Portland is, for its size, a pretty damn good town for food. We have a surfeit of above-average restaurants, and a few that are world-class. Our restaurants are creative and diverse. Of course, we also have the best beer in the world. But the two have yet to collide. Instead, the good food stays in restaurants with a couple-three taps, and the brewpubs serve relatively similar filling, but unspectacular versions of the same menu.*
I have been pondering this as I work on my endless "best brewpubs" post, but it's something that has crossed my mind before. I have this fantasy brewpub idea, and I wish someone would act on it. (Someone with, you know, the time, money, and culinary/zymurgical background. I'm an idea man.)
Imagine a brewery where the beer and menu were co-created, so that each was integral to the other. In my mind, this takes the form of the organic/local food movement, wherein the menu rotates with the seasons. During summer, it would feature more green vegetables and fruit, and be accomodated by drier, lighter, hoppier beers. In the fall, as squashes and pears are coming on, the beers would turn sweet and malty. The chill winter would call for potent beers to go with heartier stews and meats. And so on.
The chef and the brewer would collaborate on meals. I imagine beer would be served in smaller portions--say six or eight ounce glasses--so that patrons could enjoy complementary pours throughout their meal. When I was in Hong Kong, I was delighted to learn that most restaurants offered a jasmine tea like Americans offer water--free, when you sit down. It would be cool to have a very light aperitif to offer diners as they walked in the door--a mild lambic in a small flute, say. Or whatever. Anyway, you see what I'm after.
Many brewers actually got their start in food--Alan Sprints and Craig Nicholls jump to mind--so it's surpising brewpubs devote only 10% of their creative energy to the food. Time that changed, I'd say. Portland needs a world-class brewery-cafe to continue to stay ahead of the curve.
There's Higgins, true. But while Higgins has an amazing beer list, most of the offerings are in bottle and Belgian. As a restaurant, it's wholly appropriate that they should feature this selection, and shame on Portland's other fine dining for not offering beer menus of this breadth. Still, it's not the same as brewing beer specifically for the food you cook.