2018-08-01 / Dishing

Bear Belly

New brewpub Shy Bear Brewing in Lewistown offers an unexpected menu.
Michele Marchetti | Photos by Matt Fern

In the midst of the construction project that would eventually become Shy Bear Brewing, one of Jason Ufema’s engineers pulled him aside and wrapped an arm around him.

“People are going to come from far away to be here,” the engineer advised, “and they won’t be happy with peanuts.”

Ufema’s initial vision for Shy Bear, which opened in March in Lewistown, didn’t include a restaurant. In 1978, Jason’s father Lance Ufema launched Rich Coast, which supplies coffee and tea to restaurants and other businesses in 32 Pennsylvania counties. Most of that business comes from Centre County, meaning a restaurant would pit Ufema, Rich Coast director of operations, against his own customers.

Chef Michael WilsonChef Michael WilsonBut with a background in food service and a clear need to pair a 10-barrel brewhouse with a menu that could nourish, Ufema realized his engineer was right and appointed chef Michael Wilson to head a Shy Bear kitchen. In March, Wilson, under Ufema’s direction, introduced a menu focused on Instagram-worthy tacos served on bamboo trays that can fool you into thinking you’re on vacation.

Joining a nonstop caravan from State College — about 70 percent of patrons are currently coming from this town — my friends and I took a July road trip to Shy Bear and sampled Wilson’s tacos, designating the pork belly as the clear winner.

Wilson cooks the pork belly sous vide, weighting it down for 24 hours so it’s compact and primed for crispiness. The sweet, salty pillows begged for beer, and my only complaint was that the menu didn’t suggest drink pairings. (But Ufema did provide one — the Northeast IPA “Cockatoo Me.”)

Wilson really shines with his appetizers, which showcase a rich background of experiences, from leading a Japanese restaurant on the Norwegian Cruise Line to high-altitude cooking for a Wyoming cattle-ranch resort.

The Aloha Tower, an elegant arrangement of flavors and textures, stacks sushi-grade Ahi tuna with seaweed salad, pineapple mango chutney, Tobkio (flying fish roe), fried wonton strips and Bull’s Blood microgreens in a dish that’s surprising for a brewpub but completely at home in Wilson’s repertoire. 

“I’ve been making a version of this for 10 years,” said Wilson. “I change up the proteins and flavors — it’s something that’s always evolving.”

From Hawaiian-Asian fusion we moved to French-Canadian with poutine, an upscale version of the cheese fries and brown gravy I grew up eating in New Jersey diners. A caloric mess of bone broth gravy, the aforementioned crispy pork belly and Amish cheese curds, it’s food that makes you feel like all will be right with the world.

That dish is a point of pride for Wilson. To make the gravy, he roasts 15 pounds of beef bones for three hours, roasts veggies, and lets the combination simmer for about 24 hours, at which point the stock has been reduced to about one quarter of its initial volume. The marrow imparts the stock with a richness that can’t be found in the diner version.

“It’s one of these old techniques that has been lost due to cheap beef stock being readily available without having to take the time to make it,” he says of the bone broth. “It was something I was taught in culinary school, yet didn’t pay much attention to. Once you get a little older and more patient, you think maybe the old ways are right.”

A respect for culinary traditions pairs well with a business that’s rooted in history. Ufema’s grandfather moved the family to Lewistown after World War II to be the football coach for Lewistown high school, a legacy that’s celebrated in a newspaper article near the brewery’s entrance.

After graduating from Brown, Ufema’s father returned to the area, and had a small ranch built on a piece of property that neighbored what was once known as Meadowbrook Farm. In 2004, his father purchased the adjacent 20 acres, bidding against a businessman who wanted to put in a landfill. That investment includes what people have told Ufema is one of the oldest barns in Mifflin County.

Ufema currently lives in the house his dad built, on a property that spans 32 acres. One day as he was pondering a name for the brewery, a bear ambled over to the birdfeeder outside the house, just up the hill from the Rich Coast retail shop that was being transformed into a brewery. When the bear realized it was being watched, it ran down into a tree line, hid behind a tree and looked up at Ufema. A game of “peek-a-boo” ensued, and Shy Bear was born.

Jen Davis and Jason UfemaJen Davis and Jason Ufema

August is an ideal time to experience Shy Bear’s rustic landscape. Lawn games are scattered around the restaurant’s 3,000-square-foot courtyard, which periodically becomes an alfresco yoga studio. Think planks followed by pints.

On Aug. 14 Shy Bear is hosting Revival Kitchen for an invite-only beer-pairing dinner. And on Sundays for the rest of the summer, an outdoor stage will feature live music; Ufema plays drums in two alternating house bands.

With 13 Shy Bear beers on tap — plus cold brew, Seven Mountains Chardonnay and, coming soon, Moody Culture Kombucha — serious beer drinkers won’t be disappointed. And some clever wordplay will amuse everyone at your table. With names like Cockatoo Me and Poke Me in the Coconut Porter, reading the beer menu feels like a slightly racy parlor game.

While the drinks menu dwarfs the food choices, the dish you want to order is probably not on the menu. Wilson is happiest when he’s scheming something new. Recently, after eying some beef tenderloin left over from a previous evening’s dinner, his mind flashed to his childhood and his mom’s beefy mac. He deconstructed that dish and reconstructed it with “restaurant-quality” ingredients, adding a sundried tomato dressing to complement the smokiness of the cheese and steak. “When I took that first bite, I stepped back and thought, ‘We’re winning.’”

Shy Bear sold 50 orders of the special in two and a half hours. •SCM

Campfire Beefy Mac

Yield 4 servings

2 lbs. cooked Rotini pasta
2 lbs. center cut beef tenderloin, chain and silver skin removed
    ***from your local butcher shop
Worcestershire sauce
Montreal Steak seasoning
1 lb. smoked Cooper cheese
½ c. milk (or more as needed)
Sundried tomato dressing (recipe included below)
4 Tbsp. freshly cut chives or scallions

For beef tenderloin:
Fully and generously coat tenderloin with Worcestershire sauce. Generously season with Montreal Steak seasoning. Allow tenderloin to rest at room temp for 1 hour.     Insert probe thermometer, lengthwise, into thickest part of tenderloin. Resting internal temperature should be 50-55 degrees.

For pellet smoker:
Set temperature at 450 degrees. Sear tenderloin on each side until well seared (approximately 10-15 minutes on each side). Rotate loin until well seared on all sides. Lower temp on smoker to 300 degrees and allow meat to cook until internal probe thermometer reads 128-130 degrees (approximately 20 minutes).
For charcoal grill:
Set charcoal briquettes on one side of grill for indirect cooking. Place tenderloin over hot coals for direct cooking and sear well (approximately 8 minutes on each side). Rotate loin until well seared on all sides. Transfer to other side of grill for indirect cooking. Add hickory or your favorite wood smoking chips to coals.

Allow meat to cook until internal probe thermometer reads 128-130 degrees.

Pull tenderloin from heat and tightly double wrap with foil. Allow meat to rest for approximately 30 minutes. Unwrap tenderloin and cut into 1-inch cubes. In a medium mixing bowl, gently mix cubes until seasonings from the crust are well incorporated on all pieces.

For cheese sauce:
In a saucepan, heat milk on low/medium heat. Whisk in a handful of cheese at a time until creamy. Be careful to not scorch. Add milk if necessary for consistency.     Combine pasta with cheese sauce until well incorporated. Divide evenly into 4 portions on plates or 8-inch cast iron skillets. Place cubed beef tenderloin on top of rotini and cheese. Drizzle sun dried tomato dressing in a zig zag pattern across each plate and garnish with fresh cut chives or scallions. For an extra kick of awesomeness, drizzle your favorite hot sauce and add a pinch of crumbled bacon.

For Sun-dried Tomato dressing: (yields 1 pint)
    ½ c. sun-dried tomatoes
    ½ c. extra virgin olive oil
    1 tsp. Kosher salt
    1 tsp. black pepper
    1 Tbsp. minced red onion
    1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
    2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
    1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
    Juice of 1 fresh lemon
    ½ tsp. dried oregano
    1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
    1½ cups water
Combine all ingredients except water in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, about 4-5 minutes. With motor still running, add water ¼ cup at a time until consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

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