A Religious [Gastronomic] Experience
By Matt Shaw at Pulse Magazine (November 2008)
If Heaven made pizza, it would have ham and pear on it.
Okay, fine, I’ll explain. This month, your favorite gastronaut visited Main Street’s Armsby Abbey, the second bar-cum-beer-geek-hangout founded by the Dive Bar’s Alec Lopez. The Abbey, which in the dead of night is nearly impossible to find if you miss the diminutive neon Chimay sign on the side window, is a bar dedicated to the proposition that all food, like beer, is most certainly not created equal. Hence the singular delectability of the dish of which I partook this past weekend. But more on that later.
The Abbey wouldn’t be an Alec Lopez establishment without a helluva beer list. Twenty-two draft lines, six of which are dedicated to Belgian beer, rotate craft brews frequently. There are over 120 bottled selections, more than half of which are again Belgian beers. There’s even a dedicated cask line for fans of so-called real beer. I started out with a Founder’s Red’s Rye to cleanse the palate, shocked to my core to find such a wonderful beer available at a local dining establishment.
Then came the appetizer. The Abbey’s Belgian Slate was a wonder to behold. Chimay Bier, Petite Jurassic and Morbier cheeses took center stage on a solid cutting board, flanked by duck sausage, cornichons, candied walnuts, cranberry and hazelnut bread, sliced baguette, champagne grapes, small pots of ginger-fig and cranberry conserve and Dr. Gonzo’s Black Fly Mustard (it’s worth mentioning that Dr. Gonzo himself was seated at the bar; if the Doctor likes it, it has to be good). I challenge anyone to pack more flavor onto a cutting board. Absolutely superb.
As good as the Belgian Slate was, it was merely a precursor to the entrée. Mustering up all the courage I could, I ordered the ham and pear artisan stoned pizza. What arrived at the table was a familiar pizza crust bedecked with chunks of ham, crumbled blue cheese, shaved pear (how one goes about shaving a pear is beyond me), arugula, basil, and an aged balsamic drizzle. Yes, at the Armsby Abbey, I found God. In pizza form.
This was not the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was pretty darned close. So close, in fact, that it prompted a discussion of the best meals that my drinking buddy and I had ever enjoyed. For a point of reference, this pizza ranked right up there with the duck at New Orleans dining Mecca Gautreau’s. I’ll say that again: I had a pizza that was as good as a twenty-nine dollar duck breast at a fine dining establishment with a wait list six months long. A pizza.
So before you write off the Armsby Abbey as just another corner bar in a town (and on a street) littered with corner bars, swing by 144 North Main Street and ask Alec what’s on the menu.