Even in his own restaurant, Chef Cullen would never be described as the center of attention. He does, however, manage all aspects of his restaurant from running solo on the line to hiring staff and sourcing food, beer and curating his bottled beer list, while making just about everything in-house. During a lull in orders and prep work he can occasionally be seen meandering through the crowd, catching up with regulars.
Cullen’s restaurant, Norey’s, is known for its large selection of rare and hard-to-find beers. Its lower end beers on draft are made up of the beers usually found under the specialty/rare section of other bars’ menus. Rumor has it that Norey’s might even brew some of its own beer in the not-so-distant future. “I want to turn this into a little micro-brew pub here,” Cullen said. “Have like a two barrel system here for the restaurant.”
Also noteworthy is the extensive bottled beer list. “I try to get higher alcohol beers so you can age them more,” Cullen said. “I don’t have too much swill beer that you just pound and pound and pound.”
The bottled beer list changes a few times a year and always includes large format brews that are perfect for sharing with a few people. The list includes everything from robust ales to heavy porters, crisp ciders and usually a few lagers.
During a recent visit to Norey’s, I tried the house smoked wings, which were wonderful. Every bite starts out tender and sweet with a long and hot finish that leaves the tongue tingling. The wings paired nicely with a glass of Kasteel Cuvee Chateau; the dark, ruby-colored beer was smooth and chocolaty with undertones of burned sugars and dark tree fruits. Any residual heat from the wings fell away pretty quickly after a sip of the beer.
Local bands play every Wednesday. On the night I visited, Dynamite Shack began their set just as I was introduced to the Chicken Pesto, tossed with a housemade al dente fettuccine. Unlike most other pestos, pureed into a green slime, Norey’s has pine nuts that pop in your mouth followed by a slight crunch. The tomato and spinach brighten the dish nicely while also keeping it from falling down a hole too rich to escape from.
“I’m going to pair Italy with Italy,” the bartender, Jay, said as he handed me a Baladin Nora, an Egyptian-styled ale brewed in Italy with notes of honeysuckle and elderflower. The Baladin is smooth with a tall, thick head and pours slightly hazy. The ale was rich and creamy, similar to the pasta. It has a lighter ABV than most of the beers on tap so it won’t weigh your palate down too much.
The atmosphere at Norey’s is intimate and inclusive, the type of place anyone will feel comfortable strolling in off the street and sparking up a conversation with a stranger over some delicious beer. “We’re just a good local restaurant that people just want to come to and relax. It’s a very easy place to come and feel like you’re part of the community and family,” Cullen said.
Although never in the spotlight, Cullen will never be found too far from it. He personally makes sure everything runs smoothly and according to his vision for the restaurant. His open kitchen creates a feeling of togetherness. Cullen isn’t some nameless line cook hidden behind a steel door in the depths of a kitchen slaving over a stove. He is a chef, out in the open, right there cooking your food and making damn well sure you’re enjoying it.