Omar expounding on the virtues of his beer

#Winteryspew be damned. No amount of snow and sleet was going to keep me from attending the annual Surly Dinner at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul Tuesday evening.

Despite the dire predictions of icy roads and certain death plaguing the afternoon rush hour, my wife and I actually got over to the pub with little to no difficulty. We met some good friends of ours, and chatted with Omar a bit before the dinner program began, highly anticipating what was to be a fantastically well-done dinner pairing some of the Twin Cities finest beers with the artful creations of head chef Matt Hinman. The menu was incredible, many of the ingredients locally sourced:

First Course
Composition of vegetables with duck confit, red watercress, lemon vinaigrette, herb mix
Paired with Cynic

Second Course
Fois gras soaked in bourbon and cured in smoked salts, brioche, grapefruit supremes, topped with honey and vanilla glazed pistachios and pumpkinseed oil
Paired with Smoke

Third Course
Seared opah with celery root puree, roasted garlic-braised rainbow chard, passion fruit/pineapple reduction, mango and papaya relish
Paired with III (Three)

Fourth Course
Rib eye on mascarpone risotto, roasted wild mushrooms, Minnesota ramp butter, and red wine demi glaze
Paired with Darkness

Fifth Course
Flourless chocolate cake with coffee-creme glaze
Paired with Coffee Bender


Fois gras on brioche

To say the entire meal was extraordinary would be a phenomenal understatement. This being my first beer dinner, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Sure, I knew the beer was going to be excellent. It’s Surly, after all. And I’d heard good things about the fare at the Gnome. But how well would these two things complement each other? Well, perfectly, as it turns out. Wasn’t forced in the least. Like each course and Surly offering had been German-engineered to go together. The Smoke gently coaxed out the salty character of the fois gras. The hopped, sweet maltiness of Darkness created a perfect entree to the expertly grilled rib eye. And the Coffee Bender helped to cap off what could be the most potent and delectable chocolate cake I’ve ever enjoyed.

What I found even more enjoyable and interesting was the discussion of the beers inbetween each course with Omar and head brewer Todd Haug. Very educational to learn more about the ingredients, stylistic philosophies and thought processes that have gone into crafting each beer over the years.

We left a happy group of Surly loyalists (and newly made Happy Gnome fans), already looking forward to next year’s dinner.