KC Ale Trail Beer Dinner with Chef Craig Howard at Green Dirt Farm

KC Ale Trail Beer Dinner with Chef Craig Howard at Green Dirt Farm

table setting 1

pre dinner table setting


Green Dirt Farm hosted a KC Ale Trail beer dinner on October 31st with Chef Craig Howard of Howard’s Grocery, Cafe and Catering, and myself as guest speaker. ReGina Cruse of Green Dirt Farm, Craig and I worked together to plan this end of harvest event and cross-promote the farm’s cheeses, my book, local breweries and beer, and Craig’s new cafe.

The evening turned out to be beautiful with a crisp chill in the air and clear skies. The barn was heated and cozy and the family-style dining table was set. Musical duo Victor and Penny arrived and set up to perform acoustic sets before and after the beer dinner. Their charming sound created a perfect relaxing backdrop for the event.


Victor and Penny 3

Craig Howard Allison Muller

Craig Howard and Allison Muller.


Craig and his assistant Allison Muller busied themselves setting up an outdoor kitchen to finish preparation of the four-course meal. Once all of the guests arrived and visited a small flock of sheep grazing nearby, the group settled at the table. After introductions and a welcome by farm owner Sarah Hoffmann, I shared some back story on the making of KC Ale Trail, why I wrote the book, and the “grueling” beer research behind the effort.


Pre dinner checking out sheep

Green Dirt Farm owner Sarah Hoffmann.

Green Dirt Farm owner Sarah Hoffmann.


Soon, we launched into the first course. Servers brought out plates of flatbread topped with Ruby cheese, pea shoots, carrots, and sweet potato. Ruby is a new cheese from the farm made of 100-percent cow’s milk. The cheese is buttery, tangy and floral. According to ReGina, it has been washed for the first two weeks of its life and then grows a beautiful powdery bloom. The cow’s milk is sourced from Jerry Miller and his family who live in Stanberry, Mo.

I chose to pair this dish with Boulevard Brewing’s Tank 7, a Farmhouse Ale style with a floral and citrus-y hops nose. The flavor begins with a soft, sweet maltiness and a brief finish of hops bitterness and citrus-y grapefruit. I felt the floral aroma of the beer would match the aroma and tanginess of the cheese while the malt would complement the flatbread.


Plating flatbread

Flatbread with Ruby Cheese 2

butternut squash soup


For the second course, Craig prepared a butternut squash soup that matched the spirit of the fall season. The soup was garnished with sauteed local greens, local bacon, pepitas, and fresh cheese from Green Dirt Farm. The cheese is soft, crumbly and mild-tasting. I decided on Free State Brewing’s Oktoberfest for this course, a seasonal beer with a solid balance of caramel notes from malts countered by a touch of hops bitterness on the finish. The pairing worked quite well, underscoring the seasonal nature of both food and drink that both farmers and brewers honor year-round.

Next, the main course of ground lamb burger on Farm to Market buns included Green Dirt Farm’s Prairie Tomme cheese, ale caramelized onions, eggplant bacon, pickles, and sides of marinated vegetables and crispy potato with preserved tomato. Craig Howard excels at using and preparing a variety of local and regional ingredients with different cooking techniques. This dish was an elevated play on pub fare – a burger with cheese and potatoes.

In that spirit, the light-bodied Pub Ale from Tallgrass Brewing made sense at a match-up. This lower-alcohol session beer was made for knocking back one or three with this type of food. Craig just turned up the creativity and flavors. This beer’s malt profile jumps out with caramel flavor. It was a popular pairing and course for guests that came from Dallas, Kansas City and outside of Lawrence and Blue Springs.



Craig Howard on grill

Lamb burger with Prairie Tomme cheese



Gradually, our bellies were getting full. We did save room for the dessert course of devil’s food cake loaded with Tuffet cheese and candied pecans, plus a drizzle of red currant sauce. This rich chocolate-laden cake and the dense cream cheese-like texture of the Tuffet needed a bold beer to anchor the pairing. Rather than a chocolate milk stout, I opted for Mother’s Brewing Winter Grind, a coffee stout that distinctly tastes like a strong, robust cup of joe. I’m glad I chose a coffee-infused beer rather than one with chocolate. The latter might have been too much for the cake.


Devils food cake with tuffet

Victor and Penny 2

Cheese pumpkins


I enjoyed chatting with the diverse group of people with different backgrounds, ages, and familiarity with local craft beer. We wound down the night with more music from Victor and Penny. Some guests loaded up on Green Dirt Farm’s cheeses to take home. The Royals were competing in Game 4 of the World Series against the NY Mets and would later win the match 5–3. Most fans in attendance at the dinner made haste to head home or somewhere to catch the game.

Overall, the dinner was a smashing success – a perfect union of local food, drink, and music. I was pleased to partner with and cross-promote a local farmer, brewers, and music act all in one setting. I left with a full belly but wish I could have stayed longer near a campfire, sipping on a seasonal beer and letting the last hours of Halloween slip by as the night grew dark and cold.

If able, we might set up a similar event in the the first or second quarter of 2016. It would be interesting to see how we can pair seasonal spring craft beers with sheep’s milk cheeses. The cheeses will have subtly different tastes and aroma from the terroir and diet of the sheep. Until then, it was time to head back to Kansas City on the Ale Trail.


KC Ale Trail Dinner at Tallgrass Tap House

KC Ale Trail Dinner at Tallgrass Tap House

Tallgrass Tap House in Manhattan, Kansas, hosted its first-ever beer pairing dinner on Friday, October 23rd. I was the featured speaker and discussed the making of KC Ale Trail and answered questions about local/regional breweries and beer styles. Each guest enjoyed a hearty four-course meal with beer pairings and a copy of the book. Here is a recap of the meal with beer pairing notes.

Above, the first course of Velvet Mussels featured sauteed mussels in a Velvet Rooster Belgian-style Tripel and smoked tomato broth with saffron and served with sourdough toast points. Paired with the Velvet Rooster from Tallgrass. As you’ll read below, each course incorporated one of the brewery’s beers in the actual cooking.

The second course of acorn squash bisque with toasted pepitas was paired with Pumpkin Slayer Porter, a seasonal brewery-only release with prominent pumpkin pie spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. We were the first guests ever at the Tap House to try this beer that was subsequently released to the public in the tasting room later that night.


Tallgrass acorn squash bisque

Tallgrass Bison short rib


Course three was a massive plate of bison short rib braised in Tallgrass Pub Ale demi-glace with gooseberries, served with pancetta asiago dauphinoise potatoes and roasted root medley. This course was paired with Pub Ale, the brewery’s malty mild English Brown Ale with caramel notes.

Finally, we wound down with a dessert of pumpkin pear bread pudding laced with pecans and a Great Hambino caramel sauce and creme anglaise. Great Hambino Porter was provided with this course. As a bonus fifth course, each guest received a flight of the brewery’s Subrosa Berliner Weisse with three additional flavored variations. A Berliner Weisse is a traditional German wheat beer style that is sour and often served with added fruit syrup to balance out the tartness. Tonight, we were served the unadulterated Weisse and versions with raspberry, blackberry and honey lavender sauces. All were delicious.


Tallgrass pumpkin pear bread pudding

Tallgrass Subrosa Berliner Weisee

Subrosa Berliner Weisse with flavored sauce variations.


Thanks to Tap House general manager Matt Ruhnke, chef Lance Gipson, and brewer Brandon Gunn for their help in organizing and co-hosting the event. Lance and Brandon each took turns discussing the courses and pairings. I was able to spend time chatting with the group overall and visiting each table for more conversation and questions. The meal and evening were great.


Matt Ruhnke, Chef Lance Gipson, and brewer Brandon Gunn.

Matt Ruhnke, Chef Lance Gipson, and brewer Brandon Gunn.


Brewer Brandon Gunn discusses each beer paired with a food course.

Brewer Brandon Gunn discusses each beer paired with a food course.


Tallgrass beer dinner group

Tallgrass beer dinner new friends


That evening, the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays that evening in Game 6 of the ALCS and advanced to the World Series. Our group was able to watch the game after the dinner on a large-screen TV. I whooped and howled and cheered as the Royals eeked out a 4–3 win. I could hardly sleep that night, eager to return to Kansas City.

If you ever find yourself in Manhattan, be sure to stop at the Tallgrass Tap House for some excellent beer and food.


Tiny Goats, East Bottoms, Kansas City

Tiny Goats, East Bottoms, Kansas City

Kansas City never ceases to amaze me. This past weekend’s sunny weather and clear blue skies made it irresistible to head outdoors and explore. I found myself driving to the East Bottoms, West Bottoms and downtown in search of old brewery buildings to photograph for my next book, Kansas City Brewing. While strolling around the East Bottoms, I came across these cute tiny goats feeding on hay and minding their own business. From time to time, I take a drive or walk to explore my hometown and find fresh sights and surprises. It makes me happy to discover or simply see a corner of the city I hadn’t noticed. Sometimes I come across new friends that like to eat too.

Baby goat 1

Baby goats 2

Columbus Park Ramen Shop

Columbus Park Ramen Shop

Columbus Park Ramen Shop opened this past week to the delight of Kansas City diners waiting for Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans’ new restaurant to open. The wait was worthwhile.

I won’t go into much detail since the ramen shop has only been open a few days. The compact space is minimalist out of necessity given that it is shoehorned next to sister restaurant Happy Gillis Cafe. The few furnishings and decor exhibit modern craftsmanship. Accents like a maneki-neko, or beckoning cat believed to be a good luck charm, and a J-pop soundtrack reference Japanese culture. This space isn’t meant to be a splashy setting worthy of a lifestyle magazine spread. Food and social interaction is the draw.

The atmosphere on a preview night with friends, neighbors and service industry people was upbeat and celebratory. Guests seemed pleased to eat a tasty bowl of ramen. And that ramen. It’s going to sustain diners all winter that crave a soul-uplifting pick-me-up.



Behind the curtain


I ordered Shoyu, a dish that begins with chicken and dashi broth and is layered with braised Amish chicken, marinated farm egg, pickled shiitake, scallon and yuzukoshō. The latter is a Japanese seasoning made from yuzu peel, salt and chili pepper and used as a condiment. The citrus accent and mild bite of pepper from the seasoning and bright acidic nip of the shiitake’s pickling provided needed counterbalance to the rich, soothing broth. The ramen noodles and broth, studded with bits of chicken, pickled halves of egg and scallion, is sheer comfort food delivered in spoon-fed bites and slurps.

The menu offers four versions of ramen. Given the preparation of the ingredients and dishes, plus the tight confines of the kitchen, don’t expect an expanded or regularly rotating menu. Instead, visit regularly and explore the textures, flavors and careful balance that each type of ramen offers. I intend to return often.

Master Distiller Tom Nichol in KC for J. Rieger and Co. Gin Debut

Master Distiller Tom Nichol in KC for J. Rieger and Co. Gin Debut

Master distiller Tom Nichol arrived in Kansas City this week for the debut of his gin made in collaboration with J. Rieger & Co. The East Bottoms-based distillery, co-founded by Ryan Maybee and Andy Rieger and led by head distiller Nathan Perry, enlisted the services and expertise of Nichol, who retired from Tanqueray in July, earlier this year to develop its new gin.

Nichol, Perry, Maybee and Rieger joined about 50 professionals in the bartending industry at Republica on the Country Club Plaza for a gin tasting and industry launch party hosted by JP Gilmore of Vintegrity Wine.


Andy Rieger, Tom Nichol, Nathan Perry, and Ryan Maybee.

Andy Rieger, Tom Nichol, Nathan Perry, and Ryan Maybee.


BotanicalsThe botanical recipe for the gin is deceptively simple, using juniper, licorice root, orange peel, angelica root and coriander. The ingredients were sourced from Europe to obtain the finest quality at no small expense. That costly decision was a price to pay to attain the level of quality that Nichol and the team sought and achieved in the final result. They opted to not use exotic or local ingredients of lesser quality nor any crazy methods.

“It didn’t translate,” Maybee said. “We kept it practical so we could make the best possible gin.”

Nichol’s straightforward recipe resulted in a classic, moderately London dry style that began with a neutral wheat-based spirit. J. Rieger’s version differs from Tanqueray’s well-known gin and stands on its own merits. Nichol explained that he had to find a new balance for this gin that put light between the balance he had devised for Tanqueray.

“I’ve had a recipe in my head to make a great gin,” Nichol said. “It’s simple but a great gin. It takes months to get there. It’s not an easy thing to do.”


Angelica Root

J Rieger Campari


The gin has character by itself but enough structure and flexibility to allow creativity by bartenders crafting a gin and tonic, Campari or original cocktail recipe. Various drinks served at Republica for the industry event used garnishes of rosemary, flowers, and citrus separately, each lending an herbal, floral or acidic note to the aroma and taste of the drink. In short, the J. Rieger & Co. gin is both versatile and a classic that should stand the test of time as tastes and trends evolve and return to form.

Nichol, a native of Tullibody, Scotland, earnestly spoke in complimentary terms about the guys at J. Rieger and bartenders in the industry.

“Bartenders are my favorite people,” Nichol said. “You are my heroes.”

He also laced his comments with a few choice swear words in his brogue. Nichol admonished bartenders at large that don’t respect the integrity and hard work that goes into making a solid gin.

“What’s the point of me making it if a bartender’s going to fuck it up?” Nichol pronounced. “Shit bartenders aren’t worth a fuck.”

In other words, know your craft and respect the quality spirit being used.


Ryan Maybee Tom Nichols Nathan Perry

J Rieger gin


Regarding Perry and his aptitude for learning, Nichol was quick to tell the audience, “Nathan is a master distiller. He reminds me of me when I was young. He sucks it all in.”

The gin joins its sister spirits vodka and whiskey from J. Rieger & Co. that have also had successful launches into the marketplace in Kansas City and elsewhere around the country. The gin is available at The Rieger, Republica and other select restaurants around town, area liquor stores including Underdog, and area Hy-Vee and Pricechopper stores.

Sucking Up to M.F.K. Fisher

Conversations With MFK FisherI’m reading Conversations With M.F.K. Fisher, a compilation of profiles and interviews of the famous food writer, as a prelude to reading her work The Gastronomical Me. It’s been an eye-opener.

The writing style and voice of these profiles in the 1970s is quite different from today in some ways. The first six pieces in the book are pure hero worship from food writers tripping over adjectives to heap praise on their object of worship. M.F.K. was important as a food writer that happened to be a woman, especially in the context of her time. Still, I cannot believe the rampant brown-nosing by these writers that made it into print. It makes any modern media hero worship of chefs and food personalities like David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Lidia Bastianich and Alton Brown pale in comparison.

Here are a few examples from James Villas’ “A Simple Country Lunch with M.F.K. Fisher” from 1978 that was published in his book, Villas at Table: a Passion for Food and Drink. The profile-interview begins with Villas spewing about 1,000 words to heap adoration on his subject, introducing her through physical description, setting the scene in her kitchen and citing her accomplishments.

We laughed at Mrs. Fisher while she strove to get her fill of caviar in The Gastronomical Me, but we shared her pain and heartbreak… We admired her brilliant translation of Brillat-Savarin’s La Physiologie de Goût, and how proud we all felt in the late sixties when this great American lady was chose to write The Cooking of Provincial France for the Time-Life series.

Villas’ prose reeks of soap opera narration. It includes the reader through the use of “we” even as he tells his audience how they should have felt or responded. It’s as though readers were physically by Fisher’s side and cheering her on as she accomplished each literary feat. It’s a transparent literary device that writers still use today to craft an accessible (or inaccessible in some cases, thereby elevating the writer’s status for having access) image about celebrities in order to create this false sense of closeness between the reader and subject. Yet coming from Villas, the passage above reads more like his voice making grand declarations on his behalf and, by the way, don’t you agree? Yes, we certainly must.

Villas puts Fisher on a pedestal. He extends a hand to readers in order to lift them up so that they may also see the view and behold the wonder that is M.F.K. Fisher. Later in the piece, Villas writes about the lunch he had with Fisher.

And the lunch? Oh, nothing really fancy: a few large Mexican prawns marinated in oyster sauce, baked quickly and served on a bed of duxelles; sliced plum tomatoes and zucchini topped with mild chilies; fresh sourdough bread with individual crocks of the sweetest butter; baked pears with fresh cream; and a carafe of Chablis from a local winery. No, nothing fancy, just one of the best-prepared and most-memorable meals of my life.

This paragraph is humble bragging years before the term was invented. Simply listing the dishes in the meal would suffice to paint a picture for the reader. This list as device is still used today. I do it from time to time. Villas’ commentary to downplay the “nothing fancy” meal while praising it inserts him firmly as a character in this piece, even as he brags with a “no big deal, just eating a modest meal with M.F.K.” vibe.

This sort of hero worship reminds me of the bubble of praise, respect and adoration that surrounds Ferran Adrià. He visited Kansas City in March 2015 as part of a promotional tour for his exhibit Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity that was on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art through August 2. While I’m no expert on the man by any means, it seemed that Adrià navigated the food celebrity attached to him by focusing on delivering his ideas through food, art, teaching and conversation. He was patient with people and gracious with his time, but spent his time being in the moment while also pursuing his interests and goals. Celebrity was and is more external than self-generated and perpetuated for him, based on limited observation.

It’s easy to understand why writers, foodies and professionals in KC’s culinary industry were excited by Adrià’s presence and thrilled to have access to him albeit brief. Some writing spawned from his visit bordered on fawning that was reminiscent of Villas blubbering about Fisher. I attempted to write my article about Adrià’s visit by acknowledging the set-up – a handful of people joined Adrià on a half-day “foraging” tour of Kansas City – without overtly inserting myself in the story.

I’m not trying to humble brag here myself but merely discuss the decisions a writer makes when telling a story. My implicit presence is established up front in the Adrià article. It takes a tiny bit of skill and forethought to use this approach, one that I prefer to do in most cases. This approach doesn’t position the writer between the subject and the reader in the way that Villas does in his piece, as I’ll demonstrate soon.

Implicitly establishing the writer as a background presence in the story runs counter to Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo style of inserting the reporter into the story. With this style, the reporter casts himself or herself as a character in the story and interacts with the subject(s). The reporter’s presence and voice is explicit and subjective rather than a more detached attempt at objective reporting. No reporting is completely subjective, by the way. I’ve used this approach at times but selectively so.

In the case of Villas’ article, the article’s title implies that he is lunching with M.F.K. He is a presence and observer describing the subject, scene and action for the reader. Rather than keeping his subject in the forefront, Villas intrudes as a writer by praising Fisher while using an inclusive “we” before he ventures into the meal itself and inserts his personal take on it.

No, nothing fancy, just one of the best-prepared and most-memorable meals of my life.

That statement is about Villas and shifts the focus away from Fisher. That’s distracting and uninteresting to read about how much the experience impacted the writer. I want to hear about the experience and the subject. Once the interview commences in question-and-answer format, Villas takes consistent opportunities to insert his musings and opinions into the exchange. Again, this distracts from the flow of conversation and yanks the focus away from the subject, the person that is notable enough to write about in the first place.

In television or cinema, this would be akin to breaking the fourth wall where the protagonist diverts from the scene to address the audience. When executed well, the device can have great impact and draw the reader into the story and build a relationship with the viewer. The asides of Villas, when thrust between the responses of Fisher, feel awkward and clumsy. For example, one exchange follows:

Villas: Your book A Considerable Town revolves around Marseille. Where in the world would you most like to be living now? Is it here in Sonoma?

M.F.K.F. No. If I were able I’d like to live in Aix-en-Provence, which is near Marseille. I first went there in 1929 and have loved it ever since, most likely because it is so close to that dirty, mysterious port town. I wrote a book on Marseille in an attempt to explain to myself this inordinate attraction I’ve always had to the place.

[Suddenly M.F.K. Fisher’s blue eyes became fixed on the flames quietly lapping the small logs in the fireplace, and I tried to imagine to just what point in the far distant past my question had forced her to retreat momentarily. Perhaps she was thinking about the time she, Al, and her sister Norah (who now lives down the road and is still one of her closest companions) sat in a small restaurant overlooking the Old Port in Marseille, played an accordion, and shared a steaming bouillabaisse. Or maybe the vision went back further, to the whorehouse in Marseille where she and Al innocently booked a room and spent the evening eating fresh cherries. Or, who knows, she could have been remembering the old butcher, Cesar, whom every woman in town thought to be the devil himself but who once prepared the best steak she’d ever eaten.]

Villas performs the nifty trick of packaging three abbreviated anecdotes about Fisher into his aside that runs more than twice as long as Fisher’s original response. Now, any or all of those anecdotes conveyed directly by Fisher or recounted with the writer’s less explicit presence and musing would be more interesting than this delivery.

Again, Villas thrusts himself into the Q&A as he shifts focus away from Fisher “…and I tried to imagine…”

Then, he exerts literary license and his omnipotent choice of words to ponder (or assert?) how his question “…had forced her to retreat momentarily.”

Wow. The swagger and pretentiousness of Villas can’t be ignored here. Further, rather than ask what was on Fisher’s mind as her blue eyes watched the fire, and in doing so keeping the focus on the subject, Villas strings together a series of self-indulgent musings. He conveys tidbits of detail about Fisher but within the framework of “forcing” her to reflect in response to his question and then indulging in a romp across her mental landscape with his own fanciful imaginings.

It’s flabbergasting. Villas continues to use this technique of inserting his asides into the Q&A, one of the most basic and naked forms of reporting where the subject’s voice is prominent and clear using their own words. Villas undermines the exchange.

He added a postscript to the interview and his closing remarks, stating how proud he was of the profile particularly since it was the first interview she granted in many years. I’d be curious to hear Fisher’s thoughts on the result of Villas’ published piece. I can only imagine in my humble opinion [insert sarcasm here] that maybe there was a reason why she granted so few interviews at this stage of her life and career.

I don’t see many examples of modern writing that emulates what Villas did in this piece, thankfully so. Reading several articles from nearly 40 years ago in this book has been instructive on what passed for food-related reporting in another era. Even though I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years, I still have plenty to learn and refine as my talented editors demonstrate when they tweak my articles. It’s helpful to see how writing from the past and present is crafted and published as a tool for me to help improve my own work.

For another writer’s take on M.F.K. Fisher and her impact on modern food writing, read Josh Ozersky’s “Consider the Food Writer.” Here’s a sample:

Whether you enjoy her work or not, there is no doubt that she more or less invented first-person food writing as we know it today. Fisher swept away the bombast and pomposity of nineteenth-century epicurean food writing, a decadent, rotting edifice already crumbling under its own weight. She had what few writers have, a distinctive style, and like her contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, whom she in many ways resembled (though not physically), it was as much a moral as a literary one. Her writing is wise, in a superficial way, but not especially reflective; for that reason, she is at her best when generating brief, self-contained observations.