A Fine Pair(ing)

It’s a Friday night in Lititz, and the kitchen is buzzing. Shannon Jones whirls around in a red dress, moving fluidly from task to task. With her right hand, she sautés broccoli rabe with butter and garlic; the strong aroma of the garlic swirls into the air as the mixture sizzles and hisses. With her left hand, she squirts barbecue sauce into the pot of pulled pork, stirring swiftly. She steps away – her culinary partner, Ian McCafferty, cracks open a few beers and carefully tips them into waiting glasses. Their movements are like clockwork as they waltz around the semi-circular kitchen.

Despite the commotion, this is no restaurant, and these aren’t chefs. This happens to be someone’s home, and tonight, Jones and McCafferty – the Dashing Rogue duo – are throwing a beer pairing dinner party for a couple and their four guests.

The idea came about years ago. “We were trying to host our friends, then running into the kitchen,” explains Jones, “but the best part of a dinner party is spending time with friends.”

So, Jones and McCafferty decided to take the trouble out of the process, turning their passion for pairing beers with intricate tapas-style dishes into a full-fledged company. It was a natural fit for the friends, both of whom love entertaining, cooking and craft beer.

“I won’t say we’re the first people doing this. Since I’ve been drinking beer, there have been beer dinners, but they’re usually beholden to the brewers,” says McCafferty.

But, from the start, even dating back to their first podcast in 2012, the Dashing Rogue insist they are only beholden to their taste buds, constantly experimenting with new flavors and pairings. Their menus – five- to eight-course dinners – are entirely customizable, adapted to clients’ tastes. “Our menus are just a starting point,” says McCafferty. “I don’t think we’ve ever done two dinners exactly the same.”

The first course is usually informal because sometimes guests run late. “It gives them time to sip when guests arrive,” McCafferty says. “No one really wants to sit down for dinner when they walk in the door.”

As if on cue, Jones throws a towel over her shoulder, sprinkles sharp provolone cheese on top of the pulled pork and broccoli rabe, now placed atop crostinis on a platter, and rushes out of the kitchen to serve the couples eagerly waiting in the living room. As they chow down, Ian hands each guest a full beer; later they are served beer in smaller glasses that pair with individual courses.

Back in the kitchen, Jones plops shrimp and pineapple skewers on a griddle, drizzling them with a blood orange, habanero glaze. “I’m letting it kiss the shrimp without letting it become too much,” she says with a smirk.

Jones says the biggest challenge for her is that every kitchen is different. That’s why the Dashing Rogue often does site visits before dinner parties. But today, she dealt with another obstacle: The host couple’s oven was broken, so the menu had to be drastically altered at the last minute. Panna cotta would be served instead of molten lava cake, and a main course of lamb was definitely out. “Instead, we got short ribs braised in chocolate stout,” Jones says.

As the guests filter their way into the dining room, the table punctuated with crimson rolled napkins, Ian delivers the second course, which includes a German wheat beer that he calls “deceptively light-flavored, considering the color.” It’s a misnomer, he says, that all dark beers have a heavy taste.

The dinner flows seamlessly from skewers to duck confit, shaved asparagus salad to butternut squash risotto. Creamy panna cotta with pistachio brittle caps the night, served alongside a Russian imperial stout. In between each course, McCafferty clears the plates and washes beer glasses.  “It’s a cheaper way of having friends over and getting all the benefits of staying in without the hassle,” he says. And while some hassle pertains to dishwashing and cleanup, the Dashing Rogue duo has that covered, too: They bring all their own tableware, from utensils to plates and cart it all home at the end of the night.

Both actors, Jones and McCafferty are part of the party – to an extent. They relish in educating their guests on various beers, how they’re made and why they’re versatile. They want their parties to be intimate, limited to one table of guests. And they love the idea that they can help diners be more adventurous. “We want to take the fear out of trying new foods, new beers at home,” McCafferty says. “Our unofficial motto is ‘bringing back the dinner party.’”

Now that they’ve thrown dozens of dinners in the Susquehanna Valley, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the duo sees the Dashing Rogue only continuing to grow. One day they hope to make this their full-time gig or maybe even have a place, like a bar or restaurant, where diners could come to them.

But in the meantime, Jones says they’ll continue to blog beer reviews and record weekly, free podcasts for beer fanatics; they’ve just recorded their 70th, and downloads are on the rise, up from an initial small circle of friends to more than 700.

“I think [beer is] the only thing I’ve ever been passionate about,” McCafferty says resolutely, adding, “I always say there’s people, there’s beer, there’s food – it couldn’t be bad.”