As our confidently charismatic (and beautiful!) hostess smiled about how “the rye grain is smoked prior to fermentation,”
I pictured cartoonish curly-tails of smoke teasing my nose, remnants of an imaginary summer pit roast. With her head so charmingly tilted to the side, she asked: “How do you like that, Daddy?”
We were attending the “Brewers’ Banquet” with friends at the up and coming “Farmhouse,” where our oldest daughter, Aislyn, is currently ascending the hospitality ladder. On this day, she happily guided us through 28 locally crafted beers over six hours on the second day of our weekend visit, er, research tour.
Although one needs no excuse to visit the great city of Chicago, this guy has more reasons than most: I’m able to visit with transplanted daughters Aislyn and Tara while also exploring unique and trending restaurants for ideas and inspiration. And, of course, the obvious benefit of numbing transcendence, born of such mad sampling — as we celebrated yet another local darling: da beer.
In Chi-Town, these two great loves frequently merge. (OK, four if you include pork and beer!) The fact that our daughters are, well, my daughters, our dining endeavors rival Disney visits of years gone by — one captivating “wow” after another. Back in the day, all three of my daughters slurped ocean-side steamers and braved freshly shucked oysters around the same time each was learning to “sound it out.” Years later, after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, Aislyn has pursued a career in … the restaurant industry. (Don’t get me started!) She has since become a beloved staff leader and budding cicerone (beer’s equivalent to a sommelier).
The brewers’ event was inspired by Farmhouse’s dynamic co-owner Ferdia Doherty, and featured dozens of locally imagined beers and their nine brewers. As old and new networked heartily, we were welcomed to delight in all the cheery chemistry. Naturally, daughter #1 enhanced our experience by explaining the characteristics of each guest brewer and beer. Recite the capitals? U.S. presidents? Please. My “little dreamer” can narrate with aplomb the differences between a saison style vs. a Märzen ale, their alcohol content and whether “notes of burnt orange peel” or “overripe fig” confound your palate! (OK, I just wiped away a tear.)
Not to be outdone in pursuits of the palate (or anything), daughter #2, Tara, trail-blazed our dining destinations before and after our Sunday brew-a-thon. As our first to resettle in the Midwest, Tara tackles a double major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago while also (ahem) holding down a director’s position at SAIC’s Student Union Galleries. On the side, she dabbles in discovering hidden jewels.
Visiting our daughters anywhere would be a thrill. We fly each time as excited as they were back then — opening fanciful packages on Christmas morning. That they live in Chicago? SCORE for the old man! They (we!) delight in finding and supporting privately owned, artisan-driven restaurant havens — where ethics and love compel craft. On the first night (as Aislyn worked) we visited the obscure, “Belgian-inspired” Leopold — basking in pork liver-pistachio pâté, silken house-made pierogi, and a soulful duck-meets-pork-and-beans cassoulet — before marching to Revolution Brewing to wash down all that goodness with local creations such as Iron Fist, Morning Wood and Very Mad Cow, which is “aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months” (though it seemed more like 11 years!). At 9.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), it was tough to determine which was “more roasted” — me or the beer?! It would have been a fitting finish to the night had Aislyn not been “just clocking out” at 1 a.m., only a short “nightcap” cab ride away.
Two days later, still swooning from all this libation exploration, our final destination once again was off the beaten path. It didn’t take long to agree universally that chef-owned and emerging “Rootstock” rivaled any place we have ever loved, at half the price! Approaching a bittersweet exhaustion, we sampled whipped pork renderings (or was it butter?) on house-made pumpernickel from the charcuterie platter, I sat silently alarmed by family talk of building a third restaurant in our favorite city of the moment, certain that such an endeavor would threaten these beloved journeys. As the check arrived, senior-adventurer-Mama resisted “on the run” Tara from hoofing it home (“Too dangerous.”). Amused, I reached for the last sip of my brilliant, toasty Brooklyn Porter — recommended by Aislyn — an excellent complement to the complimentary bacon-toffee dessert, a final smoky-sweet ending to a hearty, heart-warming weekend.
Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, own Cobblestones of Lowell and moonstones, in Chelmsford, MA. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories that he will share with us regularly.