July 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Restaurants Participating in AZ Restaurant Week

Arizona Restaurant Week is coming up September 18-26, and we'd like to take this opportunity to encourage participating restaurants to make craft beer a larger focus of this event. While this is part of a larger wish of ours to see more restaurants provide beer options on par with their wine lists, our focus in this open letter is specifically focused on Arizona Restaurant Week (AZRW).

This will be AZRW's third year showcasing the state's outstanding culinary diversity. Each participating restaurant will offer a three-course dinner featuring some of their signature dishes for a fixed price. Most of these restaurants are fine dining establishments as can be seen from the list of participating Phoenix restaurants. As would be expected, they are all lead by a chef trained in the culinary arts and knowledgeable about wine. Most feature an extensive wine list and some even have a sommelier on staff. We felt it is time for these restaurants to begin incorporating craft beer into their restaurant - both in their cooking and in pairing beer with their food.

As an exercise to compare the treatment of wine and beer by these restaurants, we examined the online menu for all 105 participating Phoenix restaurants and came up with the following:
  • 82 had a beer or wine menu (2 were specified as BYOB)
  • Of these, 80 listed a wine menu and 32 listed a beer menu.
  • Of those who had a beer list, only 14 had at least one local craft beer to choose from.
The following are some of the extreme instances of the lack of craft beer focus in the local high-end restaurant scene. This is not to single out any specific restaurants as we feel beer can be shown more respect across the board by nearly all the participating AZRW establishments. For most of these restaurants, it seems that beer is an afterthought. We can only speculate, that in some circumstances, the heavy hand of a beer rep might be responsible for the doubling and tripling of a single style of lager. Still, many seem to put more effort into their cocktail list than they spend picking appropriate beers to pair with their menu.
  • Bamboo Club: Wine list of 42 wines. The only mention of beer was discounts on "select beers" during happy hour.
  • A Different Pointe of View: Wine list is 30 pages long and their website has an extensive sommelier biography. No beers in sight.
  • Morton's Steakhouse: Beer list consisted of Budweiser, Bud Light & Sam Adams Seasonal.
  • Ristorante Tuscany: You can buy a $12 "Flirtini" but no beer is featured.
Of course, this is just a sampling of website menus for these restaurants. Many may offer better beer selections, but if so, we hope this is an encouragement to make that information as accessible as the rest of their offerings.

We feel there are many ways a restaurant can incorporate craft beer into their AZRW celebration. For example:
  • Include a recommended beer pairing with each of the courses in your AZRW menu.
  • Bring and feature specialty beers for the week that you don't normally carry.
  • Work with World Class Beverages, a AZRW sponsor, to turn one evening into a special craft beer night by enlisting one of their knowledgeable brewery representative.
  • If technical challenges restrict the frequency of your website updates, provide some information on the styles of beers you have served in the past . Offer past pairings so that we have insight into your pairing philosophy.
  • Incorporate beer into the preparation of one of your menu selections. Many books have been written on the subject of cooking with and pairing food with beer. Two that we would recommend are Brewmaster's Table by Garret Oliver and The Best of American Beer and Food by Lucy Saunders.
  • Restaurants that highlight local sourced ingredients on their menus should consider locally brewed beer as similarly promotable.
In the longer term, restaurants should work on expanding their beer lists and incorporating more craft beer options. They should also explore the possibility of regular beer dinners with both local and regional craft breweries. There is a growing recognition that craft beer is a compliment to food on par with or even exceeding that of wine. It is our wish that the craft beer drinker who is also a "foodie" should not have to compromise in their drinking choices.

This is also a call to craft beer enthusiasts to demand more selection from their favorite restaurants and to order craft beer when it is offered. The Phoenix craft beer landscape can only be improved through educating restaurant owners, chefs, and staff. The thoughtful presentation of quality beer is a requirement when dining out. We owe it to places that we otherwise enjoy, our knowledge on how to improve our dining experiences.

We will be devoting more time to this issue as we feel this should be a discussion. We'll explore the role of local organizations such as the Arizona Society of Homebrewers and the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild. We'll call upon individual area food and beverage bloggers for their opinions and we will provide first hand information about the Cicerone Certification Program as we pursue certification.

We encourage all to join in this conversation.


Rob Fullmer
David Schollmeyer

1 comment:

  1. WOW! You'd think they would get the point by now!
    You guys should be submitting these things to the local newspapers as letters to the editor.