If you’ve been to Raleigh’s Busy Bee Cafe, you’ll find a fairly typical menu of sandwiches and salads. Small plates and entrees. They’re all good, and the bar is certainly well-stocked, but once a month, the kitchen — or rather, Chef Jeremy Clayman — really lets its hair down. These beer dinners are when Clayman gets to experiment a bit. Show his wild — or molecular gastronomy — side.
You may remember Clayman from his stint at The Mint, just a stone’s throw away from the Busy Bee. Things didn’t work out so great between Clayman and the Mint owners, so he found another opportunity that on its face seems quite different from the fanciful food he was putting out at The Mint. This was simple food, simply presented, in a restaurant where the bar probably is the most important feature of the space. Was this a step down for Clayman? Would he forget his wild child side?
Give me a frickin’ break.
About a month ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of experiencing one of these dinners, featuring special beers from Brooklyn Brewery, all in large bottle formats, a couple of which are not generally available to the public. The beers were fantastic, but the food really blew us away. Here, Clayman got to use his agar and his alginate. His lecithin and isomalt. But more importantly, he got to experiment with flavors and textures in a way that the general public around here hasn’t fully embraced. Except for once a month at the Busy Bee.
The dinner started out slowly, with fairly tasteless shrimp served with a muscadine gel, but from there, thinks really took off. Monkfish was juicy and tender, served with elements of tarragon and mint, all paired with sweet potato. Veal flank had an interesting accompaniment of eggplant, banana and avocado. With the Sorachi Ace, a beer made with Japanese hops, Clayman served a simple salad of arugula and raw kampachi. Local lamb was perfect with maitake mushrooms, bacon and butternut squash. And concluding the meal with a beet cake was brilliant.
I did not take notes, so my memory of some of the details of the meal has faded a bit, nor did I shoot any pictures, which is a damn shame, as the plating of these dishes were drop-dead gorgeous. Sometimes, this type of cooking can get too wacked out, but the only mis-fire was due to a lack of flavor with the shrimp, rather than flavor combinations being off. At $50 a person (including the beer pairings), plus tax and tip, this is one of the best deals in town.
To learn more about these fantastic dinners, be sure to subscribe to the Busy Bee’s newsletter and follow them on Twitter. They sell out quickly, for obvious reasons. And hopefully, Jeremy Clayman will be able to spread his wings a little more frequently than once a month.