The food abides…

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Road Trip!!! – Connecticut 2018

So I took a trip up to Connecticut with my girlfriend this month. Not only did I get to introduce her to my family but I also was afforded the chance to introduce her to some of the rather impressive food and beer that the state I grew up in currently has to offer.

The first morning after we arrived, my parents took a special trip to Gaetano’s Deli and brought back some stuffed breads. Here we have both their pepperoni and their eggplant. Biting into these is like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother.

Dinner that night with my family was at Ralph-n-Rich’s and I couldn’t resist getting the Zuppa di Pesce; it’s a rarity in Tampa, so if I see it on a menu I will almost always order it. I finished the entire plate.

Day two was one I’d been looking forward to for quite a while. Until I was three years old we grew up five minutes away from Zuppardi’s Apizza and eating their pies for the first time was a seminal experience. I wanted my girlfriend to be able to experience that for herself. And she did.

We started with the Plain Cheese…

Then moved onto the “Special” – Meatball and Onion…

And then a White Tomato…

And finally we finished it all off with my absolute favorite, the White Clam. Sweet fancy Moses, do I miss Zuppardi’s…

Day three was something special. We’ve had a long standing debate on what constitutes a “real” Lobster Roll. I maintained that if it’s hot lobster on a roll with just butter, it’s a Lobster Roll. If it’s cold with mayonnaise and lots of crunchy vegetables, that’s a Lobster Salad Sandwich. As my girlfriend had never experienced the former, we headed to Lenny & Joe’s so she could try one.

Hot lobster, on a roll, with just butter. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a “real” Lobster Roll.

And of course, I couldn’t have stopped at Lenny & Joe’s without also getting an order of another New England seafood staple, the Fried Clam Strips.

That evening we met some very old friends for a few drinks and a couple of apps at the Hub and Spoke. First up was the Burrata, which, interestingly enough, I had never tried before.

Second was the Bang-Bang Shrimp. This is not like the stuff you can get at a Bonefish Grill. This was pure fire. In a good way.

On our final day of the trip, my family headed to La Zingara in Bethel, which I maintain is one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire state of Connecticut. Their Lobster Risotto has to be the best version of Risotto I’ve ever tasted.

And of course Connecticut produces some dynamite craft beer. After years of never being up there during the fall, I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to finally try Two Roads’ fall offerings. I really enjoyed their Ok2berfest Marzen and even though it was a little hoppier than I was expecting, I still found it topping my all-time lists.

My girlfriend opted for the Hanging Hills Brewing Company Dechtoberfest Lager which she really enjoyed.

Washed down that pizza at Zuppardi’s with a Festbier from Counterweight Brewing. This went really well with the pies, especially the White Clam.

While we were at Lenny & Joe’s we ordered the Thimble Island American Ale. This traditional Amber Ale was so off-the-charts amazing that we endevoured to do two things:

First, we made a point of finding Thimble Island’s Brewery which was only a short drive away from the restaurant so we could go in and try a flight. Every beer on the palate was incredible.

Second, we made a point of coming home with at least a sixer of the American Ale so we could enjoy it during the rest of our trip. The sweetness and the malt are just so perfectly balanced, I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

A quick lunch at Southport Brewing Company (which interestingly enough doesn’t brew its own beer) afforded me the change to try to Back East Brewery’s Octoberfest. This was a solid Marzen, and I dug the sweeter notes.

Next on our list was Tribus Beer Company. The offerings from this newer brewery were still summerish in nature but my girlfriend still enjoyed the smoked porter while I was impressed with the cherry sour.

For my final brew, I circled back to Two Roads with their Roadsmary’s Baby Pumpkin Ale. This one also tops my list of as one of the better pumpkin ales I’ve tried. Two Roads is the real deal.

 

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Ultimately it was a great trip and all the food and beer offerings made a simple trip to see my family really feel like a vacation. My girlfriend is already looking forward to the next trip and consequently I’ve started planning some more Connecticut food and beer-ventures in my head.

Been to any of the restaurants or tried any of the beers listed above? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… beer is freedom… and the food abides…

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Trader Joe’s Garlic Chicken Pesto w/Cauliflower Gnocchi

Made a run to Trader Joe’s this past weekend and among some other great items (cough, cough… Cookie Butter… cough, cough…) it turns out that their Cauliflower Gnocchi combined with their Garlic Pesto Chicken makes for a pretty badass meal…

New Tampa/Wesley Chapel/South Pasco Summer Food Highlights!

I’ve been out of commission for the majority of the summer with a foot injury but that hasn’t stopped my girlfriend and I from continuing to enjoy our epicurean adventures; we’ve just been spending more time close to home in order to limit my walking. It’s been nice because I’ve gotten to experience some new dishes, some old favorites and few new places I’d never tried before and I’ve managed to snap a photo of just about everything. Here are some highlights…

Roasted Brussel Sprouts w/Honey Sriracha Aioli from BJ’s Brewhouse – Of all the new restaurants going up in the new outlet area on SR56, I think I like BJ’s the best because of the beer selection and house brews and I don’t hold the fact that it is a chain against them. These sprouts are another good reason to stop in. The Honey Sriracha Aioli expertly toes the line between sweet and heat.

Gypsy Cab Burrito from Capital Tacos – Capital Tacos has one of the best burritos around in my opinion (second only to Taco Bus). The pickled jalapenos give the gypsy cab some really nice depth and quite a bit of fire if you like that kind of thing.

Loaded Tots at the Fat Rabbit – This was my first visit to the Fat Rabbit and I love having a non-chain pub like this in our immediate area. The wings were stellar and a great alternative to the local franchises like Hooters or Beef O’Brady’s, but the Loaded Tots stole the show. Crispy and smothered in warm cheese and gravy, these went down easy with a good beer.

Fire-Grilled Artichoke from Flamestone American Grill – Another first, I enjoyed Flamestone and found it to be a nice bridge between casual and upscale dining. Their menu impressed me to begin with but the inclusion of this Fire-Grilled Artichoke with a Kalamata Aioli ensures that I will return multiple times. I love a good artichoke and it’s difficult to find these on local menus.

Seared Ahi-Tuna Salad from Flamestone American Grill – Also from Flamestone, my girlfriend ordered this Seared Ahi-Tuna Salad and loved it so much, I was kind of jealous (and slightly regretted that I went with the Salmon Kale Salad). She was nice enough to let me try some of hers and the ponzu-peanut dressing along with the perfectly seared tuna impressed me.

Fried Gator Tail w/Jalapeno Cheddar Hush Puppies from Prime Bar – Located in the Shoppes @ Wiregrass, Prime Bar is another Wesley Chapel staple and they have an extensive enough menu for someone to try new things upon each visit. We decided to give the Fried Gator a shot for our appetizer and did not regret it. Not chewy or gamy which means it was prepared well and the Jalapeno Cheddar Hugh Puppies soaked up beer like a champ.

Garlic Lime Edamame from Ciccio Cali – You want great Edamame? Go to Ciccio Cali. Perfectly roasted and just the right amount of salt, they take an excellently prepared Edamame and kick it up a notch with the garlic and lime. We loved these and devoured the plate.

Hot and Crunchy Tuna Bowl from Ciccio Cali – My girlfriend loves her Ahi Tuna and again she proved to be a better entree-picker. She dug this Hot and Crunchy Ahi Tuna Bowl, also from Ciccio Cali. The tempura battered onions, jicama and black sesame seeds gave this dish a great crunch and the Sriracha Aioli added a nice depth of flavor.

Thai Chicken Bowl from Ciccio Cali – Yet another dish from Ciccio Cali. I love a good Thai sauce and this Peanut Aioli was perfect. The mango and carrots rounded out the flavor of the dish well and the crispy fried wontons added a pleasing texture.

Blackened Cod Fish Tacos and Fried Plantains from Zim Zari California Coastal Grill – Another stellar selection from my special lady friend. She’s a woman after my own heart and if there are fish tacos on the menu, they have to be tried. These tacos from Zim Zari are probably the best in Trinity and the fried plantains were a great side dish.

Chicken Marsala from Noble Crust – Inaugural visit to Noble Crust finally gave me a chance to experience their style of Italian/Southern fusion which admittedly, I didn’t understand until I tried it. Their Chicken Marsala with Chicken Sausage, Four Cheese Grits and Roasted Mushrooms was absolutely decadent and I’ve never used that word to describe a non-dessert before.

Shrimp and Grits from Noble Crust – Also from Noble Crust, my girl ordered the Shrimp and Grits. These were delicious as well, most notably, because of the addition of the blistered Shishito Peppers which gave the dish a nice smokey flavor and a bit of uniqueness to boot.

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It’s funny how often you can ignore what’s in your own backyard while seeking greener pastures until something happens that forces you to open your eyes a bit. I am on the mend and will likely be striking out for farther locales again soon, but I intend to revisit some of these nearby places because they do warrant it. Consider this your reminder from the Food Dude to try and pay attention to what’s closer to home… You might be surprised by what you find.

Tried any of the above restaurants or have a suggestion for the New Tampa/Wesley Chapel/South Pasco area? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Hopped Grapefruit Kombucha from Humm!

Anyone ever tried Kombucha before?

So I’m a little late to board the Kombucha train, mostly because I don’t really like to drink tea in any form and I was a bit hesitant about the whole fermented-beverage-that-isn’t-beer thing to begin with. However I have to give credit where credit is due, this hopped grapefruit flavor from Humm is incredible.

With grapefruit juice and hops added to the fermentation, this kombucha tastes like a beer. That’s not an exaggeration; I drink this stuff in the morning and it’s like I’m imbibing a Session IPA with my eggs. The naturally occuring probiotics in the kombucha are a nice added bonus.

It encouraged me to try their other flavors. I’m also really digging the Blueberry Mint and the Strawberry Lemonade flavors.

If you like beer, but you’re on the fence about Kombucha, this is a great springboard.

Tried Humm’s or any other brand of Kombucha before? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Growlers from Big Storm…

Enjoying some of Big Storm’s Swinging Stone Scotch Ale and Wavemaker Amber Ale in the comfort of my own home this weekend. When your special lady friend is all kinds of awesome and shows up at your door with growlers from one of your favorite breweries, you bust out the good Chipotle Gouda from the specialty market.

Tavern Shooters from District Tavern

The Tavern Shooters from District Tavern are unreal. Smoked Gouda, Gruyere, Brie, Arugula and Caramelized Onions on Toasted Ciabatta Bread with Tomato Bisque shots. This is the ultimate comfort food.

Wild Blackberries!

Even though I live in a town home, I am on a conservation lot. I’m lucky enough to have a ton of wild blackberry bushes right in my backyard. It’s that time of year for them to start bearing fruit and bearing they are…

These things are amazing and the cultivated stuff that the supermarkets bring in from Mexico or Guatemala just pales in comparison…