Edit: Open Face is closing it's doors in December 2016, but leaving this one here for the memories!
PHOTO COURTESY OF OPEN FACE
By Ryan Arnold
Big, spicy flavors and fresh fare can go hand-in-hand with this One True Pairing. Hailing from Rochester’s Open Face, today’s dashing duo is composed of a salad and a bottle of soda, which may seem a little odd from the start, but this South Wedge eatery is one of my favorites so I went with it. One of the most surprising takeaways from my experience was that the food actually enhanced the beverage, rather than the expected opposite.
Open Face is unassuming and easy to miss, especially in the gray of winter. But now that spring has officially arrived, sidewalk bistro tables, flags, and a bright red scooter out front more accurately reflect the liveliness of the kitchen inside.
Owned by Jared Valentine, Open Face has an inspiring menu with tons of fresh, health-conscious options. Surprisingly, perhaps, a cornerstone of the menu is a soda called Moxie with roots that stretch back to the late 1800’s. Soda is pretty polarizing these days, Moxie is one of the few that still employs cane sugar. It’s also made with a somewhat rare Himalayan ingredient called gentian root. The root is commonly known for its very bitter flavor and its required maturity period of nearly a decade before harvest. Gentian root is also the likely source of the polarizing opinions that surround the beverage’s appeal.
I wanted to find a pairing that suited the drink’s flavor well. I opted for a salad of greens, peppered houseroasted turkey, spicy jalapeño mustard, and a parmesan wafer as garnish. At Open Face, diners can also choose from one of four housemade sides, and I opted for the ginger carrots, which are bathed in a ginger and vinegar pickling-style bath before being roasted, rendering a sharp yet surprisingly balanced flavor.
The resulting pairing was powerful. First up were the conflicting heat sources in the mustard, then umami fireworks from the vinegar and ginger, and finally the addition of a mellowing bittersweet beverage. Each bite was downright hot at times, but before climbing out of control with spice, the heat level seemed to deescalate, urging me to take another bite. This can probably be attributed to the appetite-inducing properties of the gentian root and ginger. Mind blowing, really.
Open Face is great for a quick lunch under $15, as well as take out. For those less willing to take a heat plunge, I’d suggest sandwich version of this preparation, where the bread can help alleviate some of the heat, or adding baguette chips instead of the ginger carrot side. But if big flavors aren’t your thing, try pairing Moxie with some of Open Face’s other interesting fare, it has something unique to offer to any number of flavor profiles.