As I’ve mentioned before, one of the big trends for 2013 is the pairing of food and beer. Quaffing an ale with dinner isn’t anything new, even among people who enjoy wine. Sometimes a cold beer just sounds better than a glass of wine. But usually in those cases little or no thought is given to matching the beer with the food that has been ordered. But now there is a concerted effort to marry the flavor profiles of the food, whether it be steak or seafood or something else, to the qualities of the beer, whether they be in-your-face hoppiness or subtle nuances.
I got a lesson in how this works -- and how well it can work -- when I was invited to attend the “Steaks & Steins” dinner presented at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster (it’s still technically Christner’s Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster, until June 1 when the previous name must be dropped -- I explain it all in this article -- but you might as well get used to just calling it Christner’s). The dinner featured four courses of the excellent restaurant’s seafood and steak offerings paired with beers from Orlando Brewing. David Christner was in attendance representing the steakhouse his dad founded and John Cheek was there to represent the brewery that he founded.
Besides being an evening of wonderful food -- this is still one of my favorite steakhouses in town -- and a chance to sample some really terrific beers, the experience was educational and entertaining as Cheek, an affable, easy-going man who clearly loves what he does, gave the attendees a primer in the brewing process.
We started with Christner’s ahi tuna appetizer, a sushi-grade fish, crusted with sesame seeds and black pepper and seared ever so slightly, paired with Orlando Brewing’s Organic Brown Ale, an English style ale whose toasty qualities complemented the slight peppery flavors on the tuna without obliterating the mildness of the fish itself.
The Blonde Ale, a lighter beer -- in color, taste and alcohol content -- stepped aside and let the salad, which had the most impossibly cheesy blue cheese dressing I’ve seen lately, stand out.
The third course started with Christner’s filet mignon, a piece of meat that would settle any doubts of the steakhouse’s superiority. Cheek presented his light-bodied Scottish style ale known as Eminent Domain (cheekily named in remembrance of the reason Orlando Brewing had to move from its original location on Huey Street, in 2005). Just as a red wine’s tannins can cut through the fat juices of red meat, this ale’s maltiness with a slightly sweet aftertaste went perfectly with the steak.
Those of us who did not read the menu very carefully continued to enjoy the filet and the mashed potatoes and the mushrooms and the asparagus without realizing there was more to come: the prime strip, the restaurant’s most convincing argument against vegetarianism. I’m sure the I-4 India Pale Ale that Cheek had chosen to go with it was perfectly matched, but I was too busy smearing the meat all over myself to notice.
We finished with a most incredible chocolate cake -- each slice could easily have served a child’s entire birthday party -- paired with the unfiltered Blackwater Dry Porter that had some chocolate notes of its own.
We were attended to by the able servers of Christner’s who moved things along nicely.
Sometimes we see trends that are merely fads that will fade. I hope we see more beer and food pairings and I hope the food and beers are as good as they were at Christner’s with Orlando Brewing.