Gastro Non Grata 12: cheap eats and big hits at the Triple Rock

What usually comes to mind when you think of comfort food? Chances are it would be something like mac and cheese or rocky road ice cream, maybe with a bubble bath or an old movie. Then again, if you're Gastro Non Grata, hand-crafted beers and frozen turkey raffles set to live music apparently make just as much sense. In this spirit, the twelfth helping of the event - themed "A Salute to Comfort Foods and Cans" - helped usher in wintertime and the holidays last Sunday at the Triple Rock with gourmet tater tots and watermelon beer.

Who says self indulgence can't be edifying?

Case in point: local chef Landon Schoenefeld served up a preview of his new restaurant, named Haute Dish and due to open early next year, with samples of the menu's tater tots. These were no ordinary tots, though. Served with mushrooms over a sour cream sauce, his spuds were lightly breaded with deliciously creamy insides. While only intended as a side dish, it made for a tantalizing glimpse of what the former Weinery (and Bulldog NE, and Levain, and Sea Change, and on and on...) cook has in store.

Schoenfeld also served up his version of poutine, a Canadian dish (pronounced "peu-tin," though he was quick to point out it's not Russian for fear of "politicizing"), which consisted of chicken and gravy with French fries and cheese curds. "The cheese should be melted," Schoenefeld confessed, "but it's a lot different cooking up 120 of these things than it is one at a time, like they're supposed to be done."

In all likelihood, most people probably never noticed this minor flaw, especially if they sampled enough of the beer that was provided by guest brewery 21st Amendment. The San Francisco brewers brought along two beers, their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and Brew Free or Die IPA. The watermelon beer was the bigger novelty of the two, and not just because 21st chose to serve their hand-crafted beer in a can rather than a more conventional bottle.

"I promise this beer won't taste like Jolly Ranchers," brewmaster Shaun O'Sullivan assured the audience as he introduced the beer. "Some of the biggest beer snobs I know have admitted to loving it."

Having tasted the beer, there may be room for debate with old Sully, for "carbonated candy" was one of the first descriptions that came to mind with this watermelon wonder. Fortunately, the IPA - a California-style black IPA - had no such problems, being a dark, heavy brew with lots of hops but more than enough full-bodiedness to leave a lasting impression. In the meantime, the scent of brewing beer wafted from a kettle at the back of the room where staffers from Northern Brewers were preparing a hoppy red ale for the next GNG installment.

If microbrewed beer was a little too classy for anyone's tastes, then Craig Drehmel and Jeff Mitchell - the masterminds behind the event - kept it plenty real with their Dead Meat Door Prize giveaways. "I've got a whole goddamn turkey up here!" Drehmel boasted at one point as he fished around for a winning lottery ticket. The raffle, provided by Clancy's Meat and Fish, allowed a half-dozen or so attendees to not only go home with sated appetites but also a week's worth of food in tow.

There was also live music at GNG, which provided one of the more unexpected highlights of the evening: the School of Rock Road Crew. A touring group of high school kids with no fewer than 17 members, the School of Rock put on a show that was both hilarious and, well, amazing. If the lightning-fast shredding wasn't enough, then the sight of teenage girls belting out "Barracuda" or a kid who barely looked twelve doing a spot-on Bruce Dickinson impression helped put the evening completely over the top.

All in all, GNG put on a great event Sunday night, and there's certain to be more in store in the future, with its next show scheduled for March. Considering they co-hosted a "Shitty Barn Party" at Wisconsin's Furthermore Brewing a couple months back, one can only wonder how long it will be before Drehmel and Mitchell take their show on the road again. If so, there should be more than enough good times to go around.