“I don’t have a passion for craft beer,” chef Joseph Stayshich recalls telling the owners of Karbach Brewing Co. during his first meeting with them, which is an odd thing for someone to say, especially someone hoping to helm a restaurant inside one of the fastest-growing craft breweries in the US. “I told them, ‘My passion is for cooking, but I am onboard for learning everything I can about beer.’”
Months later, the chef still laughs at the reaction he got from Karbach owners Ken Goodman and Chuck Robertson, who shook their heads in disbelief. “You really don’t have a passion for craft beer?” asked the pair in near-unison.
Nope, Stayshich replied, explaining that he was a wine guy through and through, on a first-name basis with everyone at Houston Wine Merchant, known for his cleverly curated wine list at Benjy’s, where he’d worked as the executive chef for five years. Beer just wasn’t his thing, and that may have been for the best. The food Stayshich is cooking at Karbach isn’t your typical beer hall fare. “I wanted to do more than potato skins and cheese sticks,” he says. “And I didn’t want it to be gimmicky.”
Craft beer is “snuck into stuff” in Stayshich’s restaurant, which opened in June, part of a $15 million brewery renovation that also brought a 120-barrel Ziemann brewhouse to Karbach, plus plenty of extra fermentation tanks to keep up with demand.
The brewery’s sweet, malty Rodeo Clown double IPA—produced a few yards away behind glass walls showcasing the brewery’s cellar and hop-dosing rooms—makes it into both the chef’s pizza crust and the black garlic vinaigrette on his salad composed of local greens from Animal Farm. He pairs the citrus and coriander flavors of Weisse Versa wheat ale with charred lemon in his fried rock shrimp batter, while the thick brown gravy atop his poutine is a product of both beef stock and Hopadillo IPA, Karbach’s most popular beer. “We add the beer at the very end,” says Stayshich, who quickly found during his crash course in craft beer that cooking down hop-forward beers makes them bitter. To his utter surprise, he’s also discovered that beer often pairs better with food than wine.
Oh, and about that beef stock: it’s made from the same beef Stayshich uses for his house-ground burgers, picadillo tacos and grilled butcher’s cuts. And believe it or not, beer is snuck into the beef, too, though not in the way you’d expect. Karbach's beef comes from South Texas cattle raised on spent grain the brewery scoops out of its mash tanks. “I’m not going to say it’s as good as Wagyu,” Stayshich admits, grinning. “But it sure has great marbling.”
And we can’t imagine anything tasting better with a pint of Rodeo Clown than one of those exquisitely marbled steaks.