Whether grilling in the backyard or grabbing some bites at your local dining joint, pairing these favorites with a refreshing drink that complements makes for a delicious dining experience.
Story by Dave Eckert
Here we are heading into the steamy sultriness that is summer in Kansas City. For many of us, that means firing up the grill and smokers, cracking open a beer or two, popping the cork on a bottle of wine, or crafting a delicious cocktail. I, for one, support all of the above. For some ideas of what people might be cooking and drinking this summer, I reached out to some of my closest eating and quaffing buddies for their input. What came back my way wasn’t just delicious, it was downright decadent.
Wilma’s Good Food Truck Summer Picks
The grill also grabbed the attention of Wilma’s Good Food Truck owner Brett Atkinson. Atkinson recommended spicy shrimp and watermelon tacos, which sounds amazing. “I simply love this recipe for summertime grilling. Sweet, heat, char, smoke, caramelization. The dish has everything. I taught myself to grill when I was about eight. I sucked at it, but I was learning. Now, I won’t ever back down from a grilling challenge,” Atkinson shared.
As amazing as the tacos sound, his cocktail pairing for the dish was even more out of this world. “I do a fresh-squeezed watermelon/lemonade shrub with Tom’s Town Garden Party Gin and a pickled watermelon garnish. I can’t remember how I created it, but the kicker is I infused grass into the mix. Yes, Grass. I boil about a half pound of fresh grass for about an hour. It gives the cocktail a slight aroma of fresh-cut lawn, which is mysteriously perfect on a summer day,” Atkinison said.
Spicy Shrimp and Grilled Watermelon Tacos
- 1 Medium Seedless Watermelon
- 2 lbs 26/30 Peeled Deveined Shrimp
- 1/2 Cup Cotija Cheese
- 1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 Cup Worcestershire sauce
- 4 Tbs Sriracha
- 4 Tbs Honey
- 1 cup homemade salsa or your favorite brand tortillas
- Vegetable oil
Set grill to its highest temperature setting, or if using charcoal set it up for direct heat. Remove rind from watermelon and slice into 3/4″ rounds. Cook on hot grill for 90 seconds per side. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet and add shrimp, Worcestershire, sriracha and honey until sauce reduces. Cut watermelon into 1/4″ slices. Warm Tortillas and add watermelon, shrimp, salsa, cilantro, cotija and serve!
The High on Grass Gin and Watermelon Cocktail
- 20 lemons, squeezed.
- 1 small watermelon, pureed and passed through a sieve. Save several pieces for garnish.
- 1/2 lb Kentucky Bluegrass
- 1 gal water
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1 ¼ cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp Salt
- 2 cups Tom’s Town Garden Party Gin
- Turbinado sugar
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add grass and steep for 1hr. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients, and 1/4 cup of the vinegar in a large plastic container. In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add 1/4 cup vinegar, salt and 1/4 cup sugar. Add remaining watermelon pieces and cook for 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to an ice bath. Remove steeped grass from heat and pass liquid through a fine-mesh strainer. Allow to cool and stir all ingredients together. Rim a Rocks Glass with Turbinado Sugar, add ice and pour in your cocktail. Garnish with pickled watermelon.
Crane Brewing’s Contenders
First up, some summertime suds recommendations and the food to pair them with. Christopher Meyers, the co-owner of Crane Brewing, picked four Crane brews and the food he likes to nosh while drinking them.
Strawberry Rhubarb Gose. “For this, I like Chicken Salad or another light picnic food. The beer is bursting with berry aroma, and that special combination of Strawberry-Rhubarb flavor. The tartness and bubbly carbonation pair well with a rich tangy chicken salad sandwich,” Meyers commented.
Oddbird, Crane’s Mexican-style lager. “Mexican food, of course: pork verde burrito, tacos, tamales, etc. This crisp lager with familiar corn flavor is incredibly quaffable to help wash down your favorite Mexican dishes; pozole, a big pork verde burrito or taco after taco after taco,” Meyers suggested.
Hibiscus Lemon Saison. Grilled foods, no doubt: burgers, dogs, steaks, and veggies. This beer is fruity and floral, and with a special lemony brightness. It is perfect for sipping on while tending the grill, cooking your favorites. Burgers, dogs, steaks, veggies. This beer tastes like a beautiful day,” Meyers said.
Why Are There Boundaries?, our session NE-Style IPA. “Got to go with KC Barbecue here: ribs, pulled pork, slaw-all of it. This beer is only 4.5%, but is loaded with citrusy, tropical aroma and flavor. Hoppy but not bitter. Something you can enjoy all day long while you are slow-smoking those beautiful ribs, pork butts, briskets, and more,” Meyers recommended.
Ambassador Hotel’s Choices
At the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Kansas City, Food and Beverage Director Eric Willey is basking in the hot weather by indulging in Kansas City BBQ and matching it with some of his favorite wines. “A little heavy on its own, but perfect when paired with classic Kansas City burnt ends, is Zinfandel. Zinfandel is plump, juicy, and fruit forward, which makes it a perfect match for that sweet, KC style sauce. A favorite of mine is the Marietta Roman Estate Zinfandel from California’s North Coast,” Willey commented.
Willey also told me he’s recently been drawn to the Bierzo region of Spain (one of my favorites too) where they are making terrific wines, especially those featuring the Mencia grape. “Mencia produces a lighter-bodied wine with flavors of strawberry and hints of smoke that pair nicely with Smoked or BBQ chicken. There are some great value wines from Bierzo. The Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos is delicious,” Willey shared.
Jousting Pigs BBQ Frontrunners
Jousting Pigs BBQ owner John Atwell fired up the grill for his summertime food foray. Atwell crafted four sliders for consideration. Using a good portion of his brisket trim for the grind, each slider was a study in meaty perfection. There was the Hawaiian, which featured grilled pineapple, Canadian bacon, and Jousting Pigs BBQ sauce; a classic bacon-cheddar burger; an apple-bacon jam burger topped with brie; and a blueberry-blue cheese burger with a slice of bacon layered over it. Atwell cooked the burgers out on the deck of Three Halves Brewing in Liberty. It’s where you can find Atwell’s BBQ and Brewmaster Rodney Beagle’s craft beer creations.
Beverage pairings fell to Beagle. “I was really looking for balance more than anything else. I wanted our beers to complement the food, not fight for the diner’s attention, so I went with lighter beers in general. Beagle picked Three Halves Summer Brew, a combination of raspberry sour, lemonade, and J. Rieger vodka, for the Hawaiian, the Civic Duty light ale for the bacon-cheddar burger, the Desert Gold Wheat for the apple-bacon jam and brie creation, and the Saison for the blueberry-blue cheese burger. I had a bite of each burger and a sip of each beer, and I must say that Beagle’s picks were spot on!
- 4 Hawaiian buns – toasted
- 3/4lb brisket trimmings pressed into 3 ounce patties
- Salt and pepper
- Cheddar Cheese Slice
- Blue Cheese
- Thick cut bacon
- Canadian bacon
- Glazed pineapple slices
- Apple Bacon Jam
- Blueberry compote
- Jousting Pigs Original sauce
Cook the thick sliced bacon to desired level of crispness. Butter the slider buns and toast in oven, grill, or toaster oven. Sear Canadian bacon and glazed pineapples on hot grill for 45 seconds on each side then place on toasted bun. Season slider patties with kosher salt and black pepper. Place patties on hot grill/griddle/skillet. Toast buns with butter in oven, grill, or toaster oven. Flip patties after 2 minutes and cook for another 2 minutes or until patties reach desired doneness. Place each of the 3 cheeses on top of one of the patties 30 seconds prior to removing from grill. Place the cooked patties on the toasted buns, place the pattie without cheese on the bun with the pineapple and Canadian bacon. Top the pattie with the blue cheese with a piece of the cooked bacon and blueberry compote. Top the pattie with cheddar with bacon and smear jalapeno garlic aioli on bun. Place brie pattie on bun with apple bacon jam.
- 2 Pints Fresh Blueberries
- 1/2 cup Sugar
- 1/4 cup Lemon Juice
- Pinch of Salt
- 1/3 cup Cold Water
- 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
Combine all ingredients but Cornstarch and Water in saucepan on high heat. While heating, combine the water and cornstarch in bowl and stir. Once blueberry mixture comes to boil, stir cornstarch slurry mixture into the saucepan. Let boil until syrup like consistency. Set aside to cool to room temp.
Apple Bacon Jam
- 3 Cloves Garlic – Finely Chopped
- 2 Granny Smith Apples – Cubed/Rough Chop
- 1/4 cup Coffee
- 2 Tbls Maple Syrup
- 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 White Onion – Rough Chop
- 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Tbls Water
- 12 oz. Bacon – Cooked and Chopped
Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan and come to boil. Once boiling, turn heat down to simmer. Let simmer for 20 minutes. After simmering is complete, combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until jam is your preferred consistency. Cool once mixture is processed to your liking.
- 3 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup turbinado sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 1/4 cup pineapple juice from canned pineapples
- 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 2.5 tablespoons chile powder
Combine everything except the vinegar in a sauce pan and place over medium heat. Stir until sugars are completely dissolved. Once sugar is dissolved add the vinegars and continue to reduce for 5 minutes over medium heat. Place pineapple slices in sealable container and pour glaze over the pineapple slices and let rest in refrigerator until ready to cook. You can let the pineapples sit in the glaze over night.
- 2 – 10oz bags shredded green cabbage
- 1 – 10oz bag shredded red cabbage
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 pink lady apples 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 granny smith apples 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 jalapenos seeds removed and sliced length wise as thin as possible
- 1 cup plain greek yogurt
- 1/2 split into 1/4 cups lemon juice
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1 table spoon black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
Core and cube apples and toss in 1/4 cup lemon juice to prevent browning. Mix yogurt, 1/4 cup lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, pepper, cumin, and paprika in small bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined. In large mixing bowl toss cabbage and cubed apples together. Stir in slaw dressing until cabbage and apples are evenly coated.
Finally, I leave you with some summertime food and adult beverage musings of my own. My wife and I have been doing a Spanish recipe for years where you grill a rack of lamb and ladle strips of charred red peppers over the chops. The dish is beyond delicious. I’ve tried dozens of wine pairings for the lamb; California Cabernet Sauvignon, sumptuous reds from both the Southern and Northern Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Sangiovese-based Tuscans and Nebbiolo-based wines from Piedmont. But none were as good as the very first wine I chose-a Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva. With just the right weight, balance between earth, fruit, and acidity, and enough tannin to cut through the meat, the MDC Rioja Reserva is my summertime go to wine for most things grilled and smoked, and most definitely, the wine of the moment for our lamb recipe. Guess what I’ll be cooking tonight? Cheers!