Well okay, maybe your grandma is really cool, but at the very least, I can argue that Chef AJ Hurst makes grandma’s food cooler, better, and way more indulgent.

AJ is the executive chef at the Vintage Brewing Company where they make everything over the top, from their standard comfort food menu to the swanky multi-course beer dinners they host every month.

Background

I met AJ through recent local chef Noah Przybylski. Noah suggested that one of my first questions to AJ should be who got him started on the road to chef-dom. I had a feeling that I knew the answer but got the full story from AJ.

When AJ was a dishwasher at the Seasons in Appleton, Noah was one of the chefs. Along with another one of the chefs, Noah tormented AJ. Don’t feel too bad for the guy because Noah and John (the other chef) also fed him. AJ told me how they would pass on five course dinners to him during his shift. They encouraged him and more importantly, they encouraged the powers-that-be to hire him in the kitchen. After four months washing dishes, AJ made it to the kitchen and has not looked back. He stayed at The Seasons for a year and a half, worked at a five star resort in Northern Wisconsin, and then ran a tapas restaurant in Appleton before making the move to the Mad City.

He has been working at the Vintage Brewing Company since they opened on January 16th, 2010.

The Vintage Brewing Company

 

The Vintage Brewing Company is located on the west side of Madison (Whitney Way). From my experience with the Vintage, I would say it’s grandma’s house over the top. The decorations look like they were pulled from grandma’s house and the food is how we want to remember our grandma’s food: comforting, indulgent, and way better than it actually was.

 

AJ pointed out to me how the Vintage was the first place in Madison to serve the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger. I looked at him puzzled and then he explained. Two grilled cheese sandwiches make up the ‘bun’ of the cheeseburger. Wow.

AJ’s pretzels are also trademark Vintage. The starter yeast comes from a (beer) fermentation tank so they have taken a beer yeast strand cultivated it into a bread yeast.

AJ’s favorite dish on the menu is the ‘Not Your Mama’s Stroganoff.’ This was a dish he made at home and then brought into the Vintage and convinced them to serve it. For the stroganoff, they use short rib and prime rib to give it two different textures. It has a beef stock and Marsala cream base with the typical mushrooms, onions, and fresh peas. It’s topped with some truffle oil, sour cream and a little Parmesan. Hungry yet?

The Vintage changes its menu twice a year. They have recently switched to the winter menu that includes the infamous chicken pot pie and beer chili made with pork shoulder.

Vintage Beer Dinners

Right when you think you have the Vintage Brewing Company figured out, you go to a beer dinner and you realize that AJ has another (completely different) culinary side. The Beer Dinners are held once a month, generally the first Tuesday and Wednesday. Each dinner has a theme and offers multiple courses with beer pairings. If this is still your grandma’s food, then your grandma is a gourmet foodie. AJ uses the dinners as a way to keep his refined food palate polished. To read more about the beer side of the vintage, see my interview with Robyn, the Vintage Beer Guru.

What you didn’t know about the Vintage Brewing Company…

  • There are two back rooms, each can hold about 100 people, and these rooms can be rented out for parties or special events.
  • There is a fully functional second bar in the back of the restaurant.
  • The Vintage has a prison bus that can be rented for parties.

  • The prison bus also transports people to UW Hockey and Football games. They run several trips to campus, starting an hour before kickoff or the puck drop. They come back an hour after the game. 
  • The Vintage has trivia every Tuesday night.
  • The Vintage has a deejay every Saturday night. 
AJ’s Cooking Advice

Don’t be afraid to try anything. Don’t burn your house down but don’t be afraid of experimenting. This is the first time a chef brought up ‘burning down a house.’ Could I have met someone more accident-prone than I? I didn’t dare ask….

Use the recipe as a guideline, taste it, and change accordingly.

If you don’t think you know how to pair flavors, buy the Culinary Artistry Cookbook.

AJ’s Faves

Fave cookbooks: Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page
Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard
Fave kitchen tools: Serran Wrap, food mill, fine mesh strainer, and microplane
Fave flavor combinations: orange & scallop & anchovy, Marsala & mushrooms, saffron & vanilla, foie gras & chocolate

AJ’s Vodka Sauce
AJ shared with me his go-to, super easy vodka sauce recipe. It was a hit at the Badger Girl/ Manatee household, and not just because we sampled the vodka first.
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