In the film Tiny Furniture, writer, director and budding indie phenom Lena Dunham plays Aura, a recent college grad struggling to find herself after having moved back into her childhood home in New York City.
Aura’s misadventures include her attraction to Keith (David Call), a blithely self-impressed sous chef, which culminates in a fast, uncomfortable tryst inside a metal pipe.
If Keith is the epitome of the detached arrogance that New York’s obsessive foodie-ism allows among chefs, then Blue Corn Café and Brewery chef David Sundberg is his antithesis.
On a recent Wednesday, Sundberg worked the room at Blue Corn’s south side location, squatting down to talk with diners about his new spring menu. For Blue Corn’s 15th anniversary, Sundberg had prepared small tastings to complement one of the brewery’s latest offerings, a “Colossal Pils” that brings new depth (and considerable strength) to micro-brewed pilsners.
Sundberg is energetic and talkative, and while he’s clearly passionate about food—he slips in references to ayurvedic medicine while explaining how to make tea-flavored ghee, for instance—he’s not one to sugarcoat anything.
“There’s a lot of fat in that,” he concludes after dissecting the contents of our first tasting—buttermilk biscuits, Earl Grey ghee, duck confit, duck lardons and orange glaze. “If I gave you a plate of that, it’d be like eating a huge plate of biscuits and gravy. The beer,” he says, pausing for emphasis, “cleans that up.”
Does it ever. The biscuits are heavily decadent, but the pilsner is clean and refreshing—Sundberg describes grassy, floral notes and a hint of tangerine and orange peel—without sacrificing complexity. It’s also 8.7 percent alcohol by volume—nearly twice the content of most commercial beers, and probably the reason Blue Corn limits its 13-ounce pours to two per person. As one member of our party puts it, the beer is “dangerously refreshing.”
Sundberg’s second offering, a butter-crust tart filled with banana, ginger, orange peel and homemade crème fraiche, topped with a dusting of curry powder and local honey, is less awe-inspiring, but the beer elevates (and I’m not sure I knew beer could do this) the food.
Although we’re thoroughly enjoying the pilsner, our waiter subtly reveals that Wednesdays are $2 pint nights (4-10 pm). We jump at the opportunity to try more of Blue Corn’s seasonal brews; the Redolent Rye’s floral hops and earthy aftertaste make it a clear winner.
Per Sundberg’s recommendations, the women order from the anniversary menu—mango and black bean empanadas with mint crema ($8.95 for four huge ones); a spinach salad with a generous serving of grilled chicken ($11.95); the spring lamb sandwich, a gigantic pile of thinly sliced roast lamb over green chile cheese bread with mint butter, asparagus and horseradish mashed potatoes ($15.95, but worth it). (The men, predictably, opt for burgers smothered in cheese, chile and bacon.) The key lime parfait ($4.95, with a graham-cracker crust and indulgent custard that make it seem more like pie) provides a perfect ending.
I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t been to Blue Corn before the 15th anniversary event, but I’ll certainly be back. The staff is friendly, unassuming and happy to answer endless questions; brewer John Bullard is clearly gifted; and there are enough good options on the menu to keep picky eaters interested for a while.
This summer, for the second year in a row, the south side location offers a series of Tuesday “beer socials,” where $15 gets you three separate plates paired with their appropriate libations—and, as an added bonus, the opportunity to hear Sundberg wax poetic about sauerkraut or lamb shanks or pie crust or…beer.