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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Corn, Whiskey, and Banjos

This past Thursday, I attended one of Pikk Tavern's tasting dinners. I went to the Upland dinner back in March 2012. It was fun, but I wasn't keen on the family-style meal and the stuffed feeling afterwards. Last month, Mr. K and I gave it another shot at the Journeyman Distillery dinner. It was great. The food wasn't too heavy. The dishes paired nicely with the cocktails. It was a great time. When we saw the September Corn & Whiskey dinner we made reservations.

We entered the cellar to the sound of banjo music. This music played through the night. It was low enough that it didn't drive me crazy. It was a fun nod to the theme of the event.
Despite the banjo music, we were not served buttery grits. The food was good and portioned right. Pikk's really showcased their skills with Mexican-style dishes.

The spirits were from Mississippi River Distillery in LeClaire, Iowa. It makes sense: corn, Iowa, bourbon. I just normally think of the south. They are a small distillery. Two brothers started it in 2010. Now they produce a number of highly-rated spirits. The bourbon was mixed in cocktails, so I couldn't really give you a good idea of how clean it is. But it made for a nice mixer!

Course #1: Fresh Corn Tamal & Corn Cakes with Kentucky Buck
Fresh corn tamal with tomatillo cream, fresh corn cakes with arugula salad, and Kentucky Buck-Cody Road Bourbon, bitters, ginger, lemon, and strawberry

The tamal was cut up into perfect two-bite pieces. The masa was the right texture, solid yet rich. The tomatillo sauce was tart and delicious. The fresh corn in the corn cakes gave it a nice sweet flavor. The arugula spice balanced that out. It all paired well with the Kentucky Buck. The cocktail was a blend of tart, sweet, bitter and spice; all elements in the first course. The fresh strawberries were fun to pick out after I finished the cocktail.

Course #2: Risotto with Marmalade Whiskey Sour
Risotto with corn and spinach puree and goat cheese. Marmalade Whiskey Sour-Cody Road rye whiskey, orange marmalade, lemon, bitters, sweet corn, and egg white.
I'm risotto picky. It can be done very well or it can go horribly wrong. Restaurant or not, I don't order it unless the spot has a proven track record. Even then, I brace for the worst. This risotto was creamy, evenly textured, and rich. It was done incredibly well. The corn and spinach puree blended well into the rich rice. The goat cheese was a nice earthy touch that went well with the dish.

The cocktail made Mr. K and I remember how much we like whiskey sours. In an area saturated with spirits, beers, and wines, the whiskey sour has been neglected in our lives. It was so wonderfully pithy with the marmalade and bitters. The marmalade and sweet corn balanced it out with sweet flavors. Through all of those flavors, the spice from the rye was the highlight. I wouldn't have guessed there was corn blended into this cocktail. It was delicious.

Course #3: Grilled Pork Chop with Zapple

Grilled pork chop with serrano cornbread and fresh charred corn. Zapple-Cody Road Bourbon, serrano-infused apple cider, amaretto, and lemon.

When they placed the large steak knives on our table, I had a suspicion that our perfectly portioned meal was about to expand to a belt-loosening affair. When it got to the table, it was a good-sized pork chop, but not enough to leave any on the plate. The cornbread had a little heat to it. Some bites had a little serrano burn. The charred corn on the cob balanced out the heat with its sweetness. The grill brought out even more of the sweet flavors. There was some sort of honey butter on it that really sweetened it up that much more.

And it needed that sweetness on the plate. The cocktail was spicy. The seranno-infused cider had a strong kick to it. The amaretto and bourbon sweetened it up. The lemon with the very slight acid from the apple made it refreshing and lighter. It was a boozer though. No hiding that!

Course #4: Fresh Corn Cake with Berry Sauce
Corn cake dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a berry sauce and fresh blueberries and strawberries. Scarlett-Cody Road bourbon, vanilla, hibiscus, strawberry, and lime. 

The corn cake was a surprise. When they said corn cake that's just what they meant. It was like a pound cake. It was sweet without being saccharine. The fresh berries were tart and sweet. One of our companions encouraged me to roll my slice in the sauce, a brilliant idea.

The cocktail was well-received at our table. Not a drop was left in a glass. The sweet flavors of the bourbon and vanilla were balanced by the tart hibiscus and fruit.

Overall, it was a great way to end the meal.

The family-style meal is growing on me. The price is right, and when it's portioned out well the waste is minimal. While I'd rather dine alone with Mr. K, it's okay to mingle with strangers sometimes. I'll definitely check in on the monthly tastings in the future.

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