The Common Table takes on Frisco with guns a’blazing

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

The ceilings are high, and the tall windows let in a lot of light—especially at night with the electronic ad-screen across the street. The bar top is still pristine, and the structure is just one featureless retail slot of a larger commercial complex. The kitchen is the same, and the new beer tap system belongs about 15 minutes into the future.

However, once you talk to the staff, it’s all familiar as The Common Table. There’s something in the bar’s DNA.

Tonight’s focus is the latest beer-pairing dinner, a multi-course affair that TCT has perfected over the years at their original Uptown Dallas location. Although on hiatus for the past couple of seasons, the event has been resurrected for the opening of the new Frisco store as the “Ale-Star Series” that, so far, has featured some of the most prominent craft brewers in the United States and their hand-selected menus of beers.

The most recent was Texas’ own Jester King Brewery and featuring head brewer Averie Swanson. (Despite craft beer’s recent success, women are still woefully underrepresented in the industry.) As a very unique farmhouse brewery in Austin’s Hill Country, Jester King’s artisanal beers can be a challenge to pair with food given their sour, pungent and creatively wild-fermented beers and related blends. This led to a (mostly) all-seafood dinner, lighter fare such as seared halibut cheeks with an orange-ginger sauce and a delectable cheese course with house-made lavash and Red Hawk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.

Jerry Jones built “The Star” in Frisco as the Cowboys’ new headquarters and practice facility, and it has been progressively attracting restaurants, bars and clubs like a planet capturing new moons. The Common Table, one of Dallas’ premier craft beer establishments since 2010, was actually courted to expand with a second location at The Star, which opened late last fall. Since then, it has been working to find its beer legs in the burgeoning craft beer environment of the newly paved ‘burbs north of LBJ.

One evening near the end of March, a similar event focused on Avery Brewing of Colorado with owner/founder Adam Avery as host. Avery (both the man and the brewery) are considered part of the industry’s old guard, pioneering craft beer across the nation before other states even acknowledged the business model. This dinner featured a more internationally inspired menu with Moroccan-style Colorado roasted leg of lamb, butternut squash and sweet potato tajine, and plump PEI mussels in a Spanish chorizo and tomato broth.

The Avery dinner might have been one food course shorter than typical, but that was hardly noticed once the paired brewery beers started to fly. With Avery’s longevity in the market and long-reaching skills of brewing and aging beers, glasses of Tectum et Elix (ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels), Fimbulvvinter (rum barrel-aged Belgian-style quintuple) and the scowling face of Winston Churchill on the label of Old Perseverance (bourbon barrel-aged ale with maple syrup and dark muscovado sugar) crowded the tables by evening’s end.

Once you talk to the staff, it’s all familiar as The Common Table. There’s something in the bar’s DNA.

This Frisco shop is helmed by Glen Stivison, an experienced manager of local craft beer establishments, and Chief Beer & Tunes Officer Corey Pond now splits his time between the two locations. The new place has extensive patio space, including the long outdoor seating that is its namesake, while a light wood wraparound bar anchors the inside space. A local music series that mirrors the Uptown TCT lineup has begun with the warmer months and should only improve throughout the summer.

Early March saw California’s Firestone Walker Brewing swing into North Texas for a beer dinner with owner David Walker hosting despite suffering through a mild respiratory bug. The brewery’s limited-edition Dark & Stormy, a rum barrel-aged ale with lime and coconut (designed to match the cocktail), shared the evening with more classic dining selections such as bone-in chateaubriand with charred onion au jus (liquid crack!), tiger prawn ceviche with mango and serrano chiles, and a strawberry rhubarb spinach salad with blue cheese.

The Common Table has a long history of both beer-pairing events and playing host to notable brewers both national and international, one of few places in Texas (and a mere handful in North Texas) that can rate such consideration. This reputation is earned through the relationships that Pond has personally cultivated with craft brewers around the country, both as a business owner and an eager evangelist for and unashamed enthusiast in the movement. To his credit, he is not difficult to find at either of his bars, often tugging on his vape with a coffee cup filled with Founders Breakfast Stout nearby.

What may be the best evidence for TCT’s draw is the dinner that kicked off this current series in late February featuring Brooklyn Brewery. This night was hosted by brewer emeritus Garrett Oliver, former head brewer turned author, speaker, presenter and all-around craft beer bon vivant (and to The Common Table’s reputation, not the first time he has hosted a night here). Where Oliver goes, serious craft beer cred is automatically bestowed.

The Brooklyn Brewery beer-pairing dinner on a cool evening in February stands out as one of the finest craft beer events I’ve ever attended. Not only were diners treated to a stunning A5 Wagyu tomahawk steak (properly seared with help from Dee Lincoln Prime across the street) with bone marrow butter, other courses included a fine New Zealand lamb carpaccio and an amazing Manhattan littleneck clam chowder that is still spoken about.

Not to be outdone, Oliver brought with him a couple of his famous “ghost bottles,” unapproved small-batch or experimental beers that generally do not leave the New York brewery outside of the pockets of employees. The expected Black Ops imperial stout, a wild ale named Kiwi’s Playhouse, and a Belgian-style golden ale named Aglovale (an Arthurian reference) all paired magnificently with each course of the meal—none of which compare to the included complimentary signed copy of Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table and the simple thrill of just hanging out and chatting with him.

It’s still very early days for this place on the bar/restaurant scale, but spawning a clone has not seemed to slow them down. If you have never enjoyed a beer-pairing dinner, Frisco’s The Common Table is an excellent place to start. SD

Visiting area breweries on the Dallas Brew Bus

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

As a general rule, the rain keeps me at home and out of pubs and local breweries. Low turnout, putting on pants and messy, slick streets are just not worth the effort on such grey days.

However, today someone else was driving.

It was the holiday-appropriate ‘Merica Tour aboard the Dallas Brew Bus, a roving craft brewery-themed revue that has become a minor institution in the Dallas area. Operating semi-monthly now for more than four years, the DBB is a curated bus trip run by Matt Dixon (of Dallas Brew Scene and North Texas Beer Week) and wife Vanessa to select North Texas breweries and area craft beer locations. With most of my brewery visits being solo trips and having never been part of the ongoing bus adventure, a ride was long overdue.

The first scheduled stop on this patriotic road cruise was Lakewood Brewing in Garland, a trip across area highways under cloudy skies as the morning rains came to an end. This was the first tour to feature a shiny new luxury charter, quite a pleasant climate-controlled and modern audio system upgrade for the trip (rented district school buses are the norm). Thirty-eight fellow adventurers joined me today aboard clean, stain-free fabric seats, continuing the Dixons’ long streak of sold-out bus tours.

Far from a stale trap for craft beer tourists, the DBB is an interactive event with trivia, prizes, Dixonian anecdotes and a themed soundtrack throughout the ride. The crowd is mixed, mostly locals with a few out-of-towners, and includes patrons spanning the age and demographic spectrum who are encouraged to interact and stay lively. Less than a circus sideshow, Dixon is personally an unending source of first-hand knowledge for modern North Texas brewing and personalities (and indie music), so the fluid salesman-like patter along the trip rarely stops.

This is the fundamental appeal of the Brew Bus: The ticket is all-inclusive.

Upon boarding, riders receive a drinks card that is checked off with each beer ordered at the various destinations. This is the fundamental appeal of the Brew Bus: The ticket is all-inclusive. A collective logo sample glass entitles riders to fills at each brewery, so there is never a need to open a tab, show ID or even carry cash (exceptions for additional beers, merchandise, food trucks or staff tips at the participant’s discretion).

Lakewood did not disappoint, as their still-new taproom offered all varieties of seasonally brewed Temptress specialties such as a rare bourbon barrel-aged molé variety. Bottled water and a light snack are even included aboard the bus, a varying culinary fare usually provided by the maestros at LUCK—today, a cellophane-wrapped roasted pork sandwich with fresh coleslaw, which was far better than a bag of dry pretzels.

Dallas’ On Rotation was our second stop, by then the day beginning to dry out while the bus crew was just hitting their drinking stride. A self-proclaimed “craft beer laboratory” sandwiched between local brewing giants on this tour, On Rotation always affords an additional food source with hot pizza available from Cane Rosso located just next door in its suburban-like strip center near White Rock Lake.

Each bus stop is planned for about 90 minutes each which, allowing for variable travel schedules based on particular distances, is plenty of time to socialize, run through the sample card and explore new locations. (Today’s beverages included only those brewed in-house, not from On Rotation’s extensive commercial tap wall. However, their current Red, White & Blueberries is well worth seeking out.) Most places are happy for the off-peak influx of an eager craft drinking crowd arriving midday, although a thirsty bus unloading at the door can be a visceral shock for some if not aware of the schedule beforehand.

DBB tours usually encompass three local stops, most often from Dallas and the adjoining areas but Fort Worth locations have been included as demand allows and newer breweries arise. Featured breweries have included craft beer destinations as far away as Cedar Creek Brewing in Seven Points (roughly 50 miles southeast of Dallas), and a Tarrant County-based tour is already scheduled. Holiday themes are common (Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, “Endless Summer”), and the tour and its services are also available for private events.

Our final destination was Community Beer Company, which was also our starting point and a common spot for tour embarkation due to space, parking and a widely known central location. With riders now well-lubricated from a half-day of reckless sampling, we folded into the normal weekend taproom crowd at its late-afternoon peak due to clearing skies and broadcast sports; fortunately, the lines moved quickly and the wait was minimal. Community’s Passiflora IPA, a hoppy saison brewed with passion fruit, was newly debuted this weekend and quite in demand by bus riders and general taproom visitors alike.

Although the tour would not formally end for a while yet, riders melted into the mass of normal weekend patrons as the bus departed empty, all our official stops now completed. Any brief camaraderie our little tour group had quickly disintegrated as non-tour friends and designated drivers joined their charges in Community’s spacious front taproom with a band starting up at the far end. In the end, we simply added to the normal Saturday brewery crowds for as long as we individually cared to stay.

Community’s location proves an ideal benchmark to include in the DBB tour (officially or not) as its position in the Design District allows for a variety of after-events with nearby breweries, beer bars or even activities at the American Airlines Center. However, the Dallas Brew Bus is more than enough for a great afternoon spent indulging in the local craft beer experience, whether one is experienced in the North Texas scene or not. SD

Weekend Pint: Craft and Growler

Dallas

Dallas Craft Beer Examiner

craft_and_growler_logo_with_borderA growler revolution is underway in the Lone Star State. Little over a year ago, growlers in Texas were the exclusive province of the all-too rare brewpubs, and many dedicated fans of craft beer were unfamiliar with the practice or even the term.

In case you don’t know, a growler is a 64-oz glass container that is filled with beer, sealed and purchased for home consumption. Thanks in no small part to Texas’ own Whole Foods Market, which last year executed a corporate mandate to install wine and beer service areas and growler fills in each of their locations across the state, growler popularity has soared. It also turned out that misinformation about filling growlers abounds and the actual TABC laws are not that restrictive after all, so a few local pubs are catching on to growlers, also.

Where to find good beer

Last November, Dallas saw the first dedicated growler fill station open just off Exposition Avenue in a space facing the entrance to Fair Park. Craft and Growler is the work of Kevin Afghani and Cathrine Kinslow, who did plenty of legal research and decided to build a bar for the express purpose of filling these valuable jugs full of local craft beer and selling them to the public. Although their space is dedicated to selling beer “to go,” it has also been outfitted into a comfortable space to sit and have a beer in a somewhat less- crowded area south of Deep Ellum.

Most growlers are simply filled from an existing tap line — a satisfactory practice for a well-trained bar staff but not ideal. Afghani took the concept one step further and adapted the Blichmann beer gun, a rather fancy homebrewer’s gadget, to serve as the filling tool. Instead of a fixed tap operated by a pull handle, the 30 draught beers sold at Craft and Growler are each dispensed from their own hand tool at the end of a flexible hose, which minimizes foam and maximizes sanitation for the optimal container fill to the benefit of the consumer. And with this setup, filling a pint glass is just as fast and easy as filling a half-gallon growler.

But Craft and Growler is more than just another craft beer bar with a fancy tap setup. One whole wall is dedicated to selling growlers in all shapes and forms, from the traditional 64-oz portion to half that size, and half again, all the way down to individual-serving swing-top bottles. They are offered in various shapes and with several logos, from glass to ceramic to stainless steel, including one exclusive hand-made artisan job costing in excess of $100. Along with the containers are also sold various accessories to securely swaddle and carry your beer-filled glass to and from your home.

No food is available on-site but there are other restaurants nearby, and food trucks are becoming more frequent as Craft and Growler’s popularity grows. Prices are listed at the bar for each and every sized vessel, based on a per-ounce cost, and they will fill any commercial growler, not just their own. Their official grand opening is planned for tomorrow, February 2nd, with prizes, music and a few special local craft beer releases.

Recommended pint: Any of Community Beer Company‘s three beers, all of which are available on tap.

Craft and Growler
3601 Parry Avenue
Dallas, Texas
www.facebook.com/CraftAndGrowler