Houston Gilbreath got into food-beverage pairings while working as a server at Bern’s Steakhouse. He often went to dinner with more experienced servers after hours.
“We’d take turns picking the different wines for the different courses,” says Gilbreath. “It opened my eyes to the real joy of dining when you have properly paired your beverage with your food. It’s just a whole other experience.”
During his time at Bern’s, Gilbreath earned a Level 1 sommelier qualification, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about pairing drinks with food. Since he opened North End Taphouse in Gulfport’s Village Courtyartd earlier this year, we asked for some advice pairing food with beer.
“Do you have any favorite beer-food pairings?” I asked. After careful consideration, he replied “a pretzel and a märzen.”
A märzen is a German lager traditionally served during Oktoberfest. As far as food-beer pairings go, this one’s a classic. Oktoberfest is a couple months away, but North End Taphouse already has their pretzels ready, Gilbreath tells me.
“We have pretzels now and three different mustards – a yellow mustard, a spicy mustard, and a honey Dijon made in-house,” says Gilbreath. “I like the salty and the sweet and the brightness of the dijon.”
Gilbreath makes a cheese dip for the pretzels as well.
Recently, one of the Taphouse regulars requested a pretzel with powdered sugar.
“You know what? That’s a great idea,” Gilbreath said. “We’ve been kind of toying with different dessert ideas.”
Gilbreath dusted the pretzel with powdered sugar and brought it to the customer, saying, “This would be really good with some chocolate or caramel sauce.”
Later that night, Gilbreath decided to play with the idea some more.
“I went home and pulled out my culinary books, did a little research, and came back with some ingredients,” he says.
The next day he cooked up a caramel sauce and a chocolate sauce. Then, instead of butter, he drizzled a pretzel with organic honey and covered it in powdered sugar. He’s now serving these at North End Taphouse with ramekins of caramel sauce and chocolate sauce.
“They tore it up last night,” says Gilbreath. “We sold out of pretzels. It’s become a pretty popular thing. Who doesn’t like beer and pretzels?”
I was curious though, what about modern beer-food pairings? How would Tampa Bay’s craft beers pair with some of the south’s modern culinary delights – like a Cuban sandwich or barbecue?
North End Taphouse is all about sandwiches and locally made craft beer, so I asked Gilbreath for his thoughts.
“We opened with the Cuban – I make the mojo pork here,” Gilbreath told the Gabber. “I read an article from Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group, and how he did his search for the classic true Cuban. There’s all sorts of modifications and versions. His is layered ham, salami, roast pork, pickles and mustard on fresh Cuban bread. Real basic. Simple. Classic.”
It’s the standard Gilbreath follows when making Cuban sandwiches at North End Taphouse.
“There’s a lot of pork in there, and pork can be fatty and heavy,” says Gilbreath, “so I would want something that’s bright and acidic to cut through that. That’s one of the things I learned from wine pairings.
“In French cuisine, there’s a lot of sauce and butter – there’s a lot of fat to it. When the wine is dry, it helps cleanse the palate, wipe away all that fat or cut through it, getting you ready for the next bite.”
Based on this idea, Gilbreath recommends a dry cider.
“Cigar City Cider & Mead makes a golden English dry cider that we have every once in a while. It reminds me almost of a brewed champagne, and I think champagne goes well with just about anything. That’s a good option for it.
“Our beers change so often it’s hard to pick one. Right now, the Motor Works V Twin Vienna Lager is a good one, or Crooked Thumb’s Grandpa Jack’s Pilsner.”
Sour beer, a trend that’s growing amongst beer lovers, and which Gilbreath calls “a little brighter and more acidic,” is also an option to pair with a Cuban.
“We have another one from 81 Bay called Ocean Breathes Salty, which is a grapefruit gose – a German-style sour with salt and grapefruit. It’s something different that would complement, yet still contrast, with the sandwich.”
“How about with the barbecue sandwich?” I asked. Gilbreath is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and barbecue sandwiches are one of his favorite meals. He serves his barbecue pork sandwich with freshly made coleslaw, which he describes as a southern coleslaw with a Carolina twist.
“There’s some acid from the apple cider vinegar that’s in the coleslaw, but there’s still mayonnaise and pork, and a buttered bun with the sauce,” Gilbreath told me. “But I could drink maybe a stout with that. I could go with the Hazy River IPA from Marker 48 when we have that, but it’s hard to get. They don’t make it very often. The Other West Coast IPA from Escape Brewing is a good option.”
As much fun as it is to read about food and beer, I think we can all agree that it’s more fun to eat and drink it. Find North End Taphouse on Facebook.