Critic yells ‘beer me’ as suds go upscale

Mussel soup
Bistro New Albany and New Albanian Brewing Co. teamed up for an “Extreme Belgian” dinner that paired Belgian beers with various dishes, such as this succulent mussel soup. Photos by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Extreme Belgian at Bistro New Albany; CarlyRae’s)

If you don’t think there’s any class distinction between wine and beer, you might consider whether you’ve even seen a drunk slouch into a bar and yell, “Wine me!” Beer, let’s face it, owns a downscale, blue-collar image that contrasts with wine’s perceived position as the drink the beautiful people sip.

But need this be so? In an age when artisanal brewpubs and microbreweries abound and the term “quality American beer” is no longer an oxymoron, it’s arguable that beer – fine, crafted beer made in a wide variety of styles – deserves as much connoisseurish attention as wine enthusiasts are accustomed to lavishing on their grape juice.

Why don’t more fine restaurants feature a quality beer list, with food-pairing recommendations, to match the attention they devote to their vino? Shouldn’t fancy sommeliers wear a silver-plated church key around their necks to go with the fancy tastevin tasting cup? And why do food critics so rarely ask these questions?

Beer expert Roger A. Baylor, publican of New Albany’s fine Rich O’s and New Albanian Brewing Co., who frequently shares space on this page with his beer column, is a local leader in this intense if quixotic quest. In addition to his brewing and his broadsides, Baylor frequently brings fine beer to the public with tasting dinners at local eateries.

It was my pleasure to catch up with Roger last week for a special “Extreme Belgian” dinner at Bistro New Albany, another Southern Indiana jewel that delivers food, mood and service fully competitive with Louisville’s restaurant rows … plus a stellar beer list. In an all-Belgian bill of fare, Chef David Clancy presented six splendid courses with exotic Belgian beers chosen to match.

Since the dishes aren’t on the Bistro’s regular menu, I won’t take up space with the Belgian dish names. Suffice to say that every pairing showed flavor synergy fully up to the fabled marriage of food with wine.

Belgian cheeses Slow-roasted rabbit
More memorable Belgian dishes at Bistro New Albany: Four Belgian cheeses (left) and slow-roasted rabbit with Flemish-style cabbage and parsleyed new potatoes. Photos by Robin Garr.

Strong Belgian cheeses (including the classic Limburger) gained mellow complexity in partnership with DeuS Brut des Flanders, a sparkling beer made by the traditional champagne process. A delicious salty-tangy mussel soup added a dimension with an amber, sour, oak-aged, Belgian-style beer from Italy, Panil Barriquee. Urthel Hop It, a Dutch brew in the style of a strong India Pale Ale, met its flavor match in buttermilk soup with apples; Ommegang Hennepin Belgian-style beer from Cooperstown, N.Y., complemented a cold scallop salad on bitter Belgian endive, and Drie Fonteinen Shaerbeekse Kriek, a dry, tangy wild-yeast lambic beer flavored with dark cherries, helped me put aside any qualms about chowing down on roasted bunny rabbit.

A rich, malty Allagash Musset, a Scottish ale in the Belgian style from a brewery in Maine, went remarkably well with a Belgian sugar tart; and two powerful after-dinner beers – Avery “The Reverend” from Boulder, Colo., and Belgium’s own Trappistes Rochefort 8 – made as smooth and warming a finish as a snifter of Cognac.

Beer me. Please.

Bistro New Albany
148 E. Market St.
New Albany, Ind.
(812) 949-5227

Beer us again, and much more, at CarlyRae’s

Speaking of beer, Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondent GREG GAPSIS reports that CarlyRae’s, an amiable recent arrival in Old Louisville, boasts a very fine beer list – including such goodies as Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale from Michigan on tap – along with an extensive bill of fare that offers something for just about everyone.

Here’s Greg’s report:

A lot goes into a making a dining experience so memorable that you’ll want to come back for more. Food is always the first attraction, but the setting and feel of a place also helps bookmark our experience on a scale that ranges from dining in elegance to just chowing down on some grub.

A winning restaurant will strike a chord that defines its niche so clearly that it leaps to mind when we consider dining out. Now comes CarlyRae’s in Old Louisville, staking its claim to the “upscale casual” niche.

This old red-brick building, once a neighborhood market, has housed a series of eateries in recent years, from the original Mai’s Thai through the Corner Market and Cafe, Chef’s Table and Leander’s. All were short-lived.

New management seems intent on staying a while, plowing a reported $270,000 into renovations that have upgraded the kitchen and made the place more comfortable, adding a new “Library” room with plush leather sofas and easy chairs arranged around low coffee tables facing a fireplace and widescreen television.

In what may be the longest “soft opening” in local history, CarlyRae’s has been open since the first of the year but delayed its official grand opening until March 15. With all that practice under its belt, the chefs are putting out some good food. So much of it, in fact, that you might feel a little overwhelmed when they hand you a fistful of menus upon arrival: lunch, dinner or weekend brunch menu, beer and wine lists and a bar menu with meal-size portions of such munchies as chicken wings, loaded nachos, pizza wraps, chicken and a popular fish sandwich, mostly $6 or $7.

The lunch menu continues the theme, adding an array of appetizers big enough to share or serve as a light meal. A couple of lunch-time visits left us with a favorable impression soured by only an occasional wrong note.

The BLT Bruschetta ($6.99) delivered a plate full of bite-sized baguette slices drizzled with olive oil, seasonings and healthy pieces of chopped tomato and bacon under melted provolone.

For the same price, the sourdough bread bowl filled with spinach artichoke dip and served with nachos pleased my table mates with its creamy texture and large chunks of artichoke, although I thought a little more garlic and minced onion would bring it alive.

CarlyRae’s reaches out to vegetarians with plenty of meatless appetizers and salads, a veggie pasta dish and sandwiches.

Large, steaming bowls of soup are a bargain at $5 ($3 for a cup). Home-style chicken noodle soup took the chill off a cold day. Rich chicken broth was just salty enough to grab your attention, with large pieces of chicken, vegetables and soft dumpling noodles.

A bowl of white chili with chicken, with a generous dollop of sour cream and garnished with shredded cheese, made a welcoming full meal, flawed by an excess of cumin that seemed to overwhelm its flavor.
Sandwich selections are $8 or $9. We tried three favorites and found the presentation consistently great, the servings large and the flavors good.

My friend David said the Hot Brown boasted good texture in its cheese sauce, crisp bacon, well-cooked turkey and bread that was not soggy. It seemed almost too large for one, but he made short work of it.
The meatball hoagie featured coarse-textured, well-cooked, country-style meatballs covered with good marinara sauce on a toasted Italian roll.

The tilapia filet was a treat. Fresh, not frozen, it was lightly battered, fried and served with a generous slice of tomato and lettuce on toasted rye. It came with fine tartar sauce, but lemon and a little hot sauce was good enough for me.

CarlyRae’s boasts an impressive beer selection in bottle and on tap, plus a short, reasonably priced wine list focused on mass-market brands.

Speaking of all those menus, the dinner bill of fare offers more substantial dishes, including a 16-ounce, bone-in ribeye, bacon-wrapped scallops, pork chops, baby back ribs and Cajun chicken. The weekend brunch menu includes fried chicken and waffles, omelets with cheese grits and a Monte Cristo sandwich.

Can CarlyRae’s deliver reliable quality with such a broad selection? Early signs are good, and this tenant in a high-turnover eatery space may be here to stay.

103 W. Oak St.


Sake me at Asiatique
Asiatique’s popular Third Thirsday Toast will feature a sake tasting in its monthly outing on Thursday, March 15, at 6 p.m. Sample six new sakes with appetizers, affordably priced at $25 per person. Kampai! Asiatique is at 1767 Bardstown Road. Call 451-2749 for more info.