Thomas and I are on our own for a few days: Nora and Cathy are at the national FIRST competition in Atlanta. So after I dropped them off at the airport Wednesday afternoon, I called Thomas to see when he'd be done with after-school activities. I told him to skip the late bus; I'd pick him up and we'd go get dinner...which gave me about 2 hours to kill, and I was running on a long-ago breakfast...er, and I wouldn't mind a beer.
Well! I pulled up the BeerMapping go-to list on Minerva and determined that the closest bar I had never been to was Sidecar. Of course, once I got there, I learned that they weren't open till 5. Crap. And of course, once you're in that Sidecar/Grace Tavern/10 Stone area, you're stuck there, because with the South Street Bridge out for construction, there just ain't no easy way to 95.
Screw it, I figured, I'll go to Memphis. Easier said than done: traffic-lighting over to Broad and up simply sucked, and when I got to the Vine, it was clogged end to end. Crap. I took Vine Street itself, shuffled up through 3rd St. and Girard, and finally got to Memphis with a lousy 35 minutes to play with. I ordered a quick cask London Pride -- joy -- and asked what the specials were. Roasted mushroom soup with thin-sliced fried mushrooms and creme fraiche. Done!
It came, and I'm sorry I didn't have the camera. I got a fresh pint of Brawler (two session beers, folks, being responsible) and got stuck into the soup. I don't like to write about food, because I'm not a food writer (a philosphy I'd like to recommend to any number of perfectly good wine writers who insist on writing about beer), but this stuff was so good... Cathy and I honeymooned in Ireland back in 1989, and we still talk about a bowl of mushroom soup we had in a pub in Connemara...this stuff was so close to that bowl of soup that I called Cathy at the airport. "Thanks," she said, "thanks a lot."
Hmm, maybe I ought to have kept this to myself. Here's the thing: imagine, instead of the usual mushroom-flavored broth with cream and Wondra and some chunks of mushroom, that you get a thick, rich mushroom porridge, mashed mushroom, bulging with earthy flavor...and then a cluster of delicately thin-sliced crisply-sauteed mushrooms on top, floating on a pool of creme fraiche. Not over-seasoned, not covered in rusks, not buried in cheese: mushroom soup, focused and wonderful. I asked my man behind the bar: would threats or flattery work better at getting this on the menu regularly. His considered opinion: "Threats." Fair warning, Brendan, Leigh: put it on, or else.
I bolted for the car. There were times when I screamed and beat the wheel, but I was only four minutes late to pick up Thomas. We slid up side streets to the Newportville Inn. As we walked through the bar to the dining room we passed a big bottle beer cooler, and I saw bottles of O'Hara's Celebration Stout. I'd heard about this stuff, but this was the first time I'd seen it. I ordered a bottle.
O'Hara's Stout is good stuff: dry, but full, and a very nice pint indeed at 4.3%. This came in at 6% ("double-malted," according to Seamus O'Hara), and was even more full. Best of all, it had the burnt bitterness I usually associate with a good imperial stout. It was $10 for the 750 ml bottle, and I thought it worth every penny. There's not much of this left in the market (there were four more bottles at Newportville, and there may be one less tomorrow...), but if you see some, grab it.
And...I did make the mistake of ordering more mushroom soup at Newportville. It was vile: starch-thickened broth, chunks of bland fungus. Disappointing. The Alpine burger, on the other hand, was excellent, a real juicy chunk of delicious beef. We'll call that a win overall.
The picture comes with permission from Chris Nelson, who runs an interesting blog/video/website called TheBeerGeek, and who was just in Ireland for a beer festival on Easter. Thanks, Chris!