My steady diet of comfort food is peppered with historically inspired dishes for which I developed a taste long ago. Thanks to The Williamsburg Cookbook: Traditional and Contemporary Recipes, by Leetha Booth, I whip up King’s Arms Tavern peanut soup and Raleigh Tavern Bakery gingerbread cookies like those I enjoyed on my first trip to Colonial Williamsburg in 1974. Two very dog-eared pages in We Make You Kindly Welcome: Recipes from the Trustees’ House Daily Fare, by Elizabeth Kremer, are my finding aids for recipes for the tomato celery soup and squash muffins that I took a shine to during my first visit to The Trustees’ House at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
The simple, traditional fare served in living-history museum restaurants heightens the visitor experience at these popular cultural destinations. Sometimes these dining establishments develop a niche as a “special occasion” destination, like the Mount Vernon Inn at George Washington’s Virginia estate, Mount Vernon, where I’m nuts about its tomato cobbler and cracker bread. Or, they can struggle to break even. To wit: The Ohio Village’s Colonel Crawford Inn, a recreated 19th-century Ohio tavern that served an authentic bill of fare and offered special holiday-themed events accompanied by period entertainment from its opening in 1975 until financial troubles resulting from declining state subsidies to the Ohio Historical Society sadly led to its demise in January 2002.
So when I heard that a restaurant serving foods inspired by immigrant brewery owners had opened in Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre open-air history museum in Dayton, I started lobbying to go there. My butcher-turned-brewer ancestor, Conrad Born, Sr., and his son, whose father-in-law was the celebrated Cincinnati brewer Christian Moerlein, would have victoriously raised their beer steins had they known that we celebrated Father’s Day this year at the Carillon Brewing Company.
In the early 1800s, beer was a nutritious, refreshing drink that virtually everyone enjoyed. It was also cleaner than water. At first, housewives brewed beer for their families, employing their stores of grain until they ran low, then substituting sugar-yielding fruits and vegetables like butternut squash to produce sweet, slightly earthy brews. Then, as the city and its immigrant population grew, beer became big business.
First, English immigrants produced ales, in which the yeast fermented relatively fast and provided a drink with a short turnaround time. Then, when the Germans started arriving in the 1840s and 1850s, they began producing lager, a drink that required cooler temperatures and longer fermentation time. By the 1880s, there were as many as 14 breweries in Dayton.
Carillon Brewing Company not only replicates the architecture of Dayton’s original breweries, but also employs 19th-century brewing techniques, heirloom Ohio-grown varieties of malt and hops, and historic equipment like open copper kettles, oak barrels, and charcoal-fueled fires to make each batch of its historic brew.
Period-costumed brewers explain the brewing process to visitors, beginning with the ideal barley varieties to use, how grains are soaked in water to break down starches into sugars, how malt is dried to stop the germination process before becoming mash, how sugary liquid wort is drained from the spent grains, boiled, mixed with hops and spices to yield a distinctive aroma and flavor, cooled, prepared for fermenting, and finally conditioned to rest in the barrel to age and clarify.
Meanwhile, wait staff bring a tantalizing lineup of dishes that would have been served on English, German and Irish immigrants’ tables. Cream of potato and leek soup, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, braised sauerkraut, wursts, Wiener schnitzel, herb-roasted chicken, ham and cheese sandwiched between a pretzel, fruit cobbler and apple dumplings are among the menu offerings.
Choose from six different types of historic beers, such as coriander ale made from an 1831 recipe; an 1862 sour porter ale named for those who worked to deliver goods; an Irish red ale; a pale rye ale; Berliner Weisse, a crisp, light beer featuring wheat malt; and Beet of My Heart, a mix of beets and rye, barley and wheat malts. Traditional spiced root beer made with molasses, licorice, cinnamon, sarsaparilla and vanilla, is also brewed in a copper kettle. Heidelberg-distributed beers and local craft brews lend a contemporary touch. House-made cider, as well as wine made from Catawba and Concord grapes from the Miami Valley, will be available later this year.
Food can be enjoyed inside, or outside in a beer garden shaded by a row of sycamore trees with a recreated 19th-century bowling lane.
Besides taking home a refillable growler of beer or root beer, you can also purchase a loaf of spent grain bread. Hand-mixed from stone-ground wheat, sourdough yeast and spent grains from the brewing process, it is baked in a brick oven onsite.
For more on Dayton’s brewing history, read Breweries of Dayton: A Toast to Brewers from the Gem City: 1810-1961, by Curt Dalton.