April was NC Beer Month. Across the state, breweries and restaurants joined together to feature local dishes and craft beers. Sweet Potatoes partnered with Small Batch Beer Company and held a four-course “Neighbor to Neighbor” NC Craft Beer Dinner last week. As soon as Jerry and I saw the menu, we called to make our reservations. This event was at the top of our to-do list for NC Beer Month.
The day of the dinner, we didn’t have any issue finding parking close by on the street. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we were promptly greeted. Jazz music played in the background as we were seated. Glancing around the restaurant, we noticed original art lining peach walls as ceiling fans twirled lazily. A friendly bartender chatted with patrons as he poured drinks behind a dark wood bar. Flowers decorated the tables, and I was extremely happy to see a table tent notice that Sweet Potatoes was participating in the upcoming Hope du Jour on May 6th. Participating restaurants will give 10% of their sales from that day to the Crisis Control Ministry. Before we knew it, the restaurant was practically full and it was time to imbibe in a pre-dinner beer. The Cucumbiere saison had been brewed with magnum hops (a very clean and non-harsh bittering hop) and fresh cucumbers. The unfiltered beer was amazingly refreshing. A basket of warm, fresh out of the oven cornbread muffins arrived at our table. Made with sweet potato and ginger, we slathered them with butter and they peaked our appetite for what was to follow.
Chef Stephanie Tyson stepped out of the kitchen to introduce each course and share her inspiration. Head brewer TJ, and Ryan Blain, one of the owners of Small Batch, was on hand to explain the beer pairings as the dinner progressed and answer diners’ brewing questions. Our first course was Pretzel Encrusted Oysters with Bitter Greens and a Texas Pete Dijon Vinaigrette. Peppery spring greens, chopped pimento, and julienned carrot had been tossed in a dressing that had a wonderful balance of tart and sweet. The pretzel crust provided a crunchy cocoon for the warm, succulent oysters. These plump, seafood jewels were savored, but quickly! The salad was paired with the Hefe-Vice Wheat. This was a traditional Hefeweizen brewed with Tettnang hops, one of the noble aromatic hops of Germany with a slightly spicy aroma and flavor, and Hallertau hops. I particularly liked the clove aroma and taste with the fresh greens.
The second course was a Sweet Potato Biscuit Flatbread covered with Gorgonzola, Stout Braised Brisket, and Vidalia Onion Jam. A tender biscuit crust, browned on the bottom, had been heaped with shredded brisket, creamy blue cheese, sweet onion jam, and sliced green onions. The flatbread was hands down the best dish of the evening. Multiple guests requested that it be added to the permanent menu. The sauce on the lean brisket had a spicy sweet flavor, and the Percolator Mocha Cappuccino Stout enhanced the experience. Percolator is dry hopped and brewed with expresso beans. This heavenly dark beer with a luscious coffee aroma and flavor also has Ecuadorian cacao nibs that imparted a chocolate taste. It’s my favorite beer currently on tap at Small Batch.
Our third course was Bacon Wrapped Pork Cheeks with Confetti Rice Cakes and Gumbo Gravy. I regret our pictures didn’t turn out because it was beautifully plated. Two pork bundles had been gift wrapped in bacon. One crowned the colorful rice cake dotted with vegetables and the other nestled in rich, hearty okra gumbo gravy. The pork itself was fork tender, not at all fatty. We were quite impressed. We’ve tried pork belly but this was our first adventure with pork cheeks, and it was a delicious escapade. There was a change to the beer for this course from the printed menu. It was paired with Bellissomo Saison, a basil farmhouse ale. Flavored after brewing with fresh basil, each sip refreshed the palette following a nibble of peppery gumbo, salty bacon, and succulent pork.
The dessert course was a Buttermilk Tart with Pineapple-Mix Berry Salsa. The flaky tart was similar to an egg custard and was topped with a swirling cloud of whipped cream. I loved the side of fruit salsa with fresh herbs and raspberry drizzle; it surprised me with a bit of spicy heat. The heady aroma of fruit in the Riptide White IPA paired well with this fourth course. The hop bitterness of the IPA along with the natural berry tartness evened out the dessert.
It was a remarkable evening of incredible food, marvelous NC craft beer, and terrific conversation. We are looking forward to returning to Sweet Potatoes. They are open for lunch and dinner Tuesday – Saturday and brunch on Sunday. On Wednesday evenings, they have Burger Night. Their Facebook page abounds with scrumptious photos of their many burger specials. Small Batch has their “1st Annual Derby de Mayo” coming up on May 3rd from 12-9pm. They’re open seven days a week, and you can check out their website for the hours. I think their mottos “Sweet Potatoes- Changing the world, one bite at a time” and “Small Batch – Quality is nothing without the passion to create” speak volumes about their standards, commitment, and vision.