That's the question the owners of a new brewpub in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood are trying to figure out. They're using peppercorns, tea and other spices in their beers.
At Bixi, one of the kitchen's prep stations is unmistakably Asian - there are dried chilies, fermented black beans and finely-minced ginger and garlic. But in another section, a massive seafood tower is being assembled, while a filling for a Taiwanese gua bao bun contains thinly-sliced roast beef, minced giardiniera and charred scallions.
The Midwest-meets-Asia theme runs throughout the massive, two-story Bixi, along a revitalized section of Milwaukee Avenue, where the team isn't trying to adhere to strict recipes.
"We kind of wanted to still be able to use Midwest farms, so it is definitely fusion," said owner Bo Fowler. "We're not trying to go for authenticity but something that tastes amazing."
That meant the beers, brewed on-site, had to have a few Asian influences, like Szechuan peppercorns.
"And it was a risk. I didn't know, I had an idea of how it was gonna turn out, but I didn't know for sure until I tasted it," said Brewer Eymard Freire. "Things like jasmine tea and magnolia oolong teas and freeze-dried fruits in general. So it's not only Asian, it's also culinary and it's also meant to go with food."
That seafood tower is impressive: plump shrimp, briny oysters, sweet crabmeat and lobster are all fine pairings with the light, hoppy beers. But one dish in particular, the belt noodle, just screams for beer.
"It's a street food my sister really enjoyed when she was living there," Fowler said.
She first heats peanut oil, then pours it over chilies, fermented black beans, garlic and ginger. The long noodle is stretched and torn slightly, but kept in tact on the ends.
"Normally it's done with a linguini-style shape, but we were already doing belt noodles," she said. "The ends are what holds it as one big belt."
Boiled briefly, the noodle is added to the bowl with all of those oil-cooked ingredients, along with some cooked bok choiy, and then more fermented black beans, toasted, crushed walnuts, a splash of chili oil and some fresh scallions.
"I like the different textures of the belt noodle, where you get the thinner from the middle, get the chewier from the ends," she said.
So Fowler isn't focused on making everything precisely Asian, just Asian ingredients inspired by the Midwest with of course beers to match.
EXTRA COURSE: The Ssam Platter, which is a great dish to share with friends
2515 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago