Middle West Spirits teases Service Bar with pop-up at Fox in the Snow

Erin Edwards

"We're not a restaurant company … in some ways it's our blind spot," Middle West Spirits co-founder Brady Konya said Thursday night.

He could have fooled me.

At a collaborative pop-up dinner with Fox in the Snow, Konya and his business partner Ryan Lang provided a seven-course glimpse into Middle West's forthcoming foray into dining. Named Service Bar, the new dining concept will feature the talents of former Veritas Tavern chef Avishar Barua. And based on Thursday's dining experience, it's primed to be one of the most exciting openings of the year.

"We really want to be the guys who help him realize his great potential," Konya said about Barua, adding that this opportunity will give the young chef "the ability to invent and to incubate."

The new restaurant is part of the local craft distiller's multimillion-dollar expansion, which is nearing completion, although no date for either the opening of its expanded production facility or the restaurant has been announced.

Thursday's pop-up dinner featured OYO cocktails paired with a New York-inspired menu created by Barua and Fox in the Snow's co-owner and masterful baker Lauren Culley. It was not so much a preview of the Service Bar menu, but rather a tease at the kind of dining experience we might expect.

Pop-up participants were greeted with a twist on Fox in the Snow's egg sandwich, which has a cult-like following (counting yours truly and Barua among the faithful). Barua and Culley's version was a bacon-topped quail egg on a gruyere gougere.

Barua and Culley really had me, however, after the first course: a hot and cold steelhead trout with chive crème fraiche and a knob of bagel, inspired by the bagel and lox at New York's Russ and Daughters Café. It's accompanying OYO cocktail, the Coffee Milk Punch, featuring a "milk-washed" OYO White Rye Whiskey was a table favorite.

The second course-Barua's tribute to Chinese leftovers-was the dinner's most playful. Delivered to the table in a takeout Chinese box, the haricot verts and schmaltz-poached chicken were served cold save for the heat of Szechuan peppercorns.

My Chinese leftovers are never this fun, nor taste this good.

Dinner continued with an outstanding 36-hour pork belly resting inside a Culley-baked broche roll-another breakfast tribute-followed by a take on pastrami and rye with pumpernickel gnocchi and Montreal smoked meat.

Paired with the gnocchi course was my favorite cocktail of the night and one I hope Konya and Lang keep around: the Carbonated Bourbon Sour. Combining OYO Michelone Reserve Bourbon with yuzu was a brilliant stroke and perfectly refreshing for summer.

As an intermezzo, we were treated to a candy-apple red edible negroni, which featured a previously-unannounced Middle West gin that will be a big focus of the distiller's over the upcoming year.

Finally, we were treated to dessert, which I won't forget for a while. The graham cracker soufflé with burnt marshmallow ice cream (that's right) was perfectly executed and made me forget all social etiquette when I practically shouted at Konya to "please put this on the menu."

He wasn't talking. We'll have to wait and see.