The craft beer revolution in the United States has had a great impact on an unexpected group: foodies. Beer pairings have gone from an occasional dinner menu to a finely honed art. At Gordon Biersch in Park Place, the brewhouse and kitchen are working in harmony to develop seasonal menus that strive to bring the best out of the beer and what’s on your plate. And that’s critical for Michael Maher because the executive chef of Gordon Biersch in Leawood is not, in fact, a beer drinker.
“I’m not a beer drinker at all. I never really was,” Maher, 52, says. “I like working with the beer though because I have no preconceived knowledge. I just go on what I feel and what the guests are telling me.”
Maher’s three-decade long career began at the now-closed Stephenson’s Old Apple Farm Restaurant in his hometown of Independence, Missouri. He was working as a dishwasher when a cook in the kitchen told him he had a new assignment for the night.
“A guy grabbed and me and said, ‘we need help on the line.’” Mayer remembers. “That was when I knew that I wanted to cook and now it’s 36 years later.”
The ability to be steady under pressure landed him in high volume kitchens – Cheesecake Factory, Macaroni Grill and the Adams Mark Hotel. After a year at Gordon Biersch in the Power & Light, he became the head of the kitchen in Park Place. And since then, he’s been able to use his knowledge from cooking on the line to develop specials that focus on how Gordon Biersch’s brews will work with a given dish.
“You know certain foods have certain flavors. Arugula is a little peppery and halibut is not a very strong flavored fish,” Maher says. “Then I just take it to my team and we start to work with everything.”
One of those team members is Micah Weichert – the brewmaster who works out of the brewhouse in the Power & Light District (where the beer is made for the two area locations). Weichert, formerly the brewmaster at 75th Street, will have been at Gordon Biersch for two years this coming July.
On a recent Tuesday, Maher and Weichert start talking about the menu and some of the most popular pairings. They immediately single out the brick oven halibut.
“The lemon caper sauce has this little tang to go with the fish, which is lightly battered in seasoned rice flour before we sauté it and then cook it in the brick oven,” Maher says.
Weichert thinks the Hefeweizen – a German-style wheat – is the perfect brew for the light fish.
“It’s one of our most popular beers. It’s got this nice banana and clove flavor,” Weichert says. “It’s light and refreshing. The orange and citrus in the halibut dish goes really nicely with the Hefeweizen.”
On the starter and happy hour menu, it’s the pecan-crusted chicken and pear sliders that are regularly heading out of the kitchen. Think bite-sized pan-fried chicken on a grilled and buttered roll.
For the sliders, Maher coats medallions of chicken with panko bread crumbs, pecans, lemon zest, flour and herbs. It’s then pan-fried and topped with pear chutney (made with pears, onions, thyme, honey and a little white wine). The chicken is served on house-made white slider buns.
“The Czech pilsner has this nice crispness and a balance that makes it go with everything,” Weichert says. “It cuts through the hearty texture of the pecan-crusted chicken.”
Gordon Biersch is set to unveil a series of new pasta dishes, including a cioppino made with mussels and clams. Over at the brewhouse, Weichert has been busy brewing a Belgian Tripel. It’s a big beer at 8 percent alcohol by volume, but smooth with “vanilla, pear and almost wine notes.” He’s also working on the Rauchbier – a smoked brew made with beachwood smoked pilsner malt.
“The smoke flavor isn’t too intense. The smokiness gives it an almost bacon-y quality. I think it would go well in Bloody Mary’s,” Weichert says. “It goes really well with chicken wings, steaks and the brie plate.”
While primarily known for its German-style beer, Gordon Biersch is in the midst of rolling out some brews inspired by the craft beer scene in America. There’s an American-style IPA and brown ale now on the menu.
“People in Kansas City love brown ale and ours will have more of a malt body, “Weichert says. “It will be a little more robust with a bit more hop character and a little more crispness.”
And with each new beer on tap, that’s just another flavor for Maher and his team to pair.