Critic's Notebook: How Small Batch Pairs Vegetables with Whiskey
According to Small Batch (3001 Locust Street; 314-380-2040) general manager Justin Austermann, the peanut gallery has been questioning its vegetarian concept even before the front doors opened. "People keep suggesting that we put meat on the menu, but Dave [Bailey] doesn't want to do that," Austermann explains. "He always had this place in mind as a vegetarian restaurant. Once he sets his mind to something, he doesn't really change it."
The idea for Small Batch, the midtown vegetarian restaurant and whiskey bar, has been incubating for quite some time. According to Austermann, Bailey had been planning the concept well before the whiskey trend hit. "Dave has been wanting to do a whiskey bar vegetarian restaurant for a long time, but he'd been waiting for the right opportunity. It finally came. It just so happened that it coincided with the rise in popularity of whiskey."
Whiskey is certainly having a revival, as Austermann calls it. Yet Small Batch didn't want to be simply known as another whiskey place. "People ask us, time and again: Why whiskey and vegetarian food?" Austermann says of the unusual pairing. "We think: Why do what is automatic and easy? If we do that, what are we adding to the dining scene?"
Austermann says that pairing whiskey with vegetarian cuisine is not as daunting as it may seem. "Sure, the robust and smoky flavor profiles of whiskey tend to lend themselves to meat. However, if you approach pairing from a flavor profile perspective, rather than focus on the central protein, you'll find that the flavors -- sweet, savory, smoky, salty -- are all present in vegetarian cuisine. He points to curry as an example. "Curry is rich, so I would look for something to cut through the creaminess, but it has spice, so I would also go for something sweet." He suggests something light and young without any rye. On the other hand, "carbonara is smoky and rich with big flavors from the smoked mushrooms that would stand up to single malt Scotch, like Laphroaig ten year."
"It's not that much different than wine or beer pairing," Austermann says. "We want this to be accessible. We're not looking to be a fancy mixology bar. We just want people to hang out and have a good time. They may think the vegetarian concept is weird, but we want them to get past that, come in and enjoy themselves."