzy German wheat beer eschews the style's typical yeastiness. Tart and crisp, it played perfect foil to Mesculine Salad Topped with Shaved Bermuda Onions and Feta Cheese, topped with a homemade Lambic Cassis Vinaigrette. Clean and fresh, Spaten Origional, our first lager, enhanced the subtle flavor of Sautéed Walnut Encrusted Trout. Flown in from the West Coast, this fluffy white fish was warm and delicious, practically melting in watering mouths.
It was obvious by now that Chef Stephen's love of beer is rivaled only by his culinary expertise. The menu's exquisite food and beer pairings were not the result of happenstance. Year's of experience and a little kitchen experimentation resulted in a meal of gastronomical perfection. Adding to enjoyment, Minton requires each featured beer dinner brewery to have a company employee on hand to answer questions. Spaten North American sales manager Adam Warriner and his expecting wife Christie drove in from Richmond for the meal, bringing treats - half litre Spaten glasses, bottle openers and posters - for all from the Munich Oktoberfest celebration.
Time for the main course. A plate spilling over with savory Juicy Free Range Chicken Breast, Sage Spatzel, succulent Blue Cabbage and sugary Carrots Vichy was accompanied by draft Spaten Oktoberfest. Copper-colored and caramel malty, this original Marzen-style lager was invented in 1872 for Munich's famed annual celebration. Still family owned, the Spaten-Franziskaner Brewery traces its root back to 1363. The Oktoberfest, and all other Spaten-Franziskaner beers, represent hundreds of years of tradition and adhere religiously to the Reinheitsgebot, the 1516 Bavarian purity law which assures against the use of adulterants.
For dessert entertainment, Chef Minton worked table-side, whipping up a flaming Crepes Suzette sauce. Served atop tender, lightly browned crepes, this creamy finale was paired with Franziskaner Hefe-Weiss, a cloudy gold unfiltered Bavarian wheat beer full of citrus and yeasty flavor. Sweet dessert met tart ale, challenging taste buds, presenting synergism at its best!
Before the meal was even over, Chef Stephen was already talking about upcoming Caribbean Cafe beer dinners. The schedule includes beers from Redhook Brewing in November and Samuel Smith (January 21, 2001). Minton also schedules tastings/ratings of various beer styles on a less regular schedule.
For an up-to-date event schedule, see Caribbean Cafe's interactive website: .
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush