Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beer and Butterbeans

Sunday August 23rd dawned a glorious day. I knew, from the moment I set foot out of the house early Sunday morning to walk the dogs, that my morning was going to involve sitting on the patio while waiting for Ann to arise. The temperature was remarkably in the low 60's and the humidity was finally down, a very pleasant change from the August status quo. It was a beautiful morning, one of those very special and rare mornings of which we see only a few a year.

I got off work early Saturday night (yes, slow nights do happen in the restaurant business) and consequently, I was up early. I knew since Saturday morning at the farmers market that my early Sunday morning project would be shelling butterbeans. Beth brought the first of her tiny crop of butterbeans to market and I grabbed a big bag of them for our Sunday dinner. Butterbeans are one of my all time favorites: I would suffer a lot for a batch of fresh butterbeans.

There is much confusion about butterbean terminology. Some people use different names for the different sizes of these beans. Some call the small beans limas and the big ones butterbeans and some people do exactly the opposite. This hardly makes sense because they are genetically the same bean. Me, I call them all butterbeans, but if I really want to call out a size difference, I'll add an appropriate adjective, as in baby butterbeans or large butterbeans. Beth's are large butterbeans as you see in the photo. Lima beans do not exist in my world.

Shelling Butterbeans
Outside on the patio, I shelled beans while Grace lay at my feet on the bluestones and stubby-legged troublemaker Charlie kept getting in the raised bed in which the squash are planted, not that it really mattered: this year the squash have foundered and we haven't got so much as a single fruit. That my toes and fingers were a bit chilled was really novel and got me thinking that I just cannot wait for fall any longer. With the days growing noticeably shorter, the locust trees already shedding leaves, and the nip in the air, I can just about taste fall.

Ann brought coffee out later when she got up and joined us in relishing the amazing weather. As I was shelling beans, I got to thinking about what we should do in the afternoon to take advantage of the phenomenal weather. For some reason, probably the linkage of fall weather and hiking in my mind, I got to thinking about the restaurant to which Kelly invited us a couple weekends ago when we were out hiking sweating on the Appalachian Trail. Although we couldn't make it then, I kept the name of the restaurant filed away. I figure that any place Kelly wants us to visit, given that she is a very fine chef, is worth our time.

So we undertook to drive down to Front Royal and try out PaveMint, styled a farm-to-street grill and micro- and craft-beer taphouse. The micro- and craft-beer part of this is important because Front Royal is one of the last bastions where Budmiller holds sway and it is important to forewarn the masses that only good beer is on tap. Already, I can see on the internet review sites that people are grumbling about the beer selection, i.e., that there is not any Budmiller anywhere to be found. My kind of place already.

Industrial Look and Feel
PaveMint is located in a recycled automotive garage in downtown Front Royal and the décor is intentionally spare and industrial as you can see in the photo with the tap wall clad in stainless steel, the recycled pallets, and the concrete bar top. A lot of people have complained about the décor on the web, but I'm one of those people who doesn't really care what the décor is: I go to a restaurant for the food and the beverage. As long as I am reasonably comfortable, the space and decoration are secondary.

For example, in St. Martin we had a great meal of grilled red snapper sitting at a picnic table at an impromptu restaurant right on the sidewalk of the Boulevard de Grande Case with a bazillion scooters going up and down the street and hundreds of people walking around celebrating Easter Monday, so a little recycled industrial isn't going to phase us. At PaveMint, I am sure that because the space is so hard it gets really noisy when there is a crowd, but at noon on a Sunday, no worries.

I suggested that we sit at the bar so that I could check out the beer selection. Glancing through the roughly 35 tap handles, I spied one for Deschutes Fresh-Squeezed IPA and I was done. This is currently my favorite beer. I keep comparing others to it and keep finding them wanting. Ann had an Allagash White, which she discovered on our visit to Portland, ME. We had tasters of Oskar Blues G'Knight, a double red IPA that is too malty for me; Baltimore's own DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus Porter, never been a fan of chocolate or peanut butter in my beer; and Winchester's own Escutcheon Kölsch, a credible beer whose style does not appeal to me.

Starters: Falafel Bites and Crab Tots
Beer selection done, we turned to the menu which is pretty eclectic for Front Royal and is appealing to me as a chef. I like the fact that it is a simple and limited menu and pretty perfectly suited for the tiny kitchen. I decided I wanted duck confit tacos because I am always going to order duck confit tacos when I see them on the menu: reminds me of staff/chef-snacks at my own restaurant. Other than that, I told Ann to order whatever appealed to her. She ordered falafel bites and crab tots for starters and a burger for herself.

These falafels were a pretty decent take on the concept and I could snack a lot of them. Personally, I like more herbs in mine than most Americans are accustomed to, but nothing against these. The crab tots were less successful for me. I wouldn't order them again. They ended up being almost like a crab hushpuppy. I had to work hard to know that there was crab in mine and one of the three was still pretty raw in the middle. Not bad, but not memorable. I would rather pay a whole lot more and get a whole lot more crab for my money. I suspect that I am in the minority.

Duck Confit Tacos
These duck confit tacos were pretty damned decent drinking food and I could eat a lot of them, a whole lot of them. My duck confit is much more bomb that this, but these were honest and delicious tacos.

Ann's Bacon-Onion Jam Burger with Polenta Fries
After last weekend's trip to Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers in Leesburg, I am hamburgered out for a very long time. Apparently, Ann, not so much because she ordered a burger at PaveMint. I strongly suggested she order it rare and she did. This was a good thing because it came out medium. I consider it a success when any burger I order anywhere has any pink in it, so little faith do I have in cooks.

Temperature issues aside, it was a delicious burger and much better than the burger I had at Melt. I'm sure it was a no-brainer for Ann to order polenta fries; I mean, what is a good Italian to do? These were good. I prefer a finer grind of polenta in fries because the coarser grain as in these fries makes a crust that is a bit tough and chewy. Still, kudos to anyone who puts polenta or chickpea fries on the menu.

My little nitpicks aside, I'm really happy with PaveMint and it pleases me that there is finally a decent casual restaurant in the restaurant wasteland that is Front Royal. The prices are very good for the quality. I hope this place really succeeds.

While sitting at the bar, I proposed that since we were already in Front Royal, that we go the extra 10 minutes and visit with Jeff and Kelly at Glen Manor Vineyards and to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner. On arriving, it was immediately obvious that harvest preparations are underway. Both presses are on the end of the crush pad and the north side is lined with empty fruit bins. Looking out over the vineyard, the bird netting is plainly visible.

One Week Before Harvest Begins
After an effusive greeting from Kelly, we spied Jorge and Randall out on the patio and went to say hello to them before coming back inside to taste. The Sauvignon Blanc in particular is starting to round out. I haven't tasted it in a couple of months when it was tasting super acidic. The reds are drinking really well now and we bought a bottle of Hodder Hill for dinner. After tasting, I got a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and we went back outside and sat with Jorge and Randall and caught up on the news.

And after a wonderful day out, we were tired and ready to head back to the house. I cooked the butterbeans and I enjoyed them to no end. As for the Hodder Hill, we decided to save that for another night when we were not so tired and could enjoy it more.

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