ON THE SECOND THURSDAY of each month, EastBurn plays host to the gastronomically challenging Beer Belly Dinner. Pairing a local brewery with the efforts of noteworthy chefs, it’s a four-course feast with accompanying beers for $35. The event is a smashing deal for the amount and quality of food—not to mention the sheer number of award-winning brews that are served—so much so that I almost reluctant to tell anyone about it. Plus, the proceeds all go to RideOn, a local nonprofit whose members will drive you and your car home anywhere in Portland proper for only $15. I admit that I placed one of their cards in my wallet—for a friend.
This month, the featured brewery was Cascade Brewing. Brewers Ron Gansberg and Curtis Bain were on hand to mingle and answer any questions, with Ron looking resplendent in his Hawaiian shirt embellished with hops, no less. Portland chefs Jeff Pagel and Joe Dougherty were also present to introduce each course and quell my fears about eating frog legs.
Cascade presented an amazing array of sour and fruit beers. For someone who only first tried sour beer a few weeks ago, I am now a true believer in these deliciously sweet, palate-cleansing beers.
Though the food and beers were out of this world, the best part of the Beer Belly Dinner is the company. You sit outside in EastBurn’s four-season patio at long tables, squashed in with an interesting array of folks: everyone from craft beer lovers to local beer celebrities. I was fortunate to be totally surrounded by good-natured beer lovers (including the Beer Goddess herself, Lisa Morrison), which made the event really fun and educational.
The starter course was assorted artisanal goat cheeses from Fraga Farm which paired perfectly with our first beer of the evening, the Spring Gose, a seasonal salty-sour ale with orange accents.
The first appetizer was Chef Jeff’s cold-smoked salmon rosettes, which were so tasty that when our waitress returned offering a tray of seconds, one-by-one our entire table snatched up them all up. The salmon was served with Cascade’s 2009 The Vine, a sour beer made with white chardonnay grapes.
The second appetizer was beer-battered frog legs swimming in a savory caramel sauce. “I’ve never had frog legs before-so I jumped all over it,” (har, har) explained brewer Curtis about his choice. I was also a frog-leg newbie, but the chefs insisted they tasted like a mix of halibut and chicken, which turned out to be an accurate description. Our table joked about the Schwarzenegger-sized legs as we scarfed them down, but I’m not sure I would eat them again if they weren’t covered in crispy beer batter. These were drizzled in a caramel sauce made from the paired beer, Busta Nut Brown. This malty beer was quite different from the sours, with its coffee-like aroma and dark-mahogany color.
The entrée was served buffet style, with plenty of extra helpings to go around. The main dish was pan-seared rack of lamb from SuDan Farm, which is available at the Portland Farmers Market. Vegetarians, avert your eyes: the chef proudly confided that the lamb had been slaughtered less that 24 hours before it hit our plates in all of its glory. The lamb was served with a cherry demi-glace that matched the accompanyin beer, 2009 Cascade Kriek, a fruity beer made from two different types of cherries.
Next up was the surprise taster that turned out to be the Noyeaux, an ale aged in white port barrels with 20 pounds of raspberries and toasted apricot pits. “In my opinion, it’s the one world-class beer we’ve made,” said brewer Ron. Though I would disagree about it being the only one, it was a true standout brew.
Finally, when we didn’t think we could fit any more food or beer in our swollen bellies, we were served white chocolate cheesecake served with a stone fruit compote, which of course paired perfectly with the 2009 Apricot Ale (A-ha! Thus the abundance of apricot pits that painstakingly were removed and used in the Noyeaux).
I’m not sure I could choose my favorite Cascade beer from the dinner, as The Vine, Noyeaux, and Kriek are now all very near and dear to my heart. I definitely recommend the Beer Belly Dinners for the vast array of food, top-notch beers, and terrific company. See you at the table!