Oh, Ryan. Poor Ryan. My poor, sweet, handsome Kiehl's-loving boy. This tailgate was a challenge you should not have failed. I don't even know what so say about your performance last night. Actually, scratch that. Who am I kidding? I do have a few thoughts. The first one is, even if you don't watch football you've gotta at least know that people who do are people who like burgers and dogs and ribs and fries and hearty, beer-friendly chow. I mean, even if you exfoliate and get manicures, you've gotta at least try to get into the mindset of your customer -- one who, quite frankly, does not crave panzanella, bone-in chicken, and poached pears. Part of your job as a chef is not to cook what you want to cook, but to cook for your customer. You can make panzanella and spa chicken on your own time while you press your Prada pants, but when your Elimination Challenge is football food, you've got to think outside the poaching pan and get into the grill, get into the grease, and give those Bears fans something smoky and juicy and also at least marginally bad for you. Oh, Ryan. I was sad to see you go.
My favorite part of the Elimination Challenge was when Tom approached him while prepping and asked him why he was making grilled chicken and poached pears for dessert for the tailgate. "I wanted to do something simple and clean so you won't feel too stuffed and get comatose," he said. "Instead of something heavy I'd thought I'd do something light and fresh." Come on, man! Light and fresh? We're not at Canyon Ranch on a detox mission, we're at Soldier Field at a tailgate! I found Ryan's lack of understanding of his mission to be a bit frustrating. It just didn't seem like a hard challenge to get.
In any case, I will say that despite Ryan's lack of judgment last night, I still do not think he should've gone home. I was betting that Nikki would be packing her knives and going for serving store-bought sausage in store-bought rolls. All she actually cooked was the peppers and onions (that she didn't even save for the judges) and she doesn't get tossed off? I'm sorry, I thought that was the wrong call in terms of skill. But I guess in terms of following the instructions of the challenge, which were to cook for a tailgate, the judges did have a point in kicking Ryan out. But still, I felt Nikki's effort was so poor that she deserved the boot more than Ryan.Although Mark came pretty close to being sent home too for his messy station, I did admire his decision to use a real charcoal grill. He also is given the illustrious honor of the Quote of the Show award for this gem: "I'm the only one with the testicular fortitude to cook on a real charcoal grill." Testicular fortitude, indeed. But next time though, I think Tom might want you to find the testicular fortitude to keep your station clean and strain your chowder, alright mate?In honor of the prevalence of beer on this episode -- as an ingredient in the Quickfire and as the beverage of choice to help wash down the grub at the Tailgate Elimination Challenge, I've put together a short list of the my favorite beer bars in New York. After I put the list together I realized that not one of these bars was in Manhattan, so you will have to head out to Brooklyn to check these out. I hope you will. Let me know your favorites too!
Radegast Hall & Biergarten, 113 North 3rd St (at Berry), Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-963-3973.
If you're a beer nut, you've probably already been to Radegast, the popular Williamsburg beer hall owned by Ivan Aohut (who helped open the Bohemiam Beer Garden to the public in 2001) and his partner, Andy Ivanov, who built the place to feel like an authentic turn of the century Austro-Hungarian beer hall with wrought iron candelabra lighting, 32-foot ceilings, and a sexy 75-foot long bar.
Named for the Czech god of hospitality, fertility, and crops, and well, apparently beer, Radegast Hall offers 13 beers on tap -- choices like Dentergems Witbier (BEL), Weihenstephaner Dunkel Weisse (GER), Krusovice Lager (CZE), BrouCzech (CZE), and 38 choices in bottles. Have a seat at one of the picnic tables and you can feast on a menu that offers roasted pork tenderloin with prunes and porter beer sauce served with potato dumplings and red cabbage, veal schnitzel with scallion sour cream potato salad, braised rabbit a la radegast served over Viennese gnocchi, and baked palacinki (blintzes) stuffed with spinach and shallots, topped with manchego cheese ($12).
Stroll out to the "garten," and you'll find 2000 square feet of drinking and eating space with an outdoor grill that offers everything from classic burgers, to Weisswurst, and Rabbitwurst and lighter fare like Turkey burgers as well.
Downtown Bar and Grill, 160 Court Street, at Dean, 718-625-2835.
You'll walk into the Downtown Bar and Grill and think, this is a fine joint for a beer and a burger. You'll walk past the sweet little lounge area up front by the bay window, and take a seat at the long spacious bar backed by TVs showing the local teams. You'll have a chat with Matt the bartender, and just as you're about to order your usual lager or ale, you'll notice the 20 taps serving small batch beers from as close as Brooklyn to as far away as Japan, and think, well, that's impressive. And then you'll be handed the bible that is their beer list -- an 800-bottle document that makes it clear that someone here is a compete and total beer fanatic. And you'll ask for a little more time. And then you'll drink and drink, and drink some more.
Downtown Bar and Grill is one of the most under-the-radar temples of beer in the city. If I hadn't moved close by I would never have discovered it, but now that I have, I've already become a regular. In addition to what's on tap and in bottles, they focus on different regional brewers every week, and serve daily beer specials like a chef might spotlight the Greenmarket's seasonal ingredients.
Beyond the beer there's a really good all-natural Angus beef burger and a menu of seriously good bar food fried calamari, stuffed potato skins, nachos, and mozzarella sticks, in addition to a selection of, shall we say, "Ryan-styled" bar food -- spicy hummus, salmon burgers, Cobb salad, and grilled chicken sandwiches.Beer Table, 427 7th Avenue, 718-965-1196.
While Cobble Hill's Downtown Bar and Grill offers a crazy number of beers from all over the country and the world for that matter, the folks at Park Slope's Beer Table have taken a different tack. Owner Justin Phillips is of the mindset that less is more. His daily-changing beer menu includes only three beers on tap and just 25 in bottles. (While the list changes daily it has included Schneider Weisse, Smoked lager, coriander-laced wheat beer.)
Earlier this year when I interviewed him for a story, Phillips explained to me that his beer selections are based on one single factor -- deliciousness. "Deliciousness is the test for whether the beer gets on the list," he said. "I am against having a focus geographically or stylistically because the beauty of beer is the spectrum of flavors and styles. I support local breweries but I also carry local beers as well as Italian, German and Japanese beers." Sounds good to me. The vibe, as you'd expect from a place that showcases beer, is warm and friendly, so much so that all tables are communal, which is a nice way to get to know your neighbors and share some charcuterie, olives, artisan cheese, and (attention Nikki) homemade sausages.