16-course gastronomic Belgian dinner - NH/ME, Aug 19
Serious chow, IMO.
Menu (click to enlarge in your browser) http://beernews.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/2010-Ebenzer-Beer-Dinner-Menu-Final-2.jpg
I expected I might elicit a few more comments on this menu when I posted about it a couple of days ago. Either I am nearly alone in being extremely excited about this event, or my choice of description for the subject line was a failure in apropos description. ("Beer dinner @ Ebenezer's - Lovell, Maine -Thurs 8/19")
Either way, giving it another try. I have no vested interest in this other than that I am attending. I only thought that Chow-people would find this one-of-a-kind event of interest and therefore worthy of comment. A multi-course menu offering like this is not an every-day situation, at least not for me.
Perhaps I will report back after the dinner with my impressions.
I'm a pretty well-seasoned veteran of beer fests, having attended perhaps a hundred over the last 15 years, both here and overseas. That, coupled with my 'hound-ness puts this event right in my wheelhouse.
I went to the dinner at Eb's last year, and was up there in the days after the dinner for the Belgian Beer Fest the year previous. Last year's dinner was the singular beer-related experience of my life. I've been to Oktoberfest, I've spent a good deal of time in Belgium, I've vacationed at breweries, and Eb's surpasses it all.
The reason is really not the beer or food, though they cannot be discounted, as that's what's brought everyone together in the first place. Chef Paxton does an amazing job serving up 100 portions (simultaneously, no less) of each labor-intensive dish. Each course is painstakingly designed to pair well with the extremely rare beers that are being served.
It's impossible to "rate" the beer side of things, as there really isn't much of a basis for comparison. There simply are no other bars in America (and arguably the world - Kulminator may be able to make a case) that have a cellar like Chris Lively's, the proprietor of Ebenezer's. You can't find a beer dinner that has pairings like this -- you drink beers that are simply not possible to purchase anywhere else. Each year Chris extincts several beers from the planet at the fest. Last year I had some 1935 Ind Coop & Allsopp Jubilee Ale, for example. Not a lot of 75 year-old beer around.
So while that's all very nice, it's not the primary reason I'm going back this year. Because of the extraordinary beer and food, the people that attend this event are a self-selecting group that 1) like beer and food enough to go 2) want to go to dinner in Middle-of-Nowhere, Maine, 3) enjoy camping and 4) can spend $300/pp on a dinner. That makes for a pretty amazing group of attendees, and spending time with them is a real highlight.
Plus, Chris brings in an assortment of beer luminaries, both for the dinner and for the ensuing week-long festival to give talks, taste beer, and just mingle with the attendees. There are always a few giants of the Belgian brewing world, and being able to sit down with them and discuss their philosophies over a tulip of some elixir is a rare treat.
Bob gaj, to answer your question, the dinner starts at 5 (it's sold out for this year), and while the food lasts 6 hours, the night does not end there. Many people camp behind Ebenezer's and the party goes on. There's also a nearby resort on a lake for those that prefer a bed.
The real reason this is the best beer dinner/fest is simply that Chris Lively is the embodiment of what a publican should be. He goes to great lengths both to procure beer that can't be had elsewhere, as well as to ensure his guests enjoyment. He'll be the one walking around the bar with a jeroboam of something rare to pour into any empty glasses he encounters.
And Sean Paxton is an engaging, approachable chef, happy to discuss the nuances of his menu, or just beer pairings in general (he's the "Homebrew Chef", and has extensive expertise).
So, it's for the people -- the pub's owner, the chef, the visiting brewers, and the other attendees -- as much as for the food and beer, that I go. And I'll be there again on Thursday. I'll probably be the one sitting outside his tent with a glass of beer in one hand and a hookah in the other, if you're there and want to look me up.
Um, thanks, I guess. Though I have a degree in marketing, that wasn't really my purpose in the above post (and my job is in IT). I certainly don't want to contribute to making it like the Ommegang tickets have become (another of my favorite beer fests, but tickets sell out in a matter of minutes). In my opinion, the 'hounds are a different breed from the beer geeks, and though I cross over, I feel that I'm in the minority, so I felt it was "safe" to post here, as the beer crowd has seen most of my type of hyperbole before (deserved, maybe, but arguably hyperbole). And they probably doesn't read this anyway, as some of the words are a bit big (sorry beer geeks).
The OP described the menu as "serious chow". That much is true, and is why it deserves space here. Sean Paxton is a chef whose food I think is worthy of a taste, inclusion of beer notwithstanding -- the man can cook a dozen dishes in a row that are, every one, special, for 100 people. Not many chefs do that regularly with a one-time menu. If you get a chance to go to any of his dinners, I wouldn't miss it, as he is the cat's pajamas.
However, if you like only food, and not beer, then you should probably just go to Per Se in NYC for your $300, as half of the Eb's menu is lost on you. Similarly, the frathouse all-you-can-drink contingent isn't interested in this kind of "beer fest".
So, picture 100 Chowhounds seated at 10-or-12-tops, as at a wedding, with a gregarious MC or two pouring amazing drinks, serving delicious food, and with your sole purpose being enjoyment of the night and the company. That's about as well as I can describe it.
I'm an avid homebrewer, have a culinary degree (though also work in IT) and strive to experience the world through food - I don't think the experience would be lost on me. To find that something of this caliber happens annually, a mere 2 hours from home, is stunning. To find that it's sold out for this year is disappointing. So if you see someone peering in the window longingly, it'll probably be me. :-) We're actually camping up near there this weekend and will be sure make a detour for a few rounds - <swoon>the cellar list on the website </swoon>.
AdkMike, perhaps we'll met up at the event. I had a feeling at least a couple of NE ChowHounders would be tuned-in to something like this.
My quasi brother-in-law mentioned this dinner to me a few weeks ago and I couldn't resist signing up. He's the real beer guru among us and has made the pilgrimage (from southern NH) to Ebenezer's a couple of times. I thought I was a bit of a beer afficianado, but he is at the other end of the spectrum. He's my guide through the beers of the evening.
We are going to camp by the golf course. Look for Dave (me) and John (from Manchester, NH). I just received yesterday a few boxes of Camacho Coyolar Puro Rothschilds in case you are up for a smoke either before or after the dinner - I'll bring a box, and one (or three) may have your name on it. John will have some special beers from his considerable collection too if we connect.
I'm completely pumped for the dinner. Since the 2010 menu was released a few days ago I keep going back to it to dream and prepare. It looks like Paxton has tried to assemble an outrageous meal for us. What a treat I think we are in for!
Dave, I look forward to meeting you there, and I certainly won't turn a nice Camacho down. I'll be camping out back too, so I'll see you there.
Bob gaj and Johnnydj, thanks for the kind words. Brevity is not my strong suit, as you have noticed.
I'll try to remember to post a follow-up after the weekend. Memory isn't my strong suit, either -- must be all of those beer fests.
So, for those anxiously awaiting a review of the event, I'll do my best here to comment on the 2010 Ebenezer's Belgian Beer Feast Dinner. (The kick-off event for the multi-day Belgian Beer Festival.) I was only there for one evening, the night of the big dinner, and then the Belgian Beer Fest went on presumably long after I left.
Was it all I'd hoped for - In a word, yes. I dragged my butt (& stomach) back to NH the next day quite fatigued, but much-for-the-better after a nearly 12-hour food-and-beer-a-thon, with my head spinning from wonderful food and special beer memories. And we were blessed with spectacular weather too.
We arrived at Lovell around 3pm Thursday and had our tents set up just in time to spend an hour in Ebenezer's before we needed to queue-up for a ride over to the restaurant where the dinner was to be held. Ebenezer's had perhaps 20-30 draft selections, nothing typical thankfully, and I didn't even get to the bottle selection - there was no time. Eb's is pretty much beer heaven compared to anywhere I've been when it comes to variety of selection, combined with exclusivity of selection. A best-beer mecca, if you will. I wish I could have spent more time at the pub. Alas, we had to get to the dinner after all.
Waiting to be shuttled to the main event at Pleasant Point Inn & Restaurant on Lake Kezar (perhaps 1-2 miles away?), we bumped into AdkMike, who graciously sped us over to the restaurant Winston Wolfe-style in his own car. Mike, I didn't see you in the morning before we left. I regret not keeping my promise to ferry you back to your car Friday morning - I trust you were able to get a lift easily enough??? Who knows, maybe I DID see you, but jeez - certainly my eyes could barely focus at that point.
The Pleasant Point Inn on the lake was a beautiful setting for the event. Rustic, but well-appointed in that old northern NE camp-style way. As people gathered in the main foyer, wait staff were pouring two different beers for the dinner guests - one, a bottled selection (Fantome Pissenlit - loved it!), and another, a draft selection (Allagash Blonde). This time was opportunity for the gathering crowd of 100 attendees to chat, relax, and exchange thoughts about our increasing excitement for the meal that was to ensue. The pre-dinner social built a nice vibe for what was coming.
Once seated at round tables of eight persons, wait staff were making the rounds filling the glasses with the same introductory beers from the foyer. A bit later, the dinner officially commenced with some introductions, including Chef Paxton giving an overview of the menu for the evening and his philosophies about matching beer and food for the meal. He is a large, full-of-life-and-passion guy, and his deep voice carried well over the din of 100 eager beer and food enthusiasts. Throughout the evening-long meal, Paxton returned to the dining room repeatedly to provide commentary on the upcoming courses. Several beer & brewing luminaries from around NE, the USA, and Belgium were present. I recognized a red-headed, large-bearded NH brewing notable present in the room, who later spoke to the group, as did other specialty brew-persons through the evening.
For the food part of the review, where do I even start, with so many courses? I'm not a food/restaurant reviewer by trade or even hobby really, so Mike (or anyone else who attended) please chime in here on the food. If you look at the link for the menu that I posted, some of the highlights to me were;
The Charcuterie de Flandres, and the Sonoma Foie Gras. The rabbit course was a favorite. Braised rabbit leg - I wanted more of that, and the fried rabbit ears were a special treat. Like fried pig's ears, but really tiny, thin, crispy and delicate. I would buy Paxton's fried rabbit ears by the plateful, given the opportunity.
On to the lobster and duck courses, and the pommes frites. Then the cheeses and deserts....... all matched with different beers through the courses. Chris (Eb's proprietor) made the rounds several times chatting with us and pouring bottles of rare beers at the tables.
Depending on how one counts the courses, I guess it was anywhere between twelve and sixteen. Some items from the menu were served concurrently, but could almost qualify as a course of their own, so who knows what the official course-count was.
A few of the beers served during the dinner were Brabantse Trots Oude Geuze Tegen de Grote Dorst from a total bottling of 32, Crianza Helena Geuze oktober 2008, and Brouweri Fenteiner Hommage Lambic with raspberries aged in oak. Also, Allagash Victor Francenstein, Gueuze Giraardin 1882 (the series, not the year). I'm sure I misspelled a few here.
Post-dinner, we all went down to the gazebo by the lake where other special beers were served and we received a verbal presentation from one of his Belgian brewer guests.
After the long, satisfying dinner with so much beer, food and celebration of such, and the walk down to the lake, everyone gathered again in the foyer of the inn where Chris started another tasting session. Some of the beers here included a 105-year-old Bass 'King's Ale,' a Kriek, a Fonteinen Oude Geuze, a Dirty Horse, a Faro Pertotale Faro Dubbele, an Audenaerde Petre Devos, and a Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam.
Mind, you, this is a partial list of the beers we sampled. I'm probably missing over half of what we tasted, but you may notice that many geuze-style beers were featured. This was Chris' personal beer theme for the evening it seemed, to educate on and explore the world of the Belgian geuze style. Not being as finely attuned to the spectacular beer styles of the world as many of the event attendees were, this was a fascinating education for me.
Many photos were taken - many friends were made, and there was a great energy present in the camaraderie. In addition to the food, as indicated, many unique, rare and exclusive beers were served - stuff I will never see again in my life, and nor will anyone else based on the rarity of some of these beers.
But wow, the evening seemed to fly by, and we departed back to the camping area behind Ebenezer's adjacent to the golf course for what would be what I will call Part III of the event.
Cigars and hookas and beer, oh my – comprised of many bottles of beers opened-up that the campers brought with them and shared until the wee hours. The 'dead soldiers' on the picnic table the next morning told the story of what we drank that night. Not a Sam Adams among them, as this was an event all about special beer. If someone had shown up with a Heineken or Corona I fear they may have had their head dunked in the porta-poti. Deservedly so.
By 3 or 4 am, I had to retire to the tent. I'm sure I missed something that was still going on, as I was asleep after 20 seconds. And now… days later while trying to recount the event I am aware I am excluding many, many details. From the time we got the tents set up and got into Eb’s for the first beer, and until the last beer the next morning, it was darn near 12 hours straight of food, beer, festivities and new friends. I’m still tired.
Mike, I enjoyed meeting you - great fun. And as you alluded to, that is part of the magic of this event: meeting like-minded folk in a cool setting for a very special occasion. See you next year hopefully, if it happens again. I really-really promise to give you a ride back to your car next time. And to bring more cigars.
Pleasant Point Inn & Restaurant
Pleasant Point Rd, Center Lovell, ME 04016
re: Dave B
Well this is pretty funny...to round out this post, my wife & I are the ones who gave Mike a ride to his car the next day!!
And nice work by both of you on the review (and a great review by Keith on BA as well), I couldn't agree more. The only, very minor (in the scale of things), complaint was the heat in the dining room. Everything else was memorable beyond belief! Including the candle lit lecture in Eb's cellar by Yves Panneel the next night where more of that delicious Brabantse Trots was served AND another cheese course.
All in all a very memorable weekend (...and I think we got the last 3 bottles of Victor Francenstein @ Allagash on Friday! which made it even more memorable). And like you guys said, the camaraderie of the participants is definitely another element to the success of this event (and Chris' bar in general)...as it takes a certain type of person to search out a gem like Eb's, take some vacation time for a Thursday night dinner in the middle of nowhere then camp out behind a bar!
...and here's hoping this event does not turn out like BCTC!!! From what I could tell, it's the perfect size as-is!
Oh, and more photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid...
Hope to see you guys there next year! ...and Mike, thanks again for breakfast on Friday!!!
Dave and (the other) Mike, thanks for writing it up so I didn't have to try to rack my brain to do so, and I think you've captured the essence. For me, that was: a beautiful setting filled with amazing food, beer, and friends.
For me, the standouts were the Belgian "spam", the waterzooi, the "falafel", the rabbit, and the foie-poached lobster. I know that's about half the dishes, but so what?
I was able to stay for two nights, and had a wonderful time at the campground, not to mention at Eb's. On Friday afternoon, I had a nice session in Eb's before the next group had filled the camp. More good beer and food, and I got to spend a good hour or two chatting with Sean -- Monday morning quarterbacking the dinner as well as just discussing general food philosophy. Fun stuff, for me at least (Sean had to eat, so he was a somewhat captive audience).
It was a pleasure to meet you guys, and if you find yourself in Boston (or NY, for that matter, as I'm usually working there), stop by for a beer/coffee/meal. Send me a msg on BA (handle - mirrera).
Also, thanks for the ride back to my car, Mike, and I'm glad it didn't cause you miss out on the Francenstein, which is awfully tasty.
Next up: La Fête Bières & Saveurs in Chambly, QC on Labor Day weekend -- another great beer & food festival.
re: Dave B
for an out of stater likely to be on vacation in maine (and having no plans that night), a couple questions:
-> when does it start / (i saw the 6 hour part)
-> where do people stay / go after that?
it's pretty surprising that a beer place way out would be ranked so well, so i'm sure it has to be good - just surprising.