German cuisine is designed for two objectives: to help you survive the inauspicious winters and to assist in soaking up the many beers from your visit to the Hofbräuhaus. While Charleston may have the exact opposite weather of Munich, residents do enjoy a brew or two quite often. When chef Jason Walker joined the team at Bay Street Biergarten, he took on the interesting task of melding Lowcountry and Bavarian cuisine for diners at the upcoming eatery. Eater chatted Walker about his background and his vision for the Bay Street menu.
Do you mind sharing how you made your way to Charleston?
I started at 19, in Louisiana, in a restaurant called the Blue Dog Cafe. After that, through connections from that restaurant, I made my way to the Hamptons in New York. I cooked out there for eight years, went to Dublin for a bit and then came back to new York. While in New York, I worked for wd-50, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Olana and Sidetracks in Queens with John Loughran, who really became my mentor at the time. It's around then I decided to really define my career and make it a career instead of a job. Take it above and beyond. I went back to Louisiana to help open The French Press, that was recently nominated for the James Beard award. From there, I was in the Virgin Islands, and my wife was about to have a baby, so we wanted to get back to the states. Charleston seemed like the best of the worlds I loved, the East Coast and the South. I love the food scene here —some of the best chefs are here—and I'm ready to be a part of it all.
How did you familiarize yourself with German cuisine?
I went to Munich for Oktoberfest a few years ago, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. The culture, the beer culture, it's very comforting. You create more than just a meal when beer is involved, you create a comradery, a lighter scene and atmosphere than wine. It's cool to take beer and use it with food to create an alliance that is overlooked most times. When the team told me this would be a biergarten, my brain started going, and I thought, "I'm going to like this."
Do you have a favorite pairing that just knocks it out every time?
I think a really good Tripel with a pastrami sandwich is just amazing. I love that so much. We will suggest a Duvel Tripel with our Reuben. We'll have house-made pastrami on really good, black German rye. It's delicious.
Was there any part of mixing German and Lowcountry cuisine that made you nervous? Or was there a connection that was natural?
It wasn't natural because nobody knows anything about German cuisine except for Germans themselves. I researched for months. Whenever you you break it down, one of the main things about German food, which is also one of the main things about Southern food, is meat. That makes it easier. Everyone loves things that are German that they don't know are German, like a Bavarian Gouda or a sauerkraut. I'm so excited to bring this cuisine to Charleston.
Can you describe some of your favorite menu items?
In our small plates, our jumbo pretzels are amazing. We went through 63 recipes and got it to where we think it's the best pretzel we've ever seen, and we hope everyone else thinks that too. We also have some Southern flair with some shrimp and grit bites with an andouille/bratwurst gravy. Instead of mac n' cheese, we have spaetzle and cheese with bratwurst, andouille, bacon and crispy onions. The sauce will be smoked Gouda, goat cheese and cheddar cheese. For entrees, we'll do a locally sourced fish of the moment keeping with the theme of Bavarian-inspired and Southern made. We have a great double cut pork chop with a boiler maker sauce, which is beer, bourbon and molasses. It's all very approachable. I think it's going to be great.
While the gang at Bay Street couldn't release the full menu just yet, Eater did spot some of those amazingly puffed pretzels and plenty of sausages in the kitchen. Come October, beer and Bavarian fans will find a comfy home at Bay Street Biergarten.
· Charleston Welcomes Biergarten of the Future [-ECHS-]
· Bay Street Biergarten [Official]