The annual 10-day festival of thirst that is Philly Loves Beer is upon us again beginning Friday, and our locally brewed beer scene is more vibrant than ever. You're not a serious restaurant with a liquor license now if you don't also have a serious beer list.
Ironically, beer cuisine – that is, dishes cooked with beer, not just accompanied by it – remains relatively underexplored. One major exception to that, however, is no surprise: Monk's Cafe. The legendary Belgian beer bar, owned by Tom Peters and Fergus Carey now for more than 20 years, is one of the undisputed pioneers of Philly's beer boom. It has beer integrated all across its bistro menu, from Ommegang dubbel ale-braised veal cheeks (delicious!) to Gueuze-steamed mussels and monk fish stewed with Duvel.
Nowhere on chef Keith Bellew's menu, though, does the beer itself shine through quite as clearly as with the Flemish scallops. The tart richness of the Flemish sour ale made just for Monk's at Van Steenberge is reduced along with red wine vinegar into a "beurre rouge" butter sauce. And, unlike other beers, which can get bitter when reduced, this Flanders oud bruin beauty caramelizes into a sweet-tart savor reminiscent of balsamic vinegar. With a deep barrel-aged resonance buoyed by a refreshing tang, it adds a complexity to the pristine day-boat seafood in a way that is unique, amplifying the scallops' sweet and saline sea flesh without obscuring it one bit.
– Craig LaBan