When Chef Rick Araujo asked how many people were visiting Civic Kitchen & Drink in Westborough for the first time, more than half of the hands in the room went up. Most of the newcomers had come on account of Civic’s collaboration with B.T.’s Smokehouse, the barbeque sanctuary in Sturbridge that has amassed a cultish following and national recognition for its brisket – something Director of Operations William Nemeroff will tell you is hard to come by in New England.
This event embodied pairing in every essence of the term. Not only did Araujo and Nemeroff loop themselves into a captivating dichotomy, Wormtown Brewery likewise found itself along for the thrilling ride. Brand Ambassador Kyle Sherwood was on hand for the evening, easing guests into an easy drinking Helles Lager, which he refers to as a ‘brewer’s beer’ in his acknowledgment that there’s very little to hide behind in the style’s margin of error.
Nemeroff and Araujo talked smoke all night, though it’s safe to say they never blew any our way. The first course arrived on hand crafted plates, featuring cold smoked Faroe Island salmon. The Faroe Islands are a small, remote island group noted for boutique production of Atlantic Salmon and a commitment to fish welfare and sustainability. In Nemeroff’s care, the salmon had undergone a two day cure of 50% sea salt and 50% sugar before cold smoking over hickory and applewood, procured locally in Sturbridge. The fish maintained its supple oily texture, pairing nicely with homemade creme fraiche to balance its richness. The plate was finished with sphericated dill pearls made from white wine, lemon, and fresh dill. A pour of Wormtown Irish Red Ale boasted a light and toasty malt to accompany crisp wedges of fresh rye bread.
The second course proved our highlight of the evening, pairing a double smoked pork jowl and cheddar grits with Wormtown African Queen Be Hoppy IPA. The prized jowl had been brined for 8 days, smoked once, cooled for 24 hours, and smoked again. Little plum rumtopfs accompanied the jowl, preserved with a traditional German technique. Each Vermont plum had been carefully packed into a mason jar and sealed with sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, and a healthy cap of rum, last August. Interestingly enough, the grits hailed from Four Star Farms which regularly provides Wormtown with a plethora of hops for brewing. On the beer pairing, Sherwood said, “Just like grapes, when you grow a hop, you get unique flavors. This hop from South Africa called African Queen has a really unique earthy, honey, tea flavor to it.” Wormtown opted to pair the unique hops with local honey to accent the African Queen along with the beautifully executed citrus notes in their Be Hoppy. “One of our brew staff, Chris keeps bees for local honey. With increased production, we obtained additional honey from Boston Honey Company to secure enough local honey to brew this beer on a large scale,” Sherwood explained.
The third course was as tantalizing as one might expect. B.T.’s 26 hour smoked beef brisket is cause for commotion. If you don’t believe me, stop by B.T.’s and wait in what I deem the most worthwhile line in Massachusetts. B.T.’s sold 120,000 pounds of hand-selected, hand rubbed beef brisket last year.
It was dessert that presented the biggest surprise, namely to the chefs. As they told it, when it came time for the final course, both apron-clad men looked at one another to inquire about the whereabouts of the banana pudding. Realizing they had both come up empty handed, the duo embraced collaboration in every sense, whipping up a delicious treat from scratch in the eleventh hour. Sherwood paired the pudding with Spies Like Us Imperial Stout, which he calls a “larger beer,” referring to its lofty alcohol content. Sorachi Ace hops provide a pepper note on the back end of the beer, tempering its sweetness along with that of the dessert.
By the end of the night, Araujo and Nemeroff felt certain that their respective crowds had been turned on to something new. Guests left with equal confidence in their knowledge that something truly original had transpired over the course of the evening. Partnerships like that don’t happen every day.