The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 25, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. This week, we tried a few brews and sampled items from the new food menu at Sturm Haus.
Sturm Haus opened in February and has already gained a reputation as one of Chattanooga’s go-to spots for quality beer. Need a growler? They’ve got you covered. Need a quick six-pack of something far more delicious than Miller High Life (just keep nodding)? The folks at Sturm Haus will knock your socks off with tasty brews. They even have a pool table and shuffleboard game to pass the hours. According to co-owner Marsha Sturm (who, by the way, is THE NICEST PERSON in the world), the only thing missing from the menu at Sturm Haus was a selection of food. Specifically of interest to Marsha are high-quality, artisan cheeses. This past week, Sturm Haus started trying out a variety of items to complement their large selection of beer. Lauren and I decided to sample a few items and drink a few beers at what has become one of our favorite places in Chattanooga to relax. Marsha, Dave (her husband) and Matt (their son) make you feel like family when you enter, well, their "haus." I could sit at the tasting station for hours and talk with the Sturms and other patrons.
Lauren and I sampled three beers over the course of an hour. Well, I had two beers, and she had a "cider." Having had a small sample of New Belgium’s "pumpkick," I was eager to try a full glass. This beer is pleasantly light for a "pumpkin" beer, with a delicious flavor more akin to pumpkin pie than straight-up pumpkin guts. A lot of pumpkin beers I’ve tried seem to focus too much on a photorealistic pumpkin flavor when what we really desire is the essence of pumpkin with other seasonal spices. When was the last time you snarfed down a spoonful of raw pumpkin? Exactly. Lauren ordered a Fox Barrel pear cider that she said tasted like "watered-down pear juice," which I’m not 100 percent convinced is a compliment. She’s good at vague compliments that you take at face value but then realize the intention was actually mean. That’s why I love her. Anyway, I thought the cider was delicious, but I’m not hard to please: "Alcohol in it? So am I" is a favorite saying of mine. With food on the way, I decided to switch to a heftier brew. The Starr Hill Boxcarr pumpkin porter with a little more OOMPH stood up nicely to the cheese plate I consumed. The traditional English-style porter has a more roasted pumpkin flavor. Again, you cannot go wrong with beers at Sturm Haus, and Dave was willing to let me sample whatever I wanted.
As far as a food menu, Sturm Haus offers a selection of 14 artisan cheeses selected by Marsha to complement a wide variety of beers. You can order the cheeses individually or as a collection. Other items include grilled cheese sandwiches, paninis, brats (from Enzo’s) and pretzels. They also offer a chili from Flat Iron Deli and Marsha’s favorite gorgonzola cheese dip with pita chips. This is next level of food for beer connoisseurs. Lauren ordered a "Sturm’s classic grilled cheese" with tomato and Bluff View sourdough bread. I went all out and ordered the $12 cheese plate with three cheeses, German rye bread, Shuptrine’s "twisted relish" and—new to me—marcona almonds. Marsha surprised me when she said I was the first customer to order the signature cheese plate. Everything moves slowly at a beer joint, and you shouldn’t expect to have your food delivered in five minutes. Each dish is carefully prepared, and the presentation is worth the wait. Lauren’s grilled cheese was unspectacular, but that was the intention of a simple, melted cheddar cheese sandwich. She got exactly what she wanted, which was a warm sandwich to offset the cold cider.
My cheese plate, on the other hand, WAS spectacular. One cheese—the "barely buzzed" from Beehive—had notes of both lavender and espresso. Locally, the Sequatchie Cove Cumberland was the mildest of the cheeses but possible the most approachable. It would stand up well next to a lighter beer, as my pumpkin porter completely overwhelmed its flavor. The highlight champion cheese of the night for me was "bayley hazen blue" from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. To know me is to know that I could eat bleu cheese by the bucketfuls, get sick and then triumphantly return to eat another bucketful. This particular bleu looked the pumpkin porter in the face and matched the flavor bite for bite. The cheese plate contains 6 ounces of cheese, which is far too much cheese for one person. This might be the perfect cheese plate. The relish, almonds and bread added both color and flavor to the plate. My only issue would be the lack of fruit. Maybe throw in some apples and/or grapes?
Would we go back?
"We" might not be the right way to phrase that. I think I would gladly go back with friends, but Sturm Haus is more of a gathering place than a dining destination, even with the addition of a food menu. The beer is still the focus at Sturm Haus, which it should be, but the new food items take the service to another level. Of the many growler operations around Chattanooga, Sturm Haus just might be the most welcoming and appealing for both beer fans and novice drinkers. One visit to Sturm Haus and you’re family. That’s the way it should be.
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