Chef Jeremy Wolgamott's desire to open a restaurant inside a brewery had been simmering for some time. Beer and food aren't such odd bedfellows, he thought, and wineries had adopted the format long ago. When Wolgamott, then executive chef at High Hat Cafe, spoke with chefs Phillip Mariano, of Domenica and Josephine Estelle, and Tim Bordes, who distributed Covey Rise Farms and Chappapeela Farms products to restaurants, the idea came into focus. When a wave of craft breweries opened in the city, the trio knew the time was right.
They opened Stokehold inside Port Orleans Brewing Company in spring. Here, dishes are intended to match the flavor profiles in certain beers. When the brewery debuts a new beer, the kitchen responds with a dish designed to complement it.
But the result isn't exactly bar food. The dishes are refined, creative and reflect the talent behind the kitchen doors. Blistered shishito peppers arrive under a blanket of sharp goat cheese, lemon zest and sea salt. The peppers, full of citrus, salt and char, are best paired with the light, helles-style Riverfront Lager, a combination that goes down easy and begs for more. Barbecue shrimp rangoons are fashioned into crunchy wonton pockets, served atop dollops of Worcestershire cream and dotted with cilantro sprigs. The creamy shrimp filling has peppery flavors that pair beautifully with the citrusy hops in the Gujarati, a dark caramel-colored English-style ale.
Pretzel rolls are a genius hybrid of beignet dough and salty, pretzel soul. The crispy knobs are blanketed by an aerated Hook's cheddar cheese sauce that carries the sharp funk of the cheese in an airy, light consistency. What's more, the dough for the pretzels incorporates the spent grains left over from brewing, which lends the finished rolls a nice tang and light fermented character.
In a crab roll, hops from the Storyville IPA are milled and baked into burnt rye rolls, which are earthy and toothsome. Grilled until crisp, the loaf gets split down the middle and filled with a decadent butter-poached crab medley seasoned with tarragon and Old Bay, and topped with fresh herbs and thinly-sliced radishes for extra dimension and crunch. The sandwich is paired with the same IPA, a hoppy, fruit-forward beer big and bright enough to cut through the buttery crab.
Not everything is designed for pairing, and that allows the kitchen to expand its larger plates — but there are too few of them on the menu.
In a clever recreation of the classic dish, tempura and beer-battered fish and chips, a light golden exterior covers firm hunks of fish. But instead of malt vinegar, it is served with nuoc cham, the pungent and tangy Vietnamese dipping sauce, and topped with fresh herbs and pickled vegetables. Instead of fries, the kitchen cooks fingerling potatoes sous vide and smashes and fries them until crispy.
For dessert, Wolgamott recreated his mother's peanut butter and oatmeal cookies, a simple confection served with an icy sweet mint whipped cream.
Stokehold is a good example of what can happen when chefs of a certain caliber collaborate. By making the most of the brewery's offerings, the result is even better.