There aren’t many meals that are worth a 240-mile drive, but considering the collaborators, the odds certainly seemed in our favor. The Linkery has a heightened commitment to farm-to-table dining, and even houses their very own butcher shop. They paired five courses with beers from The Bruery and coffees & teas from Intelligentsia Coffee, at only $10 per course.
My first meal at The Linkery was back in 2006, when they were further south on 30th Street, and it’s clear that the scope and depth of Jay Porter’s restaurant has increased since then. The regular menu currently lists 46 different “farmers and artisans” and espouses: “We cure our own meats, bake our own bread, and naturally, link our own sausage. Our fruits and vegetables come mainly from this region’s farms; all the beef, lamb and goat we serve is grass-fed and raised entirely on pasture; our pork is only from family-owned farms. Our menu changes with what our farmers give us.” There aren’t many manifestos that are more promising.
When we arrived, seasoned Intelligentsia coffee pros Nick Griffith and Chris Owens were working a pourover bar near the entrance.
We were there for the special tasting menu, but couldn’t resist some add-ons. The slab of Jalapeno-bacon cornbread ($5.50) was especially enticing. It was crisp-topped and served with a firm disc of Old Bay butter. We also scored some wedges of crusty house made beer bread ($2). The type of beer was unclear.
The first pairing was clever. The Bruery’s toasty Rugbrod – brewed with three types of rye malt – paired well with coffee-infused rye bread topped with creamy goat cheese, silky yellowtail gravlax, dill and garlic “scrapes.”
One of my favorite pairings involved a hoppy glass of Mischief, a Belgian Style Golden Strong Ale, with octopus-wrapped local asparagus. The tender octo was shaved razor-thin and enjoyed some good pop from the longaniza oil and delfino cilantro, and a hit of acidity from preserved Meyer lemon.
The refreshing lead-up to our third course was a glass of cold Bao Zhong Oolong Tea.
Saison de Lente tasted better than it smelled, with mild sourness from the Brettanomyces. Orange Womach Ranch Rabbit was a funny but not so successful take orange chicken. It was served on Bibb lettuce with micro basil and orange zest, and the mushy breading did the juicy meat no favors.
Our lead-up to the fourth course was a cold-brewed glass of “El Machete,” a clean-sipping, fruity Panamanian coffee.
One of the major selling points for me was to be able to try a beer brewed specifically for the event that incorporated Intelligentsia coffee. The Bruery’s head brewer Tyler King ended up making a Toddy Barleywine with a Burundi toddy. Griffith said that when they originally met at The Bruery to discuss ideas for a coffee beer, they knew it shouldn’t be a stout since that style of coffee beer is overplayed. The Bruery and Intelligentsia are known for their willingness to experiment, and that was certainly the case for the barleywine, where the coffee was in evidence, but wasn’t syrupy and didn’t crush our palates. The pairing was a grass-fed beef Wellington filet with a rosy core, a judicious amount of pungent Point Reyes blue cheese, mushrooms and a tangy sauce.
The Bruery’s Trade Winds Tripel was brewed with rice and Thai basil, which imparts a lingering spice and refreshing taste. We had a glass of that side-by-side with a mug of hot “El Machete” Panamanian coffee and a plate of flaky strawberry-rhubarb pie with coffee semifreddo. Without the semifreddo, there would have been a disconnect between the dessert and coffee. Then again, I probably would have enjoyed the coffee on its own, after dessert, and done without the crystalized semifreddo altogether.
The official tasting menu was over, but I couldn’t resist The Linkery’s lardo ice cream sandwich ($10). They make an ice cream with house-cured lardo (pig fat) and sandwich it inside two oversized (and quite rich) hazelnut-Taza chocolate chunk cookies. The topper is a sheet of candied house-cured bacon. The lardo ice cream was surprisingly mild. Luckily, that was the only mild aspect of the devastating plate, which also featured bacon fat-infused caramel.
After our meal, and all that beer and coffee, it was unclear whether the bovine that was crafted from “fruit” and parked outside the restaurant was an illusion. Turns it was Daisy, the charitable cow, who appeared in support of school lunches.
The Bruery-Intelligentsia-Linkery Night was the highlight to a productive (and gluttonous) trip to San Diego. Was it worth 240 miles on the odometer? Considering what else we managed to experience, and that there may never be another collaboration like that, sure.