In Ireland the word 'stout' is synonymous with Guinness — and we celebrate a lot of things with stout," says DJ Naylor, the proud owner of Celtic Crossing in Cooper-Young. The "we" he's referring to are the Irish. DJ hails from County Cork, where the next stop West is America. When asked how he got to Midtown, he says "soccer" with a laugh, as if he knows that's the least Memphis thing in the world to say. Still, we know a lot of the same people — proving that even if you start from way over in Ireland, Memphis is really just a big, deranged Mayberry.
"The perfect pint isn't just your favorite stout, but one that's poured correctly," says DJ, "with the right temperature and that has the right lip." A good stout has a reputation of being a meal unto itself, but writing it off as some 18th-century Irish protein shake is a little wide of the mark. True, those rich, toasted flavors won't sit well with a basket of hot wings, and to suck the stuff down with barbecue might put you into a coma but, paired well, the right stout can make a real meal sing.
What I didn't expect was for DJ to tell me how well stouts go with oysters. And I like oysters, a lot. I took a dozen for a spin, and what can I say? It works — salty brine against the toasty malt.
- Perfect pairing — stout and beef stew
The day DJ and I met was one of those perfect winter days — 32 degrees and cloudless. We were hunkered down over some Irish stew. "But for the beef, this is exactly how my Mom makes it," he says. And it tastes like it. "Back in the old country, it's made with lamb, but lamb is a hard sell in the South."
Last year when the place went smoke-free inside, Celtic Crossing got refurbished with wonderful leather seating and mahogany tables. DJ told me he's one of 12 children. It was all very Irish.
We were talking about food pairing, and it was obvious that what was before us was the perfect match. A pint of the black stuff stands up to the beef and potatoes (in a Guinness gravy), because what grows together, goes together. Not as heavy as it sounds, it's satisfying. This, honestly, is comfort food at its best — and for $10, they'll bring you all the comfort you want.
Another natural pairing — and a little lighter — is corned beef as a sandwich or, for an extra pop, stuffed in peppers.
Of course, there are other stouts: Samuel Smith out of Scotland is a respectable one. As is Murray's Irish Stout if you like a little sweeter finish. Locally, Memphis Made has a silky Oatmeal Stout, and Wiseacre had waded in with its "Gotta Get Up to Get Down" Coffee Milk Stout. It is made with coffee, so there is caffeine in it. It's pretty good for a hangover. It's not for everyone, but I like it. Admittedly, though, I can't see myself drinking three of those in a row, and if I did, I can't see anyone wanting to hang around with me.
But for a stout and stew, nothing strikes the same chord as "Uncle" Arthur Guinness did when, in 1759, he took a 9,000-year lease on the property at St. James Gate, Dublin, and started doing what has been done so well ever since. His birthday, "Arthur's Day," became something of an Irish national holiday until the government thought it was becoming a little too festive and tamped it down for "health" reasons. It sounds like bureaucratic fun-sucking to me. Exactly how bad for you can the black stuff be? Arthur and his wife, Olivia, had 21 children. That took stamina.