When I think of food paired with beer, I think of burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches and food trucks. I think of starches and carbs. Some breweries are more intentional than others in pairing beers to the food they have on offer, and some even have an in-house kitchen with their own chef. But at Caboose Brewing, you’ll find much more — an academy-educated chef with his own sustainable, ethical and comfort-driven menu.
Caboose has two locations: Caboose Tavern in Vienna, Virginia, and Caboose Commons in Fairfax, Virginia. Both locations are under the direction of executive chef David Rabin, a native of the DMV. Born in Rockville, MD, and educated in the verdant fields and mountains of Vermont, Rabin’s life journey took him across the United States. From cooking in high school to culinary school in Montgomery County to the restaurants in the Golden Gate, Rabin’s racked up a solid resume, including stints at two top steakhouses.
“I was interested in the concept of fine dining, but not necessarily the type of food, [just an] appreciation of technique,” Rabin explains. “I was curious about the proper way to saute and broil.”
This interest in the mechanics of cooking combined with a commitment to sustainability drew him to Caboose, with the phrase “good beer, thoughtful food.” Rabin’s guiding principle is to bring diners back to where he believes we should be as a food system — respectful, ethical and diverse. In an age where people want anything and can get anything, Rabin believes the best ingredients are natural and seasonal. For his menus, he hand-picks ingredients from across the region, sourcing fresh cheese from Goot Essa creamery in Pennsylvania for use in charcuterie; JQ Dickinson salts from West Virginia; and a host of Northern Virginia farms, dairies and merchants. Their seafood is hand-picked from certified farms or Maryland fishermen.
This philosophy of sustainability goes both ways, too. Aside from donating the brewery’s spent grain to a local farmer, they compost all unused food through a local veteran-owned company, which processes it. Intense effort is expended to reduce waste and maintain a healthy food cycle, and any possible way to conserve, reuse and recycle is considered.
In terms of style, the menu is inspired by his wife’s native western Virginia and the historic methods and cuisines present there. In Appalachia, people pickle, can, and find ways to make food out of all parts of an animal and so his menu reflects the flavors and philosophy of the region: at Caboose there’s a whole host of “homestead” offerings like charcuterie, venison steak, smoked boar belly, rabbit confit, roast root vegetables and more. Something you’d find cooking on a wood-fired potbelly stove in a cabin somewhere.
His favorite dish right now: pork belly.
“It was something we tried it early on, and I loved the way it turned out so I had to put it back on the menu.”
For this dish, Chef Rabin uses a blond miso-cured pork belly, adds pickled mustard and charred kale. To him, this rich and elevated flavor encompasses a melting pot — various world flavors mashed together, kind of like the folks who settled in Appalachia.
To complement this impressive menu, Caboose has a rotating menu of refined libations — in this broad spectrum are goses made with fresh blackberries; sweet and malty dunkels, toasted helles bocks, German-style Marzens, and an amber ale made with a traditional Norwegian yeast, kveik. I’m liking the spectrum here, and unlike some breweries they don’t spam you with IPAs or light and fizzy stuff. They’ve even got an experimental portfolio, too, with some bizarre but intriguing stuff. For example, I had their Cornbread Kvass; a light sour ale made with Virginia stone-ground cornbread. Off-the-wall, but so cool.
Some breweries focus too much on the beer and not enough on the food, and I think Rabin and Caboose as a whole does a great job flipping that. Both sides of the house are intentionally crafted, sustainable and feature fresh ingredients. It’s highly worth a visit.
Caboose Tavern: 520 Mill St. NE, Vienna, VA
Caboose Commons: 2918 Eskridge Rd., Fairfax, VA
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