Many small breweries in our area are not set up with kitchens and usually rely on local food trucks or caterers to provide the snacks that are offered. But if you point yourself in the right directions, you can find some amazing taprooms that put just about as much time into developing their culinary offerings as their beer. It is no surprise that independent breweries are stepping up their food game. Even for someone like me who has never finished an entire beer, finding a brewery that offers a creative menu is an essential.
Recently, I sat down at Studio Brew in Bristol, Virginia, with owner Pam Allen and taproom operations manager Ellen Perry. I wanted to check out their new menu and hear more about the thought process behind it. I have eaten at Studio Brew several times and enjoyed trying their award-winning soups at the Great Winter Soup Cook Off.
The brewery is in a beautifully renovated, century-old, three-story brick building in downtown Bristol. This popular destination features around 18 beers with added seasonal options as well as exotic craft cocktails. And get this, one of the clever ways Studio Brew promotes their much-sought-after crafts is to incorporate the beer right into many of the recipes. This is definitely the best way for me to enjoy a brew! Pam explained that that they cook with almost every part of the brewing process — even using the spent grains to make bread, crackers, pretzels, panko crumbs and their amazing pizza crust. According to Ellen, wood-fired build-your-own pizzas are now at the forefront of the popular menu, and the “Pizza and Pint of the Day” specials draw those who enjoy trying new combinations.
These innovative owners are dedicated to making sure the menu is truly a culinary craft as well as a significant reason to visit the brewery. Most of the cooking is done in their wood-fired oven to create menu items that maximize flavors in a minimum amount of time — and of course designed for those who don’t want to wait a long time for food while enjoying a beer!
Another very special find in my brewery ramblings took me up the mountain to charming St. Paul, Virginia — a stop along the route to the coalfields. The Sugar Hill Brewing Company made its entrance onto the brewpub scene two years ago when owners Jennifer and Greg Bailey determined a need for a new community restaurant.
They took over an old hardware store on a prominent corner of Broad Street and renovated it into a cozy, inviting brewpub. Their plan was to offer traditional pub food with an Appalachian twist along with quality craft beer — and they have done just that! This popular gathering place attracts both locals and tourists.
Jennifer was adamant that they not be tagged as “just a brewery” and says that 80 percent of their current sales are from food, with Sunday being their busiest day. The Baileys, longtime residents of St. Paul, have been instrumental in promoting all that this unique little town has to offer. They are embarking on a new project which will bring our area’s first cidery to Norton, Virginia. This cidery and restaurant will be located in a renovated building at the farmers market.
Besides a fascinating list of more than 12 on-tap brews, Sugar Hill offers a wide variety of appetizers, burgers from locally sourced beef, house-made chips, salads and specialty sandwiches. Like Studio Brew, Sugar Hill incorporates their beer as a component in some of their recipes. The creamy cheese sauce is the mainstay of many of their dishes.
Of course, some recipes are secrets and not to be shared. Naturally, I always seem to choose the “deep darks.” Despite my pleading, the recipe for fried pimento cheese balls with sweet chili pepper sauce is destined to remain a secret — but worth the scenic trip and definitely worth a second order to take home! But Jason Gross, brewery food wizard, did hand over the top secret file for Sugar Hill meatloaf.
Oh, and did I mention that the Baileys have delightful two- and three-bedroom apartments over the brewery if you wish to make St. Paul a weekend experience?
STUDIO BREW BEER CHEESE WITH VIENNA LAGER
48 oz. Studio Vienna Lager
5 lbs. (80 oz.) Fontina or white cheese of choice
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, finely diced
Cube cheese and pace in large pot. Add beer. Set temperature to low/medium and cook for 55 minutes. Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over, stirring as needed. Add in onion and garlic and simmer for 10 more minutes. Strain and enjoy!
STUDIO BREW DANCING MONK MUSTARD
1 cup mustard seeds
2 cups Dancing Monk Ale from Studio Brew
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup mustard powder
1/4 cup Dancing Monk Mustard
Bring seeds and beer to a boil. Cover and rest for two hours. Puree the chilled mixture and add remaining ingredients and puree again. Perfect to use on sandwiches such as a Reuben or with cheese and crackers.
SUGAR HILL MEATLOAF FOR A CROWD
5 pounds ground beef
1 pound smoked brisket
1/2 pound cooked bacon
1 diced bell pepper
1 diced onion
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Mix all the ingredients and place in 9x13 or 11x17 baking pan. Cook at 325 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until internal temperature of 180.
If desired: Add extra BBQ and ketchup mixture to the top after cooking
Jennifer King Ferreira grew up in Kingsport, where she received her first cooking experiences from her grandmother, Genevieve Shivell. She is the past owner of the Abingdon General Store and Plum Alley Eatery, a gourmet store and restaurant in Abingdon, Va., and serves as marketing and public relations specialist for the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center and the Cooking Along the Crooked Road Culinary Program.