Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a story I love with a pint to sip while reading it.
I’m mostly a fiction reader, as is fiercely evident in a scroll through my previous Books & Brews posts. However, if I had to pick a close second– it would be memoirs. Specifically memoirs that involve food. I loved Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michelle Maisto’s The Gastronomy of Marriage. I bought and cooked liver after Julie Powell made it sound so romantic in Julie & Julia. And… I can stop, clearly using “liver’ and “romantic” in the same sentence adequately demonstrates my love. Anyway, I was doing a little updating on Goodreads recently and noticed this delicious memoir* that I had added some time ago and figured I was due for a little break from the fiction. This month I read Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. (*I think I’m going to officially call the sub-genre of memoir about food: “delicious memoir.”)
The book chronicles the birth of a business. It starts with the author’s husband making the proclamation that he is going to open a restaurant that serves the New York style pizza he loves, because he is unable to find an acceptable substitute in Seattle. She assumes it’s just another of his fleeting interests (like violin making or ship-building), but his interest doesn’t wane this time. Suddenly there’s a lease and a space to remodel and staff to hire and pizzas to make, and sides and desserts to plan and prep. Wizenberg’s memoir tells the story of both her whole-hearted involvement in the project and her ultimate decision to step out of the kitchen at Delancey.
Here’s what I loved about the book:
The glimpse behind the scenes: My neighborhood is full of local restaurants, many of which have opened within the 12 years I’ve lived here (it was an “up and coming” neighborhood aka “you bought a house where” back then). I know it’s a lot of work. I can observe that by peering in the window while a space is under construction. By sitting at the bar near opening day and just watching. I have this sort of, observed, anthropological understanding of restaurants. But I don’t know what it feels like to hope you’ve picked the right staff, created the capacity to handle a line out the door and around the corner, or developed the recipes that will keep that line coming back. I loved this very behind the scenes description of what it feels like to start a restaurant completely from scratch.
The part about writing and emptiness and hating the restaurant: While Wizenberg’s husband is in the early stages of leasing a space, starting construction, and developing recipes, she is in the middle of launching her first book, A Homemade Life. After the book launch is over she really starts to fully understand that the restaurant isn’t just a hobby. It is going to happen. Feeling empty and adrift at the culmination of her creative project (yes! it does feel like this!), she realizes that she may have some unresolved feelings about owning a restaurant– which clearly causes conflict. I love that these two things happen together. Because it’s like that, right, the biggest conflicts in life are almost always equal part what’s happening in the world around us and all the stuff we’re bringing with us to the situation. Wizenberg articulates this beautifully.
The happy ending: This isn’t a spoiler, folks. There are no spoilers in memoir. If you google the author and the name of the restaurant, you’re going to discover that she and her husband are still married (and now have an adorable daughter). This is a story about going through something gigantic together. About building a thing and learning what you want your place within that world to be. It’s about navigating the messiness of it all– the joy, the anger and confusion, the laughter, and the sheer exhaustion. Mostly, what I loved was that this tells the story of surviving all that together, by understanding who you are individually.
And now for the hard part… the beer pairing. Perhaps this is why I stick to fiction in this feature, because there are literally hundreds of beers that I could pair with this delicious memoir. You’re going to want to eat wood-fired pizza and roasted vegetables pretty much the whole time you’re reading it, and let’s be honest, it would be easier to list beers that don’t pair with pizza and roasted things than to pick just one that does.
It’s clear in the book that local and seasonal ingredients are important at Delancey. So I’m going use that as my criteria for beer pairing and go with Legend Brewery’s Oktoberfest. It’s hyper-local (less than a mile from my house) and seasonal (Oktoberfest is celebrated September 17 – October 3 this year). Plus Legend Brewery opened way back in the infancy of the craft beer industry (1994), which means they know a thing or two about starting and sustaining a business, further solidifying the pairing. If my local brewery doesn’t distribute to the place you call home, find your closest craft brewery, order an Oktoberfest, sit there amidst all that creativity and entrepreneurial ambition and get lost in Delancey.
Side note: I highly recommend listening to Spilled Milk the podcast Molly does with Michael Amster-Burton, while reading this book. It’s super book-nerdy fun to be able to imagine an author’s voice while reading their memoir. (Plus the podcast is funny and about food.)