Crafting a Menu for Mills River

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When we set out to open a new brewery in North Carolina, we were excited about designing the place from the ground up. While this meant a lot of planning for the brewery overall, it also meant a lot of thought about the experience for visitors. We wanted a place where people could spend an unhurried day enjoying everything we love about craft beer.

We needed a Taproom and Restaurant and it needed to be something special.

In Chico, we’re proud of a California-focused menu that features local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients—many grown in our estate garden. But when the time came to craft a menu for the new restaurant, we needed something that was distinctive to Mills River.

One thing was for certain: the California menu wasn’t going to fly. This is North Carolina, after all.

Fortunately, we had executive chef Brian Hough at the helm. Brian ran the kitchen at the Biltmore Estate before joining Sierra Nevada and he came into our Mills River kitchen with all engines firing. Though beer is our focus, he knew we could have destination-worthy food, too.

“We want to give people something they can’t find anywhere else,” said Brian.

To achieve this, he hand-picked his team and got to work. One of the first tasks included installing wood-fired grills and an oven.

“We’re not using any gas grills,” he explained. “When we first installed the oven, everyone kept calling it a ‘pizza oven.’ Now everyone knows to call it the ‘wood-fired oven’ because there’s a lot more than pizza coming out of it.”

Brian and his team also set out to do as much as possible in house.

“We have an awesome crew that’s into farm-to-table everything,” he said. “We have local farmers raising the animals for us and we want to make sure nothing goes to waste, so we’ll be embracing the cuts that people don’t see very often.”

Case in point: duck breast is used in the Duck Reuben, so Brian added duck fat fries served with confit and cracklins to use every last bit.

The duck Reuben isn’t the only adventurous item the team came up with; the rest of the menu’s got teeth, too. Alongside pub favorites like wood-fired pizza and the steadfast pub burger are options like braised pig cheeks and steak tartare.

Brian describes the menu as “elevated Southern fare.” A look at a few more offerings—fried quail and waffles, rabbit and dumplings, and a fried chicken and doughnut sandwich—and we get what he means.

“We’ve got the same DNA as the pub in Chico, but we’re certainly not identical,” he said.

The menu is also presented small-plates style to better accompany beer tasting.

“If people are coming in here and trying a bunch of different beers, they should try a bunch of different foods as well,” explained Brian.

As the details come into focus, it looks like Brian’s nailed the task at hand. Weeks before opening, the crew knocked down a wall, exposing the kitchen and wood-fired oven so folks can sit at the bar and drink a beer while watching their meal come together a few feet away.

“Our most important goal is giving people an experience that they’ll remember,” said Brian.

We hope you’ll come and stay a while.

March 4, 2015 - 2:19pm