Meal and Drink Pairings: Basics 101
The general consensus among foodies, beer nerds, wine lovers and cocktail connoisseurs is: “Eat and drink what you like.”
True. However, viewing the drink in your hand as an additional ingredient to your dish enhances your experience and may surprise you. In our everyday diets, we’re missing what nutritional psychologist Marc David, MA calls “Vitamin P”, which stands for pleasure. We need to take the time to find pleasure in our meals, especially when traveling. Whether you are traveling for work or pleasure, you always need to eat. Find the pleasure in what you eat by being attentive, taking your time and delight in your entire meal, including your drink.
Ask an Expert: When talking about finding the pleasure in the entire meal, it makes the most sense to talk to an expert about food and drinks. The most accessible expert is always your server and it’s usually very fun to hear their passion on food and drinks come forward. If you can, go straight to the chef. Chef Jon Harootunian at the Harvest Room in Palos Heights (HarvestRoomRestaurant.com) is the first to say that, “almost anything goes as long it tastes good together.” He believes beer has a tenacity to work well with food that is rich, fatty or spicy. Try the Short Rib Pot Roast, which is pot roast braised with root beer served with potato pave, crispy onions, crispy bacon aioli, and “root beer float” spheres and pair it with a lager or dark beer. The beer compliments the flavor profile by cutting through the fatty meat while also providing a balance on the caramel/malty flavor.
Chef Jon also believes the old adage that white wine should be paired with poultry and red wine with seafood, especially meatier dishes like octopus and sword fish. He also enjoys pairing unique drinks with fun meals. The drink doesn’t always have to be beer or wine. He enjoys pairing Harvest Room handcrafted cocktails, like the Mango Margarita, with Grilled Shrimp and Hibiscus. Or on every Friday night, experience the unique pairing of “Bourbon and Doughnuts.” This pairs three maple-bacon butter cream-frosted house doughnuts served with an ever-changing house pick of 2.5 ounces of bourbon. This is the brainchild of Harvest Room owner and bourbon connoisseur Chris Sirigas, who has said that bourbon, ranges in flavor as much as pinot noir. From the point of view of Harootunian, the bourbon is really malty and aromatic while the donuts are usually a dark chocolate with bacon and they complement each other very well.
Order a Sample: The beauty of visiting a brewery or a winery is the sampling in smaller portions. Start off at Hailstorm Brewing Co. in Tinley Park (HailstormBrewing.com), which was listed in Thrillist as one of the Best Up-And-Coming Breweries in the Midwest. First, try a sample of their beers to find the best one to fit your mood at the moment. Then, look at the food truck available on site. They often collaborate with Wooden Paddle Pizza from Orland Park and what goes better with pizza than beer? Many of their wood fired pizzas pair well with Hailstorm’s Prairie Madness IPA and the South Side Irish Red. A popular pizza topping choice throughout Chicago Southland is sausage and we’d recommend Wooden Paddle Pizza’s Sausage Fest with Prairie Madness IPA to cut through the intensity of the delicious meat. Hailstorm also has a fair amount of BBQ food trucks in their parking lot. BBQ pairs well with beers that are a little sweeter to cut the heat, such as the award winning Maibock called “Rock Out with My Bock Out” as well as the Crash Test Dummy Belgian Trippel.
Attend a Pairing Dinner: Throughout the year, many restaurants, including La Voute Bistro and Bar in Homewood (LaVouteBistro.com), like to show the chef’s knowledge by hosting a dinner highlighting fantastic food paired with wine or beer. It also provides the chance to try wine or beer you might not normally have access to or to just try something new. La Voute’s plush dining room and lounge features French inspired cuisine by Chicago Chef Dominique Tougne. Naturally, once La Voute opened in 2015, it made sense to immediately host a wine dinner where they paired confit leg of duck, roasted hazelnuts, mashed potatoes, wild mushroom and blackberry bordelaise sauce with the Hill Family Estate 2011 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. This worked well because the wine had rich aromas and flavors of toasty praline, cassis tart with a hint of bacon resulting in a supple, tangy, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body. It paired well with the duck confit by cutting through the rich, gamey, flavorsome and relatively fatty bit of meat.
La Voute also hosted a four course menu pairing sweet delights from Pastry Chef Erica with beer. Wouldn’t you love to try the Caramelized Banana Bread, Praline Cream and Brown Sugar Crumble with Wells Banana Bread beer? Or try one of the many beer dinners where they pair beers like Lagunita’s Censored Rich Copper Ale with pan roasted salmon, ratatouille and basil infused olive oil. The beer has a very sweet and rich malt character with the minimum taste of hops giving more of an earthy finish. This paired well with the light, delicate flavor of the salmon and ratatouille. The pairing dinners are often listed on La Voute’s Facebook page (@LaVouteBistroBar) with a description of the wine or beer and food pairings.
Other spots to find your “Vitamin P” can be found at:
- 350 Brewing Company in Tinley Park (350Brewing.com) – Beer samples pair well with the Southside Shoe open sandwich
- The Black Sheep in Orland Hills (TheBlackSheep.bar) – Beer samples pair well with street tacos
- Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Oak Lawn (CoopersHawkWinery.com) – Wine samples with pairing suggestions on menu
- Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Orland Park (CoopersHawkWinery.com) – Wine samples with pairing suggestions on menu
- Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant in New Lenox (CoopersHawkWinery.com) – Wine samples with pairing suggestions on menu
- Evil Horse Brewing Co. in Crete (EvilHorseBrewing.com) – Beer samples pair well with a variety of food truck entrees
- Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery (FlossmoorStation.com) – Beer samples that pair well with any of the Brewhouse Specials
- Siam Marina in Tinley Park (SiamMarina.com) – Ask an expert on pairing the cocktails with Thai & Vietnamese cuisines with French influence