Houston's oldest microbrewery once hosted a tour only once a week, back in the days when the Saint Arnold Brewery was still located in a warehouse that lacked both air conditioning and space for its growing crowd of fans. Four years ago, the brewery moved into a big new facility at 2000 Lyons that offered plenty of room for its expanding lineup of beers as well as even more guests. And in 2010, it began offering tours six days a week.
One common complaint I heard from people trekking out to Saint Arnold for tours, however, was this: There's no food. The brewery has always encouraged people to bring their own meals (as well as board games and other entertainment) to the tours. But for those who didn't realize the area immediately around the brewery is bereft of dining options, the lack of food in the vicinity was frustrating.
Saint Arnold can't magically build restaurants in its neighborhood, but that's okay -- it's doing its guests one better. The brewery will now be offering lunch five days a week, starting in mid-March.
"It seems like a pretty logical thing to me, especially if you have a lot of people coming in to see your brewery," says chef Ryan Savoie, who was recently hired away from The Grove to head up Saint Arnold's new kitchen. Prior to working at The Grove, Savoie was the executive chef at Alto, and has been a fan of Saint Arnold from the beginning. When he heard about the new position opening up at the brewery, he acted fast.
"I sent in my résumé immediately," Savoie says. "As soon as I heard about it." After a few conversations with the brewers and founder Brock Wagner, Savoie was hired.
"I've been a fan of the beer for quite a long time," he says. "And I like the way that Saint Arnold is run. They make a very, very good beer and they're very accessible people."
To that end, Savoie is creating a menu that's equally approachable. His menu proposal contained dishes such as roasted chicken with tarragon dumplings and haricots verts, fried chicken with corn succotash, housemade pappardelle with pulled chicken, mushrooms and tarragon and pork chops with braised apples and figs.
"Or maybe peaches when those come in," says Savoie, who wants to keep the daily three-course menus seasonal.
Appetizers will range from wedge salads to onion soup with Gruyère, while desserts will be made in-house and be as classic as the entrées. Think chocolate cream tarts, lemon poundcake and tarte tatin.
Because lunch will be served in the brewery, expect some of the dishes to be cooked with beer, but not all.
"When it can be used, I'll certainly use it," says Savoie. But featuring Saint Arnold beer in every single recipe could quickly become hamfisted, something Savoie recognizes. Instead, look for beer pairings to go along with each day's new dish. And if you find a favorite meal, enjoy it while it lasts.
"Popular menu items will come around again," says Savoie, "but I also probably won't do the same thing like every Thursday."
Even vegetarians should be pleased with the new lunch offerings. "We're going to try once a week to have three courses that don't feature any meat," Savoie reports.
"Not for any particular reason other than I think it would be something good to do -- a good, three-course vegetarian meal."
Lunch will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and will be separate from the daily tours, which still start at 3 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. on Saturdays. Tours still cost $8, which includes a souvenir glass and four fill-ups from the taps in the grand second-floor beer hall, where lunch will also be served.
In keeping with the tours, the price point of the daily three-course menus will also remain low-cost: The prix fixe menus will never cost more than $20.
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"Brock's pretty adamant about that," says Savoie, who's excited to start serving food that he feels falls right in line with Saint Arnold's overall philosophy.
"I want to make this food that's really good but accessible, just like the beer."