By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – For Minnesota beer lovers, Surly Brewing Company’s Destination Brewery near the Minneapolis and St. Paul border is a dream come true. It is 50,000 square feet of gorgeous architecture and incredible beers that surprised consumers with a wildcard – food.

“It’s nuts,” Chef Jorge Guzman said.

Guzman was tapped to run all the food at Surly: the Beer Hall on the main level, the outdoor beer garden, the event spaces and the fine dining restaurant Brewer’s Table at Surly.

The crowds have been so large and so sustained, Guzman estimates on Fridays and Saturdays he’s feeding between 1,800 to 2,400 people.

“You look at it, you come to work and you’re like, ‘I’m gonna feed 2,000 people today,'” Guzman said.

Surly’s Destination Brewery is designed to be a tourist attraction. It’s a $30 million temple to the beer and brewery that literally changed Minnesota State Law. In 2011, the so-called “Surly bill” allowed craft brewers to set-up taprooms where they can sell their own product. That used to be against the law in Minnesota.

And just like Surly is different from most craft beers, the food is different from what’s inside most taprooms around the country. Guzman and Surly’s owner Omar Ansari toured some of the most popular tourist destinations.

“A lot of what we were getting was French fries, burgers, pizza, cheese curds, pretzels, just on every menu. And we didn’t want to be that. We wanted to be a little bit different and set the bar higher for what beer and food could be,” he said.

He has achieved that by creating a menu that’s able to be executed quickly, but one that doesn’t sacrifice quality.

The farro salad with smoked salmon and an egg soft-boiled for five minutes is a stunner. The charcuterie board is massive, complete with rilette, terrines of pork and rabbit and bone marrow that Fred Flinstone would love.

The initial write-through of the menu was focused, but Guzman said he had the sense that it wasn’t going to appeal to enough people.

“We got little kids, hipsters, kids from the ‘U,’ professors, adults, grandma, grandpa, everybody in here. How do we please everyone?” he said.

Part of the answer: barbeque. The smoked brisket is so juicy and so tender it has immediately taken a place in the upper echelon of barbeque in the state.

Barbeque also achieves the goal of being quick and easy to get out of the kitchen during a weekend rush.

“You can crank that out. Once you’ve smoked it, you’re slicing. That’s why some of the food comes out so quick, the thought behind it,” Guzman said.

Guzman spent years as the executive chef at Solera, a tapas restaurant that also had large event spaces, so he has experience with quality and quantity. However, he doesn’t have much experience with creating a menu to be paired with beer.

“No, no, never. It can be [hard] but it can also be a little easier than with wine because of what you can do with beer. You can make beer taste how you want,” he said.

The menu was created with a single goal: serve foods that pair well with Surly’s bold-flavors of beer.

“I never thought that Minnesota would finally have an awesome beer scene,” Todd Haug, Surly’s head brewmaster, said.

Haug is known for bold flavors like the hoppy and citrusy Furious. He and his wife used to run Café Twenty-Eight in Minneapolis, so he has quite a bit of food experience. He didn’t want Surly to simply dump its beer into recipes and consider that a pairing.

“We believe beer and food go well together, but they don’t have to share ingredients,” Haug said.

With a team of 70 cooks, nine chefs, and Guzman working around-the-clock, people are coming to Surly for the beer but they’re returning in huge numbers for the food.

“It’s a challenge. Why would you want to shy away from that?” Guzman said.

The Beer Hall and Restaurant at Surly’s Destination Brewery is located at 520 Malcom Avenue SE in Minneapolis. It’s open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Jason DeRusha

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