German lagers always have been the focus at 40-unit, casual-dining chain Gordon Biersch, but in the last year, ales, IPAs and stouts joined the handcrafted beer lineup. The move not only broadened the customer base, it gave Stan Frankenthaler, chief officer for beer, brewing, menu and supply the opportunity to broaden the menu. New small plates draw inspiration from the beers and elevate the brewpub experience, he says.
1. Sized to sell
Frankenthaler launched the small-plates menu section last fall, and it now accounts for 12 to 14 percent of sales, he says. Customers can order individual servings or a three-plate combo to share. “Small plates work well with our concept,” he says. “They make great bar food to pair with our beers.” He introduces new ones seasonally, many times tying them to the introduction of a seasonal beer and using that beer as an ingredient.
2. Mussel power
New this summer is a small plate adapted from Belgium’s classic mussel dish, moules marinières. Instead of steaming the mussels in wine, Frankenthaler simmers them in a golden, aromatic house-brewed beer, and loads on garlic, lemon and parsley. “My goal was to create a straightforward dish with a clean flavor profile that would pair well with our summer beers,” he says. Frankenthaler sources farm-raised mussels, which are in good supply at a good price, he says.
3. Familiar with a twist
The crostini served on the side taps into Gordon Biersch’s German heritage: They’re made from pretzel rolls cross-utilized from the chain’s Mini Bratwurst Sliders, another small plate on the menu. “The rolls were the perfect size and shape for a crostini,” he says.
4. R&D rejects
Frankenthaler initially tried cooking the mussels in a dark beer and a hoppy IPA, but the first overpowered the dish and the second was too bitter, he says. In the style of some Belgian and French mussels recipes, cream is added, but that made the dish too complicated and not as clean tasting, Frankenthaler says. And the Southern approach of adding tomato didn’t work either—it was too overpowering.
Sales of the Beer-Infused Mussels have been strong since it was introduced in June. “We plan to keep this item on our core small-plates menu,” says Frankenthaler. In the fall, Gordon Biersch will do a big promotion around its Oktoberfest beer, with traditional fare of sausages and pretzels, some presented as small plates.