Don't let chef Lenny Russo's playful manner or the St. Patrick's Day holiday fool you--the cocktail pairing dinner at Heartland with resident bartender Peder Schweigert and Sonja Kassebaum of North Shore Distillery, was no joke. Set in a gorgeous room behind the bar, guests were served five courses (plus additional spirits for the brave), as well as a full description of all the consumables.
The Hot Dish had the good fortune to attend and managed to get a few pictures and snippets to share:
[jump] The cocktail and food pairings were well explained in this preview of the event, and helped to bring some 40 Twin Cities foodies to the dinner. Chef Russo's Irish-inspired plates were made with local ingredients and often kissed with duck fat. The first course of horseradish-infused North Shore vodka (infused in-house by Schweigert) and two kinds of hors d'oeuvres saw us enjoying the sensation of having our nose hairs singed, alternated with bites of creamy whitefish mousse and heritage-breed ham with cabbage and chutney.
Next, a Negroni made with up-proof North Shore Mighty Gin kept company with our tasty trout-topped potato chowder. Kassebaum explained that the Mighty is only distributed to restaurants, as it is 110 proof and properly stands up to the Campari, which needs a strong partner in a 1 to 1 ratio. A Gin #11 and celery soda followed, with some delicious poussin in a celery root and stalk broth. That led to a rather unserious discussion about hiring on a "juici-ay" to help Schweigert create the savory soda at Heartland in the future.
The majority of our table bestowed "drink of the night" kudos on the game and meat course, which featured Aquavit, Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir, and ginger beer with a rabbit dish. The final bow of sheep's-milk cheesecake with whiskey sauce and candied apples came with a mix of Sirène Absinthe Verte, Jameson 12-year, and bitters.
Throughout, Kassebaum spoke about North Shore Distillery, the company that she and her husband Derek (formerly a lawyer and chemical engineer, respectively) have built in Illinois. All their spirits are made in their still, named Ethel, which was handcrafted in Germany and makes about 250 liters at a go. She offered comparison tastes of their gins (#6 and #11) to show how each has a specific flavor profile that might be better in some mixtures than others. The #6 has lavender and cardamom tones, while the #11 is a more straight-ahead spirit that would go well with tonic, for instance.
Chef Russo ribbed bartender Schweigert and then lauded him, for all of the drink elements he had created for the evening (infused vodka, ginger beer, celery soda, sweet vermouth, bitters). He also gave a shout out to Gary Gardner from the U of M's horticulture department regarding the sourcing of the ginger they used and detailed the many local products used in the night's meal. And while the cocktails were numerous, Russo explained that each glass served there purposely had much less alcohol by ounce than what you'd receive if you ordered one out in the lounge. Good thinking--which led to good drinking and eating on St. Paddy's Day at Heartland.