One of the most exciting aspects of exploring the world of beer, for me, is the incredible versatility beer allows for food pairings. No, I don’t mean deciding between a hot dog, burger, pizza or wings to go with your longneck lager, although that is perfectly fine. I mean intentionally pairing a particular beer style with a dish designed to complement or contrast the textures, aromas and flavors of both.
This concept is familiar to most people when talking about wine, but beer and food pairings are still something of a novelty, or mystery, to many. I have been fortunate enough to host scores of beer and food pairing events and dinners through the years, and I’m always gratified to see people discover this culinary revelation for themselves. Beer and food is a match made in Heaven — and now in Carbondale, too.
Boondock’s Seafood Co. on Reed Station Road, adjacent to the Holiday Inn, is leading guests to their own beer and food epiphany. Boondock’s opened its doors in April in the former Houlihan’s building and quickly generated a lot of buzz for itsfresh and fun seafood-centric fare with a casual, island attitude. Thanks in part to a lightning-fast transformation from a corporate franchise into a wholly locally-owned and operated restaurant, Boondock’s was able to not only retain its customer base but its tried and true staff, as well.
Owners Charlie and Trace Brown made changes to the restaurant’s aesthetics, but the heart of the business remained, with the majority of the former Houlihan’s employees staying on to make the transition, including Executive Chef Adam Eberlin and General Manager Shane Smith, who has been at the restaurant since its original opening nearly a decade ago. Smith is determined to see that Boondock’s doesn’t rely on former popularity or success, however, and sees craft beer as one way to attract a new kind of customer, as well as expand long-time customers’ options and minds, where better beer is concerned.
Smith plans to add a dedicated craft and specialty beer menu with a healthy assortment of hand-selected craft beers on draft and in bottles, as well as making suggested food pairings for each of the beers. And, if you think Boondock’s will stock only the easy-to-find, ubiquitous craft beer brands, think again.
“I want to keep some unusual beers, something that no one else has in a restaurant in the area,” Smith said. “I’m really interested in giving guests yet another reason to come here, as opposed to the next place, because we have something they want and can’t get just anywhere.”
Try pairing Boondock’s light and mildly spicy Caribbean Shrimp Tacos with a Bavarian-made Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, or Spicy Corn and Crab Puffs with Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and you’ll discover just what he means.
Smith doesn’t expect his servers or bartenders to become craft beer experts, but he does see the value in making sure his staff is, at least, conversant with the expanding beer options and can point adventurous guests in a particular direction or even make a suggestion based on the meal. He also strives to serve the beer in its proper glassware. Pretentious? Not really. Beer glassware, whether it’s a Pilsner glass, pint or snifter, is designed to enhance and accentuate the aromas, flavors and head retention (the foam) of a beer. This is just another way to enhance the overall experience of beer and food the way the brewer intended it to be.
Have a favorite craft beer you just can’t do without? Boondock’s has you covered there, too.
“I think our local appeal is what will really make us different,” Smith said. “If a guest has a beer they are looking for, let us know. I’ll do my best to get it in the restaurant. We want people to make requests and to know we will do all we can to accommodate them.”
It is that kind of personal touch and unique experience that Boondock’s is counting on to create a restaurant experience like none other in Carbondale. With a diverse menu and impressive beer list, I would say Boondock’s is well on its way. The question is, when will you be on your way to Boondock’s to experience your own beer and food epiphany?
SHAWN CONNELLY is a contributor to Beer Connoisseur Magazine and is a Certified Beer Judge. His career has encompassed all three tiers of the craft beer industry — production, distribution and retail.