“Flower Power”, “Cascazilla”, and “Partly Sunny” are some of the playful names of beer being made in Upstate New York. They are all being brewed at Ithaca Beer Company. Dan Mitchell founded the brewery in 1998 and has been committed to making quality craft beer ever since. Last Friday, September 7th, the public was given its first chance to taste “Picnic Basket,” the newest addition to Ithaca’s roster. The difference between “Picnic Basket” and the other beer being made 30 miles south of Syracuse is that Picnic Basket Pale Wheat Ale is only available at Eleven Madison Park.
Intrigued by the collaboration between one of the world's greatest restaurants and the small, Upstate brewery that is Ithaca Beer, we reached out to Eleven Madison Park to learn more.
Not long ago you could dine at Eleven Madison Park for $28. Times have changed. The ticket price is $195, period. Gone are the $28 lunch prix fixe, the a la carte option, and the affiliation with Danny Meyer, who opened the restaurant in 1998. Meyer sold the restaurant to chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara last year after the two voiced an interest in starting their own hospitality group. In a letter to a Union Square Hospitality Group colleague dated October 4th, 2011, Meyer ultimately decided, “The torch would be passed, and EMP would become the foundation upon which they would launch their new hospitality company.” This began an unconventional approach to hospitality that has come to define Eleven Madison Park and Made Nice, their aptly named hospitality group.
Ithaca Beer Company crafted Picnic Basket Pale Wheat Ale exclusively for Eleven Madison Park. The beer is being served with a cheese course, the components of which are brought to the table in a picnic basket. It’s part of a new dinner format Eleven Madison Park introduced to the world last Friday. According to Kirk Kelewae, Eleven Madison Park’s Service Director and "Beer God," as he was referred to in an email, Picnic Basket Ale is “only available at Eleven Madison Park,” as part of a collaboration with Ithaca Beer that is planned for the foreseeable future, “The beer will evolve naturally with the seasons and with the development of the cheese being served alongside.”
Inspiration for the picnic basket and the rest of the $195 multi-course, four-hour dinner spectacular is the rich cultural and culinary history of the 400-year-old city that Eleven Madison Park calls home. Serving beer during a part of the meal provides Kelewae the perfect opportunity to exercise his long-standing belief that, “Beer is a beverage that deserves a place, right alongside wine, at the best restaurants and with the finest cuisine.”
Kelewae is hip to the hops. He has an influence on the beverage options that will ultimately pair well with Humm’s food and elevate the dining experience. The quality of craft beer being made at breweries like Ithaca Beer Company provide a whole new market people like Kelewae are excited to tap into, “To introduce guests and colleagues to new ideas of food and beverage together has always been a great joy for me,” he says, “and beer has been a remarkable platform.“
"Eleven Madison Park has always had a strong relationship with Ithaca Beer Company," Kelewae explained. "When it came time to create this product, we wanted to work with an innovate partner. Through the process of developing Picnic Basket Ale with Ithaca we were also developing the cheese that will be served with it. Dan Mitchell suggested some novel ideas that will also make the cheese we are creating even better.”
Eleven Madison Park is constantly pushing the culinary envelope and maintains a rigorous schedule to do so. The new dinner format at Eleven Madison Park preceded the launch of brunch at The NoMad, Made Nice’s sister restaurant, only by a single day. Over the summer, Humm worked with Mercedes Benz to create a five-course meal for an event in the Hamptons and the restaurant found time to host culinary wiz kid Flynn McGarry. Eleven Madison Park's cookbook is less than a year old. Though perhaps the greatest feat, culinarily or otherwise, is yet to come. For five days at the end of September, and then for five days in October, Daniel Humm and Eleven Madison Park will switch places with Chicago chef Grant Achatz and his restaurant Alinea. The 21st Century Limited, as the switch has been billed, borrows its name from the 20th Century Limited, the passenger train that ran New Yorkers and Chicagoans back and forth from 1902 to 1967. From September 26th to the 30th, Grant Achatz will be at Eleven Madison Park giving New Yorkers the chance to experience the food he serves at Alinea. From October 10th to the 14th, Humm will pack up the restaurant and head to Chicago, where Alinea will host an Eleven Madison Park experience.
The efforts will not, and have not, gone unnoticed. In 2009, Frank Bruni, then restaurant critic for the New York Times, gave Eleven Madison Park four stars. The accolade wasn’t enough for the restaurant to hit cruise control, but then again, coasting has never been on Humm or Guidara’s agenda. The two are constantly riffing on a classic. They're improvising, a page Humm and Guidara’s Made Nice company have taken from Miles Davis, who the pair has cited multiple times as an inspiration. In 2010, just one year after the four-star review, the dining room and menu were given a makeover. Thirty-five seats were removed and Daniel Humm introduced diners to the grid menu. Service resumed. The Michelin Guide approved, and in October 2011 bestowed its highest honor of three stars to Eleven Madison Park.
The intense ambition that permeates the entire staff of Eleven Madison Park continues to elevate the restaurant in the culinary world. Kelewae explains “The goal with creating the Beer Program at Eleven Madison Park was to bring beer to the finest of tables and to introduce a whole new group of people to the world of beer. As a restaurant, we want to be seen as the example for utilizing beer in a restaurant. From the concept of glassware selection to service and storage temperature, we want to have other great restaurants follow our lead by embracing the best of beers with the best of foods.”
Ithaca Beer Company has crafted a beer that has become part of one of the most exciting dining experiences in the world. A bold statement, but boldly true. Maybe the restaurant will rise on San Pellegrino’s list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants from its current 10 spot to number 1. If it ever does, who knows what might brew up?