"IT'S NOT a typical restaurant."
That's how chef John Osborne describes FORM, a bustling hybrid retail space that seamlessly transforms into a dining room at night. Located in a former bank on the Habersham Street corridor well known for casual but quality restaurants, FORM is flanked by the gourmet burgers of Green Truck and the BBQ twists from Blowin' Smoke. But like John says, FORM isn't what you may expect in a traditional restaurant.
The inside of FORM is tight but expertly curated with a well-stocked cheese case, hundreds of bottles of wine and a wide variety of local, artisan olive oils and assorted packaged foodstuffs. What most people seem to know about FORM isn't the retail side per se; but its divine cheesecakes along with an ever-evolving "gourmet-to-go" menu.
Co-owner Claude Auerbach isn't satisfied to rest on its current reputation. He's beginning to expand his retail and dining operations to include a new offering: craft beer.
"Our hope is that FORM will be a welcome addition to the beer event world," says Auerbach.
The initial foray into craft beer retail includes cases of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Westbrook's White Thai and Lagunitas' IPA stacked high next to the register, patiently waiting for a reorganization of the shelving, a new cooler and redesign of the former bank vault to hold additional bottles. Large format offerings from Dogfish Head like Birra Etrusca and Black and Blue are available cold, just inside the front door. The six-pack pricing is aggressive for craft beer and on the lower side of what local buyers may be used to paying.
To announce its new emphasis on craft beer, FORM hosted a craft beer pairing dinner Dec. 6. The five course menu was a varied collection, each matched with an English, Belgian or Belgian-inspired beverage.
Alongside a welcoming bread and cheese board complemented by a creamy and salty bacon-chicken liver mousse, glasses of La Chouffe Belgian Strong and Saison Dupont ales were poured. Guests mingled over the sounds of classic LPs on a turntable.
After seating and an introduction from owners Auerbach and Brian Torres, Chef Osborne drew back the curtain to his surprisingly tiny kitchen to preview the first course of fresh octopus, squid and shrimp in curried seafood broth with sesame rice noodles, paired with Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel. This is a world-class Belgian IPA with a hearty 9% ABV and notes of lemony citrus, honey sweetness and herbal spices.
Chef Osborne described it as "French technique using Thai ingredients" — a statement that synthesizes his unique outlook and creativity in preparing meals.
A palate cleanser of cucumbers with pomegranate and vanilla in a sorbet glass led to the second course, golden fig and moroccan spice braised chicken over tri-color cous cous with butternut squash and sweet potato puree with herb puree garnish presented with a glass of Allagash's Curieux Tripel.
The main course was bison short ribs braised with coffee and cocoa served over northern white beans with red wine and soy mushrooms. Being paired with Sam Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout was another surprise. Typically described as a dessert beverage due to the chocolate flavor in the beer, it held up well against the earthy beans and sharp bursts of flavor from the juicy rehydrated mushrooms.
The final course was dessert and in perhaps the biggest shock of the evening, FORM forsook their go-to cheesecake line and instead served a date and cranberry bread pudding with St. Bernardus' Christmas Ale.
FORM plans to regularly host beer dinners along with wine tastings and perhaps even hold dual pairing events to expose beer drinkers to new wines and vice-versa. The segue into craft beer and incorporating diverse beer styles into the menu is a natural fit for Chef Osborne, a long-time craft beer drinker and occasional homebrewer.
"I got into North Coast's Old Rasputin and started buying big bottles. As I started to cook I began to love it even more and realize the potential of what beer could do with food was a huge thing for me" says Osborne.