Saturday, April 30, 2011
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A few months ago I had started a Twitter exchange with Henry de Vere of de Vere’s Pub
before I had ever met him. He invited me to come into the pub and I explained I rarely entered pubs and bars because I don’t drink. “But we have great pub food”, he replied.
Shortly after, I finally met him and he repeated his invitation. Come on in and he’ll set up a tasting for me with his chef. As my readers know, I never turn up an offer for free food. It took several weeks, but I finally made it in. That said, you can consider this review biased, if you wish, since I did not go in there blindly, but for a formal tasting.
I ventured over after work on a Thursday. Henry greeted me warmly and told me what he had arranged. He thought I might like to see the chef make some blood sausage in the kitchen before trying some food.
|mixing the blood sausage ingredients
I was introduced to Chef Wes Nilssen. He’s had quite a few positions around town, including some of the Paragary’s restaurants. He asked me if I liked blood sausage. Now my mother, being Filipina, loved all that sort of stuff. Me, not so much. I would have tasted it, but actually got off the evening not having too. He had all the ingredients all prepped. There was barley, oats, onion, milk soaked bread crumbs, bits of pig fat, spices, and pig’s blood from John Bledsoe. He started with the barley, poured in the blood, and mixed it thoroughly before adding the next ingredient. He carefully blended each ingredient in before moving to the next. In actuality, the sausage is mostly the filler. Everything was a bright crimson.
The sausage maker was brought out and loaded and then the intestinal casings were slid onto the extruder. One of the kitchen assistants cranked down the press as Chef handled the sausage as it was extruded. I noted that he wasn’t making links. Instead, they make a giant coil, boil it, and then they cut portions from it after it’s cooled.
We got two coils from today’s batch and Chef said it would last them about three weeks. They make their other sausages as well. Their plan is to get licensed to do their own charcuterie. Thoughts of salami and smoked goods swim in my head. Yum.
I went back out to the bar and sat down with Henry with a cheese platter. On it were two types of salami, four cheese, some peppadews, olives, and a housemade marmalade. There were also slices of the Irish brown bread they bake themselves twice a day. Since it is so heavy and has very little moisture to it, they bake it twice a day to keep the freshest available throughout the day.
Henry talked about our British/Irish backgrounds. My dad is from Ipswich in ’58 and his parents came from the Dublin area in the late 70’s. In fact, Henry, the youngest, is the only one of his siblings to be born in the U.S.
Henry explained that they wanted to make the best Irish bread like his grandmother made. But we all know our grandparents used to just throw ingredients together and never measured. So he and his aunt set about making 20 different versions of bread, writing down the measurements, and having grandma taste them. They narrowed it down over and over until they finally came to the final one that was like grandma’s. That’s the recipe they use in the pub now.
We discussed pub food and the type of food from the British Isles. I grew up knowing a little about bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie. Henry explained that they wanted to add some lighter pub fare to the menu as we start going into the summer months. My next item was one of their ideas. They took the well-known combo of smoked salmon, capers, and onions and wrapped inside a boxty. Boxty is a potato pancake. I really liked it. The warm, soft pancake with the crunch of onion, smoky salmon, and salty capers with a bit of crème worked well as a nice little package.
They asked me what else I would like to taste and so I asked for the Irish stew and shepherd’s pie. The pie came out first with the mashed potatoes decoratively piped on top and then put under the broiler for a quick toast of the peaks. Sprinkled on top was some parsley. Henry explained that his mom always put the garnish on everyone’s plate because it made a simple meal more special, especially when feeding a large family on a budget.
|mini version of their shepherd's pie
I later read through some of the Yelp reviews and noted that people were irked by the ratio of mashed potatoes to meat mixture. I can agree with that. Yes, it could use more filling and less potato. But at least the filling was good. In fact, I was impressed that the vegetables weren’t overcooked and soft, but still had that slight crispness to them. And since I wasn’t paying for anything, I wasn’t paying attention to prices. So if I was having to pay for it, I probably would also be a bit irritated by too much potato.
Our conversation continued about the traditional pub dishes. Everyone who grew up eating shepherd’s pie or Irish stew has a very subjective idea of how the dish should be. Everyone’s recipe and childhood memory is different. Both of these dishes can be done with beef or lamb. Henry explained that they serve dishes closest to the de Vere’s family recipes and how HE grew up with them. He often has customers say that a dish needs to be different – “you need to add this” or “it’s supposed to have __”. But you can’t satisfy everyone.
Next came the Irish stew, with beef. (As I had just told him I made my St. Pat’s stew with lamb.) It arrived with the family garnish of a sprinkling of chives. There was plenty of meat and chunky vegetables. I noted the full bodied flavor of the gravy and Chef explained that they cook the stew with veal bones.
Being into desserts, I asked them what they had. Their best dessert is their bread pudding. They slice it, coat it in panko crumbs, deep fry it, and then serve it with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Now I’m not a fan of bread pudding, but I couldn’t stop eating this. Henry said it had become so popular that they could never take it off the menu. A signature dish. When people order it he know that, again, they might be thinking of a bread pudding that they grew up with and he has to explain to them that it’s going to be deep fried so that they aren’t shocked when it arrives.
By this time I was stuffed and reluctantly had to push the rest of the pudding away. I’d learned a lot about Henry and his family, his bar and his vision. That vision includes a second pub being fitted in Davis. Like the midtown location, the Davis one will have all the interior shipped over from Ireland. When I asked why the expense of importing versus just making replicas, he explained that it just doesn’t look and feel the same as the workmanship and pieces he brings over. As we gazed around the bar area he pointed out all the pictures of his relations. He explained that his family has pubs back for many generations and he’s just continuing the legacy here in the U.S.
Another Day, Another Tasting
A couple days later I get a tweet. Do I want to come for a burger tasting? Rodney, known on Twitter as @burgerjunkies
, is partnering with de Vere’s for burger month. It turns out that May is National Burger Month. Henry and Rodney have a plan for a different burger for each week of May and we now get to taste them.
Week 1 contains Cinco de Mayo and so we start with a TostadaBurger. You get bun, crisp tostada, tomato, corn pico de gallo con queso, burger, another crispy tostada, more corn pico, and Serrano mayo and bun. LOVED this burger. It has a nice spicy kick to it flavor-wise. But this is mostly a texture burger. You get a fabulous crunch from the tostadas and then a veggie crunch from the corn.
Week 2 is going to be the Firestone Burger, since de Vere’s is in the Firestone district where the old Firestone building used to be. This one is all about flavor. Inside the bun there is arugula tossed in a little oil and salt and pepper, a burger made with beef and some smoked pork mixed in, smoked goat cheddar cheese, a pile of fried onions, and topped with a red wine/balsamic shallot sauce that has been cooked down to thick, caramel jam. What I really liked with this burger was that even though it was full of lots of bold flavors, you could still distinguish each ingredient and savor the blend. The goat cheese is noticeable, but not overpowering. You can taste the bit of smokiness and yet still taste the vibrant shallot sauce as well. Everything worked really well off of each other.
Week 3 is the Stadium Burger. Served on a pretzel bun shipped all the way from Chicago, it has a patty with an ounce and a half of cheddar stuffed inside. Both sides of the bun are spread with whole grain mustard and the burger is topped with a housemade relish of cucumbers and those lovely peppadews I had on my cheese platter the week before. As we split the burgers the cheddar oozed from the center. I liked this burger, but found it awkward to eat. I also told Henry that the relish needed more of the peppadews and less cucumber.
The final week of May will probably be decided by a poll of de Vere’s fans. One option being considered is a burger topped with prime rib and served with au jus for dunking. Another possibility is one topped with short rib.
Oh, and they’ve paired each burger with a specific beer. I don’t drink, so I didn’t pay attention to their beer tasting.
Out of the three I liked the Tostada and Firestone equally. The Tostada for texture and spice and the Firestone for bold flavors that play well together. I loved the stuffed cheese burger of the Stadium, but found the pretzel roll to be awkward. All three are worth trying for a burger filled month.
I know that Rodney had prizes in mind for Burger Month, so check out his site
for more details. Then plan to go to de Vere’s each week to try these fabulous burgers. They are special for May, so grab them while you can.