By Jason Aigeldinger for Seward City News -
They’ve both been around town awhile. There is a real solid chance you’ve enjoyed a meal he’s prepared. She has no doubt poured you a drink or two at some point over the past eighteen summer seasons. And now they have a brewery to call their own.
Chef Erik Slater and General Manager Hillary Bean are buying the Seward Brewing Company situated in the old Elk’s Lodge building on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seward. The brewery plans to be open to the public on May 8th.
The husband and wife team said that they plan to offer patrons a different dining experience, with a focus on small, shared plates, pub favorites and beer brewed in house.
“I’m gearing it toward elevated comfort food,” said Slater. “It’s pub food done with a chef behind it.”
Slater spent the last decade as the executive chef at the Seward Windsong Lodge and Bean was the bar manager at Ray’s Waterfront for the past ten seasons. They are very excited about pursuing their dream in downtown Seward. “We love beer, we love food, and it is in the community that we love,” said Slater. “The response from the community has just been phenomenal,” said Bean.
Slater said that he is still developing the menu and admitted that it is in its eighth renovation. He describes the cuisine as “Pacific Northwest food” and comprised of as many ingredients that he can source from Alaska. He said that his intention is “to come up with something that is not being offered here. Something to fill a niche. To have it reflect the brewery in itself.”
And what is good beer without pretzels?
House made pretzels are on the menu as well as pretzel buns. Slater said that he has been honing the recipe all winter long and hopes to incorporate spent grain into the baked offering. He said that he plans to put them out fresh, basted in garlic butter and served with a house made cheese sauce and a stout mustard. “We’ll make them fresh everyday and when we run out we run out,” said Slater.
Local seafood procured through Slater’s longtime fishmonger Elle Zernia of Captain Jack’s Seafood will be prevalent on the menu. Examples include a salmon sandwich basted and grilled in shoyu soy sauce with with a celery root purée. Fresh salmon poke will also be served. Throughout the season, Slater said that diners can expect a variety of other seafood specials based on availability. “I am trying to keep the menu to a level where its manageable to put out for a large service ’cause it is a small kitchen. And the fact that we’re going to make a lot of stuff from scratch but at the same time be able to incorporate lots of specials, lots of stuff we’re going to bring in in small batches that we can keep fresh and there will be lots of seafood involved in that.”
Also gracing the menu will be salads. Slater cited an example consisting of salted watermelon, cucumber noodles, goat cheese and arugula with a chili/lime vinaigrette dressing. Slate described the salad as “fresh and bright and super summery.”
Wings will be available as well. Slater’s rendition will have a Korean spin on them and he described them as sweet and spicy. Slater refers to his wing rendition as “uncomfortable comfort food.”
“Uncomfortable in the fact that you’re weary of it ’cause it is something you might not know but when you actually eat it it’s something you’re comfortable with ’cause it’s in that realm of what you are familiar with,” said Slater.
Slater said that he wishes he could source Alaskan meat for the restaurant, but that at this time it is not possible. So for now all of his meat will be coming out of the Pacific Northwest. His lamb will be coming out of Oregon and his burgers will consist of source-certified Wagyu (Kobe) steer from Snake River Farms.
Both Slater and Bean said that they feel culinary tastes are changing in Alaska and that people want smaller plates they can share when dining out. The couple said that their price point will range between 10 and 20 bucks for burgers and sandwiches. And this leads us to the beer.
“I’m excited to do beer because it is a whole new thing and I think with having a chef background, I’m a lot more ready to attack beer then I was three or four years ago,” said Slater.
But Slater isn’t venturing into beer alone. He said that he has enlisted the help of close friend and consultant Theo Graber.
Graber, a former roommate of Slater’s was a brewer with Alaskan in Juneau and a distiller with Alaska Distillery in the Valley. Former brewer/owner of SBC Gene Minden, will also stay on to help Slater familiarize himself with the equipment, recipes and the brewing process.
In addition to brewing Minden’s popular red ale and stout, the brewery plans to produce a hopped up India pale ale and a saison or farmhouse-style ale titled “Liquid Sunshine.”
“Being able to produce really good consistent beer is key to us and we’ll be able to concentrate on it,” said Slater