Since we moved to Nova Scotia, James and I haven’t been doing a lot of dining out. We used to go out for dinner quite regularly – as in a weekly date night. However, truth be told it got to be more and more difficult as my own culinary skills improved, it became harder to justify paying restaurant prices for food I could do myself only better at home, so that meant better and better restaurants – and prices accordingly.
So after we moved, and our household income downsized accordingly, we just haven’t been out for dinner. Oh we’ve had meals out or away as part of a trip, or other event, but we just hadn’t gone out for dinner for the sole sake of ‘going out for dinner together’. We have missed that. And as our fortunes are a little better than they were this time last year, and James learned (through his work at the Clare Shopper) of a meal event coming up at a local restaurant we’ve heard very good things about, we hemmed and hawed about it a bit, after all we don’t have the mortgage money or tax refunds in hand yet (although we are assured they ARE coming!!). In the end, it was a meal event, and it was the 3rd Anniversary of out move to Nova Scotia, so we bit the bullet, so to speak.
Rudders Seafood Restaurant and Brew Pub in Yarmouth has a very good reputation and we’ve been told by others we really needed to go sometime. When James learned of their Annual Brewer’s Dinner it sounded like a nice way to investigate the joint. We are very glad we did. The evening was a perfect delight from first sip to last bite, nothing disappointed. The location in an old warehouse building on the waterfront gives marvelous harbour views, and creates the rustic and relaxed atmosphere you expect from a microbrewery restaurant. The in-house entertainment, (which so often has the potential to be insipid), was provided by a duo of guitar and keyboards, and a talented singer, the repertoire was the old standards that so often can come across as live ‘musak’, but in this case the talent of the performers brought them to life, and was a thoroughly pleasant addition to the evening.
But we were here for the beer and the food, all the great entertainment, and fabulous atmosphere don’t mean much if the food doesn’t hold up, and a brew pub must be able to stand on it’s beer. First course was a Baked Blond Clams with Blond Rock Ale. Honestly, I don’t tend to be a big fan of blond beers, even microbrewery ones tend to be watery, thin, and a bit flavourless in their quest for lightness. Blond Rock Ale wasn’t. Yes it was light, bubbly, blond but it was full flavoured in a bright bouncy way that didn’t leave much of an after taste. It was a thoroughly delightful surprise, and it was the perfect match for the baked clams with blond ale sauce, and a very auspicious beginning to the evening. The baked clam starter, still crispy under the blond ale sauce with a hint of sharp cheese on a bed of wilted spinach was also a pleasant surprise that boded well.
James, as you may know, can’t eat shellfish, so while he sipped his beer and listened to me enthuse on about the starter (both of them – yes I ate his as well!) he was impressed with the beer, but anticipating getting to try the food as well. Most of you who know us know that we’ve often said “Salad is what food eats”. It’s hard to impress us with a bit of green leaf on a plate, but the Irish Apple Ale Salad did exactly that! The mixed greens were nicely sharp and peppery which contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the cranberry and watermelon, and all balanced with the richness of the smoked gouda (oh my we’d almost forgotten how wonderful a smoked gouda is!). the Irish apple vinaigrette was another perfect balance of sweet and sharp, rich and bright. No flavour dominated or competed with the others, they all shone in beautiful harmony with each other. The Killam’s Irish Ale was definitely a deeper bolder ale with more mouth feel than the blond that preceded it, drunk on it’s own it had a brief but distinct after taste, that was smoothed out by the pairing of it with the Irish Apple Ale Salad. The ale alone was a wonderful drop that could easily be sipped all evening on it’s own, but it really did reach a whole new nuance of character paired with the salad. As I say, we’re not really ‘salad’ people, for James to comment on how marvelous a salad is, is a real testament.
So by this point in the meal we’re yammering excitedly about just how delightful this experience is. We expected to enjoy a pleasant evening out, but by this point it’s all been perfect, and we’re positively giddy with just how nice it all is. And then the lamb t-bones arrived. Two, at least, inch and a half thick lamb chops with Red Ale Au Jus, with baby potatoes and mixed vegetables. Simple, plain, perfect. A good cut of meat doesn’t need a lot of dolling up, it shouldn’t be dolled up, it should be left to shine on it’s own. Cooked to perfection, with a rich warm red ale au jus. I noticed that two was a bit much for many of the ladies dining this evening, but non left them on the plate, they all asked for a box to take it home. For many restaurants bringing a shining example of pure meat heaven to the table is enough and the potato and veg that accompany it are an afterthought and often they suffer for that. Rudder’s chef though did not disappoint, the baby potatoes and vegetables were cooked to exact, firm and bright, not starchy or mushy or underdone. I felt like the baby bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears…. not too hard, not to soft, just right, and I got to eat mine! Like the lamb, simple, plain, and just right. Not meant to compete but to compliment. The Rudders Red Ale was just the thing to stand up to that hearty hunk of meat, Substantial without being heavy, full bodied, full flavoured, rich and round without being ‘too much’.
It’s quite clear trying these three beers thus far, that they’re all the work of one artist. While they are each unique and special on their own, they together form a body of work and a flavour profile that is obviously in a similar style. Much as Starry Night and Sunflowers are very different paintings, but they’re both obviously Van Gogh’s work.
Thus enthralled, the fourth course, dessert, arrived. James had never considered beer with dessert, and I admit it wouldn’t be my first thought either. However, after the lamb, this was the course I was really anticipating. I love my chocolate, I love my brown beers, how would the chef marry these together? Like everything else this evening, perfectly. Microbreweries always want to do a stout, and they so often end up feeling like Guinness knock offs, trying to be something they’re not they miss the mark. Town Brown is it’s own beer, it’s not trying to be anything else. The notes of bitter chocolate are upfront and marry well to the chocolate lava cake, as does the lingering hint of coffee notes. The carbonation is very fine and gives a light gentle buzz rather than a bright bubbly. The lava cake was amazing, I almost started to say in the first bite or two that it needed more lava, then I hit it’s gooey, liquid centre. and those words died on my ecstatic tongue.
By the end of the meal we were sated, contented, completely enthralled, and I dare say even a bit inspired. We ordered coffee, not because we really needed to finish with coffee, but simply to give us reason to continue to linger at the table. We had eaten just exactly enough, anything more would have been too much and hurt, and you don’t want any less of it.
So to sum it up. Perfect. Perfect atmosphere, perfect entertainment, perfect service, perfect beers, perfect food – I keep looking to say “but”, but there are no buts. When the only ‘downside’ to an entire 4 course with beer pairings meal is paper napkins, there is no downside.
Thank you Rudders for sharing your 10th Anniversary Brewers Dinner with us, we will be back, and it won’t take us a year.