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March Madness beer dinner at Carolina Inn features award-winning Duck-Rabbit brews

At $49 per person, we figure any dinner with five courses each paired with a different beer qualifies as "cheap eats."

But when the food includes original recipes designed by award-winning Chef Jimmy Reale and the beers come from the award-winning Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, you start talking a real bargain. Throw in the elegant surroundings of Chapel Hill's storied Carolina Inn, and you have a food event that would be hard to equal at any price.

Chef Reale, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University when it was in Charleston, SC, led the Carolina Inn's restaurant team twice to the prestigious James Beard House in New York City.

Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, based in Farmville, specializes in dark beers, and has been very successful at the Great American Beer Festival, bringing home two gold medals in 2009.

The meal begins with an "amuse" of Seared Foie Gras and a Foie Gras Ice Cream Stuffed Blueberry; followed by a first course of Duck Consommé and Braised Rabbit Tortelloni (a tribute to the brewery's name) served with an Amber Ale.

Next up: a second course of Beer Brined Prime Strip Steak with Buttermilk Blue Cheese and Beer Battered Local Shittake Mushrooms, paired with a Brown Ale; and an entree of Braised Lamb, Creamy Sundried Tomato Polenta, Rapini and Hillsborough Cheese Company Feta Cheese, paired with the Duck-Rabbit Porter.

The brewery even has a beer suitable as an accompaniment for dessert: the award-winning Milk Stout, which received a bronze medal at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. Here, it makes a nice finish to the meal along with a Chocolate Malt Pot de Crème.

The March Madness beer dinner takes place at the Carolina Inn on Thursday, March 11. Make your reservations by calling 919-918-2735.

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