Note: This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue. Since publishing, Savannah has started her own culinary consulting company, Sasser Culinary Insights.
Not many classically trained female chefs would jump at the chance to take over the kitchen of a dining room scattered with pool tables, shuffleboards, and video games. But as soon as Savannah Sasser stepped inside Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards in Decatur, Georgia, she knew she’d found her next professional home.
“I fell in love with the atmosphere, the owners, the other employees, their spouses, their kids,” said Sasser, who earned a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and honed her craft at the historic five-star Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs before moving South to be near her then-pregnant sister. “They are very humble people here. It’s like one large family.”
Since taking the job of executive chef, Sasser has substantially elevated the standard pub fare menu of the sprawling, twenty-year-old watering hole with proper French techniques and homegrown, sustainable ingredients.
She breaks down large animal parts procured from local farmers for steaks, burgers, and sausages, and simmers the bones slowly for stock, which she then turns into soups and sauces.
She still serves pub stables like chicken wings—only she brines hers first in sweet tea before batter-frying and placing them atop a pool of pimento cheese grits with a garnish of pickled collards. Diners can nosh on nachos, or on wedges of spent grain cornbread presented atop a board arranged with chicken liver pâté, pickled green tomato relish, pimento cheese, and sorghum butter. You’ll find familiar pub fare, but it’s all been elevated by the time and talent Sasser puts into each and every dish.
With every new creation, Sasser consults with head brewer Chase Medlin to ensure that the flavor profile pairs well with the constantly evolving beer selection, and also works it into her cuisine wherever it fits. “I enjoy beer for sure, but it’s been a learning curve for me. Chase has taught me the importance of tasting a beer twice—first to acclimate yourself to the beer, and again to start pulling off the flavors and figure out what it goes with.”
Seeing what Sasser could do with Southern bar food made us wonder what would happen if she channeled that creativity into another pub-driven cuisine: Ireland. Could she work her magic on the typically yawn-inducing staples associated with St. Patrick’s Day for a feast that dazzled, while still honoring its humble roots?
Sasser was eager to take on the challenge. But before she began concocting, she did some consulting—with guidebooks, old menus, and cookbooks, including one borrowed from a friend’s Irish grandmother.
“The Irish are penny pinchers. A lot of their dishes start with little more than starch and water. There’s an art to that.”
Here she’s developed a full menu of reimagined St Patty’s recipes to choose from, the thinking behind each, the lessons she learned along the way, and, of course, the brews you’ll need to wash it all down with.
St. Patrick’s Day Menu
“I’ve always loved panzanella,” says Sasser referring to the rustic Italian summer salad traditionally made with stale, sturdy bread, dead-ripe tomatoes, and other vegetables. This is her wintry version, where cubed soda bread, sautéed mushrooms, and bitter greens are tossed together with a tart, ale-based vinaigrette.
Beer suggestion: A medium-bodied pale ale, like Four Count Pale Ale—which has a strong malt backbone and is made with four different hops, giving it hints of citrus and pine.
Instead of throwing the basic components of a St. Patrick’s Day boiled dinner—corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots—into a pot of water, Sasser reformulates the meal into one colossal sandwich.
Beer Pairing: Stout or dark amber beer like Twain’s Gettin’ Nipply Stout, which is brewed with notes of chocolate and oak.
Potato-leek soup is an Irish staple. “But instead of doing soup, I wanted to do fritters,” Sasser says. “It’s very pub-esque.” She rolls her fritters in panko breadcrumbs for extra crunch before frying, and serves them with roasted garlic aioli for dipping.
Beer suggestion: Criminal Sin, a citrusy IPA with a fruity nose made with six hops and six malts. The citrus tones cut through the aioli’s richness.
Sasser gives Poutine—the Canadian bar food of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy—an Irish slant by replacing fries with the Irish potato pancake “boxty” (meaning “poor house bread”). “I use both mashed and shredded potatoes so it doesn’t turn into latkes. The warm cheese breaks up the texture and softens the palate.”
Beer Pairing: A bold IPA will cut through the heaviness of this dish; Sasser likes Rumor Rye Double IPA
Colcannon, the Irish staple of potatoes and cabbage boiled and mashed together, had Sasser stumped. “I was wracking my brain to come up with an alternative to shepherd’s pie.” She transformed the mixture into gnocchi, tossing the soft dumplings in warm, nutty-flavored brown butter and adding crumbled blue cheese for tang.
Beer suggestion: River Sunset Amber Ale, a deep auburn ale with a rich, malt flavor. Look for flavors that are warm and comforting, not super-strong, you don’t want to overpower the dish.
For dessert, Sasser transforms brownie à la mode into a grown-up dessert inspired by the Irish Car Bomb, the popular cocktail made by spiking a pint of Guinness with Bailey’s and Irish whiskey. Her miniature cakes are served warm, topped with boozy Bailey’s ice cream. “And it wouldn’t hurt to have a shot of Jameson on the side.”
Beer suggestion: Dark Night Coffee Stout, a rich roasted stout blended with Nicaraguan espresso and cold-brewed coffee courtesy of Sasser’s local coffee roaster, Beanology.
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