The Adventures of Lego Ren: Dark Knight Drinking
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
Dallas Craft Beer Examiner
Today, beer and wine dinners have become almost a yawning marketing commodity among the bar and restaurant industry. But in the days a half-decade ago when craft beer was just establishing its foothold in North Texas, beer-pairing dinners were rare and celebrated events.
Early movers with Dallas beer dinners both in prominence of brewing figures they attracted as well as the outstanding craveability of the food and beer pairings were Meddlesome Moth and The Common Table, two of the more senior and respected local craft beer meccas. Whereas the Moth still hosts preeminent dinners of no decline in quality, The Common Table left the standard event model years ago for a still-novel concept: the weekly Poor Man’s Beer Dinner. Prepared afresh each time, an affordable multicourse meal is paired with stocked commercial craft beers but offered regularly and to order.
Recently realizing that a couple of years had passed since my last Poor Man’s dinner, their past Monday offering caught my eye with the theme of Hatch chiles, that seasonal consumer darling that overruns Central Market and seems to spawn marketing gold each summer. Often these dinners are constructed around a theme, usually by breweries newly arrived to Texas with their products, but being a fan of the fruit (yes, chiles are a fruit) I had to give this one a try. I’m happy to report that the quality of this meal deal remains top-notch.
Hatch chile chicken tortilla soup paired with Duvel Single
A small bowl of chunky soup with thin, fried tortilla strips, the dish was deliciously flavored but burning with fiery chile heat. Although somewhat a chore to finish (at least for my bolillo heat tolerance), it was the hottest element of the entire meal, and woke up the palate with a full-faced alarm.
The paired course beer, Duvel Single, is Moortgat’s lighter version of their Belgian pale ale, single-fermented for the same flavors but without the strength of regular Duvel. One would think it an optimal match for the Hatch heat but alcohol does little to quench capsaicin once it makes camp on your palate.
Garden salad with Hatch chile avocado dressing paired with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Seemingly plain in comparison, this simple mixed greens salad had a smooth, lightly creamy dressing with a pleasant cooling effect after the heat of the previous course. The flavor of the Hatch was captured and eased somewhat by the smooth, fatty avocado texture.
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is that brewery’s unfiltered wheat ale brewed after a traditional Bavarian style. It worked with the fresh salad to tame the heat of the previous course as well as the flavors themselves pleasantly complimenting each other.
Blackened red snapper with Hatch chile risotto fortified with Fontina served on a lemon beurre blanc paired with Community Mosaic
This dish was outrageously perfect, and by far the star of the evening. Perfectly cooked snapper was served mildly blackened with mellow cajun spices to work with but not overshadow the still-lingering pepper heat. It was dressed with a tart lemony sauce and served on a bed of luscious Hatch chile risotto beautifully fortified with Fontina that almost overshadowed the entrée. (I would enjoy this added as a regular menu item, or at least a rotating special.)
Paired with Community Mosaic, the aggressive IPA brought enough sharp flavors for a fresh, palate-cleansing bite. On its own, Mosaic is one of my personal weekly go-to beers and easily one of the top IPAs to come out of North Texas.
Vanilla bean ice cream with candied Hatch chiles and crushed pecans paired with Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
One would never think of chiles as a dessert item but candied, sliced rounds of Hatch chiles still coated in sugar provided a fantastic vegetal flavor to the creamy scoop and crunchy pecan bed. All elements for the entire dish just synched, both in flavor and texture.
The last stocked bottle of Sam Smith was served just before my course was served, but calling an audible with Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis worked equally as well. With all respect to Tadcaster ( a legend on its own), Ninkasi’s oatmeal stout with vanilla was an even better match for this particular course.
Unknown at the start, this was Chef Nick Wells’ last Poor Man’s dinner as he leaves this week for a new kitchen not too far away (Dots Hop House, a new Deep Ellum venture soon to open from the owners of Denton’s Oak Street Drafthouse). Once again, The Common Table proves it has an expert hand in not only selecting a quality lineup of taps but also a kitchen still strongly firing on all cylinders.
Walk in any Monday evening between 6:30 and 9pm for a small treat of refined yet affordable cuisine. SD
Dallas Craft Beer Examiner
Traditionally, there are two types of beer-pairing dinners. The most prevalent type is one in which a restaurant provides an evening with multiple food courses, each served with a thoughtfully chosen craft beer (or house beer, if a brewpub) that individually complements the dish. The beers available may follow a theme, or feature a particular brewery, or may be rare or hard-to-find offerings.
Whereas this type of beer dinner is usually hosted by a beer-focused establishment, a second type of beer dinner has arisen from restaurants without a dedicated craft beer focus. This second type is a collaborative effort with one location’s chef and kitchen pairing with a craft beer brewery, bar or retailer. (The World Beer Company, a.k.a. the “Bottle Shop,” excels at this type of event.)
Now The Common Table in Dallas, known for their marvelous food and craft beer pairings, introduce a third type: beer dinner as weekly special. Dubbed the “Poor Man’s Beer Dinner,” this combo is offered every Monday evening and includes four courses paired with four 8-oz samples from their beer menu, all for $29 per person. No reservations are required, just show up and ask for it. (The regular menu is still available as well.)
Why the switch to smaller and weekly? According to manager Corey Pond, hosting beer pairing dinners monthly made each “less special,” with increasing effort required to be creative and original when new releases, seasonal beers or limited batches may not be accessible on such a schedule. The traditional TCT beer-pairing events will continue but less frequently than the recent pace, and each will be more focused and distinctive.
Meanwhile, a more affordable price point available on a drop-in schedule will hopefully make the beer dinner concept more comfortable for those who have never attended such events. It will also allow Chef Mike Smith to revisit some favorite courses and experiment more without committing to a restaurant full of diners all on the same timetable.
The beers selected for each course are from TCT’s current tap and bottle selection, which is considerable even on an ordinary day. The special is ongoing and changes each week, so stop in and give it a try.
Originally published June 28, 2012, at Examiner.com