Food Meets Beer Goes Whole Hog at Pig & Fiddle
By Jason Walker, The Heavy Table
Photos by Jamie Schumacher
Known as one of the pioneering craft beer bars in the Twin Cities, Saint Paul’s Muddy Pig has devoted fans from all over the metro who keep coming back for its array of tap beers, Belgian beer festivals, and lengthy whisky list. The Muddy Pig serves food, sure, but the main draw is the bar.
When owner Mark Van Wie decided to create a new version in Minneapolis, he made two key decisions: keep the same commitment to local and Belgian craft beers, and hire the talented Stephanie Kochlin as head chef.
The result is Pig & Fiddle, a cozy gastropub that leans toward old-world cuisine while squeezing 30-some taps and a new liquor program out of half the old Pearson’s Edina space. It’s been a welcome addition to a neighborhood starving for a craft beer selection, and in the year-plus it’s been open Pig & Fiddle has slowly endeared itself to the 50th and France crowd, who, let’s face it, probably doesn’t often trek to the original Muddy Pig for IPA flights.
Pig & Fiddle is perfectly befitting of the “Food Meets Beer” column in that Kochlin includes beer in every menu item possible, even desserts. Although admittedly not a lifelong beer aficionado, Kochlin has talented taste buds that easily draw out the nuanced flavors of high-quality beers. When producing the day-to-day menu or a special pairings list for one of Pig & Fiddle’s many beer dinners, Kochlin – often with husband Andy Lilja, chef at Saint Paul’s Colossal Cafe – analyzes each beer’s flavors and cooks accordingly.
“She’s not a big beer drinker, but she’s got a great palate,” Van Wie said. “We tried the five beers that we were going to have for a Bell’s dinner and she just gets one little glass and is able to pull out a lot of the subtle flavors: like apricots, peaches and pears. And then she comes up with a dish that either incorporates those flavors or pair with it really well.”
Take Kochlin’s mussels with frites. She wanted to use a Belgian white ale in the dish, chose Hoegaarden, examined its flavor profile, and then created a relatively simple preparation using bacon, shallots, garlic, lemon, parsley and a lot of butter. Oh, and plenty of Hoegaarden, a good entry-level Belgian with muted flavors of banana, citrus, white pepper and wheat. It’s a fine beer, and one that would pair well with pretty much anything, but Kochlin’s choice of mussels was especially astute. Both Hoegaarden and mussels have relatively simple flavor profiles and need little accoutrement; prepared and enjoyed simply is the key, and Kochlin was wise not to meddle.
“When I developed this one, I didn’t want anything too overpowering to go with it,” Kochlin said. “We put in a little lemon to highlight the citrus notes, and the house-made bacon is just to add a little fat to it.”
“(Hoegaarden) is the ultimate summer beer,” Van Wie said. “All the goodness of lemonade for the summer, but it’s beer. Thirst-quenching and flavorful. You don’t have to sit and think about it a lot. I just enjoy the hell out of this.”
The frites are (obviously) one of Pig & Fiddle’s few menu items made without beer, but when served with the mussels it would be a crime not to douse ’em with the Hoegaarden broth. The salty tang of Kochlin’s crispy house-made fries, combined with the citrus and bacon from the beery mussel broth, is truly difficult to resist. This is a dish that would be wonderful any time of year, noon or night.
“One Saturday night a table drank the broth out of the mussels,” Pig & Fiddle manager Josh Turbes said. “They held the pot up to their mouth, drank it and gave compliments to the chef.”
That’s a great story, but it does reinforce Van Wie’s belief regarding beer pairings: Most people don’t want to pick apart every flavor, spice or note—they just know what they like. His advice is to tone down the thinking and just start enjoying, just like the broth-drinkers did.
“We don’t want to over-analyze our pairings either, just put good stuff together that reasonably complements it,” Wie said. “Most of the time the flavors are a lot more subtle, you don’t really notice it, but the pairings are going well together.
“We get a lot of comments from people who try two things together and say they’ve never thought about pairing beer with food. They’ve always done wine. Wine is so one-dimensional; you’ve got the grape and that’s about it. Beer you’ve got grains, hops and yeast, and there’s so many different flavors you can go with.”
Plus, if you’re unsure about a pairing, the great thing about a gastropub like Pig & Fiddle is that the staff is trained to help. The servers, usually beer fanatics themselves, are knowledgeable because they’ve tried all the food and beers, so they’re not shy about steering people toward their personal favorites. Just ask a few questions, think about what’s sounding good at that particular moment, and you’ll be sent to the right category.
“You don’t always want to deter people from what they want,” Turbes said. “So if they want a stout, say, with their mussels, we’re not going to distract them. People’s palates are all different. But we are good educators. We’ve got it down pretty well.”
Pig & Fiddle Killer Pairing #1: Braised Beef Carbonnade and Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale
A relatively simple Flemish staple, Kochlin’s beef carbonnade is a hearty beef-and-beer stew that she finishes with mustard, vinegar and brown sugar. It’s served with a traditional accompaniment, stoemp, or braised vegetables mixed into mashed potatoes (Kochlin’s stoemp uses carrots and brussels sprouts).
“I love the sweetness of the carrots, the pungency of the sprouts,” she said. “This one is so simple with beef, stock we make here, and the beer, then we just cook it for a really long time. There’s flour involved, and onions, but we just finish it with all those nice ingredients and try not to mess it up, really.”
The Tilburg is nice and malty but not intense, roasted and nutty but not overpowering. A fine beer for nearly any occasion, but combined with the mustardy beef and buttery potatoes it really packs a 1-2-3 punch of complementary flavors. This dish has been a cold-weather menu item thus far, but Kochlin said its popularity made her think it could be a year-round staple.
I agree. The velvety beef alone sets the bar for anyone’s concept of pot roast, but paired with the intensely buttery stoemp and the malty ale, it’s a knockout. Sure, it’s terrific on a chilly day, and devouring it near Pig & Fiddle’s giant fireplace would make even Rip Van Winkle yearn for a nap, but I’d take it any time of year. The combination of nutty, malty ale and savory beef never gets old; Kochlin’s dish is the standard for feel-good dining.
“It was our number-one seller last year,” she said. “I really like acid-balanced foods, and it’s traditional to put the sugar, vinegar and mustard together; that’s how it’s supposed to be, sweet and sour.”
Pig & Fiddle Killer Pairing #2: Chocolate Stout Pudding and Summit Oatmeal Stout
The chocolate stout pudding is a great example of Pig & Fiddle’s devotion to beer: it’s just eggs, sugar, Summit Oatmeal Stout and chocolate – a custard without cream. Topped with a brown sugar crème anglaise, it’s a luxurious way to end a meal, especially paired with its eponymous brew.
“We always have that on tap because we always use it for this dessert,” Kochlin said. “You might have thought of a chocolate stout, but I’m glad we used oatmeal because it has a much more bitter thing going on. That’s what’s so unusual about this dessert – you never see beer in a dessert pudding like this.”
Every restaurant has a chocolate dessert, and often they can be predictable, serviceable afterthoughts the pastry chef is forced to offer for those who can’t live without. But here, even the generally chocolate-averse can order with confidence, as the pudding is less an homage to cocoa as a celebration of the local gem that is Summit Oatmeal Stout.
“I like the roastiness of it,” Turbes said. “I almost get some coffee to a certain extent, a tad bit of sweetness. I like that. It’s a creamy delicious stout, creamy delicious pudding. It coats the throat.”
“Everybody relates stout to Guinness,” Van Wie said, “but I don’t like its sourness and just don’t care for it anymore. We had at least five stouts on once at The Muddy Pig and did a blind taste test. Every single person picked the Summit Oatmeal Stout as their favorite.”
Agreed, and I can’t remember a chocolate dessert I’ve enjoyed more.
The Heavy Table is a daily Twin Cities-based magazine passionately telling the stories of food and drink — from roots to table — in the Upper Midwest.