Since 2013, Andrew Neff has served as the brains behind one of Lancaster's pre-eminent gastropubs, Hunger-n-Thirst. Founded as a family business, Hunger-n-Thirst is a one-stop shop for a variety of mouth-watering meals and roughly 400 different bottled-beer offerings. Hunger-n-Thirst has become known regionally for its commitment to themed events highlighting food from different corners of the world.
Tonight, June 27, Hunger-n-Thirst features an offering of hazy IPAs from Philly Beer Week, including drinks from Dewey Beer Co., Magnify Brewing Co. and more. We spoke with Neff about the palate of Lancaster County, Hunger-n-Thirst's various themed food events and what he is drinking on his own time.
Hunger-N-Thirst just celebrated six years in business. How has it been thus far?
It’s been great. The surrounding community has changed drastically in six years. The saturation point for restaurants is pretty ridiculous at this point. Food-wise, it’s been pretty great, because I’ve had the same chef, Wilson Lopez, for over five years. So, we’ve been able to work on tons of different things together. His background is Culinary Institute of America, working in hotels in New York City in the ‘90s, he was cutting his teeth before he moved to Lancaster.
You mentioned a saturation point of restaurants in Lancaster. How do you keep Hunger-n-Thirst different on a regular basis?
To me, it’s about attention to detail and quality. Just being intuitive and listening to the customer base. We change everything, too. Everything is fresh and changed seasonally. Our craft beer list changes on a weekly basis, nothing just stays on there, ever. We also do a lot of research on the industry. That’s a big part of these food events; when we do this stuff, it’s usually things that are trending somewhere in the industry. For example, last summer, we did a sake and food flight paring. We try to do that stuff on a year-round basis to keep it both interesting for ourselves and to give people something different to try.
What was the idea behind your “Food for the Soul” series?
We just thought it was really fun to look at specific areas in the world and see what they eat for comfort food. You want that euphoric reaction to food that’s very familiar and comforting. It’s something that we’re planning on doing once a month, picking a different city or region and making their soul food, essentially. Right now, we’re going month to month to figure out what the themes will be so we don’t go too far over people’s heads and palates. Some things will catch you off guard with how popular they are, and with others, it’s like, “Wow, nobody wanted this” [laughs]. It goes both ways. Like, when we did the Jamaican curry, that one wasn’t that popular. Chef makes an amazing yellow curry, Jamaican-style with jerk chicken and I was surprised that wasn’t a little more popular.
What’s the process for choosing these different themed food events?
It’s a lot of reading, and a lot of eating [laughs]. I really do love to eat. Before my wife and I moved back here to open up Hunger-n-Thirst, we were in New York for 10 years, and we lived in Queens. That borough is, bar none, the best food place on the East Coast, and maybe even the country. It’s just so diverse. You can walk six to eight blocks and be in a whole other country, food-wise. There’s lots of great little mom-and-pop restaurants. They’re not necessarily in the New York Times – well, some of them are. Living there, we got exposed to so many different kinds of food. So, a lot of times when I’m doing these events, I try to focus on different types of regional cuisines. We look at what’s traditional and try to put our own twist on it and make it a cultural experience.
Not to pick favorites, but have you had a certain food event thus far that has more or less lined up with your specific palate?
Oh, jeez. For me, when I’m cooking at home, I’m cooking mostly Asian food. So, when we do the Asian food events, I’m a little partial to them. But also, I love Mexican food, so the mezcal event we did last summer was phenomenal. There’s some things we haven’t done because we’re…a little trepidatious about certain cuisines with the local palate, because we really like spicy food. Some people are a little afraid of the heat.
Are there certain food nights that you haven’t been able to do, whether it’s because of the local palate as you say, or maybe something as small as not being able to get certain ingredients here?
It’s mostly the palate thing; in the 21st century, you can get almost anything shipped to you if you work hard enough [laughs]. Some things you’d definitely want to be fresher than others, though. We grow a lot of stuff here - like, I have a lime tree and lemongrass. The only ingredient we wanted to use one time that ended up being entirely too difficult was agave. We were doing a Oaxacan night, and one dish required agave leaves. The problem was that we would have had to buy them by the flat, so we did banana leaves instead.
Hunger-N-Thirst has hundreds of beers that change out weekly. What is the process like for choosing which beers make it onto shelves?
I’ve always handled all the beer ordering because I’m sort of a nerd for it. In the last few years, Jeremy Barr, who works in the bottle shop, has started to take on some of that responsibility. He’s a really good home brewer and has a lot of strong opinions; he’s really knowledgeable. A lot of it is research compiled over the last 10 years. Some of the industry changes, but some doesn’t. With European brewers, that stuff doesn’t change, it’s tradition. A lot of the import stuff is the same, the problem is just getting some of it because of the low quantities.
As far as beer goes, what are you currently drinking after work or on a night off?
I’ve been really into ciders recently, that’s a new thing for me. I’ve been really enjoying stuff from Adams County, like Ploughman and Big Hill. For beer, it’s Belgians for the most part. I really like saisons, trippels and German lagers. So good in the summer, especially.
How would you describe the Lancaster palate for food and drink?
Culturally, there’s more of a German background. It’s much more of a steak and potatoes kind of diet. Salt, pepper, saffron, some basic spices. That’s the majority of people, but obviously, that’s not everyone. Going to McCaskey, we had tons of friends from Puerto Rico and we’d go to their houses and eat all the time. I’d say Puerto Rican food is definitely part of the local cultural cuisine at this point. For beer, it’s actually changed quite a bit over the last six years. Beer has become so popular now that its shifted away from the meat and potatoes mindset. Lately, the hazy IPAs have taken over like crazy at this point.
Since you see it every day, is there a particular reason for that? Is it just a trend or fad, or is it just what’s popular now?
It’s hard to say. Culturally speaking, for the whole United States, it’s a lot of different trends lining up. A lot of it has to do with people finally starting to can beers again. It kind of became this kitschy nostalgia beer thing with cans. I’d say beer traders have a lot to do with it, as well. There’s value for people with rare beers, and that’s crept into the mainstream now, which is interesting. When I was first starting, that was a very small thing, and now there’s whole Facebook pages dedicated to trading beer all the time. Hoppy beers have always been popular in the U.S., though. I feel like the beginning of the craft beer movement was when Sierra Nevada took off in the ‘90s, and pale ale was really hoppy for beers at that time. There’s been so many things over time that sort of led to where we are now.
Keep up with Hunger-n-Thirst's busy events calendar here, and check the hazy IPA takeover tonight, June 27, at 5 p.m.