Eric Lee brings more than 22 years of culinary experience to his new role as executive chef at Acreage, the farmhouse restaurant and cidery located on a bucolic Lafayette hillside. The restaurant is a joint venture with Stem Ciders, serving an eclectic variety of ciders as well as a menu designed to pair well with the drinks.
When it comes to matching the food on his new menu with cider, Lee says it’s about contrast. “Look for certain flavor profiles — salty, fatty, creamy, sweet. Is it fruit-forward?” he asks. “Try and find the opposite of that in the cider to help balance out the dish.”
For example, he’d pair Acreage’s sweet chocolate cake topped with charred stone fruit with a drier cider such as Real Dry, not something sweeter. “You’re going to get much more out of the dish that way,” he explains.
For a tart dish like Lee's grilled kale, chard and mustard greens with burrata and hazelnuts, he opts for a sweet cider (a relative term with Stem, since most of their products are far drier than those of the big cider manufacturers). “Something sweeter and fruit-forward would pick up the bitterness,” he points out.
Lee pairs Stem's L’Acier, made with Michigan-grown apples, with many different foods because it’s light, dry and balanced. “It’s clean. It doesn’t fight the flavor profiles,” he says. “It doesn’t combat it; it accentuates it.”
The chef incorporates cider into the menu whenever possible, including in stocks, sauces and dressings. For his cider bratwurst, there is one cup of Real Dry for every pound of meat, which comes from a whole hog that's broken down and ground in Acreage's kitchen. Real Dry is Lee’s go-to cider for cooking. “It’s the closest thing to a dry white wine,” he says, adding that this cider is also used for braising pork shoulder and deglazing Carolina Gold rice.
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Lee's Banjo cake is named after — and includes a healthy dose of — Stem's Banjo cider, which is aged in whiskey barrels, resulting in an intense flavor. Some dishes are inspired by cider and are created to conjure its flavors, such as the gluten-free cider doughnuts, a customer favorite since the restaurant opened in early 2018, which are made with apple juice instead of cider. The maple sugar-coated "cider cashews," a humorous poke at "beer nuts," are coated in a cider reduction to help the coating, which includes shiitake mushroom powder, stick.
Since many cider lovers aim for a gluten-free diet, many of the items are designed without gluten, including charred pork belly and chicken confit, but there are gluten-free options available for nearly everything on the menu.
Cider isn’t the only inspiration for Acreage’s menu. Lee sources uncommon and unusual local produce with which customers may be unfamiliar, such as rarer varieties of eggplant, peppers and squash. “We write our menu with whatever is available,” he notes.
Acreage is located at 1380 Horizon Avenue in Lafayette and is open Monday through Friday 3 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. For more information, visit the Acreage website or call 720-443-3007.