It isn’t every day that you eat with perfect strangers. Those kind of awkward dining situations are usually reserved for too-large-to-handle weddings or gatherings around a sizzling-hot hibachi table.
But on Thursday night, I find myself pulling up a seat next to four Bostonians, all in town for a no-holds-barred dude reunion. The East-Coasters haven’t seen each other in three years; one of them just got into town, and another has been drinking all day—it’s so Vegas it sounds like the plot of the next Hangover film. As it turns out, playing catch-up over rounds of Joseph James and grub from Culinary Dropout might be the best idea ever.
We start with a selection of small bites, like paper-thin slices of clove-seasoned Fra'mani Sopressata, tender and delicate edamame, almonds, pickled spring vegetables and more, paired with Joseph James’ gluten-free Fox Tail that’s sweet and tart like a Granny Smith, followed by notes of lime and a hint of olive.
The first course follows with artichoke hearts, preserved lemon and truffled Crescenza, paired with JJ’s Citra Rye. The lemon and truffle are equally pungent but totally contrasting in flavor, and the bright citrus sharply offsets the creamy, savory, truffled cheese.
Beer-battered fish and chips are next, paired with JJ’s American Lager, the same beer that’s in the crispy, golden batter. But the final course (before dessert) is where the magic really happens. A quarter slab of slow-cooked pork ribs (36 hours to be exact), slathered in molasses and bursting with Tex-Mex flavors like cumin and chili powder, are served with a side of jalapeño cornbread and a Double Red Imperial Stout. The meat falls off the bone the way expertly cooked ribs should, and for the next 15 minutes the chatty table goes silent, except for the moments we come up for air and a swig of beer to wash it all down. By the end of the course, everyone’s plates are clean.
My new pals and I are stuffed. We’ve worked up a good buzz, but Culinary Dropout is one step ahead. The final course of the night doesn’t contain any alcohol, just JJ’s root beer and vanilla ice cream. I battle my way through the float’s icy chunks, dipping into the soupy ice cream, sobering up one sloshy, cold bite at a time. But with little to no room to spare, it’s time to hang up my spoon.
The guys look like they’re ready for battle, and a long night under the bright lights of Vegas awaits them. As for me, I leave Culinary Dropout thinking how great it is to call Vegas home—where dinner with strangers is totally normal—and Joseph James is only a stone’s throw away.