Milford throwdown a delectable success

October 16, 2012
Can you tell that Bonz’ Chef Ryan Cunningham likes his job? BY BOB YESBEK PHOTOS

Wine pairings are all the rage nowadays. Critics can not only impress themselves by waxing rhapsodic over some surly, yet impertinent cabernet, but they can also spout off about the food. Twice as much fun in the same column! That being said, I’ll leave the wine waxing to Chef McDonald over in the Gazette’s Food & Drink aisle, because last week’s second annual Dogfish Head Throwdown at Abbott’s Grill was all about the beer.

The seductive aroma of Sterno permeated the air as six talented chefs gathered on the cozy patio behind Abbott’s Grill. Picture Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown” on Food Network multiplied by six, but without the clever editing. Each contestant was assigned a particular brew, and was required to build a dish around it. The fire crackled as Jay Wilcox played guitar and sang. Each guest sampled, sipped, sampled and sipped some more (you get the idea…).

Former Abbott’s chef Ryan Cunningham, now slingin’ strips and filets at Bonz in Harrington, used bridging ingredients to match up with Dogfish Head’s Belgian-style Red & White, brewed with coriander and orange. His beef tartare (red) with cauliflower (white) paired both visually and on the palate with a touch of coriander and orange. The crunch of the vegetable played nicely with the lean beef slightly firmed up ceviche-style by the pungent citrus.

Longtime Rehoboth kitchen and bar fixture Tommy Long (now at Nalu and Whiskey Beach in Dewey) was assigned one of the most challenging beers: Dogfish Head’s Sah’Tea. The distinctive flavor is derived from juniper berries, black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper. Tommy’s Sah’Te Dawg sausage simmered in sauerkraut that had been marinated in the beer. A dollop of spicy deli mustard made it all work.

Early this year, Tom Deptula headed up Rehoboth’s Cabo Tequila Bar for Jay Caputo and Hammerheads’ Greg Plummer. All kitchens have revolving doors, however, and Tom is now second in command for Steve Cobb and Jeff and Jen Zerby’s kitchen at Victoria’s. Deptula has a pronounced visual sense, and his seared spiral of lamb belly roulade nested deliciously on a bed of black garlic spaetzle punctuated with a parsnip and celeriac crunch. The gentle sweetness of the lamb was happily married to spiced Punkin Ale.

After Ryan left Abbott’s, it wasn’t long before Paul Gallo was working alongside chef/owner Kevin Reading. DFH’s malty 90 Minute IPA can be a challenge, but Gallo was up to it. Glazed and grilled swordfish shared the plate with bacon/squash ravioli, a puree of sunchoke (sunflower root - not an artichoke) and pumpkin caponata (a sweet/sour dish usually made with eggplant). Stay tuned to see just how much people loved it.

Root Gourmet’s boss toque Brenton Wallace recently migrated about 200 feet southeast to join the team at Nage. Dogfish Head’s dark and bold Bitches Brew (homage to Miles Davis’ 1970s gold double album) became the platform for Wallace’s pressed lamb with eggplant horseradish and date jam. The dark sweetness of the dates latched on to the hint of honey in the beer.

Oak-infused Burton Baton was assigned to Chef Dennis Marcoux. As the cook at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, he’s no stranger to their lineup. Dennis crafted a duck and fig sausage (wow - it was really good!) that stood up to Burton-brew marinated quail (more bridging) and noodles infused with green tea. A bright orange chunk of Beemster XO was the bracing exclamation point that tied it all together.

We came, we saw, we ate, we sipped. Multiply that by six. Every one of these guys did a great job, but it was, after all, a throwdown. The popular vote (by the slightest margin) went to Abbott’s own Paul Gallo. The char-grilled/caramelized swordfish, cuddled up with the ravioli (it had bacon, for goodness’ sakes!), charmed the crowd.

The second- and third-place winners became candidates for the Critic’s Choice Award. (Who was the critic? You get one guess. One.) Tommy Long’s chai-infused sausage and sauerkraut bubbling in Sah’Tea Ale was just too good for the afore-hinted-at critic to stand. The decision was made, and it was all over in an instant.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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