Kayla Kiley is the communications & digital manager at Discover Kalamazoo. She loves adventures, chapstick, unicorns, the ‘90s board game “Dream Phone,” and having lots of fun that is funny.
I have to admit: I’m a newbie to the craft beer scene. It was only last year that I started paying attention to the difference between IPAs and Stouts. But one thing is for certain: I sure do love beer.
Now, I happen to be on my second-annual, strict, 21-day detox, which excludes from my diet all things I love: Chocolate, pizza, and – of course – alcohol, among others.
But after looking at Zazios’ “Beer Dinner” with Arcadia Brewing Co. for the millionth time, I could no longer resist it. In last-minute-decision mode, I called Zazios a few hours before the event began, and low-and-behold Zazios had room at the Chef’s Table! Yes, I ditched my detox for the night. And boy, was it worth it.
So, here I am – a few minutes early, which is in part because Zazios is just the type of place you want to hang out. It’s swanky and brightly-colored, yet low lit and subtly/appropriately seductive.
The Chef’s Table sits in the middle of the restaurant. It’s visible to the surrounding diners, yet tucked into the left side of the dining room. Dinners happen around you, people are laughing, you can see the TV at the bar (MSU vs. UofM game anyone?) – but this is no ordinary dining experience.
With stadium-style seating and a few-dozen people watching every move of Chef Sean Kelly of Arcadia Brewing Co., we’re in the middle of what feels like a show on The Food Network. The chef works his magic on the large cooking surface in front of us while cameras zoom-in to show live video on the monitors hanging above.
During “the show,” I chow down on sesame crackers and Italian bread in front of me – complete with hummus and olive tapenade. The appetizer is paired with Arcadia’s Nut Brown Ale, which was so buttery and smooth! My first brew in two weeks! I can hardly contain myself.
Next, as Chef Kelly shows us how to make candied walnuts for the “Nut & Berry Salad,” another beer appears! The “XV.” Immediately, I taste cherry with a hint of something deeper. Turns out, the beer was aged in bourbon barrels for six months with tart Michigan cherries and hibiscus petals. I’m not one to pride myself on my taste buds, but I was close!
I have to mention that I’m a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats seafood), so half of my beers aren’t picked to pair exactly with my courses. But my food is only a slight variation of the original menu.
Up next is the “Shipwrek Porter,” which I have with striped sea bass (others enjoy seared beef tenderloin) topped with capers, shaved parmesan, and cracked pepper. I’m not usually a fan of porters, but this 12%-alcohol-level brew is robust yet subtle. The beer-info card at my table said: It’s aged for nearly two years in 22-year-old Kentucky Bourbon oak barrels and thus has notes of vanilla, brown sugar, and spice. But what most stands out to me is this beer’s milky, coffee flavor. I’m not a coffee fan. This isn’t my style.
After one sip, the “Hop Rocket” is one of my favorites. I don’t immediately pick up the grapefruit, lemon peel, spruce, earthy mushrooms, and dew-covered grass… but I sure notice that it’s hoppy! It also has a warmth to it – with notes of toffee.
Hop Rocket is likely a beer that’s good anytime, and it’s definitely nice with my “Cuban ‘Cigar’ Sandwich” (shrimp or pulled pork wrapped in collard greens with a spicy roasted red pepper sauce)!
The evening wraps up with the last pairing: Cherry Crumble with “15,” a brown-ale anniversary beer aged in cabernet barrels with tart Michigan cherries and hibiscus petals. It’s like drinking tart cherry nectar. Mmmmm!