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Elkhart Dining Days 2014: New Paradigm's burger-beer pairings offer a taste adventure

Around the high wooden table at the back of the New Paradigm Brewing Co., a coworker and I had to decide on a plan of attack.

Before us were four castles of meat, cheese and bread standing at the corners of a serving of slim-cut french fries. Outside of the white, square plate were the shimmering glasses of our four draft beers. The beer and burger flight was in danger of getting cold from any further indecision. We spun our plates around and shuffled the drinks into place.

Joe Kuharic – that’s my co-worker – and I were tasked with writing about one of the 23 restaurants taking part in Elkhart Dining Days, a yearly event that celebrates Elkhart’s independent dining options.

This was the one burger to rule them all.

New Paradigm, like many of the other restaurants, had special deals and menu items to choose from, for $10 to $30 dollars. Ten percent of the proceeds from each of the meals sold go to the Food Bank of Elkhart County.

We decided to start with the light beers and end with the dark ones. As a Hobbit once said, I’m going on an adventure!

My fellow adventurer and I began our quest with the country-fried cheeseburger. We sank our teeth into the burger and could taste each individual ingredient from the bread to the middle.

There’s the crunch of the deep-fried bacon – with a hint of black peppercorn in the breading – the fullness of the well-cooked medium patty and, lastly, the savory touch of sausage gravy on the tongue.

“The bacon is not overly crispy,” Kuharic said. “You have the opportunity to overcook it with the batter on top of it, but it’s pretty crunchy and pretty tasty.”

Accompanied with the burger was the Hop Parade beer, which restaurant owner Brandon Stanley told us is brewed with five different hops. It’s a light, hoppy drink which goes well with some of the full flavors of a country breakfast from the burger.

After we cut down our first monster, we continued our travels around the plate to the Rockin’ Western burger. This burger had grilled buns, a medium-cooked beef patty, cheese, an onion ring, barbecue sauce and bacon.

The tangy sauce only hits you after you’ve had a mouthful of the beef patty. The bacon this time around does not have as pronounced a flavor as our first burger. Instead, its chewiness makes the texture of the ingredients more complex.

At its side was the Hangdog Black Rye PA, a wheatier tasting beer with a distinct citrus flavor.

But once the last drop of Hangdog went down our gullets, it was time to move on to something spicier and darker. If the last two burgers had been a trek through The Shire, then we were about to get a lick of dragonfire with the last two burgers.

Under the pretzel bun of the Pub Burger are generous servings of bacon, beer cheese, jalapenos and another beef patty. The cheese sauce is light in comparison to the refreshing zestiness of the sliced jalapenos. The bacon, yet again, does not have as strong a taste as the other ingredients but provides a welcome texture to the ingredients.

We raise our glasses once again and take a swig of the Dark Side Brew Coffee Stout, which is a cool, subtle taste that silences the roar of fire in your mouth.

“Those glands in your tongue are really starting to get going, and your mouth starts watering and the chocolatey taste of the beer, not quite smoky, washes it away,” Kuharic said.

My companion and I had finally made it to our last burger. Standing at the edge of our plate was possibly the most unusual burger of the four, the XXX burger. Not only was there a beef patty, bacon, onions and a jalapeno pepper in this burger, but it was all topped off with sweet root beer jelly and a light spread of peanut butter.

This was the one burger to rule them all.

The jelly was not overly sugary, but still evoked the effervescence of a root beer. The firm texture of the pepper offset the soft, velvety texture of the jam, and the bed of onions at the bottom of the stack gave the burger a tangy taste.

The beer was as intimidating as the burger itself. The Infinite Wisdom Belgian Tripel is a smoky, full-bodied beer with a 9.5 percent alcohol content. It’s thick, but not too heavy as to pull you down. After the lightness of the jelly, drinking Infinite Wisdom is like getting walloped by a troll.

Alas, our journey had come to the end. We sank back into our chairs to think back on our gastronomical adventure. The four burgers were some of New Paradigm’s best selling burgers, Stanley told us. And it’s encouraging to see these eccentric combinations of flavors taking off.

“It feels like there was a lot of heart and a lot of science that went into this,” Kuharic said, and I agreed. It takes a lot of guts to combine jalapeno peppers with peanut butter.

Elkhart Dining Days will continue until Saturday, Oct. 25, at 23 participating restaurants. The burgers and beers, however, are featured on New Paradigm Brewing Co.’s regular menu, so you can try the pairing for yourself any time.

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