The Circle S Guest Ranch and County Inn showcased its fine country dining with a recent Brew and BBQfest.
To Mary Beth Stevenson, the Circle S Guest Ranch and Country Inn north of Lawrence is both a business and a family heirloom.
Stevenson, who co-owns the business with her husband, Mitchell, is the fifth generation of her family to operate the farm.
A cattle ranch since the late 1800s, the 1,200-acre area also includes a barn-like inn that accommodates guests in a secluded setting.
Although the inn opened last May, the Stevensons just recently showcased their country accommodations and cuisine with a Brew and BBQfest.
The owners gave dinner guests a tour of the 12 guestrooms before serving a six-course meal prepared by chefs Subarna Bhattachan and Alejandro Lule. Steve Bradt, a brewer at Free State Brewery Co., gave a presentation about how the meal's six beer varieties complemented each course.
Mary Beth Stevenson describes the meal as another stage in the learning process of owning an inn. The couple has no prior hospitality experience, but their love for the land and meeting people inspired them to open the business.
"It's been a lot of fun," she said. "There are some remote bed and breakfasts in the area, but the owners all live in the houses. This inn is unique to the area."
The inn is surrounded by hilly pastures with trails, cattle and buffalo. Guests can help with farming activities or they can simply relax amid the grassland prairies.
Both the property and cuisine reflect a careful attention to detail. The inn is decorated with heavy wooden furniture and rustic fixtures that enhance its relaxed Heartland feel. Most of the paintings were created by Lawrence-area artists, Stevenson said.
The inn's regular meals, which include dinner and breakfast for overnight guests, are served with a classy country style. At the Brew and BBQfest, Bhattachan and Lule designed the menu to reflect the country atmosphere and the beer selections.
"Beer goes very well with spicy food," Bhattachan said. He added that the courses were enhanced by the beers, which began with a light ale shandy and ended with an Oatmeal stout.
The evening's relaxed tone was set with a pre-appetizer of tortilla chips served with grilled pineapple salsa, roasted tomato salsa and guacamole. The accompanying beer, Cyclist, was a lemonade and ale combination similar to Britain's shandy drinks.
The appetizer was a dinner highlight. It included tender barbecued shrimp layered in small flour tortillas. The baked crisps were coated in black bean spread and sprinkled with grilled corn salsa and sour cream.
The four other courses could stand alone, but the beer strengthened the transition between them. A light Wheat State Golden enhanced the salad with Poblano-Free State malt vinaigrette. The lighter beer set the tone for bitter beers (Maibock and Copperhead) and their bolder partners, red snapper and barbecued beef short ribs.
The evening's finale was a delightful Oatmeal Stout Tiramisu dessert, with cheese mousse and lady fingers soaked in Oatmeal Stout syrup. Its sweetness suited the Oatmeal Stout's roasted chocolate flavor.
The Brew and BBQfest's menu affirmed the chefs' talents. Lule regularly works at the ranch, while Bhattachan helps with larger meals. They originally met while working as chefs at Teller's and are opening a Latin American restaurant, La Parrilla, in Lawrence this summer.
In mid-July, Lule said the chefs are preparing a special South American-oriented meal at Circle S Ranch. For more information, call the ranch at 843-4124.
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