Brew Review

Brewer’s Choice Dinner at Urban Village Brewing Company [or Rope-A-Dope That Mope!]

G-LO: Have you fully recovered from our Urban Village Brewing Company excursion last night? I don’t know about you, but I was totally feeling like I was experiencing a “to the pain” moment by the time that second pizza came out. That was one hell of a meal! And the fact that it was completely orchestrated by our host, Tom Ravelli, made it extra special.

LimpD: Recovered? Yes. Still can’t believe the food and beer pairings! That first course with the home-made charcuterie, ricotta cheese, pickled cabbage, horseradish, and sourdough bread was wonderful. You know how I love meats and cheeses with my beverages. The pepperoni, smoked ham and pastrami were really good, and that ricotta cheese, which might be the best I’ve ever had, was just fantastic! I could have had just the bread and ricotta. Yeah, that’s probably not true as I wasn’t about to pass up the pastrami and smoked ham. Pairing that plate with their Mockingbird Kölsch was a stroke of genius. The blend of fresh meats and cheese with the refreshing crispness of the Kölsch was a great start to the night.

G-LO: As much as I really want to, there’s no arguing with you about food and drink round one. It was a delicious assortment of meats and cheeses, and the Kölsch was a light and refreshing start to what would be one hell of a meal. The ricotta was the star of the first course. Love that bright lemon flavor which went perfectly with the sourdough bread. If I HAVE to nitpick, then I’d say the pastrami was the weak link in an otherwise strong assortment of bite sized snacks. I think it was a little too subtle for my taste. Did I mention how good that ricotta was? I could have eaten that as-is all night long. So, so good!

I guess this is where I have to thank you for reminding me to “slow my roll” since there was plenty more food coming (you know how I hate leaving food behind!). And it’s a good thing that I didn’t overdo it on round one, because round two was pretty friggin spectacular too! I never would have expected the gnocchi and fried cauliflower dishes. Such a delicious combination of flavors. The ramps, smoked ham, asparagus, hand shucked peas, and homemade gnocchi in that cream sauce were literally mouthwatering.

I never order gnocchi, because most of the time, they sink like lead weights on the end of a fishing line and lay in your stomach for days. Not these gnocchi! The best gnocchi I’ve ever had were made by dearly departed Aunt Francesca in Milan. So light. So delicate. Like pillows of potatoey goodness. The Urban Village gnocchi were as close as I’ve ever come to having gnocchi as good as my Zia Franca’s. Absolutely delicious! And that combination of ingredients in the sauce? Mamma Mia! Once again, I had to restrain myself from finishing every morsel and almost cried when they took the plate away because it took every ounce of strength to keep me from licking the plate clean (not that I’ve ever done that before. Though there was that time when I had Tortellini Carbonara on the Campo De’ Fiore…).

And then there’s the cauliflower which was ridiculously good. Love that they managed to fry them right to the point where they stayed crisp but lost that raw cauliflower taste. And once again, what an insanely good combination of flavors: sundried tomatoes, lightly pickled golden raisins, parmesan cheese, pea pesto, and that side of Caesar dressing. Who would have thought that we’d be fighting over cauliflower? And then there was that subtle mint flavor that I kept picking up in each bite. Yum!

My only complaint about these two dishes is that they took my attention away from the beer. The Wildey Belgian Wheat that Tom selected went well with the food, but I was too fixated on the gnocchi and cauliflower to give it much attention. The Szechuan peppercorn infused, barrel aged version of the Wildey was a little more intriguing. While I enjoyed the peppery notes, there was something in the aftertaste that I didn’t like. The food was the big winner in round two. Loved it!

LimpD: Like we needed another plate, but sure let’s add two more. The gnocchi were fantastic, but the cauliflower… Who asks for seconds of cauliflower? Wow, just wow! My better half, after 20 years of marriage (Did I just say 20 years??? Unbelievable. It’s a miracle she hasn’t killed me yet. I know I’ve said this many times, but how the hell am I her “happily ever after”?), couldn’t believe that I ate any cauliflower, let alone went back for more. The Wildey, while not a favorite style of mine, was a great pairing with both plates. I found the version with the Szechuan peppercorns to be a little out of my wheelhouse; well-crafted for sure, but a little too funky for my more pedestrian tastes.

Of course, now that we’re three plates and four beers in, what I could have really used was a timeout. I believe it was at this point that I noticed the sacks of malt stacked next to our table and thought about a quick nap. But then, my brief thought of slumber was disrupted by more food and beer as out came two pizzas and two more beers. So, with a little loosening of the belt, I put off my rest and vowed to fight this meal “to the pain”.

That first pizza, the Alma, with thin crust and cream, pecorino, mozzarella, shaved asparagus and smoked ham toppings was really good. Had we not just had a similarly flavored gnocchi dish, this pie would have been a real standout.

The second pie, the Penelope, with homemade pepperoni, dollops of ricotta, and basil pesto over a red gravy made from San Marzano tomatoes sourced from a farm in California, was truly exceptional. You were kind enough to send me home with the leftovers and while my better half enjoyed the Alma, she said the Penelope was a little slice of heaven. As a further aside, The Urchins were none too pleased that Benita had demolished what was left over.

To complement the pizza, samples of the Super Villain (a New England style IPA with oats & milk sugar) and the Rye Bread (a Rye IPA) came our way. I thought that the Super Villain was a nice, creamy beer. It had just enough hops without turning in to a hop bomb, and maintained that bit of sharpness into the finish. I was a little fearful of the Rye Bread as I’ve found that some rye beers are a bit of one note with so much rye crammed into the formula that it becomes a rye bomb. That wasn’t the case here. I found the Rye Bread to have a sharper taste than the Super Villain, but in a good way, with more crispness and a refreshing finish.

So, three courses and six beers in and I was starting to feel like we were in a prize fight. Thoughts?

G-LO: Funny that you say prize fight. I’ve always likened these multi-round dinner sessions to be exactly that. In my (battered and bruised?) mind, there are two ways to go about these types of extended eating and drinking sessions. You can be like Mike Tyson and go for the early round knockout, which is what would have happened if I completely devoured the first two rounds (of course, I would  be the one kissing the canvas as I knock my own self out after filling up too fast), or you can go the Muhammed Ali route and rope-a-dope this meal into submission (which is really just prolonging the inevitable, i.e. I’ll eventually get really full and wish that someone would have taken me out in the first round). What are we talking about again??? Oh yeah! Round three of this outrageously good meal…

I concur with your pizza assessment. The Alma was superb, but a bit of a repeat thanks to those delicious gnocchi from round two. I really liked it and thought all of the flavors played nicely together, but it felt a little heavy when compared to how it tasted with the gnocchi. As you said, if we didn’t just have the gnocchi, my opinion would probably be a bit different. Also, the toppings kind of weighed down the crust (super tasty and quite yeasty with lots of big air bubbles), making it less crisp than I would have liked.

The Penelope pizza was more my speed. Loved the salty meat, tomato sauce, pesto, and mozzarella combination, and those dollops of cool ricotta took this whole thing to the next level as it added an extra layer of texture and flavor to the pizza. I think I also preferred this pizza because it came out hotter and crisper than the Alma. I totally regret that I let you take the leftovers home. I would have enjoyed having it for dinner on Friday night.

As far as the beer pairings go, this round was more to my liking. I haven’t had much in the way of New England style IPAs. Actually, Super Villain may be my first time trying this style. I thought this beer was super fun with lots of citrus and mildly bitter hops. I particularly enjoyed the creaminess of this beer which helped to balance the big flavors that were going on with the Penelope pizza. Rye Bread was really good too and I like how it went with the yeasty and slightly sour pizza dough. I believe that this is my third time trying Rye Bread. It has yet to disappoint.

Going back to your prize fighting metaphor, at this point I was feeling like Rocky Balboa. Bloody, swollen eye that won’t open. A little light headed (concussed perhaps?). Legs that felt like jelly. I was ready to throw in the towel, but then those two desserts (a super-rich looking chocolate torte and a bread pudding with toasted coconut) came out with the Milk Box (an oatmeal milk stout) and the Tropic Thunder (a coconut chili porter) and all I kept thinking was, “Cut me, Mick! I’m gonna be somebody. I’m a contender!”. The referee rang the bell, and I went in swinging…

While the Oatmeal Milk Stout and chocolate torte were really good, the Coconut Chili Porter and bread pudding combo was truly spectacular! Much like most gnocchi that I’ve had, bread pudding is usually very heavy and not something I would enjoy after a seriously substantial meal like this. This might have been one of the best bread puddings that I’ve ever had. I believe Tom Ravelli said that it was made with brioche, so that really helped to lighten this dessert. It was so airy and flavorful that I really had to hold back, or you would have never been able to get a taste. And it went so well with that Porter!

The chocolate torte was simply too rich of an ending for this meal, so I limited myself to just one bite. Our youngest Urchins (the 10 and soon to be 10 year olds) would have been all over that dessert (my 10 year old is a bona fide chocoholic!). They would have also been all over our beers, but that’s a story for a different post. Let me just say that I was in a world of hurt after that last bite of bread pudding. Definitely a “to the pain” moment, but as John Mellencamp once sang, it also “hurt so good”…

You looked like you’d gone a few rounds with Iron Mike as well, or was that just your usual facial expression?

LimpD: Let me just say that while I appreciated the final course, it was dangerously close to being a knockout punch. The chocolate torte was like a brick of fudge. Oh, so good! And the Milk Box was a wheelhouse beer for me. But you are so right about the bread pudding. Usually, this is one of those faux desserts that make you look for pudding but only find some mushy, overly cinnamoned lump of bread. Urban Village took it in an entirely different direction. The bread pudding was so light and the candied walnuts, apple cider and crème anglaise were so complementary. I’m with you, hands down, one of the best bread puddings that I’ve ever had. And the Tropic Thunder went right along with it as well. The sweetness of the bread pudding and the earthiness and spiciness of the coconut and chilis in the beer  created a truly unique flavor experience. What a perfect ending to a ridiculously generous night out!

Mercifully, the final bell sounded, and the prize fight was over. Then, after a quick round of Quizzo, we were taken in the back to see the on-site brewing process. I was impressed with the excellent use of a relatively compact space and the technology that goes into the brewing process. I had no idea how efficient it is to make anything but a lager (ale can be ready in 12 days, versus 40 days for a lager). No wonder most brew pubs focus on stouts, wheats and IPAs. I thought it was interesting that while the folks at Urban Village recognize that they’re just about out of space, they have no desire to use the excess capacity of another producer and become a “gypsy brewer”. Quality is extremely important to them, so if they can’t ensure quality control over the brewing process, they just won’t do it.

That walking and talking tour of the brewery really helped the post meal pain to subside. Any final thoughts before we wrap this up?

G-LO: I think you summed up our little brewery tour with Tom quite nicely. As you said, the folks at Urban Brewing are focused on quality (as opposed to quantity) and I really respect that. Tom was an excellent host, and in addition to hooking us up with some delicious food and beer pairings, I thought it was really nice of him to spend a good bit of time chatting with us about all that we ate and drank, and for taking us on that behind the scenes tour. This was a super fun night! I definitely plan on going back again very very soon. Perhaps a Boozedancing outing with the wives is in order! Me thinks they would really enjoy it.

Are we done here?

LimpD: All that’s left is a huge thank you to Tom Ravelli for treating us to this fabulously filling meal at Urban Village Brewing Company, and also to Kelsea of Food Shelter PR for arranging this great night out!

One last thing…

What’s the real difference between a growler and a crowler? I’m confused!

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