The Blending of Lines

One of the hallmarks of a definable cuisine is the ability to identify when it is being used as a highlight, a complement, to another approach.  When a chef uses a slow roasted pork, glazed in hoisin, and served with an Asian Pear salsa as a taco appetizer, we can identify the elements of Latino cuisine and the Asian cuisine.  In a similar way, this dish:

Chicken Brat

A chicken sausage prepared in the same style and with the same spices as a traditional bratwurst.  The coleslaw is cabbage, carrots, and pea shoots with a traditional mayonnaise based dressing but the addition of a Saison craft brew vinegar echoes the tang of serving bratwurst with sauerkraut.  A light, summery take on a very traditional brat and kraut.  We can see, feel, and taste the influence of Great Lakes Cuisine.

When defining cuisine, particularly as it applies to the work of talented chefs across the region, innovation often makes clear delineation difficult.  We discussed the problems of “defining a cuisine” in a previous post and we won’t repeat that discussion here. The particular idea we address here is Italian-American Cuisine. Anyone traveling throughout the Great Lakes Region realizes a significant immigrant population settled in the region and in many cases have held strong to their ethnic, culinary traditions. The deep-dish pizza in Chicago is a unique testimony to this process.  The cuisine is at once clearly Italian and clearly American, which is why we have previously maintained that Italian-American is not part of Great Lakes Cuisine, because it is clearly and definable part of another tradition.

It should be no surprise, however, that such a clear line exists only on paper and not in the kitchen.  We have detailed in the past the contribution Chef Jason Gorman has had to the ideas we present here. It is appropriate then that his interpretation of Italian food at Mangia in Kenosha, WI would present a hybrid of these two cuisines. The offerings are firmly rooted in Italian cuisine, but also bring a lovely blending of Great Lakes Cuisine. Here are some samples from a recent dinner:

Mangia - Tuscan Chicken with Cherries

 

We began with a several appetizers and among them was this offering – Tuscan Chicken Liver Spread with Door County Cherries. Lush, earthy flavors of the liver spread created the perfect contrast to the tart fruitiness Door County Cherries.

Mangia - Goat Cheese Curds

Another offering featured goat cheese curds, heated until just softened with N’duja and Pachino tomatoes. Goat cheese curds, such as those you can purchase from LaClare Farms, have an appealing “chew” to their texture and a bit more pronounced flavor than traditional cheddar curds. N’duja is a spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria (or you can get a great version from Underground Meats in Madison, WI).

Mangia - Walleye

In addition to a table full of excellent Italian-inspired dinner offerings, we enjoyed a Walleye Pike with chickpeas, garlic spinach, Pachino tomatoes, grilled leek gremolata. The flavors and preparation throughout the meal were unmistakably Italian, but the ingredients were local and often featured in unique ways.

Mangia is unmistakably Italian cuisine, but in the hands of such an innovative, and accomplished chef, elements of Great Lakes Cuisine still shine through.  Though we will not add Mangia to our Restaurant section, as it does not fit the stricter definition of Great lakes Cuisine we are utilizing here, it is truly great cuisine.

Advertisements

Mini-Micro Brews, or the Return of Tavern Beer

The craft beer revolution keeps getting smaller…and stronger. As the demand for great craft brews continues to grow, mini-micro breweries are popping up all over the Great Lakes region. And as with so many innovations, nothing in this process is that new at all. Massive, global breweries have been a fixture in so many of our lives, with SAB/Molson/Miller/Coors and Anheuser-Busch/InBev taking us ever closer to brewing hegemony. Yet nearly every brewing tradition in every culture around the world, started in the inns and taverns of settlement communities.

The Great Lakes region is a testimony to the tavern tradition. Immigrants flooded into the area, re-established Old World traditions, adapted to the new setting, and relaxed at the neighborhood tavern with a new version of their old brew. So the rise of small beer producers which offer their creations only at the source are hardly new, rather the are a return to a wonderfully long tradition. We documented a number of great micro-brewers in Grand Rapids, MI recently, and we’ve never been shy about our love for Hinterland Brewery’s offerings from Green Bay, WI. But the folks at Buckle Down Brewery in Lyons, IL are an even smaller version, a tavern-sized brewery, like those popping up all over the area. Often the beer is available for enjoyment at a bar located at the brewery and the only way to enjoy it anywhere else is by growler or keg. No bottling or canning operation, no corporate staff, no outside distribution. Just a brewer, a few committed souls, and the beer. Oh, and the beer!

Beer - Buckle Down Rye3

On the day we stopped by, the garage door was open to the sitting room, tables filled with loyal patrons at 3 in the afternoon. Vintage lights, wooden bar, and a blackboard with offerings created a very easy, casual vibe.  We enjoyed a KnowItAll Belgian Witbier and Reprehensible Imperial Red Rye.

Beer - Buckle Down Rye

The Witbier had the light, refreshing wheat aspect, but a touch of banana, maybe with just a little caramel, comes through in the end.  The Reprehensible Rye (shown above) was deep and complex, beautiful balance between the sweet roast of the grain and clean bitterness of the hops. It went down so smoothly.

Beer - Buckle Down Rye2

The folks at Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN make a Frost Line Rye which is similar in style and flavor, though the offering from Buckle Down may have been a bit more robust.  Then again, part of that may have been the appeal of drinking the Reprehensible Rye right from the hand of the brewer.

Continuing the revolution, Justin Aprahamian, owner and chef of Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee, WI has collaborated with the folks at Hinterland Brewing to make a number of highly creative offerings. A recent piece by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed how Aprahamian wants to bring “his chef’s perspective to brewing, using seasonal — and perhaps unusual — ingredients. The next beer for summer will be a cucumber pilsner.”

Yes, the craft brew revolution goes on and Great Lakes Cuisine is the better for it.