Special to The Times
The Cullman Times
Most of the beer dinners that Rich Partain and Chris Christian have hosted over the last few years have been in trendy, upscale eateries in large metropolitan centers.
Menu items chefs have prepared for them in the past have ranged from the elevated but recognizable – coffee and lavender roasted prime rib, crab salad with heirloom tomatoes – to dishes with more esoteric and exotic sounding ingredients, such as duck rillettes, salmon confit, raisin and shallot escabeche, and red pepper coulis.
On Wednesday night, Sept. 4, 2013, however, the two local brewery reps will be hosting a slightly more unconventional dinner at a Cullman eatery known more for its breaded burgers and fried bologna biscuits than for haute cuisine.
Opened in 1919, the Busy Bee Café is Cullman’s oldest restaurant. The Bee, as many locals refer to it, is an establishment that transcends class; where farmers and day laborers rub elbows with lawyers, politicians and industrial magnates. Loyal customers have enjoyed their tasty, unpretentious menu for almost a century.
The family-owned and operated café was closed from April 27, 2011 until April 27, 2012, after being destroyed by the tornado that devastated much of downtown Cullman. During the rebuilding process, ordinances and statutes related to the city’s newly legalized alcohol sales went into effect, opening up new possibilities for the Bee’s menu once its doors were reopened.
“It’s strange and wonderful to be able to have a beer - much less one of OUR beers - at the little corner restaurant where I have been eating with my family and friends for decades,” said Rich Partain, sales manager for Huntsville’s Straight To Ale Brewing and a former resident of Cullman. “Kyle and the folks at the Busy Bee have done something amazing, though, especially for a restaurant in a town that is so new to alcohol sales. They have totally embraced craft beer, and they really go out of their way to showcase beers made here in Alabama.”
“For years in Cullman, people have been saying to shop local, buy local, eat local and such,” he said. “As Alabama brewers, we are always trying to get people to drink local, too. The Spears family and the Busy Bee really take it to heart, and they’ve seen a lot of success as a result. They are staying true to who and where they are.”
Chris Christian, sales manager for Blue Pants Brewing in Madison, Ala., echoed Partain’s sentiments.
“The Busy Bee’s beer list is as good as or better than many bars in much larger cities that have more of a craft beer crowd,” Christian said. “Almost every tap is from a brewery in Huntsville, Madison, Birmingham or Gadsden. It’s awesome to see that kind of support.”
“And it’s great to be able to do a beer dinner at such a laid-back, down-to-earth place like the Busy Bee,” Christian said. “Nothing against the fine dining set at all, but craft beer can be enjoyed with burgers and wings just as much as it can with the white tablecloth meals. Good beer is for everyone.”
“Good food is good food whether the cook wears a chef’s hat or a Braves cap,” Partain added. “Some of the best meals I have ever had have been served on paper plates.”
Partain noted that not only are the venue and menu a departure for the two brew gurus, but doing a beer dinner together is new as well.
“Chris and I do festivals together and different trade shows, along with the other local reps, but most of our beer dinners have been solo affairs, so this is something a little different for us,” he said. “But both of us are all about bringing craft beer to the people … a little education and a little entertainment. It should be a fun night.”
Kyle Spears, manager of the Busy Bee, is largely responsible for the decision to carry a wide variety of craft beers and to focus on locally produced brews.
“I have been a huge fan of local beer since the breweries started cropping up a few years ago,” Spears said. “I believe that the beers being produced here are as good as any on the market, and I am proud to serve them in our restaurant.”
Spears created the menu for the event with pairing suggestions from Partain and Christian.
The menu for the Straight To Ale and Blue Pants Beer Dinner will include beers from both breweries paired with entrees and appetizers such as fried mushrooms, hot wings, “Boom Boom” Shrimp, Greek salad, Buffalo bacon burgers, sirloin steak, shrimp scampi, milk stout cake and beer ice cream floats. The price is $45 per person and seating is limited to 22 people.
Call 256-734-9958 to make a reservation for the beer dinner. Visit straighttoale.com, bluepantsbrew.com, and busybeecafealabama.com for more information on the breweries and the Busy Bee Café.