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Church Brew Works' chefs tap into beer on eclectic menu

| Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
The Church Brew Works executive sous chef Durell Keyes with shrimp and grits.
Deborah Weisberg
The Church Brew Works executive sous chef Durell Keyes with shrimp and grits.
Cook shrimp until they turn pink. Avoid over-cooking, advises executive sous chef Durell Keyes.
Deborah Weisberg
Cook shrimp until they turn pink. Avoid over-cooking, advises executive sous chef Durell Keyes.
Microgreens add color and crunch to the shrimp and grits with Cajun cream sauce.
Deborah Weisberg
Microgreens add color and crunch to the shrimp and grits with Cajun cream sauce.
Shrimp and Grits with Cajun Cream Sauce
Deborah Weisberg
Shrimp and Grits with Cajun Cream Sauce
The Church Brew Works
Deborah Weisberg
The Church Brew Works
The Church Brew Works brewer Kiel Batanian climbs atop a beer vat on the former church altar.
Deborah Weisberg
The Church Brew Works brewer Kiel Batanian climbs atop a beer vat on the former church altar.
Dan Yarnall, The Church Brew Works head brewmaster, (left) and brewer Kiel Batanian stand atop huge stainless steel and copper vats on the former church altar.
Deborah Weisberg
Dan Yarnall, The Church Brew Works head brewmaster, (left) and brewer Kiel Batanian stand atop huge stainless steel and copper vats on the former church altar.

St. John the Baptist Church in Lawrenceville was slated for the wrecking ball in 1993 when local businessman Sean Casey envisioned its new life as a brewpub.

He purchased the church, circa 1903, restored it to its original ornate splendor and opened Church Brew Works in 1996. Since then, the property, now a registered historic landmark, has racked up numerous awards as one of the country's top spots to drink a craft beer.

Under the direction of head brewmaster Dan Yarnall, Church Brew Works offers a variety of beers on tap, including mainstays like Celestial Gold, Pious Monk Dunkel, Pipe Organ Pale Ale and Thunderhop IPA, as well as specialty or esoteric beers for folks with adventurous palates.

“We do a lot of seasonal brews,” Yarnall says. “And there's a trend toward session beers. Those are lighter — 4 or 5 percent alcohol as opposed to 10 percent alcohol — so you can have several in one session. They're cleaner and crisper.”

The brewing process is on display on the former altar where huge steel and copper tanks produce about 620 gallons of beer at any given time — enough to supply other restaurants and distributors throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Brew Works' chefs tap into beer for some of the items on their eclectic American menu. Appetizers include oven-roasted cauliflower in beer-buffalo sauce topped with crumbled blue cheese; barbecued pulled pork nachos; and crab dip made with Celestial Gold, three cheeses and Lake Pontchartrain Blue Crab. The seven-onion soup is laced with Pious Monk, and the malted bread pudding dessert is topped with cinnamon lager sauce.

Entrees range from beer-braised chicken and Andouille sausage simmered in tomatoes and creole spices, to meatloaf made with ground bison grilled and served with celery root mash, crispy Brussels sprouts and roasted tomato with demi-glace. For vegetarian and pasta lovers, there's a zucchini noodle dish tossed with roasted cauliflower, sautéed mushrooms, red onions and red pepper pesto; and sautéed potato and cheese pierogies tossed with broccoli, topped with marinated tomatoes and finished with fresh herbs and garlic cream sauce.

The restaurant seats 450 and includes tables in the outdoor courtyard hops garden.

Shrimp and grits is a personal favorite of Church Brew Works' executive sous chef Durell Keyes, who has been with the restaurant since 2004. “It's a dish you can serve at breakfast, lunch or dinner,” says Keyes, who notes that the smoked Gouda cheese he blends into the grits and the Cajun cream sauce give the dish a flavorful richness. “Just don't overcook the shrimp, or they'll be chewy and tough.”

Church Brew Works Shrimp and Grits

Serves 6

For shrimp:

1½ pounds (21-25) peeled, deveined, tail-off shrimp

Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons oil. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp turn pink. Remove from heat.

For grits:

1 quart half-and-half

1 quart water

12 ounces instant grits

¼ pound smoked Gouda, shredded

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

In heavy-bottom pot, combine half and half, water, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Add garlic and grits, stirring occasionally until grits are cooked, about seven to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add Gouda, stirring until cheese melts. Set aside.

For Cajun cream sauce:

1 quart heavy cream

1½ ounces Cajun seasoning

1 teaspoon. salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 ounce minced garlic

14 cup white wine

23 cup vegetable stock

½ cup diced red onion

½ cup diced red pepper

Cornstarch slurry: ¼ cup cornstarch and ½ cup cold water

Combine all ingredients, except for slurry, in stockpot.

Bring to boil. Slowly whisk the slurry into the boiling mixture. Bring mixture back to a boil until thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

To plate:

Divide grits and shrimp into six serving bowls. Top with Cajun cream sauce. Garnish with micro greens. Serve immediately.

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