Once a year the best food of Eugene is all in one place to raise money for Food For Lane County. The event, Chef’s Night Out at the Hult Center, draws a crowd of over 1,000 people. Each ticket sold goes to directly fight hunger here in our neighborhood, so not only you get to drink and eat, but you can feel slightly better about yourself at the same time. With unlimited bites, desserts, beer and wine, this event was the place to be.
It’s a good thing it lasts for multiple hours, since on every level there was something new I couldn’t wait to try. There were the tried and true delicious favorites from classic Eugene restaurants such as Sweet Waters, Marche Provisions, King Estate and Sweet Life. I was pleasantly surprised by my a few of favorites from the night including the bites from the MLK Culinary Arts and Catering, part of the MLK Education center that works with youth who currently have an active case with Lane County Youth Services, and the delicious Govinda’s Vegetarian Buffet that won best vegetarian food of the night. Of course, the best part of the night for a craft beer and food obsessed person such as myself was seeing how the experts paired their bites with beer. Falling Sky and Hop Valley both amazed us with unique crostini’s paired with two delicious, but totally different craft beers.
So how do you pair food and beer? The key is to find dominant flavors that are complimentary. Not unlike wine pairing, you want something that helps to cleanse the palate, but doesn’t overwhelm the dish. As a general guide, hoppy beers balance sweet rich foods, and sweeter maltier beers balance spicy or acidic foods. You can also go in the exact opposite direction and match strengths- so pairing an IPA with a spicy dish like curry can work really well too. Of course, I’m not the expert. So here are some tips from the pros at Falling Sky and Hop Valley with the dishes they brought to Chef’s Night Out.
At Hop Valley’s table we tasted a dry Hopped Pastrami on Rye paired with the Alpha Centauri Binary IPA. House cured Pastrami with DD Blonde Ale, a blend of seasoning and a few Styrian Golding Hops from Slavonia thrown in just for fun was the main flavor. Gruyere cheese, garlic, and dill marinated cucumber topped a stout, rye crostini with caraway and fennel. This pairing worked great. You can always rely on a meat dish tasting great with an IPA. Additionally, the cheese and crostini brought out more of the malts in the IPA, which really helped balance the whole dish.
From Falling Sky they brought a delicious smoke white fish salad with pickled mustard seeds on a rye crostini that was paired with their Zig-Zag smoked ale. Zig Zag is a deep rich colored Old style Ale with rich malty flavors and a lightly smoked aroma. Smoked Ales aren’t that popular here in the states, but they can be great with food pairings since they have such a deep flavor profile. Falling Sky describes Zig-Zag as a pork’n’pints beer, and I agree with their beer pairing recommendations 100%. This pairing from Chef’s Night Out is one I’m definitely going to try to replicate at home.
If you’re getting hungry after reading this and thinking about how to pair your next meal, remember that the most important thing is to drink what you like. Every beer is different, even within each style, so there are few to none hard and fast rules with beer and food. Just make sure you invite your friends, pack a few extra craft brews, and hopefully you’ll share the recipe with me if it’s a success!