One of the food trends enjoying a resurgence these days is “Nose-to-Tail,” a term that legend says was coined by British chef and food icon Fergus Henderson. It refers to the philosophy of finding uses for everything from an animal, be it more familiar mainstream cuts or less recognizable offal. The philosophy has been extended to plants. Cooking “Roots-to-Leaves,” chefs find ways to employ every piece on one plate, leaves, stems, flowers, even roots.
Chef Darren Flowers cooks “Grain-to-Beer” at newly launched Brothers Beer Bistro (366 Dalhousie Street) in the ByWard Market, employing everything from malt to the beer it produces and even the spent grains. “There are only so many ways you can use beer in food,” explained Flowers. “We decided to draw on elements from the brewing process itself.”
Accordingly, every dish at Brothers has at least one component that employs either beer or one of the beer’s “precursors.” Brothers’ single-page menu even reads, “We love beer and it is in everything we cook.”
Brewing is an art form, taking grain like barley, malting (sprouting and kilning) it, and milling the malt with supplemental grains into “grist”; adding water to the grist, heating the “mash” to activate enzymes, and draining it; adding water again, boiling the mixture with bitter flavouring agents like hops, and cooling the resulting “wort”; fermenting the wort with yeast, and aging and filtering the resultant beer. Oftentimes a background in microbiology helps.
Brothers itself is a restaurant venture by three good friends, brothers from another mother, who decided to do something crazy with beer. Flowers, together with industry veterans Patrick Asselin and Nick Ringuette, opened a restaurant that is entirely beer-themed.
Brothers’ media release claims they are reacting to the growing popularity of Ontario independent brewers. Poppycock! With its targeted compliment of sixty beers, Brothers celebrates great beer, be they American, European, or Canadian. Already, there are 40 beers on draught or by bottle from the bar. Said Asselin during Brothers’ media event last week, “We are concentrating our offer on Canadian beer, but the US has been doing it right for a while.”
“We’ve beer stuck at the border,” he lamented.
Moreover, Toronto has been doing beer-themed restaurants successfully for years. Restaurateur Stephen Beaument and Chef Brian Morins’ Beer Bistro on King Street (18) is but one example that late-arriving friends of Asselin and Ringuette mentioned at the media event. Said James Wong, “We just moved back to Ottawa from Toronto. I am so glad there’s a restaurant here like [Toronto’s] Beer Bistro and Bier Markt.”
Beer-wise, Brothers classifies its beers by flavour: malts, hops, “goes down easy,” fruit, strong, balanced, and seasonals. For beer beginners, there is strawberry finished Fruli ($6), Stiegl’s seasonal grapefruit soda blended Radler ($7.25), and Spearhead’s dehydrated pineapple finished Hawaiian Pale Ale ($6.25). For beer connoisseurs, the sky is the limit. Beer we have heard local beer blogger Katy Watts of Sheltered Girl Meets World fawn over include Koningshoweven “La Trappe” Tripel ($8.75), Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel Stout ($9.50), and Camerons Lager ($6). She hopes Brothers will hold special cask beer nights like Toronto’s Barvolo (587 Yonge Street).
Food-wise, Brothers fills a significant mid-range gap in Ottawa with what Flowers describes as “bistro-pub” food at fair prices, $6-14 for sizable appetizers and $19-28 for mains. Brothers’ menu is a significant departure from the par cooked, frozen, and microwaved or deep fried fare you will find in most neighborhood pubs. Beer-first may be the modus operandi, but this restaurant has skilled cooks in the kitchen. There is a pastry chef. The kitchen is well equipped. Brothers even bakes its own bread, presently with spent grains supplied by local brewery Kichesippi Beer Co.
Kichesippi’s Chris Sheppard heaped praise on Flowers for partnering with them for several dishes, including an innovative sweet malt and bitter hops butter service to accompany the bread course. Exclaimed Sheppard excitedly, “The butter just blew my mind! The chef uses the same hops we do!”
He then pointed out the entire staff at Brothers spent some time at the brewery with Kichesippi’s nine employees, learning how beer is brewed.
Outside of the kitchen, Asselin and Ringuette transformed what was formerly a sushi restaurant named Takara into something urban and contemporary. The floor in the kitchen is original. So are many of the well worn tables, only refinished. Similarly, former wood sushi trays have been stripped, stained with coffee, burned, and re-purposed as serving dishes. In place of what used to be almost 80s-era Japanese restaurant decor with sushi bar, there is now dark hardwood floors, exposed concrete, exposed brick, high ceilings, and standard bistro furniture from darkly upholstered booth-style seats to wood chairs.
Even with our following the months of renovations on Brothers’ Facebook page, walking into the new dining room was a pleasant surprise. Asselin and Ringuette make so much better use of the space, creating welcoming surroundings to sit down after a long day, unwind with a good beer, maybe nibble on something tasty.
All of which began at restauranteur Stephen Beckta’s Play Food and Wine one evening. Asselin was celebrating a birthday. Flowers was in the kitchen, then a member of Chef Michael Moffatt’s brigade. He prepared a tasting menu for Play’s former manager and bartender. One of the dishes employed beer. An idea was born. After Flowers and Asselin shared it with Ringuette, a former manager and bartender at Black Thorn, plans started coming together. Brothers opened two years thereafter.
Flowers is also an industry veteran with significant ties to big names in Ottawa’s food scene. He has participated in three restaurant openings to date. Brothers is his first as head chef. Flowers has worked in the kitchens of Beckta Dining and Wine, Black Cat Bistro, and, most recently, Luxe. He studied at the Culinary Institute of Canada in PEI with Black Cat’s Patricia Larkin, Luxe’s Steve Wall, Wellington Gastropub’s Chris Lord, and The Whalesbone’s former Charlotte Langely. Brothers’ week of soft openings invited dozens of people from local restaurants to help stress test the kitchen: fellow chefs, cooks, servers, and restauranteurs. His brigade sports custom Mise-en-gear bandannas by #topChefCanada finalist Jonny Korecki of Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar (18 York Street).
Sitting down with Flowers, he walked us through how he employed beer on Brothers’ menu. “There’s beer in the pans sauce for the steak frites,” he started. “The mushrooms are compressed with olive oil, black pepper, and [Muskoka] Mad Tom and sous vided for 10 minutes.”
“We put beer in the mince for the burger,” he continued. “I make the pappardelle with beer. The dough is very loose, but works.”
“There’s roasted malt in the coffee ice cream,” he beamed with pride glancing at the chalk board dessert menu on the wall.
The Kichesippi Fried Chicken ($26), a generous three-piece plate with corn bread waffle, malt honey, buttery house red cabbage slaw, and luscious malt vinegar finished gravy, starts by brining the chicken for 16 hours in Kichesippi’s flagship Blonde.
The sampler from the media event simply did not do the dish of prodigiously fried chicken justice. We sopped up the leftover gravy that was rich in chicken essence with bits of beer bread. It didn’t matter the gravy had cooled after devouring the dish.
The pierogies ($11) appetizer follows suit. Normally, pig cheek is sous vide in oil, which is infused with hops. Then, the pig cheek is pulled and wrapped in hand made pierogi wrappers with la sauvagine cheese. The gravy is made with reduced chicken stock, roasted potato skins, and butter. It is refreshed with Kichesippi Blonde. On opening week, Flowers served up 120 portions of the pierogies during his soft openings, completely depleting his supply. For the media event he made them with pork belly which he lightly smoked. They were delicious, rich and savoury, easily a standout on the menu.
Unfortunately, the Saturday after the media event and grand opening, Flowers must have run out of pork belly too. The pierogies came filled with potato. Still, the freshly made and crisped pierogies were a tasty indulgence. Pierogies are “true beer food,” according to Flowers.
That Saturday, I visited Brothers so my better half, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend could refuel after Race Weekend. Having finished a 10 km race, they were ravenously hungry.
Despite the restaurant being slammed until 3:00 am the night before, the staff were high energy, knowledgeably sharing tips on the beer and recommending dishes from the menu. Our particular server was very attentive and pleasant.
Now, the kitchen being new, working with new equipment, and still mastering the dishes, I recommend we forgive very minor infractions with the food served. Our burger patties were over cooked, sporting a little more char than we were used to. My steak was a little past medium-rare and served luke-warm. Still, the flavours were right. We didn’t leave a crumb on out plates.
Said Flowers, “I am embarrassed to invite people to a restaurant I don’t believe in. I have been inviting a lot of people here.”
His confidence shows in the beer-inspired dishes he serves.
We greatly look forward to our next visit. And, we will make reservations to try the upcoming lunch and brunch menus, which are planned for the month to come.
Brothers Beer Bistro
366 Dalhousie Street
Tags: Brothers Beer Bistro, ByWard Market, chicken and waffles, featured, steak frites