Graydon's Crossing: Stone Brewing Dinner

(Grand Rapids, MI) — We are frequent purveyors of food and drink pairing events, so when we heard Graydon’s Crossing was teaming up with Stone Brewing Co of Escondido CA for a five-course dinner, we immediately signed up. The establishment’s last shindig—featuring cider pairings—was less than spectacular, but still promising. We hoped Chef Aaron Burrows would have learned from that experience and deliver something memorable. We braved the late January 50+ degree (!) weather and met up with friends already seated upstairs...

He Fed:

After the Vandermill Cider dinner last month, I’m a little nervous about tonight. Sure, the cider lived up to its reputation (and then some), but the food disappointed almost all across the board. Juliet and I head upstairs to join our dinner companions. We are seated at a table for 11; five strangers join our crew and they are friendly enough.

Right off, we are told Chef Aaron has decided to take some time off to help with his new baby. Permanently. I get an uneasy, queasy feeling. We are introduced to Chef Mike Santo, whose culinary bent tends toward “fusion”. I put on a smile and try to stay positive. After all, this is a beer dinner! Our host for the evening is a gentleman from Stone Brewing and he shares interesting tales about the brews we are about to enjoy.

Arrogant Bastard is first. It’s Stone Brewing’s most recognized beer, a hearty, hoppy ale with a dry and citrusy finish. I didn’t like it when I first had it a few years back, but I love it now. Paired with it is a Pulled Pork Taco of dry-rubbed, slow-roasted Rakowski Farms pork, drizzled with Arrogant cheese sauce, topped with sliced peppers, on a corn tortilla. The tortilla falls apart almost instantly. One of our crew shakes his head. “Should have double-wrapped it.” True. More importantly, however, the meat is tasteless and dry. I chew and wash it down with beer, detecting no synchronicity between food and drink. It is the worst taco I’ve ever had. As if in apology, we are offered more Arrogant Bastard and that does help ease the pain of the first course, somewhat.

Next is Oaked Arrogant Bastard, which is smoother, less hoppy, and smelling of smoky wood. Stuffed Peppers have been paired with this brew. The roasted red bell pepper has been stuffed with Oaked Arrogant Bastrad quinoa, Swiss chard, goat cheese, and coconut, then laid on top of a red wine reduction sauce. Although the pepper is still a bit firmer than I like, the taste profile is spot on. In fact, with the beer, it is one of the best pairings I’ve had. Coconut and goat cheese? Amazing. I’m loving the quinoa and even the chard makes my taste buds sing. Wow. Here we went from the worst dish to the best. I’m feeling a little bipolar.

Even before we arrived, I knew I would skip this next course. I just cannot eat mussels. I’ve tried, believe me, but it’s just not going to happen tonight. Good thing, too. Our mussel-loving compatriots remark on how difficult the shells are to open; how the mussel inside clings to the inside of the shell; and the taste is underwhelming. Though these had been flown in specially from Prince Edward Isle, one diner remarks, “They could have saved some money and gotten better mussels at Family Fare.” I am happy to munch on the Ninth Bridge crostini dipped in Dijon garlic herbed cream sauce, and chase it with Stone Smoked Porter. I’m not a huge porter fan, but this is less malty and the smoke is subtle.

Back to Rakowski Farms we go, with a beef tenderloin marinated in Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA, rubbed in Indian spice, then skewered, grilled, and served over vindaloo rice. My beef is practically cold. It’s no fun trying to get a cold lump of meat off a skewer. Ironically, the heat level on the spicy vindaloo is perfect. I just wish the dish was served at the proper temperature. The beer is slightly sweeter, with more caramel overtones than you usually find in a black IPA.

Finally, it’s dessert...the real reason Juliet probably agreed to come. Not for the beer, not for the previous courses, but for Deep Fried Peanut Butter Balls with house-made jelly and fried Mud Lake mint. When the plates begin to come out of the kitchen, you can tell everyone is excited. This is it!’s not. Instead of deep fried peanut butter balls, we get an empanada filled with peanut butter cookie dough. Seriously? You can see the look of utter disillusionment on everyone’s faces. I dig in with my fork. It is really really good, everything you’d expect from peanut butter cookie dough cooked in an empanada. But that’s not the same as deep fried peanut butter balls. The Double Bastard, at over ten percent ABV, is the no-brainer pairing. Pleasant and sweet, but a far cry from the show stopper we’d expected.

After conferring with our dinner companions over a nightcap downstairs, we come to the conclusion that maybe we should take a sabbatical from beer dinners at Graydon’s Crossing. Given time and practice, maybe one day they’ll devise a better system of delivering consistent, hot food to a packed room of 40 hungry patrons.
She Fed:

The first course, a pulled pork taco, sounds delectable. Graydon's receives beef and pork whole from Rakowski Farms in Wayland and they butcher it in-house. The pork is slow roasted, pulled and paired with an Arrogant Bastard beer cheese sauce. It’s topped by a few lovely strips of red and green bell pepper and sitting on a soft corn tortilla. I pick it up only to have the corn tortilla disintegrate and the contents plop back onto the plate. I knife and fork it easily enough, but the pork is incredibly dry. The roasting juices and cheese sauce that destroyed the tortilla can’t help the pork. In fact between the hoppiness of the beer and juiceless pork, my mouth puckers from the dryness. The other disappointment is that my taco is ice old and from the grumblings at our table, mine’s not the only one.

It’s easy to see how this happened. The upper level of Graydon's is at capacity for this dinner and the tables are tightly packed, which delays service. By the time the pork taco is presented to 35+ people, it’s lukewarm at best. To further slow down the process, the Stone Brewing rep is cued to address the group after everyone is served. It’s only then the chef appears to tell us what’s on our plate, how it’s been prepared and how he incorporated the Stone Brewing beer it’s paired with. Unfortunately, this happens with each course, meaning that by the time the plates are delivered, the beer rep shares a little history of the beer pairing, and the chef does his spiel, our food is downright chilly.

I’m holding out hope for the next dish as it’s clearly coming to us right out of the oven. Green peppers are stuffed with coconut, goat cheese, Swiss chard, and quinoa that been cooked in Oaked Arrogant Bastard beer. The peppers are sitting upright in a small puddle of red wine reduction. The presentation is gorgeous and I’m always impressed with an upright stuffed pepper as I usually just make mine cut in half lengthwise and lay ‘em down to bake. I’m not big on green peppers—favoring a sweeter red, orange or yellow pepper—but I find with the coconut, goat cheese, and red wine reduction the bitterness of the peppers is toned down. There’s a panko topping that adds a buttery crunch as well. The beer works with the dish, but again my pepper is barely warm.

The third tasting is Prince Edward Island mussels steamed in Stone Smoked Porter with a Dijon garlic cream sauce and crostini. The mussels are partially open and everyone at the table is having some difficult opening them all the way. (I’ve always heard that if the shell isn’t open to toss the mussel, but everyone finds their shells to be halfway open.) The room goes eerily silent when we finally manage to pop one open to real mussel meat, just strings and thin films of what might have once been a mussel. All three of mine are identical inside and I overhear someone at our table say, “I feel like a dentist cleaning teeth!” as he scrapes the insides of his shells looking for meat. I abandon the mussels and scoop some of the slightly warm cream sauce onto my thin crostini. The porter is one of my favorite beers of the evening with a rich, dark toffee flavor.

I’ve been anticipating our next course for some time as we’ve been decreasing our red meat intake significantly, eating a lot more vegetarian these last few weeks. It usually takes about three days before I start craving beef. Typically I want a rare olive burger or medium rare steak, but the “Indian Beef Kabob” will do the trick tonight. The menu lists tenderloin marinated in Self Rightous IPA, so I’ve been dreaming of a few big cubes of meat on a stick until I see thin strips threaded on a skewer. By the time mine arrives, it’s cold and a struggle to remove the well-done tenderloin from the skewer.The vindaloo rice packs a solid level of heat with a slow burn at the back end. The crispy onion straws layered between the kabob and the rice add a nice crunch. I do enjoy the IPA, which I learn is a “black” IPA. I bet a batch of brownies made with a black IPA would be amazing.

Dessert is billed as deep-fried peanut butter balls, though it turns out to be more of an empanada with peanut butter cookie dough stuffed into a crust and fried. The pastry sits atop housemade jelly. All in all it’s tasty with the salty nutty dough, the sweet jelly, and the flaky crust. Unfortunately this is the only dish tonight that’s been served at the proper temperature. I know it’s got to be difficult serving a large group and keeping the food warm, but other eateries who host beer dinners pull it off. Graydon's is one of our standbys, usually offering solid fare with a nice Indian twist, but I won’t be going back for one of their monthly pairing dinners anytime soon. It was just too disappointing.

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