The first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the doors of Elemental is the wide-open kitchen in full view. The second thing you’ll notice is the large farm tractor in the middle of the dining room. Glancing over at the chalkboard in the entryway, the third thing you’ll notice is this is a restaurant that takes beer very seriously.
For years, beer was something people drank in bars, at ball games, cookouts, or alongside a simple meal. Traditionally, American beer drinkers didn’t have many choices, as several large breweries dominated the market (and still do) and kept selections simple. But like the sea change in coffee consumption that began two decades ago, beer is undergoing a radical identity change, led by a new generation of consumers and chefs.
Charlie Loomis, chef and owner of Elemental, represents that new generation. “I grew up on Folgers instant and I didn’t really care for it much,” he recalls. “Then I remember the first time I had a great cup of coffee. It was the same with beer. I tasted my dad’s Budweiser, but when I was able to find depth in a beer, flavor profiles, pairings and stuff like that, it all changed.”
His restaurant carries only craft beers, the majority brewed in the Southeast. “We shaped our whole business model around the relationship we can have with vendors, whether it be a brewer or a farmer,” Loomis explains. “Each of the breweries that we currently carry, they’d be happy to come down and do a beer demo with us. And that’s something we like.”
But it goes further than that. Not that long ago, you’d never see beer in a high-quality restaurant. That is changing and changing rapidly, because chefs and restaurant owners like Loomis are increasingly likely to pair fine food with craft beers instead of wine. “We see quite a bit of that now. I think it’s just kind of evolved into it as the beer business has changed,” he says. “I think we are going to change the game. Just look at the way food is going. People want to know where it comes from, where it’s been.”
“You’ve always known where wine comes from,” Elemental manager Ray Jones points out. “You get the big spiel when you go out to dinner: where it comes from, which vineyard, this that and the other. Now it’s the same with beer.”
“It’s almost easier to pair beer with food than it is wine,” says Loomis. “For example, IPA goes great with pork barbecue. The richness from the pork and the sweetness from the barbecue sauce gets paired really nicely with the bitterness of a hoppy beer.”
But one of the big changes Loomis has noted is how much more involved people are with the food they eat and the beer they drink. “I think people are just asking a lot more questions,” Loomis says. “I’ve been in the restaurant business for a long time, and when I first started coming up people were like, ‘This is lamb? Great. Oh, and green beans and scalloped potatoes? Fantastic.’ That was it. Now, our customers ask me where everything comes from. If I don’t have the answer for them, they are not excited about it. The clientele we’ve started developing—they want to know about everything.”
Elemental Food & Drink
313 Manufacturers Rd,
(423) 648-9160, elementalrestaurant.com
Mon-Thu: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Fri-Sat: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.