Beer That Drinks Like a Soup. Beer Soup. Lucky Baldwins Pub & Café. Pasadena, CA.
Ye Olde Crazy Idea!
Not since that fateful day when a piece of chocolate crash landed into a jar of peanut butter has a food combination been propelled to such breathless and tasty heights. The Reese's Peanut Butter Cup still reigns supreme as perhaps the most famous fusion of foods next to maybe caramel apples or pretzel dogs, if those. Even though Reese's is untouchable, that doesn’t stop people from constantly attempting to concoct new and delicious (or atrocious) edible duets.
Everyone’s tried his hand at fusing two foods together. We’ve all done it. You’re desperate and the only solid food you have left in the icebox is celery. But, you have jars upon jars of condiments – stuff like mustard, jam, relish, mayonnaise, dijonnaise and Ragu. So you line up the jars, open ‘em up and dip away. Some work out. Some you spit out.
I’ve most definitely tried it.
It began as a harmless joke but then, like many disasters, spun out of control.
I was only trying to impress a girl. It was our second date and things were going very, very well. I took her to Miyagi’s, a trendy sushi restaurant slash nightclub on the Sunset Strip. Think nigiri gone wild! (This is when I didn’t know any better as you’ll soon discover.) Back in my wild days of one stop debauchery, Miyagi’s was the place you went to eat “fancy” food, get plenty drunk and hook it up!
I thought it would be entertaining to request a drink of my own design, a new martini, and try to get the bartender to make one for me. I let my date in on the joke. When our waiter arrived and asked what we’d be drinking, I was ready with my elaborate order.
I told him that I'd recently been summering in Tokyo and there was this fabulous martini everyone was drinking. “It’s called the Sashimi Martini. It’s all the rage in Tokyo,” I insisted. He replied that he’d never heard of this martini but if I could let him know what’s in it, he’s certain the bartender could make one for me. So I told him it starts off like a standard vodka martini but instead of vodka, sake is used. Vermouth is swished around the glass to coat it. Wasabi is smeared along the rim. Flower petal-like shavings of pickled ginger float on top of the chilled sake. And instead of olives on a toothpick, fresh chunks of toro and salmon are stabbed through a mini, red lacquered chopstick, hence the drink’s name Sashimi Martini. I was totally convincing and didn’t stutter once.
In my mind’s eye I saw my creation perfectly and was giddy as a teenaged prankster waiting to see how my vision would be interpreted by the unwitting bartender.
After a few hot minutes of cooing uncensored rap lyrics to my date, our drinks arrived. “A cosmopolitan for the lady, and the Sashimi Martini for you, sir,” the waiter announced. Just hearing him say “Sashimi Martini” was great enough but what stunned me was that my freshly fabricated beverage which did not exist anywhere in the known universe only minutes ago was now sitting here in front of me looking pretty damn close to what I described. Only one substitution was made and that was the mini, red lacquered chopstick. A mini, red plastic sword was used instead.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thanked the waiter profusely to the point of embarrassment. My date looked impressed, batting her long lashes and smiling. Sweet! And the waiter just earned himself a huge tip. I couldn’t wait to taste this joke drink.
We made a toast, clinked our glasses, took a swig of the magic potions and then waited for the booze to shed our inhibitions. She sighed with satisfaction. I, however, tried desperately to keep from spraying this witch’s brew all over my date’s face. I must’ve looked like I'd just ingested liquid anthrax judging by the concerned look on her face. “Is it that bad?” she asked. I couldn’t answer her just yet because I didn’t know what to do with this alcoholic sewage in my mouth. I didn’t want to swallow it but I also didn’t want to spit it back into my glass. So, with no real immediate option, I swallowed.
The caustic and conflicting combination of vermouth, sake, wasabi and sweet pickled ginger seared its way down my esophagus inspiring the mother of all acid reflux attacks. Yes, my friendly friends, mix my bile into this wretched elixir and you have the worst drink ever invented.
Moments later the waiter returned to check on us. I put on my best face and told him that my drink was pretty good, pretty close to what I had in Tokyo. He looked pleased and said, “Great. The bartender will be very happy to hear that.” I took the hit since I was the mastermind behind this massively bad idea. But the really hard hit came when I got the check. Apparently my fanciful creation, at close to forty dollars, cost me three times the price of a top shelf martini. This terrible taste would linger until my next Visa statement.
It doesn’t always have to be this way though. Take this past weekend. It was gorgeous. The rain came the night before, clearing out the smog, scrubbing out the sky until it was minty fresh. Me, the wife and the two shorties headed over to one of my favorite towns in the country, Pasadena. We’d meet my baby brother, who just returned from Dubai, and his new wife at a restaurant. I picked Lucky Baldwins Pub & Café because I love the place and I wanted to feel like I was in England somewhere.
Lucky Baldwins is uncannily authentic with its no nonsense Britishness from the exposed brick to its amusing and abundant beer signage to the dizzying assortment of beers and biers and ales. Many of the regulars are expats from England, Ireland and various British colonies. It also occupies an alley in one of the best parts of Pasadena – Old Town.
Our perky waitress was really excited to let us know that it was the first day of Lucky Baldwins’ 8th Annual Belgian Beer Festival. Running from February 10 through February 28, the pub is offering sixty varieties of Belgian brews, the kitchen is fixing all sorts of Belgian inspired plates and the “souvenir shop” is pushing Lucky Baldwins festival glasses and t-shirts and even Brussels’ famous little leaker t-shirts, yep, Manneken Pis tees – he’s the Statue of Liberty of Belgium only a “wee” smaller.
Beer + Soup = Boup?
I quickly glanced over the festival menu and it didn’t take me very long to know what I would have. Right on the page, second item down the list was Beer Soup. Using that wise sage Homer Simpson’s sense of reasoning, I deduced, “Beer. Mmmm. Soup. Mmmm. Beer Soup. Mmmm, mmmm.”
You know, honestly, I didn't feel beer soup was all that unique. After all when I was in college, beer soup was what one guzzled when one was fresh out of pint glasses, steins, tankards or even coffee mugs and had to pour whatever stout one had into a soup bowl.
Why ain’t I drunk yet?
When my soup showed up, I thought the runner brought over the wrong one. It looked more like a split pea soup than a bowl of frothy, golden-amber broth. In fact, the runner announced it as beer soup. So, I spooned some of the thick, light green purée into my mouth and waited for the beer goodness to come rushing. First came the bright herb flavors of the thyme and oregano, then came the robust potato and leek, next came the unexplainable flavor of clam or some unidentifiable shellfish. I never tasted the beer. If anything, I tasted wine. My wife however said she could taste the beer. Once again, I’ll give her the ultimate judgment since she is half-German. Lucky Baldwins’ Beer Soup was actually quite good. The beer in the soup is Hoegaarden, a Belgian wheat beer. Essentially the soup is a variation of potato-leek soup with Hoegaarden as the special ingredient. I very much enjoyed it although I would’ve loved some chunky bits of something like potato to pump it up some. That way it would’ve been more like a beer that ate like a soup. Or is that a soup that drinks like a beer?
An interesting albeit frightening dessert selection was the Bruin Bier Fruit Cake, a spiced brown beer cake with dried fruit and nuts. The thought of fruit cake alone is enough to tickle my gag reflex. The unholy union of fruit cake and spiced brown beer makes me want to head to the nearest dark corner, curl myself into a tight ball and rock myself to my happy place. I did not need to revisit my Sashimi Martini by visiting Beer Fruit Cake. Hells no!
The point is some duets work like a charm e.g. Elton John and Kiki Dee. Still, others are nauseating like Elton John and Eminem. But that doesn’t mean people should stop experimenting. You never know. Your combo creation may result in the next Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup…or Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross.
My endless love. Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!
Lucky Baldwins British Pub & Café
17 South Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105