Story and photos by Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor
Pork osso buco. Lemongrass coconut ice cream. Challah bread paired with a flight of local beer.
Vibrant flavors with surprising and ambitious pairings of ingredients will abound in Harrisonburg next week as part of the 2020 Taste of Downtown.
Harrisonburg’s chefs, bakers and brewers are reaching deep into their wells of creativity — and recipe books — as part of the annual event organized by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. It’s meant to showcase the town’s culinary arts, and participating businesses are running specials and hosting events from Mar. 9-15.
The Citizen went behind the scenes with a few of the local epicureans to see what they’re cookin’ up for next week.
The Friendly Fermenter, 20 South Mason Street
The Friendly Fermenter is holding a “Beers, Breads, and Spreads” event on Thursday by reservation only. For $20, patrons get small pours of four beers brewed on the premises, each paired with sourdough bread from Gray Jay Provisions or challah bread from The Challah Lady in Luray, and a sweet or savory spread.
“Fresh beer wins the day,” owner and brewer Shawn Gatesman said. Space is limited at the Friendly Fermenter, hence the reservations. But keeping operations small is part of the charm and allows Gatesman to brew and serve the freshest beer possible.
“It’s special because it’s all made here; it’s only available here,” Gatesman said. “This is meant to be a very local watering hole, a local meeting place, like a traditional public house.”
Gatesman opened the brewery two-and-a-half years ago and said his pace of beer-making keeps increasing each year.
“I’m struggling to keep my beer on tap. So that tells me I’m doing something right,” Gatesman said. He worked in a variety of trades and was a practice manager at Heartland Veterinary Clinic for 10 years before launching the Friendly Fermenter.
It all started with an experiment: making wine from wineberries, a raspberry that grows abundantly near where he lives in Linville with his wife Julie and their kids Lily, Eli, and Bodie.
From there, Gatesman said, “I started randomly making some beer with this rudimentary system, and as simple as I can put it, it was like a fire. It was like a snowball rolling down a hill.”
To make a reservation, call The Friendly Fermenter at 540-217-2614.
Boboko Indonesian Cafe, 217 South Liberty Street #102
All next week, Boboko is offering a three-course meal for $35, including an appetizer (fried spring roll or fresh summer roll), entrée (beef satay, tamarind salmon, or tofu roulade), and dessert (Indonesian thousand layers cake or lemongrass coconut ice cream).
Owner and chef Ridwan Hotiman crafts dishes from his native Indonesia, and more specifically, meals his parents inspired.
“My father is a produce seller, and my mother is a ‘home cook chef,’” Hotiman said with a chuckle. He still calls himself a “home cook.”
The tofu roulade special is a play on one of his mother’s dishes.
“My Mom used to make a steamed tofu in banana leaves with some herbs, like basil. But I tweaked the recipe,” Hotiman said. His version boasts egg, asparagus and spinach.
Hotiman came to the United States in 2001, when an international employment agency assigned him to a dishwashing job at Skyland Lodge in the Shenandoah National Park. He already had experience in the hospitality industry but remained there washing dishes for four more years until he received his green card. Hotiman then took a job as a grill cook at Golden Corral. He worked his way up to assistant manager before leaving to start Boboko.
And why cook in the first place? Why start a restaurant?
“Food makes people happy. It’s that’s simple,” Hotiman said.
Local Chop and Grill House, 56 West Gay Street
The Local Chop and Grill House also has a three-course dinner special for $35 next week. Dinner includes an appetizer (salad, soup, or pork belly), entreé (salmon, chicken, pork osso buco, or sirloin), and dessert (house-made ice creams, sticky toffee pudding, or creme brulee).
On the lounge side, Local Chop and Grill House will offer a half-priced Chop House burger (made with house-ground steak, local cheddar, and caramelized onions) with the purchase of a draft beer or wine by the glass.
The pork osso buco, which is braised for four to five hours in tomatoes and aromatic herbs, could end up on the regular menu, too. Executive chef Colin Auckerman said the shank received high praise during its debut at New Year’s Eve and on Valentine’s Day.
“The idea is to bring in some people to experience the restaurant that have not before,” Auckerman said, “to showcase both our dining room, which is a little more high-end for Harrisonburg, and our lounge, which offers many of the same things as well as some house-made burgers and other sandwiches.”
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