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Surly's Guzman Takes Yucatan to Minnesota

Surly Brewing

“I’m not the type of person who can sit still,” says Jorge Guzman, the executive chef of Surly Brewing’s new brewpub in Minneapolis. “I always have to be doing something.”

For Guzman, that something has always been cooking. More recently, he has become part of the movement taking brewpub menus to a new level of sophistication.

“I’m from the Yucatán,” he said with conviction, “and for me nothing compares to that cuisine. It’s distinctive from the rest of the country. It is very deeply rooted in Mayan cooking with influences from Danish and Lebanese scattered throughout. I’ve always remembered that food and the women who cooked it.” 

Guzman moved to St. Louis as a boy, where he eventually got a job in the kitchen at Chez Leon French bistro at age 15. It was there he got hooked on the family atmosphere of restaurants and the culture of cooking. He would go on to flame burgers in college and attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He landed in Minnesota, where he worked in the kitchens at Red Stone, Tejas, Corner Table, and Solera before joining the team at Surly Brewing. 

“I’m not scared to push people to understand that you don’t have to eat Sunday football food with beer,” said Chef Guzman. Sure, traditional pub grub has its place, but it’s becoming a thing of the past at modern-day brewpubs like the 300-seat casual eatery Beer Hall at Surly’s new digs.

Surly has made a name for itself with beers that are bold and aggressive, Guzman said, and its food should be just as compelling. Accordingly, the menu at Beer Hall, which opened in December, strikes a balance between comfort and challenge. It pleases families with items like pizza, a cheese board, and a basic burger with “fancy sauce.” It nudges diners with foie gras French toast and beef birria. And, it completely pushes the envelope with dishes like the pheasant terrine and Veracruzana-style bone marrow – which entails cooking the marrow found in the cavity of a chopped bone. 

“When I decided to do bone marrow I wanted it to be different from the same old herbs, sea salt and toast,” said Guzman. “Veracruzana jumped into my head.  The dish Huachinango a la Veracruzana comes from Veracruz which is located in the southern coastal region of Mexico. It combines ingredients and cooking methods from both Spain and Mexico.

“Traditionally, snapper is marinated and then a sauce of onions, tomatoes, garlic, olives and herbs is made and the fish is baked with the sauce until tender” continued Guzman. “So for the sauce aspect of the dish we make a guajillo sauce – tomatoes are way too out of season to use and guajillo adds vibrant color and a very savory note. It’s very similar to what the Huachinango sauce is made from. Then to add the brininess that Huachinango has we made a salsa of capers, olives, herbs, garlic and olive oil. Those flavors are deep, rich, briny and fresh all at the same time, and it accomplishes what bone marrow needs, which is a reprieve from the fattiness. The added bonus is you get more flavor than just herbs and salt.”

Currently there are no other menu items that reflect traditional Yucatecan cooking on Surly’s menu, but Mexican flavors from Guzman’s upbringing find their way in here and there. 

“Beer is in the forefront of our thoughts when we’re thinking about food,” said Guzman, who has designed Surly’s menu to be paired with beer. “Food and beer are one in the same, and they can be paired better than food and wine. Our opportunity is to show people that we can do this and do it really well.”

The packed house at Beer Hall since its opening in December seems to be a testament to just how well. Guzman’s barbecue has already been called some of the best in the Twin Cities, his burgers have been dubbed first-rate and unforgettable, and Beer Hall has been hailed as one of the best new restaurants in town. 

Surly’s new brewery has three outlets for food, as Guzman puts it – Beer Hall, as well as an events center and a 100-seat, full-service restaurant that will open later this year. The events center offers catering at Scheid Hall, a 175-person events space with 20 taps, and The Boardroom, Surly’s private dining room. Scheid Hall will open on Monday, March 2 and The Boardroom will open soon after. Surly’ new restaurant is slated to open in the spring.

“You can have a great dining experience that includes beer,” said Guzman. “I’m here to prove that you can sit in a beer hall and have an amazing piece of foie gras and an amazing beer, and go home happy for under 20 dollars.”