Friday, April 8, 2011

A Closer Look: The Cask Republic - It's More Than Just Beer

The city of New Haven is, among other things, a college town ripe with hungry collegians ready to eat, drink and be merry. Add to that an array of working professionals, stay-at-home moms, sports enthusiasts, theatergoers and the like and you have a fairly diverse mix of people just waiting to sink their posteriors into a leather clad banquet seat, sidle up to a large mahogany bar and take a breather in a high-back stool or those who just want to relax with a beer and a bite.

This is where the good folks at The Cask Republic come in.

When you walk in the doors of The Cask Republic—open since January 2011—and take in the comforting and welcoming interior, it may have been one of the 53 draught lines, one of the more than 80 bottled beers, one of the five warm stouts or the unique beer vintaging cellar that initially lured you in, but the bold and enticing cuisine will keep you coming back for more. That’s right—I said cuisine. This is not your average pub grub.

The Vintage Room
Executive Chef Carl Carrion seems to be happily suffering from an identity crisis because he’s clearly cooking as if he’s being held hostage in the kitchen of a five star restaurant. But you won’t hear any complaints coming from my direction since this just gives me one more reason to fall deeper in love with New Haven.

At a recent dinner that included beer and meal pairings, The Cask Republic owner Christian Burns and his staff, including Chef Carrion along with Manager Matt Bacco and Beverage Director Andrew Hoenig, pulled out all of the proverbial stops.

Chef Carl Carrion describing one of his dishes
Passed hors d’oeuvres included Tuna Tartare with cucumber tomato capers, mini Blue Crab Cakes with lemon-ginger emulsion that disintegrated in the most delicious way in my mouth and Oyster Sliders with whole grain mustard aioli that did the most obscenely wonderful things to my palate. Hors d’oeuvres were paired with Leipziger Gose, a medium bodied German beer brewed with slightly salted water that left a mildly briny aftertaste on the lips.

Pan Seared Arctic Char on a bed of flavorful barley
The first course was Pan Seared Arctic Char, a close relation to both salmon and trout, which, although not part of the regular menu, very well should be. Draped on a tiny plateau of barley with caramelized onions, asparagus, shallot emulsion and arugula pesto that was rich and creamy—and if you were to close your eyes you would swear you were relishing in the delights of risotto—the char was topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, but not before being covered in its own crispy skin then held a bounty of flavor. My first bite proved to be one of those patented, bona fide kiss the chef moments.

Beer gurus Matt and Andrew, who seemed to know all there was to know about beer, introduced each brew with its paired course.

The pairing for the first course was a caramel laced Trappistes Rochefort 6. While the beer itself was interesting in character, it is the tale behind the brew that makes for a great bedtime story. The abridged adaptation: Brewed in very limited production by monks in a monastery near Rochefort, Belgium, they have been making this beer for centuries. Obviously, they’ve gotten it right.

Trio of goodness: Pan Seared Scallops, Crispy Duck Skin Salad and Duck Leg Confit
A decadent play on Surf & Turf comprised our second course of Pan Seared Scallop, Duck Leg Confit and Crispy Duck Skin Salad. This tantalizing threesome was incredibly difficult to resist, especially given the intoxicating aromas wafting up from the plate. The accompanying eggplant caponata which did the honors of being the resting place for the golden tender scallop was a sweet and sour mélange that played with my taste buds in a delightful manner.

Close-up of the Pan Seared Scallop

Crispy duck skin salad
The braised mustard greens that held court with the duck leg confit added a little punch of soul, while the crispy duck skin transported me back in time to summers spent in North Carolina, running barefoot through my grandmother’s back yard and munching on freshly cooked cracklings. Unibroue Maudite, a citrus-imbued Belgian-style Canadian beer that is rich, crisp and strong without being overpowering, was the pairing of choice for this course.

When the third course finally made its way to the table, the void that was once my stomach was quickly beginning to fill with the wonderful flavors of Chef Carrion’s food. This time around, we delighted in the House Cured House Smoked Pork Belly, braised with brown sugar and BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran—stout aged in Scottish Isle of Arran whiskey barrels—resting atop an onion puree and vanilla oil with a side of parsley salad.

House Cured House Smoked Pork Belly
Any pork aficionado will tell you that pork belly is bound to be full of fat. I will now shock the masses by contradicting that very fact—at least for the beautiful cut that was presented on my plate—and say that my portion was comprised almost entirely of meat. Yes, there was fat to be had, which only added to the succulent flavor, but it was a carnivore’s feast nonetheless. I will let you in on a secret: I am not a pork eater. Which is why I, and others around me, found it fascinating that not only did I finish every bite of the pork belly that formerly took up residence on my plate, but began to enviously eye the plates of my colleges who had not yet devoured theirs.

Sticky sweet and rich with the goodness of pork as I remember from years gone by, it was nearly enough to lure me back over to the dark side.

Speaking of BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran, this was the beer pairing selection for the third course. As a beer novice, many of the finer nuances of flavor are lost one me; however, I will say that this brew was the perfect complement to the pork belly as there was a distinct flavor of dark chocolate that left a lasting impression.

BBQ Braised Short Ribs with Shelbourne Cheddar Polenta &  Crisp Spinach
Entrées rolled around and, stuffing-wise, I was just about ready to call it a night. However, when the BBQ Braised Short Ribs served with Shelburne cheddar polenta, crisp spinach and mustard gastrique were served, I nearly lost control of my motor skills. Here again, I must admit that, in addition to not being a pork eater, I am also not one to indulge in beef. While this may seem to make for a boring life, I promise you my days are full of culinary adventures. The round of “oohs” and “aahs” that made their way from one end of the table to the other is indicative of the sheer pleasure derived from everyone, including myself, as we tucked into the beef ribs. Personally, I did not cease foraging until there was nothing left to set eyes upon but stark white plate.

Once again, Andrew and Matt did not disappoint when they paired Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Grand Cru, brewed right here in the U.S.A.—California, to be exact—with the short ribs. Scotch and bourbon barrel aged, it was a surprisingly smooth ale.

Decadence: One, two, three strikes you're fat
Surely this had to be the end to the culinary madness, right? Not quite. Indeed, a luscious meal should end on an equally indulgent sweet note, and The Cask Republic did their level best to thwart my efforts to remain a South Beach Diet devotee—at least for the evening. Who knew Kriek Lambic Vanilla Float, Coconut Rice Pudding with apple marmalade and Peanut Butter & Jelly Cheesecake would be my nemesis?

Say it with me, people: Mmmmmmm.

I’ll start with my least favorite of the three—although this is not a slight in the least as it was a charmingly creamy creation—the rice pudding. Unfortunately, I did not have much of it as, texturally, coconut is one of those things that are difficult for me to deal with. However, my colleagues assured me the dessert was head and shoulders above other rice puddings that they have tried.

Next came the float, which was made with vanilla ice cream and Cherish Kriek, a fruity Belgium beer—yes, beer—with a cherry taste vaguely reminiscent of cough syrup, and it was superb. Next in the trio of self-indulgence, the cheesecake was prepared with a glaze made with Lindeman’s Cassis, yet another Belgium brew with the flavors of dried plums, dark courant and a smidgen of butterscotch. It was PB&J in a whole new way.

It is an overworked phrase in my personal vocabulary, but the food at The Cask Republic was decidedly slap somebody good and left me craving more. Don’t think that the culinary genius ends with the choices mentioned above. Perhaps you’re in the mood for Steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels ($11) as a starter. Maybe the Warm Duck Confit Salad ($12) is tempting your palate or perhaps the Tempura Fried Eggplant ($11) or German Pretzel Sandwich ($11) is more to your liking. But then again, maybe you’re a Steak Frites ($20) or Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin ($21) type of person. Regardless of what pleases you, it bears repeating: This is not your average pub grub.

Neither is The Cask Republic limited to just beer. They also serve wine by the glass or bottle, single malt scotch, artisan beer spirits, tequila, cognac, bourbon and whiskey.

The beer that caused a stir in the beer community, as proudly shown to me by Andrew in the Vintage Room - aged in bourbon barrels for over a year
For the nocturnally inclined, there’s a late night menu available after kitchen hours.

The Cask Republic is open seven days a week. Kitchen Hours M-Th 11:30a-10p, F-Sa 11:30a-11p, Su 11:30a-10p; Bar Hours M-Th 11:30a-1a, F-Sa 11:30a-2a, Su 11:30a-1a; Late Night Bar Menu Hours Su-Th ‘til 12a, F-Sa ‘til 1a. PRICES: Appetizers $9-$13, soups & salads $6-$12, burgers & sandwiches $10-$12, entrées $16-$22

The Cask Republic
179 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06501
On the web:

1 comment:

  1. I live in Waterbury, which is in New Haven County, so that's not too terribly far to travel for this place I guess. I heard about its opening but this is the first write up I've seen. Thanks. It sounds like a great place, and serving craft beers too. Wonderful. I'll have to round up some buddies and check it out one weeknnd.