Cooperstown, NY: Outstanding Beer Dinner at Brewery Ommegang with Ric Orlando – Part 1 [Hell Dinner]

While I’ve been to Ommegang since they’ve opened their new visitor center and café (during last year’s Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, arguably THE best beer fest in the area), this is my first time at going in, checking it out, and having a meal there. With Chef Ric Orldano of New World and Chopped fame at the helm, I couldn’t have picked a better meal to start with.

Now, I’ll admit. I was a little weary when I received the email from Ommegang’s Event Coordinator last Thursday and saw some of the menu items. Chicken livers, rice cakes, snails, edamame, lamb shank tagine, harissa? Um, no thanks. Some of this stuff was just out of my comfort zone. I was starting to get disappointed. Luckily, the feelings were completely unfounded, and I’ve learned to just put my trust in Chef Orlando’s hands.

I walked in and checked out Ommegang’s new digs. This a serious upgrade to the previous space which was pretty nice on it’s own. I didn’t get to see the bar area as it was closed, but they ushered us into the new café pretty quickly. It is absolutely gorgeous. It seats about 60 people, which means we had a full house. Each table sat about 8 people, and we were lucky enough to be seated at the Brewmaster’s table. I didn’t know how cool that was going to be until later in the evening.

We got about a half hour of tastings of pretty much everything they had on tap. I tried a few of the beers I knew weren’t going to be offered later for the dinner and the Chef brought some sauteed chilies to munch on before dinner began. These weren’t too hot, but they were a preview of what we had in store for the rest evening. Chilies, chilies and more chilies!

We were asked to take our seats, and like I said earlier we were seated at the Brewmaster’s table. Across from me sat Ommegang’s Brewmaster Phil Leinhart and his wife, and the rest of the table was filled out by his family, Chef Ric’s wife Liz, and some more Ommegang crew. Chef Ric came over to check on the table between each course and I was giddy like a schoolgirl to sit here and chatting with these folks the whole night.

Both Phil and Chef Ric got up to say a few words before the first course was served. Phil discussed the direction that Ommegang is taking Great Beer Deserves Great Food. Chef Ric gave an intro to this idea of Hell Dinner, where the dishes get progressively hotter and hotter through the night. Each dish was rated on the “Ric-ter” (har har) scale, a 1-10 scale specifying the heat of the dish. All of the dishes that night were rated between 5 and 10, and at this point I was probably drooling on myself.

This first course was Piri Piri Chicken Livers with Berkshire Bleu and Celery Salad paired with Ommegang’s BPA. Piri piri is rated at 50,000-175,000 scovilles, but this dish was pretty mild. That was fine with me since I knew it was only going to get hotter through the night. The liver was better than expected. This was followed up with Pork Belly Jigae with chewy rice cakes and kim chee paired with Hennepin. This was, without a doubt, my favorite dish of the night. I still crave it today, and can’t wait to make it in my own kitchen. It had the perfect amount of heat: enough to make your nose start to run but not so hot it would hurt you.

The next course was interesting. “Tie Dye Pie” was a small pizza with “Purple Haze” sauce and four cheeses paired with the Rare Vos Amber Ale. This Purple Haze is a habanero sauce blended with red cabbage to give it the color of its name, along with ginger and pineapple for flavor. The crust and cheese were great, but I’ll admit I was a tad disappointed in the sauce. It was an 8 out of 10 on the Ric-ter scale, and had habeneros in it; I was ready to burn. That didn’t happen, but Chef Ric did come out and explain to us that the habaneros tonight were a little on the milder and so would be the sauce. Oh well, I still want to try it again at New World, either in pizza or shrimp form.

Continued in Part 2

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