NY Craft Beer Brewer’s Bash at Eleven Madison Park, A Better-Late-Than-Never Recap

by Jason Roth on October 10, 2010

Four hours of craft beer on a Sunday afternoon, two live bands, a cask tasting hosted by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, beer cocktails, and endless food from Chef Daniel Humm. All that booze, and nobody even got topless. Had they done so, I could have definitely declared the 3rd Annual NY Craft Beer Week’s closing party the beer event to end all beer events.

The common man's four-star joint.

I will freely admit: I had high hopes. My wife and I ate at Eleven Madison Park the week after Frank Bruni of the NY Times awarded it four stars. As good as it was to earn the stars, the staff was probably floating on air and presumably even better than usual. The service was incredible, the meal was one of our best, and the space that is the high-ceilinged Eleven Madison Park dining room was magnificent. And, so, they’re going to throw a craft beer party in this place? Holy shit.

Fried chicken, cask ale, and foie gras? I've come to the right goddamn place.

If you ever find yourself capable of throwing a party at Eleven Madison Park, I say invite me and go for it. Most likely, the number of attendees was below what they were hoping, but that only meant minuscule lines for food, no lines for beer, and a place to sit outside, if you wanted to hang out and listen to the kick-ass bluegrass. (Inside, it was a competent blues band.)

Hey guys, everybody's up here with Garrett Oliver.

Reps from various NY state breweries were set up throughout the space, with a couple outside, three more inside, and a mixed selection of bottles on ice free for the pouring. Service would have to be declared perfect. Waits were minimal to nonexistent, and both the brewery reps and the Eleven Madison Park staff were friendly and attentive. Two men tended bar, serving classic cocktails with a twist (meaning beer).

Beer cocktails that may or may not ever again see the light of a Sunday afternoon.

We, of course, tried everything. At least once. The beer couldn’t have been better, and the cocktails were as solid as when we had sampled the beerless versions last year.

Porter old fashioned and pale ale swizzle. And more bottles of bitters than an untrained schlub like myself would know what to do with.

Upstairs, the head honcho for brewing at Brooklyn Brewery, Garrett Oliver, gave an informal talk about his foray into beer as a film major (that makes two of us), and told us about the two cask offerings Brooklyn had provided. One was a cask version of their Pennant Ale, a beer I can’t say I had been super-enthusiastic about in the past. From the cask, though, it reminded me of that delicious stuff I’ve been served in British pubs: a real bitter, albeit a mild one. The other, if I were a big stout fan, might have been the one to write home about, the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, flavored with cocoa nibs. When Oliver described it as “chocolaty”, he meant it literally. I liked the mild carbonation that resulted from the cask conditioning.

Squeeze it all on the plate. There's only infinite more left for the taking.

The food was, well, beer food made by a four-star chef. Since I visited Kansas City this year, let me be an anal bastard and say the beans weren’t cooked enough, but their flavor was great and so was that of everything else. Can you ruin pork belly? I believe so, but it didn’t happen on this day.

Pickled radish and zucchini, costarring with fried chicken and onions.

Now, I’m trying to remember. Why was it again that I don’t eat fried chicken more often? Probably because the mere thought of planning to obtain it, within, say, three hours of your trip to the gym, is coke-head-like behavior and you usually save food like this for when planning is the furthest thing from your mind. I.e., after the night of craft beer rather than during it. The good news is, you can enjoy beer grub like this better before 2:00 AM rolls around, and even more so when you order it outside of a KFC (Kennedy Fried Chicken). (Forgive the tangent: I wish I could remember the comedian who said of this perennial inner-city eatery, “You know why they call it Kennedy Fried Chicken, right? Because when you go there, you get assassinated.”)

The point is, Chef Daniel Humm and staff know how to make fried chicken. The chicken (and onions) were brought out to the servers regularly, but you still need to be impressed at how tender, and crispy, it remained. The surprise, for me, was the pickled radish. There were a variety of pickled vegetables, including carrots and zucchini, but my favorite was the radish. The usual bitterness of the radish was tempered by the sweetness and tartness of the pickling juices, and made a great accompaniment to, well, everything else that was served.

Nothing beats a PB&J macaron for dessert. Except for more foie gras.

Right next to the fried chicken station was a woman serving from a big-ass vat (I believe “big-ass terrine” is the proper terminology) of foie gras. How many big-ass vats made an appearance, I’m not sure, but I believe at least two. As a guest, your only obligation was to name how many pieces of bread with foie gras you wished to have at a time. Clearly, they had me at “foie”. Nevertheless, and though it pains me to say this, I found the foie gras to be the least successful pairing with beer. And believe me, I paired it with beer up the yin yang. Still, this is foie gras we’re talking about, and I could have eaten it with sugar water sucked out of a wax soda bottle and been happy about it. The macarons, incidentally, we’re freakin’ unbelievable. (Though to be honest, my palette only remembers the peanut butter and jelly version.)

Wow.

I wouldn’t have even picked up the lollipop dessert had I not been with a chocolate aficionado. By that, of course, I mean a woman. In this case, my wife. A bite into this white-chocolate (hey, this isn’t even really chocolate…) masterpiece yielded a soft, creamy interior that could easily satisfy even an ice cream fan like yours truly. The fact that it lasted only two bites max, seemed to turn the average unsuspecting consumer into a vulture on acid, immediately hunting down the next available stick. This thing was this good.

A little outdoor bluegrass (and more beer).

I was so focused on beer and food that I failed to recognize what was happening outside. The inside blues band was good, but the outside bluegrass group was perfect. Every foot was tapping. And if it wasn’t, it was because either the owner of the foot had too damn much craft beer, too little of it, or he just shouldn’t have been anywhere near a craft beer party to begin with.

This was a good party. It was a good $125.00 party, but it was a good party. If it should happen again, I will be there, either in body or spirit, but preferably, in both.

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