PEORIA — For many people, Tannins & Hops has quickly become a trendy destination to imbibe in the Warehouse District. The wine selection is incomparable and the beers on tap are among the best you'll find in Peoria.
A lesser known aspect of the enterprise is its kitchen service — a chef and sous chef are both involved along with a full menu distinct from the bevy of brews and vino. And if you've been fortunate — or in the loop — you've walked into the joint on a weekday evening and enjoyed a special event centered around the food, either from a guest chef or from the minds of its very own culinary professionals.
Knowing what I know of its alcohol pedigree already, the prospects of trying out the Tannins & Hops dining experience were tantalizing. Recently, a guest and I walked through the inconspicuous door off Water Street and settled in for a dinner.
Now Tannins & Hops is, ostensibly, a speakeasy, meaning there's a password required to enter, decor straight from the 1920s and a healthy dose of jazz music. Normally it's uncouth to reveal the operations behind a speakeasy, but I'll pull the curtain back, so to speak, and detail the night.
Wondering how exactly to begin our meal, a kind gentleman on the staff recognized our initial confusion, determined that we were there to eat and ferried us over to a small table next to the grand piano. We settled in next to the artificial candlelight to peruse the wine, beer and food menus, all three in separate booklets.
The prevailing custom during most meals is to order the drink first, then proceed to the food menu for the appetizer and entree. But Tannins & Hops provides a beer and wine pairing for each of its major menu items, so perhaps it's best to order them in tandem.
I selected a glass of the Fess Parker pinot noir from Bien Nacido Vineyard in California ($27), while my guest ordered the Incarnation IPA from 4-Hands Brewery in St. Louis ($7). The pinot noir was rich with flavors and aromas of fruit and spice. Both drink choices were outstanding.
The food menu offers a few shareables, some sides, a couple of salads and, most prominently, charcuterie and grilled cheeses. We opted for the latter items, as I chose the Classic Triple grilled cheese with bacon and heirloom tomato ($11) and my guest took the Mediterranean grilled cheese with a side salad ($11).
As for the charcuterie, the prospective diner can choose a pre-arranged meat and cheese plate or hand-select individual meats and cheeses off respective menus. Leaving the decision to the experts, we got the Go-To charcuterie for two people ($16), featuring Parmesan, mild cheddar, Wisconsin cheese curds, prosciutto, Genoa salami, pepperoni and other sundry accoutrements.
After some time, all the food arrived at once along with my guest's side salad getting there a few minutes after that. The bread on my grilled cheese had a light crisp while every bite oozed with extra sharp cheddar, muenster and Swiss. Grilled cheeses have a ceiling, taste-wise, and these sandwiches definitely approached that echelon. My guest enjoyed the Mediterranean version as well but had to eat it between regular bread instead of the pita bread, which was unavailable that night, and the sandwich might have been a little lacking without the pita.
But the charcuterie, served on a refurbished wooden tree slab with bread, stole the show. The thin prosciutto and the Parmesan hunks were clear standouts, and I particularly enjoyed the specialty mustard in tandem with the Genoa salami. With the seemingly endless choices of meat and cheese options that can be assembled into a charcuterie plate, I have a feeling that I'll be mixing and matching many times in the future.
The speakeasy template does not lend itself to quick dining, and that's a good thing — luxuriating over a few glasses of wine in the soft lighting of Tannins & Hops is a welcome experience. But I wouldn't have minded if the charcuterie platter — as well as the side salad — arrived at our table a little before the grilled cheese.
Otherwise, the food was exemplary, right in line with its drink reputation, and should be explored on its own merits beyond the deep reservoir of beer and wine available at this modern speakeasy. Tell everyone about it.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.