Food Meets Beer visits the Bachelor Farmer
Written by James Norton
Only open since August 2011, The Bachelor Farmer is a culinary wunderkind with a silk-lined pedigree. Founded by Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of the state’s governor, the North Loop restaurant has been busy since the doors opened. When we arrived to talk beer with General Manager Nathan Rostance at 8:30 on a Monday night, the tables were full and the air was thick with lively conversation.
But if the Dayton name helped spark The Bachelor Farmer’s original bonfire of buzz and popularity, it’s the food that has fed and sustained it. Despite the deep Scandinavian roots of the Twin Cities, the restaurant is an oddity: it serves sophisticated modern Scandinavian food informed by local geography and the passing of the seasons, and it wows its customers with the likes of house-cured fish, warm popovers served with honeyed butter, and eye-catchingly offbeat silver-plated toast racks that accompany Scandinavian-inflected sophisticated small plates.
“A lot of people out there think the only Scandinavian food out there is your grandmother’s church basement lutefisk,” says Rostance, who huddles with us at the end of the restaurant’s bar. “But if you go to Scandinavian countries, you’ll see restaurants like Noma [acclaimed by many as one of the world’s best restaurants]—great chefs making food on par with anything else in the world. And local food, seasonal food.”
The Bachelor Farmer’s beer list is as formidable and focused as its menu. Comprised of 14 bottles and four taps when we visited in mid-May, the list builds from some strong local roots (Dave’s Brew Farm Select, Fulton Lonely Blonde and Sweet Child of Vine), roams the greater Midwest (Bell’s seasonal from Michigan, Goose Island Sophie from Illinois) and then sweeps overseas to Germany and Belgium to present some more exotic offerings.
The common denominator is a cold climate sensibility and clean flavors, the perfect mirror to the restaurant’s elegant, balanced, light-on-its feet seasonal eats. “Our food is Nordic, it comes from a cold region,” says Rostance. “It’s Nordic, and it’s Minnesotan, which is also a cold region. With a seasonal menu like we have, wine and beer we have from a colder region will pair well with food from a colder region.”
Two of the restaurant’s mainstays are beers made by Fulton, a brewer located “440 feet due west” of The Bachelor Farmer, according to its menu. Rostance’s connection to Fulton runs deep.
“The neighborhood that they’re named after is also the home of Broders’ Pasta Bar, where my father was one of the chefs,” he says. “So I’ve been aware of those guys brewing in my neighborhood for a long time. Then to find them moving into our neighborhood and opening a brewpub and like so many of the other small brewers in town, doing the right thing the right way, it’s been great.”
Fulton’s brewers pitched in to help The Bachelor Farmer with one of its initial staff training sessions. “We finished at Fulton—they gave us a tour of the brewery. They served us beer and we tasted some of the new stuff and it was delicious… so they’ve been really important to us. The Sweet Child [of Vine] is our number one selling tap, and Lonely Blonde is our #1 selling bottle. Not necessarily because we’re pushing them, although we do, but because people who come here respect our philosophy of keeping the neighborhood involved.”
Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine’s balanced IPA style lends itself well to food in general and Scandinavian food in particular. “It’s got a little bit of sweetness to it and a lot of hops,” says Rostance. “I had that with our pickled herring which I didn’t think was going to work, but the herring has a rich sauce on it with herbs, and I found that the herbs and the floral aspects of the IPA worked extremely well together. It was a real surprise pairing.”
The focused nature of The Bachelor Farmer’s tap and beer list is no accident—Rostance offers a skeptical view of competing restaurants and bars that boast tap lists that number in the dozens.
“I’m not a big proponent of a large tap list,” he says. “I think it’s great, but it makes me nervous. How clean are those tap lines? How fresh is that beer, has it been sitting there for a year—the one I’m interested in, because it’s really funky? Or do I have to make sure that I get the Bell’s Two Hearted that they’ve been running through two kegs a week.”
Local brew skeptics predict a halt or even implosion of craft brewing in the area, but Rostance counts himself among the optimists. “I think we’re just getting started,” he says. “It’s a bit of a renaissance of the craft brewing culture. When I moved here in the early 2000s, everybody had to have Summit EPA on tap. Then Surly rolls in and like that gets a national name. And now Fulton, Harriet, those guys are amazing … I can’t wait to get their stuff in here. And this new Steel Toe thing which I haven’t tried yet, but I hear is spectacular.”
For Rostance and The Bachelor Farmer, the connection between seasonal local food and local brew couldn’t be any more direct or obvious.
“We’re a small restaurant and we’re a local restaurant first—we want to support other people trying to make it like we are. There are all these cool local brewers and we want to try to support that.”
THE BACHELOR FARMER’S KILLER PAIRING #1:
Pork Belly, Sunny Side Pheasant Egg, Pea Shoots, Pickled Rhubarb ($12) + Great Lakes Elliot Ness Vienna Lager ($5)
“With the really rich pork belly, I want something that accents that richness and caramelization—but at the same time, I don’t want something that blows it away, because it’s got the light egg to it and the pea shoots,” says Rostance. “The light body of that Elliot Ness with the caramel-y, almost fruity flavor is really good with this dish.”
Here, the lager transforms and lightens the “pork” flavor of the pork belly at the expense of the heavier, saltier “bacon” aspect of the dish, making the hearty dish as a whole a more softly spoken and elegant affair.
THE BACHELOR FARMER’S KILLER PAIRING #2:
House-smoked Steelhead Trout, Fingerling Potato Salad, Dry-Cured Mullet Roe, Bay Arugula + Oro de Calabaza ($25 for a 25.4 oz. bottle)
Oro de Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Ann Arbor, MI is one of the most interesting beers you’ll find in the Twin Cities—or, quite possibly, the United States. “Jolly Pumpkin is really one of great, weird-slash super cool brewers in the country,” says Rostance. “Everything the brewer does there is open fermentation—he uses some cultured yeast, but also some natural indigenous yeast. The Oro de Calabaza has a real lambic-y sourness to it that I love.”
Rostance lauds the balanced sour acidity of the beer, which plays out like a wine when paired with food. “We have a smoked trout dish that’s served with some bright greens and some fish roe and a mustard-y, bright potato salad that works so well with that—the beer cuts the fattiness of the fish, but the fish lifts the acidity of the beer almost to a citrusy place, so they kind of play with each other really neatly.”
When we tasted this pairing, we thought the beer finished the sentence that the fish started, a truly happy partnership.
James Norton writes about food and drink for the Heavy Table (heavytable.com).