Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Victory Night at Chap's Taproom Offers Familiar Highs and Mysterious Lows

A group of revelers enjoy a fine night at Chap's Taproom.
Beer. Food.

These are two things that will always go well together. Such is the genius behind the beer dinners being offered periodically (and hopefully increasingly often) by Chap's Taproom. The latest featured beer from perhaps Pennsylvania's most vaunted microbrewery, Victory Brewing Company. With a fish as big as this one - and a menu big on both established favorites and less household-namey surprises - you would think success would be a no-brainer. However, on this night, I learned that not only can Victory churn out great beer with the best of them, they are also capable of sending out the occasional dud.

Before we get into the beer and food - you know, the important stuff - let's take care of a few housekeeping items. The night began with an introduction from a regional sales guy. I believe his name was Andy (nice as he was, I could be wrong). He jumped on a mic and told the assembled crowd about Victory, their plans for expansion, their new status as Pattison Avenue mainstays, etc. It was fine, but really there are two things wrong with the series of sentences I just typed. First, never send a salesman to speak at a beer dinner. I don't want to feel like the night is a sales pitch. Send the guy who sweeps up the hop dust if you have to, but don't send a guy who knows more about last quarter's revenue shortages than the production of a fine barleywine. Second, it is my suggestion to Chap's that they unplug the mic for the next beer dinner. Their sound system is somewhat limited (the guy's schpiel was emerging from one large amp that created frequent feedback) and the noise from the bar often obscures what is coming out of the mic. This is OK. A great bar should never feel bad about loud patrons. I'm just saying, forgo the group speech and have the host go table-to-table to discuss the night's offerings, which Andy (if that is his name) did later that night.

Alright, enough of that. Let's move on to the beverages and the sundry foodstuffs: The first beer of the night would go on to be my favorite. Of course, I sort of knew this going in because I've had it and thought it tremendous: Headwaters Pale Ale. It's a very crisp and hoppy beer, one that gives off a terrific earthy quality. It features a color that is somewhere in the middle of golden and amber, and has a wonderful kick of citrus in the conclusion. Being that it was the opening beer, the Headwaters was paired with a cheese sampling that I'm sure was swell, but I did not try any of it. This is no offense to the cheese Chap's put out there for consumption. I just tend not to eat too much cheese unless it's American, squeezed between two grilled pieces of bread, and accompanied by a tangy tomato soup.

The second beer was one that I was incredibly excited for, mostly because I had never had it before, but also because it sounds like something that had to be really stellar. Braumeister Pils Tettnang! How could you go wrong with this one? I'm seeing a pilsner made by a 90-year-old Chinese "brew master" named Tettnang from a recipe left over from the Han Dynasty or something! When you think about how cool that sounds, what you actually got was a bit of a let down. I tasted something a little minty. Something that tasted like banana? But the scent was nonexistent and overall the flavor low. And then there is the matter of sequencing. If I was arranging the menu, I put this baby first. Serve it with the Brie. No way I allow something this light to follow a beer as vibrant as the lovely Headwaters. The course that accompanied it was a grilled chicken flatbread. On paper, that sounds nice, but it did come with a bunch of ingredients that I would choose not to eat if given free run of a menu. Spinach. Eggplant. Mushroom. Hummus. While my wife has done a wonderful job of expanding my palette (thanks, Hon!), these ingredients are not personal favorites. Now, the bread had a delicious garlic and olive oil feel and a fine texture and many of my gripes could be chalked up to personal taste, but I must also say that for a piece that was billed as a "grilled chicken" flatbread, it was a little light on the poultry.


Going to interrupt this for a minute to say, "Jesus, the Sixers suck!" Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Third in the lineup for the night was that most reliable of Victory beers - although Prima Pils is close and Golden Monkey wins on the potency tip - Hop Devil. What can be said about this one at this point that has not been covered more eloquently by others? It's simply a treasure of an East Coast IPA. While it won't blow you away with citrusy, contrasting flavors like Cali Indias, it packs a serious hop wallop (see what I did there?) in both scent and sip. It was also accompanied by the best food dish of the night. I've always found that, of all their food choices, Chap's does their sandwiches the best and the BBQ short rib sliders they served on this night were no exception. The beef was soaked in a sugary, molasses-like (but not too much) sauce and they served two for the course. At first, I thought perhaps the servings were a little light on the incredible sauce, but they were nice enough to leave out extras. On my second go-round with these sandwiches, I got one that was even more to my liking. As the last bits of barbecue sauce went dripping to my second empty plate, I found myself making a mental note: "See if this is on the menu next time you stop in."

One of my dinner companions on this night couldn't stop talking about the fourth beer. He said he went out of his way to pick it up any time he saw it out on the town. Apparently, he wasn't joking. Because on this night, he somehow figured out a way to finagle not one, but two glasses of Mad King Weiss. Luckily, we didn't get thrown the f*ck out for his unmitigated greed. The wheat beer had a significant Belgian spicing and a fragrant scent. It was a more subtle Golden Monkey. Would I choose it over Golden Monkey? Well, no. But I am not always the biggest fan of subtlety. Served with the beer was two thick blackened fish tacos. Quite frankly, I was a little scared by this course for two reasons. First, the last time I had fish tacos, I got a slight case of mercury poisoning (I will be nice and not skewer the establishment that served me these swimmers in this review) and second, it didn't seem like an incredibly "Chap's" food item. But I have to say they got the fish tacos on the money. Every element was pretty much nailed. The tilapia itself was thick not flimsy and featured a perfect amount of blackening. The hard taco, which I feared would fall apart, leaving me with a crumbly, sloppy mess, was solid and held up to repetitive chomping. Even the sauce, which I thought was a little light on spice on the surface, rallied with a considerable kick. The cilantro sour cream and pico de gallo made for nice elements that helped tie the whole piece together, like Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski's rug.

The tacos served as an awesome set-up man, but unfortunately I would have to say that the closer on this evening, while certainly not blowing the game, had a bit of a rocky outing. The German maibock St. Boisterous was a nice tone-down beer, nothing more. Now, on a night when you will eventually have to drive home (after one more Headwaters and another beer I'm forgetting at this time), I suppose a light closer is fine, but this beer didn't do it for me. There were ample malts and a slight smokiness, but even at 7.3% ABV, it felt light for this Irishman. Too subtle. Too limited in flavor. Not a fan. And, in case I have not yet blown my Chap's VIP status with that, I might as well go for broke, right? I wasn't gaga over the pork loin medallions over egg noodles wrap-up. While the pasta was well prepared, the creamy sauce was a little bland and in need of seasoning. Plus, it had mushrooms! Sure, Chap's is not in possession of my meal specifications, nor would they be obligated to stick to them if they had the list, but I simply can't abide all those mushrooms. I hate their taste and I hate their slimy texture. Yuk! (Note: I have had them in brownies though and the effect was splendiferous.) The pork medallions were very good though, even if I do have in my notes that the pork pieces were a little too big (I guess I was feeling too lazy to go pick up a knife).

All in all, the night was another success. I left the establishment excited for the next time they announce a beer dinner (Yard's anyone?). But then again this should not be a shocker. After all, I am a big fan of beer and food.

The Pizza Project
Just a nibble: http://twitter.com/ThePizzaProject
Single slice: http://www.facebook.com/ThePizzaProject
The full pie: http://thepizzaproject.blogspot.com/

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