When a New Orleans journalist reached out to an enthusiastic beer blogger and a trend-bucking restaurant owner for an article on restaurants offering better beers, little did he know he’d be playing matchmaker.
“Todd [Price] was asking on Twitter about local restaurants with good beer lists,” says Nora McGunnigle, aka Nola Beer Blog. “I fired back so many tweets that he finally Direct Messaged me for my contact information.”
McGunnigle, originally from Boston, moved to New Orleans with her husband in May. “It all happened very quickly,” she says. “We fell in love with the rhythm of the city, the lifestyle, and the neighborhoods.”
“I started my first blog, Nora in Nola, to communicate with people back home. It was a way to connect them to the lifestyle here, and it soon morphed into a food and drink blog. That’s when I started getting really involved with the bourgeoning beer scene.”
In fact, it was after a night of beer drinking with Jeremy Labadie, aka The Beer Buddah, that McGunnigle was convinced to start her own beer blog. And Nola Beer B*tch was born. It has since been renamed "Nola Beer Blog."
“I was sitting in bed with the laptop and my husband asked me if that was REALLY the name I wanted to give my blog,” she recalls with a chuckle.
“I got really interested in the fact that there are very few restaurants in New Orleans where you can get good beer. It’s mostly what we call ‘The Abita Amber effect.’ That’s your choice, along with whatever macrobrews are offered.“ As a result, she geared her blog toward restaurants and bars that offered more than the average brew.
When Todd Price’s article hit the local newspaper, McGunnigle was quoted, and her top beer venues listed, along with another restaurant which she’d only recently visited – Root.
Co-owned by Chef Phillip Lopez, General Manager Maximilian Ortiz and Nicholas Shay, Root is the dare-to-be-different upstart in a city steeped in its own unique dining traditions. The menu covers everything from in-house charcuterie to tea-smoked yard bird, and technically challenging modern dishes that would make Nathan Myhrvold proud. Even all the condiments are made in-house.
“I was impressed by the beer selection,” says McGunnigle, “but the food really blew me away.”
“The beer list is something I kind of headed up,” says co-owner Nick Shay.
Like most silent partners in a restaurant, Shay has a day job that takes him all over the country. “Phillip handles the back-of-house, and Max the front-of-house. I just kind of steer sometimes,” he admits with a laugh.
In the course of his globetrotting, Shay had noted the trend of high-end restaurants offering beer pairings as part of their tasting menus.
“I was always a fan of microbrews,” says Shay. “In certain parts of the country, there’s a feeling that beer’s less pretentious. There’s maybe an unfair stigma in the way wines are viewed, but many people find beer to be more approachable and are willing to pay for it.”
Shay and his partners were already throwing around ideas for a beer pairing menu when the article mentioning themselves and McGunnigle was published.
“I reached out to Nick and Max,” says McGunnigle. “I said, ’Hey, we were just mentioned in this article. You like beer. I like beer. Let’s hang out.’”
What followed was a meeting of like minds. Shay and Ortiz shared their vision with McGunnigle, who told them what she wanted to see as a beer-focused consumer.
“We had a lot of fun, and went our separate ways,” says McGunnigle. “Then a couple weeks later, I get an email from Nick saying they are thinking about putting together a beer dinner, and wanted me to do the pairings. To have a restaurant with that caliber of food and intelligence ask me for my opinions on beer pairings was so flattering and exciting. I think the first line of my reply was, ’EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!’”
“This is one of our first ventures into social media,” notes Chef Lopez. “We do have a lot of friends in the social media space. It’s a powerful, powerful platform. And it’s super exciting as well.”
“I told Nora we’d give her free reign to pick any beer on the list,” says Shay. “Anything we can get locally we’d leave open to put on the tasting menu. When she came in the second time, it was to taste all the foods for the dinner and come up with the pairings on her own. I wish I could have been there with her, but I’m kind of glad I wasn’t, because I may have influenced some of her decisions.”
So, on a quiet Monday afternoon, McGunnigle and her husband tried the dishes planned for the menu and set to the task of pairing beers with the bold flavors presented. “The challenge was to find beers that wouldn’t clash with the food, or pale in comparison. I was impressed with the bottle list they have – obviously a lot of care and thought went into it.”
“The pairings seemed like really, really good fits,” says Lopez. “We’re really looking into doing more with the beer list. There are a lot more beers that we’re looking into and we have another venture, Square Root, coming up in the near future that will have tasting menus.“
“The new place will probably have a much larger selection,” says Shay. “We’d like to keep working with Nora to do more of these dinners if they get a decent following, and use them to introduce new beers.”
Root Beer Dinner Menu
Amuse Bouche #1
Pickled Plums, Heirloom Tomatoes, Black Olive Powder, Lemon Balm “Caviar”
Amuse Bouche #2
Sweet Corn Gnocchi, Miso Butterscotch, Roasted Mushrooms, Huitlacoche Cream, Popcorn Shoots
* NOLA Blonde: Blonde Ale *
Roasted Tri-Color Pickled Beets with “Face” Bacon, Point Reyes Bleu Cheese, Raspberries, Gingersnap Beet Crumble, Candied Pistachios
* Samuel Smith India Ale: English IPA *
Grilled Compressed Watermelon Salad with Pimentón Tuna, Local Goat Feta, Avocado, Chili Lime Vinaigrette
* Bavik: Belgian Pilsner *
Middle Eastern Falooda
Cohiba Smoked Scallops with Chorizo Dust, Caramelized Cauliflower, Fennel Choucroute
* Rochefort Trappistes 8: Belgian Dubbel
Herb Encrusted Lamb Loin with Parsnip Bark, Strawberry Shiitake Barigoule, Parsnip Mostarda
* Brasserie d'Achouffe McChouffe: Belgian Strong Dark Ale *
Yorkie: Chocolate Covered Peppermint Pattie, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Coco Puffs, Minted Milk
* Rogue Chocolate Stout *