The last time I was at Ortino's Northside was exactly a year ago, when I stopped in for one last beer after Sly Fox brewer Brian O'Reilly's wedding (it was a cask Tröegs Nugget Nectar, and it was well worth the stop). I sat at the bar with John Ortino and talked about beer, and keeping great beers on out in Zieglerville, and some events he'd been doing. A pleasant cap for what had been a great day celebrating a friend's marriage.
As I said, exactly one year later -- to the day -- I was at Ortino's again, but this time for their third annual Belgian Beer Dinner. Cathy and I shared a table with some folks we've gotten to know at Sly Fox, Dan "The Big One" Bengel and the Foleys. The conversation was lively from the get-go -- starting with the nasty, sleety weather outside! -- and only got better as the night rolled on. (One upshot of that conversation was the likely probability of me hosting some events at Ortino's in the near future; stay tuned, because I really like the ideas we discussed, something different than the usual beer dinner.)
No blow-by-blow description; suffice it to say that the dinner was excellent. Quick descriptions follow.
Beers: Wittekerke Witte (nice to get something other than the witbier standards for a change), Bier Du Boucanier (every bit as saucy and bright as Piraat and Brigand and the other "corsair-style" strong goldens), La Divine Triple (a pleasant surprise for me to learn that Brasserie de Silly makes a triple; no surprise that it was outstanding and quite different), Petrus Winter (remarked to Dan: "I remember when Petrus was a third-tier Belgian brewer: not any more!"), Gen. Lafayette Inn Abbey Blonde Ale (Russ Czajka brought this up from the General and served as the beer host for the evening; the beer had a beautifully crisp character and an enticingly dry finish, Dan got unusually thoughtful and gave it the laurels for the evening), Gouden Carolus Classic (a full mouthful of beer, rich and spicy-sweet in 'classic' Het Anker style), and St. Louis Framboise (not as funky as I remember St. Louis, but intensely fruit-flavored without being syrupy, a good anchor for the evening). We also had tastes of LaCrosse Lager (the 'just plain beer' coming from the new owners of Latrobe, I wanted to like it, but there's some definite off-flavors there, hope it improves), and a 2004 Perkuno's Hammer that was just fantastic.
Food: Chimay Cheese Soup (smooth and tangy, with bits of red pepper and such), Belgian Endive salad with citrus witte 'vinaigrette' (very nice with the La Divine; I love pairing big rich beers with salad), Mussels in Petrus Winter (very meaty and clean, only one non-opener), Braised pork shank w/whipped sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts (Look...I hate osso bucco, I hate sweet potatoes, and I'm not nuts about sprouts, but these? I cleaned my plate. Fantastic. It didn't hurt that the sweet potatoes were made with Gouden Carolus.), Fresh berries in framboise sauce w/chocolates (quite nice with the St. Louis; the blackberries were exceptional).
Great dinner, and thanks to the greatness of the Passat (best snow car I've ever owned), no troubles getting home through the crappy weather. My thanks to John Ortino, the chef, kitchen and waitstaff of Ortino's Northside, and my table companions for an enjoyable evening of food, beer, and conversation. We'll have to do it again sometime soon!