A few weeks ago I attended the July garden party at a local bar called the Winchester with a few close friends and family members. The theme, “forest and beach”, did not leave my palate unsatisfied. The night featured five courses and five beverages (not to mention a brief beer and bite in the garden). FIVE!! Yes, buckle up because I’m about to indulge you with a full recap of this delicious night.
We kicked off the evening with a tour of the Winchester’s garden which was blooming with edible flowers, beets and beet greens, peppers, chard, and micro greens. While browsing the garden we sipped on El Gose from Avery Brewing Company. On a 90+ degree July afternoon, this crisp yet tart German-style sour ale set the pace for the evening. The hint of salt and lime washed down the balsamic-infused yellow melon with ease (sorry guys, no picture for this one!).
Following the garden tour, we were escorted to our beautifully decorated tables resembling my favorite childhood memories of summer nights eating by the bonfire on the beaches of Lake Michigan. Needless to say, my foodie taste buds started tingling with anticipation.
Shall we begin? 😉
Cocktail #1: Whiskey Gin Vin- whiskey, raspberry shrub, ginger, amaro
I may be biased as a whiskey lover, but the sweetness from the raspberry shrub and bittersweet bite from the amaro (an Italian liqueur often infused with herbs, roots, and other aromatics) created a lovely little duo; A slightly sweeter spin on a Negroni. I love a stiff cocktail that has a hint of sweetness to it and flirts with bitter. This one hit the mark.
Course #1: Salad- chard, garden greens, beets, watermelon brined feta, grapefruit shrub vinaigrette
How beautiful, right? The hues from what appeared to be beet dust was truly stunning. The mix of chard and garden greens offered a crunchy bite and earthy flavor to the base of the salad. However, do not fear because this mouthful of what my boyfriend might call “weeds” was tempered by the sweet, tangy bites from the rainbow beets and grapefruit shrub vinaigrette.
Cocktail #2: Barstool Dreamer- nasturtium infused gin, lemon, simple, elderflower liqueur, basil seeds
A few notes about this beauty… Nasturtium is an edible flower (both the flower and the leaves), which provides a peppery and sweet flavor. On the other hand, elderflower is an edible flower known for its fresh and floral nature. In combination with the pine flavoring of the gin and citric-acid of the lemon resulted in a starkly floral and refreshing spirit. Lastly – chia seeds vs. basil seeds: it was at this event that I discovered that basil seeds gelatinize with fluid just like chia seeds! The moment the seeds hit your tongue they resembled a smaller version of tapioca followed by a small crunch.
Course #2: Michigan Whitefish- horsetail cucumber dashi, cucamelons, beach peas, garden sugar peas, borage flowers
This dish really started to seal the deal on forest and beach for me. It also screamed pure Michigan. Horsetail is a tall plant that typically grows near streams, rivers, and in dunes. Common uses include adding it directly to broths and grains for a rather mild flavor. But don’t worry, that dashi’s got your taste buds’ back. That little green sauce had a combination of sweet and savory that paired beautifully with the heat from the whitefish rub. And how cute are those cucamelons!? Cucamelons taste like cucumber with a hint of lime and compliment the starchy beach and sugar peas.
Cocktail #3: Glass Eye- scotch, blended port, lime, absinthe
Right around when I started wondering how in the world I was getting home that night 😉 This little infusion tasted like a mix between licorice and lime and was refreshing enough that I found myself coming back for more just to stay hydrated…errr or that might have been the absinthe talking. Regardless, thumbs up buttercup (which is how I started talking by the end of this one).
Course #3: Creppinettes- rabbit, pork, beet greens, mushroom and juniper jus, nasturtiums leaves, sage flowers, white pine needles, smoke
The first thing that came to mind when I took a deep dive into this creamy sauce was my Mom’s beef stroganoff. The earthy beet greens cut the slightly gamey rabbit and heavy jus duo to create a savory, fresh dish that left me cleaning the plate.
Cocktail #4: Water Fowl- aquavit, bison grass vodka, lime, dill, cucumber
Keep em’ coming, keep em’ coming. This was my favorite cocktail of the night and beyond refreshing. From the description provided by the staff, it is a drink I probably never would’ve ordered off the menu which says a lot considering I’ll pretty much try anything. The description went something like “aquavit (what in the world is this?), dill, caraway, cucumber…” and so on and so forth. To my surprise, this cocktail was divine. Aquavit is a spirit native to the Scandinavian culture and means “water of life”. It was very cool and refreshing going down with hints of lime and fresh dill. Trust me on this one, give it ago.
Course #4: Crostini- green tomato, eggplant chow chow
Not the crostini I had in mind but let’s do this. The crostini, which I believe was baked asiago cheese (could be wrong on this one), provided a nice little serving plate for the pickled green tomato relish. The most interesting part of this course was those little moisture drops resembling water on the leafy greens. These little droplets created a sweet burst of flavor, which resembled a light simple syrup.
Cocktail #5: Fudgie- cynar, lime, egg white, cold brew coffee
Course #5: S’mores- panna cotta, graham dust, marshmellow fluff, Michigan fudge ganache
Fudgy oooey goooey goodness dusted with graham cracker fairytale dust. A more pristine s’more tied up in a bow and washed down with a foamy dark brew coffee similar to a porter beer with a hint of lime. The perfect end to a lovely night of new foodie experiences.
The theme of forest and beach rang true throughout each cocktail and plate of the night. Between edible flowers and blossoms, seeds, herbs, or liquors, sauces, vinaigrettes infused with summer herbs and spices, the theme, although not always obvious, was consist and inspired. Beyond that, it was a night full of both palate-exciting and boundary-crossing food and spirits.
I HIGHLY recommend you check out the next garden parties coming soon at The Winchester this summer and fall.
P.S. Thanks to my friends and family for all the contributed photos of this beautiful night!