Espresso cheesecake, chocolate cake, coconut-pecan caramel, graham cracker-chocolate cereal crisp . . . no, this isn't some elaborate dessert menu. It's just a few of the many components that make up the glorious 12-layer German chocolate cake at the new Moody Tongue tasting room.
Yes, you read that correctly. An avant-garde pastry shop this is not; Chicago's best new hangout spot is actually a brewery that’s churning out incredible desserts in addition to top-quality craft beer. Though it opened only at the end of last month, the space has been brewing in Moody Tongue founder Jared Rouben's mind since he started in the business in 2014. Rouben, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is a longtime champion of culinary beers—those crafted from food with a chef mind-set—making them natural suspects for pairings with over-the-top desserts.
The brewery's four mainstay beers are available among the 12 taps in the tasting room, plus rotating seasonal taps like a grapefruit pilsner and bourbon barrel-aged barley wine. How to enjoy your beer is up to you: Settle into a chair around the fireplace and well-stocked bookcase, slide into a leather seat-lined alcove, or take a seat at one of the 25 barstools.
As for the slice of German chocolate cake, developed exclusively for the tasting room by Rouben’s friend and pastry chef, Shannon Morrison, it's 12 layers of love that can comfortably serve a family of four. You can try to resist ordering it, but once someone walks by with the towering slice, we guarantee your resistance will crumble: This is a cake that turns heads. "I've always wanted an opportunity to bring dessert and beer closer together," Rouben says.
Once you’ve finished negotiating clouds of chocolate buttercream, explore the tasting room's single other food option: oysters. Why oysters and chocolate cake? "Sweet and salty tastes are naturally complementary with our beer styles," Rouben explains. And with plenty of servers on hand to help guide you through pairings, you'll know exactly what to drink as you eat cake, slurp briny oysters or (wisely) do both.
Photo: Courtesy of Moody Tongue
When Rouben paid a visit to the Tasting Table office last month, he suggested his Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter might be a good fit for a tiramisu. We figured making this already-delicious dessert even better had to be a good idea, so we’ve created our own recipe. Instead of rum, puffy ladyfingers get soaked in a beer-coffee reduction before buckling under layers of mascarpone and whipped cream as they soak overnight (see the recipe).
The final product is a spoon-tender wonder that lives up to its name, which translates to "lift me up." The Baltic porter lends the dessert a malty taste that sets it apart from other versions of the Italian classic. "We love bridging our beers with dishes," Rouben says. That could mean using the Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saison in a citrusy cheesecake or the honey-colored Applewood Gold in a goat cheese tart.
While beer pairings have been increasingly encroaching on wine's popularity—now more than ever—the binary menu at Moody Tongue keeps matters just as simple as they should be. With this minimalist style, not only is it acceptable to order one of everything, it's the right thing to do.
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