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Beer, Bacon Jam & Gouda Arancini

Beer, Bacon Jam & Gouda Arancini

Appertizer Best of Winner

  • Press Bistro Johnstown, Pa.
  • Pittsburgh Division

the Dish:

“Who doesn’t love bacon, right?” asks Jeremy Shearer as he describes the crisply delicious arancini he and Jennifer Shearer created for Press Bistro in Johnstown, Penn. The question is pretty much rhetorical. Bacon, especially when it is slowly simmered with a mountain of onions until the two ingredients surrender, forming an amalgam of smoky, sweet, meaty and earthy flavors, ranks high on the hit parade of consumer favorite flavors. Stirred into risotto that’s studded with nuggets of Gouda cheese, the bacon jam adds a memorable one-two punch of muscle and heft to the appetizer dish.

The add-ins veer far from authentic Italian arancini, and the husband-and-wife restaurant owners are just fine with that. And despite getting raves from those who have tried it, the arancini so far have not landed on the regular menu. Says Jeremy, “We had a special beer dinner coming up, and we needed to create a menu for it. There was some risotto on hand and that’s how it got started. It paired well with one of the beers and worked nicely with the menu.”

With flavors that are forward, bold and unexpected, the arancini seem destined to be an exception. “Yeah, we might add them to our regular menu. They’d fit in very well,” says Jeremy.

the Restaurant:

Press Bistro was created to bring people to the downtown area of Johnstown and to offer food that is unique to the area. Press not only offers American Fusion cuisine, but the restaurant hosts a variety of wine, beer and specialty cocktail dinners. They also specialize in bringing musical entertainment to downtown.

“We think of Press as an American restaurant with a lot of different influences,” says Jeremy. “If you were to describe it, inspired American fusion is probably most accurate.”

Press Bistro menu items that tap culinary influences of Thailand, India, Mexico, England, the American South and more, lend credence to that point. “Our guests love the variety,” says Jennifer, adding that the something-for-everyone approach works well for their restaurant.

The menu ranges from a variety of tacos (Guinness Fish and Bang-Bang Shrimp to name two) to several scrumptious burgers to ethnic sandwiches (Cubano, Banh Mi and Greek Hummus wrap) to some of their classics (Chicken and Waffles, Thai Enchiladas).

Dreaming up creative twists on classics is all in a day’s work for the Shearers. The 2-1/2 year-old restaurant is a joint project for the husband-and-wife team and they share nearly everything equally: the vision, day-to-day operations, cooking, hiring, training and more. Jennifer, however, takes the lead in researching new ideas. Inspiration flows to her from many directions. “When something hits me, I turn to the Internet. Restaurant menus, magazines, chefs give me a basis of ideas to bounce around,” Jennifer explains. “When I read something, I can almost taste it in my head and know whether or not it will work.” Then Jennifer and Jeremy hit the kitchen, testing the idea until all the flavor notes are deemed just right.

A series of beer and wine dinners has helped the Shearers build a vibrant business. “We’re located in the city’s downtown district and when we opened, everyone told us that no one would stay in the area for dinner. And they were right, no one did, so we had to find ways to draw them,” says Jeremy.

“These menus are specifically designed to go with wines or beers. We like them to be special, different from what we usually serve at the restaurant,” notes Jennifer. “The guests recognize and appreciate that.”

A Piece of the Essay:

This recipe is perfect for the bar and grille because it encompasses ingredients that pair well with several beers. It’s crunchy and creamy. The sweetness from the bacon jam counteracts the bitterness of the beer. The pop of melted gouda in the center is an awesome added surprise. It’s a perfect bar food snack to eat while having a few beers with friends.

Judge Comments:

  • Great texture and flavor profile
  • Nothing overpowering - it's just right
  • All of the flavors worked well together
  • Different in a good way
  • I would order these at a bar
  • Awesome!
  • The jam was key in this
  • Great beer flavor
  • Nice presentation
  • Good bite size

With flavors that are forward, bold and unexpected, the arancini seem destined to be an exception.

See the recipe

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