Best New Restaurants: First Place, Wolf's Ridge Brewing

Beth Stallings

Chef Seth Lassak pauses mid-thought. "You know," he says, "maybe we could do a really concentrated hopped liquid and brine meats in there …" He trails off, reaching for a pen clasped to the front of his white jacket, clicking it ready and then eagerly scribbling the rest of his thought into the margins of a paper that holds ideas for the coming winter menu.

He nods with a faint smile. Lassak likes where this idea is heading.

There's no denying beer inspires the chef of Wolf's Ridge Brewing. The Downtown hotspot, owned by father-son team Alan and Bob Szuter, has earned much buzz since its September opening for its brewpub-inspired, French-leaning food that makes perceived fancy fare, like Pan Seared Foie Gras, not only approachable, but beer-friendly.

The beer-food balance likely comes from the active role house brews play in Lassak's kitchen. For example, the new venison entree is braised in Wolf's Ridge brown ale, and the airline chicken breast is brined in a concentrated hops liquid (a technique inspired by Lassak's eureka moment) made from the brewery's IPA.

"With beer, the more you cook it, the more bitter it gets," Lassak explains. But sometimes, he continues, that bitter aspect actually enhances a dish.

Here, a few ways Lassak has fun with beer to elevate dishes on his menu.

The dish: WRB IPA Steamed Mussels

The reason: "We use our IPA, which adds a little different characteristic than wine," Lassak says. "It adds that bitter component and because IPA is heavily hopped, it adds more complexity to the dish."

The dish: WRB IPA whole-grain mustard in the Charcuterie Plate

The reason: To strengthen the IPA flavor in the mustard, Lassak reduces the house IPA, then adds a handful of hops (sourced from the downstairs brewery). "It's like a really concentrated hop-flavored beer. We use that in our whole-grain mustard to add another layer of complexity." They use this same concentrate to give a boost to the hopped hollandaise sauce on eggs benedict.

The dish: Butterscotch Bread Pudding with dry hopped caramel ice cream and stout syrup

The reason: Lassak mixes a stout with sugar, cooking it down to a syrup-a method meant to be a

playful touch, not the star of the dish. "It's more of an accent," Lassak says. 215 N. Fourth St., Downtown, 614-429-3936,