Eating off the wall

Rita Kohn

Brewmaster Omar Castrellon at work at Alcatraz. Think lean yet not hungry. Think healthful yet not tasteless. Think slower paced yet not time-wasting. Thinking that way places you on the creative curve of 21st century cuisine. Alcatraz Brewing Company Restaurant & Brewery at Circle Centre Mall is now featuring a small plate and compatible beer (wine and soft drink) menu alongside their traditional large plate choices for both lunch and dinner. Brewmaster Omar Castrellon and Executive Chef Daryl Birkholz admit they feel like pioneers in the changing landscape of food, beverages and conviviality, be it a business or a social outing. Just at the point when news of the expanding girth of Hoosiers is placing exercise and calorie moderation on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 2006 agenda, dining the small plate way is indeed being touted as the smart way to eat. At Alcatraz, fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the presentation in any number of forms and combinations as relish, chutney, chips, salsa, slaw, remoulade or salad alongside meats, poultry, fish and cheeses of all kinds. “Actually, small plates, popularly known as tapas, have been the way of life in San Francisco for quite a while,” explains Birkholz, who joined Alcatraz on Nov. 28, 2005. “When I started here, they sent me to California to grasp the small plate concept. A group of three or four orders four or five small plates to share. If they don’t have to eat the whole plate, people are more willing to try something new, on the recommendation of someone else in the group. “Perhaps they order a combination of crab cakes, pot stickers, spring rolls, three-way wings and spinach and artichoke dip with parmesan flatbread. I create these dishes to be paired with the beers Omar is brewing.” “The beer and fare will be seasonal. It’ll be changing constantly so it won’t get boring,” Castrellon adds. “But we’ll pay attention to favorites and make those available on a regular basis.” Since Alcatraz prints their menu in-house, changes can be made on a daily basis. While fresh/seasonal may be harder to maintain in Indianapolis than in San Francisco, where field fresh produce is more easily available year-round, Birkholz feels up to the challenge. “It starts with the expectation of perfect ingredients. We check everything out before we accept a delivery of fresh foods. The major concerns for us are ingredients, presentation and table setting when we’re trying to establish a new concept in eating,” Birkholz explains. His plan is “to go off the wall a little. Everyone eats with eyes before the mouth. Presentation is extremely important.” The new aesthetic will be distinctly different shapes of dishes in all-white and glassware to match the beer style. Trappist Ale is considered the most complex style of beer. It is fermented with multi-strain yeasts and bottle conditioned, sometimes with additional strains. While the designation “Trappist Ale” is reserved only for the originating six Trappist monasteries in Europe, “Trappist Style” or “abbey beers” by Belgian or Dutch brewers are extremely popular. Castrellon’s recipe is based on months of working with ingredients to achieve the special quality so that the last sip tastes as good as the first. “The beauty of Trappist Ale is that it warms well,” Castrellon explains. You can fully enjoy sipping one glass all through a small plate meal. This happened during a recent visit to Alcatraz when the small plate concept and Trappist Style Ale were introduced to an invited group of patrons. No one felt tempted to over-imbibe or overeat. Birkholz says, “We want patrons to feel more relaxed, to walk away satisfied but not miserable.” Cost of small plates for lunch and dinner ranges from $5.50 to $10.99. Each is presented for ease in sharing with a number of people, and for pairing with each other for a balanced meal to cover the entire food pyramid. Salads, which also can be shared, range from $3.75 to $10.99.

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