East End Eats: Eats and Beers

Mark Smith served as master of ceremonies between courses for the 10th annual Rowdy Hall beer dinner last Thursday night. Morgan McGivern

   I don’t know a lot about beer but when I heard Rowdy Hall was having its 10th annual beer dinner, celebrating local recipes and foods of the East End paired with local beers, I couldn’t resist.
    If the end of summer Shoe Inn warehouse sale is the siren call to all women, then surely the Rowdy Hall beer dinner is the same for all men. Or as one of the few women attending remarked upon surveying the room, “I’ve never seen so many seated men, and so well behaved!”
    The Rowdy Hall beer dinner has become a popular tradition, the brainchild of the omnipresent and awesome bartender Joe Gonzalez and proprietor Mark Smith. While some of us may think of Rowdy as the place for the best burgers, fish and chips, and French onion soup, beer aficionados recognize it as one of the best bars around. There are eight taps with a rotating selection, some international, some domestic, some very esoteric. There is also an eclectic mix of bottled beers. For those who may want to try some unusual brews such as Old Peculiar or Firestone’s I.P.A. — that’s India pale ale — Mr. Gonzalez recommends Peconic Beverage as a great source.
    The dinner began with passed hors d’oeuvres served with Southampton Publick House’s Biere de Mars, a “French farmhouse style ale that is clean and smooth with a lager-like finish.” I am quoting the menu description because I don’t know diddly about beer. There were delicious tiny codfish cakes, giant clam fritters, pickled squid, bluefish paté, and chicken liver crostinis, all excellent. Struggling for the right words to describe the Biere de Mars, I spied Jacques Franey of Domaine Franey and asked him. “Fresh!” he happily replied. Yes, fresh.
    The first course was a rich broth of potatoes and leeks from Balsam Farms studded with lightly poached Montauk oysters. Excellent with Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s Black Duck Porter, which was “malt forward, strong cocoa with hints of coffee and a roasty dry finish.” Indeed, I get that.
    Upon arrival, every guest got raffle tickets. Between courses, Mark Smith, a most entertaining M.C., shouted out numbers for prizes, shared jokes that veered between cornball Henny Youngman to almost P.C. Louis C.K. This kept the gents laughing as the bowls were cleared and fresh brews delivered. The next course was East End clam pie served with Hamptons Beer Company Pale Ale. The clam pie, based on Saveur magazine’s version, which is supposed to be close to the original Crystal Room’s clam pie, was delicious. It was kind of like a solid clam chowder with all the flavors you expect, briny clams, a bit of thyme, finely diced vegetables. The beer was one of my favorites, “a subtle sweet malt, balanced by a crisp, citrusy hop finish.” I asked Joe where, exactly, in East Hampton, is the Hamptons Beer Company? “Well, it’s kind of a gypsy brewery.” Gypsy brewing is brewing on the go, a subculture of the craft beer industry. I found it apricot-ty, a bit fruity, very good.
    Next on the menu was roasted Long Island duckling with Cumberland sauce, accompanied by a root vegetable gratin and served with Montauk Brewing Company’s Driftwood Ale, “an American E.S.B. (Extra Special Bitter) with a harmonious existence between the malt and hop leading this brew to high quaffability.” I concur. The duck was tender and delicious, and when is the last time you saw Cumberland sauce on a menu?!
    All of the recipes used for the all-local menu came from old cookbooks, a good number from ancient L.V.I.S. cookbooks.
    So how do they choose the foods to go along with the beers? According to Mr. Gonzalez, they choose the menu first, then pair the beers with it. Among the favorites of past beer dinners was Fuller’s E.S.B., which was chosen to partner with the passed hors d’oeuvres. “There was a lot of synchronicity with that one,” he told me. The Peter Luger’s Steakhouse menu dinner was another huge hit.
    Mr. Gonzalez pointed out that when Rowdy Hall opened 16 years ago there was very little interest in or knowledge of microbreweries, craft brewing, and now, gypsy brewing. Over the years beer drinkers have become more interested, and the savvy folks who come out from New York City make it a point to stop by Rowdy Hall to try, say, the rare Nogne I.P.A. from Norway, or Belgium’s Lindeman’s Framboise.
    Rowdy Hall’s beer dinners have become a popular community event and are always sold out. They are fun, funny, and informative, and the majority of attendees come every year.
    So what does Joe Gonzalez, a bartender’s bartender, who surely has tried everything under the sun and moon, like to drink? “I am a beer guy. I like Beck’s on tap. Around here we call it ‘Rowdy water.’ ”