The food abides…

Archive for April, 2013

Review – Cigar City Brewpub

I’ve been a fan of Cigar City for quite some time now. The Tampa-based brewery has long produced some really great styles of microbrews. In fact their Autumn seasonal, Good Gourd, is one of my favorite pumpkin ales. When I heard they were opening a Brewpub in the Carrollwood area I was more than a little curious. So last Saturday a buddy of mine and I decided to head up there and check it out.

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I made a reservation and it was a good thing I did, because it was extremely crowded and I’m assuming that was a good sign. The majority of the traffic seemed to be going in and out of the bar, as is to be expected from an establishment such as this, but there wasn’t an empty table anywhere else in the place and plenty of patrons waiting for a seat.

The decor was interesting with dark wooden panels, Key West-style shutters and lots of brass. It felt like a throwback to a pre-revolution Cuban jazz club, which isn’t surprising given Cuba’s influence on our city’s local culture. However there’s also a trendy contemporary influence such as the wall borders made from vintage beer cans.

Our server wasted no time taking our drink orders and we obviously chose the beer. I was a little disappointed that they did not offer any beer flights. They have so many unique beers on draft and I would have preferred a sampling of all of them rather than just having to choose one or two for the evening. She knew her beer and was able to answer questions on the fly with a complete knowledge of their catalog.

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I started with the Maduro Brown Ale which I’d had before. I wanted to see if there was a consistency in their brewing and there was. This is easily one of my favorites among their standard offerings. Rich and hearty, it’s a deep brown ale with a nutty, oatty complexity. There’s faint hints of cocoa and espresso which is good, because I don’t like being overpowered by those flavors unless I’m drinking a desert beer. It’s heavier for an ale, but in the right proportions. Definitely a solid beer.

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After the Maduro, I tried the Hotter than Helles Lager. As a Lager it’s a lighter brew which admittedly I don’t do as well with, but not a bad beer at all. There’s a citrus and strawberry note which mellows out into a light grassy flavor after a while. I didn’t expect such hints of fruit which may have caused my palette a little bit of confusion and ultimately I didn’t enjoy it as much as the ale but it still got the job done.

After a while we moved onto the food. This is where Cigar City Brewpub is a rousing success while simultanouesly being somewhat of a disappointment.  Like Cigar City’s beer, the food is a throwback to the Latin influences of our city. The chef obviously did his research and it’s apparent in the menu.

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As an appetizer I ordered the Devil Crab Roll.  This was a breaded crabmeat roll infused with lime and spices and really packed a flavorful punch. It was served with a very spicy habanero sauce which complimented the roll perfectly. My sole complaint with this roll was its size, as can be seen in the photo. Yes, I’m aware I’m eating crab and crab isn’t cheap but this is not what I would consider proportionate at all. If they had brought me two of these for $14 instead one for almost $10 they would have made money and I would have been satisfied with the dish. Sadly this was not the case.

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For dinner I ordered a Grilled Yellowtail with Root Vegetables and Sautéed Collard Greens. The fish was flavorful, moist and served under a brownish sauce that I couldn’t identify; it tasted very similar to an Asian fish sauce but with a slightly more Latin flavor. The root vegetables (which were not named but tasted like turnips and celery root) were crispy and not greasy but could have used a pinch more salt. The collards were excellent but I’m a sucker for my leafy green veggies so I may be biased. The flavors went well together and I was a little more satisfied with the portion size to cost than I was with the Devil Crab.

Ultimately I was left with a feeling of not quite enough food for the price I paid. I know portion sizes are a pet peeve of mine but this is doubly so when you’re dealing with a drinking establishment. If I’m going to sample their beer I want a solid base in my stomach so I can better avoid a state of inebriation and I shouldn’t have to break my wallet doing so.

Final thoughts: give this place a shot if price is no object as the food is worth experiencing. If not, I’d recommend eating somewhere else and just partaking of the beers at Cigar City Brewpub. It’s their forte and when it comes to beer they know what they’re doing.

Tried the Cigar City Brewpub or any of their microbrews? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

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New Beer Friday! – Laughing Skull Amber Ale

One of my best friends is a fellow zythophile and I was asked to work more posts about beer into my rotation. Since Friday Happy Hour usually affords me the opportunity to try a new brew, I’ll try to post some beer opinions more often. For now let’s start with Red Brick Brewing Company’s Laughing Skull Amber Ale:

Laughing Skull 

I’m a big fan of amber ales. I tend to gravitate towards the darker, spicier brews that are usually prevalent during the Fall and Winter seasons but since they all but disappear just after January 1st, I’m left spending the other 8 months of the year searching for a darker beer with a good flavor.

Laughing Skull by Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewing Company is a good addition to the springtime lineup. It has a hearty bread aroma which carries over to a hearty bread flavor. It’s malty and slightly sweet with little hints of citrus. There’s a slightly hoppy note upon the first sip which mellows afterwards into a nice grassy undertone. The flavors strike me as simple rather than complex which in this case is a good thing.

As evidenced in the photo above, it pours a rich red with a white head that unfortunately dissipated before I could get my camera out.

Laughing Skull gets a thumbs-up in my book.

Tried Laughing Skull? Have another beer you’d like me to try? Leave a message in the comments!

Happy Friday! And remember… the food abides…


Review – Gallery Eclectic Bistro

Recently had some family in town for a quick overnight trip. On our way to the airport we had a couple of hours to kill before their flight so we decided to grab a little lunch and figured Bay Street at International Plaza would be a good idea due to the proximity. We had planned on just grabbing a table at the Cheesecake Factory but they were slammed even at 2PM on a Saturday afternoon and the wait would have left us cutting it a little close to their flight. After a quick scan of the local establishments we decided to try the Gallery Eclectic Bistro.

Gallery Eclectic Bistro

I must have walked past this place at least twenty times without giving it a second glance, probably because I’m usually making a beeline right for the Pub, one of my all-time favorite watering holes. I’d read a couple of reviews on Yelp and another in Creative Loafing and everything seemed to insinuate that this place could be a little bit hit-or-miss. Always one to form my own opinions unless a rabid majority is telling me otherwise, I went in with an open mind.

Gallery seemed to be an appropriate name as the entire restaurant looked like one big art gallery. The architecture is art-deco, there’s modern art on the walls of most of the tables and art lamps lighting them up which gives it a true gallery feeling. I have no idea if the art is local or if they switch it out every so often, but it makes for a pretty interesting environment.

I’d heard complaints about the service but found no such problems during our visit. Our server was attentive and took no time at all bringing us our orders. Additionally, I always consider it a huge plus when I ask “what do you like here” and the server doesn’t just rattle off random names but actually conveys personal favorites; our server did so with gusto.

I wound up ordering the Goose Island seasonal brew which I’d never tried before. Goose Island is a midwestern microbrew which is starting to slowly make its way into the bars and restaurants down here and this is a boon as I’ve found most of their other varietals to be rather flavorful. I’m glad the Gallery Bistro decided to carry it.

When it came to the food, “Eclectic” is definitely an apt title. I would consider this contemporary american cuisine with a little twist. Each dish had kind of a cool spin on what would usually be considered normal.

Fried Zucchini and Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives 

For an appetizer we ordered a plate of fried zucchini and blue cheese stuffed olives. It was quick-fried in a tempura batter rather than your standard flour and egg dredge (typical of pub food), which actually made a huge difference. I’d also never had a fried olive before but the flavors were rather unique. I’d recommend this app to anyone who is a fan of tempura.

Caribbean Jerk WhitefishEntrée was a caribbean jerk whitefish topped with an amazing pineapple, mango and jalapeno salsa with some raisins thrown in for good measure. These flavors melded together perfectly, with the sweetness of the fruit complimenting the heat of the jalapeno and jerk seasonings, giving an excellent taste to a usually bland type of fish.

My cousin ordered a sesame-honey cedar plank salmon (a bite of which she insisted I try can be seen on my plate) and her husband got the thai-grouper reuben wrap. Both noted that their dishes were excellent, with my cousin especially impressed that the salmon wasn’t dried out which sometimes happens when cooking on a cedar plank.

Portion sizes were spot-on and I left feeling full. If I had one nitpicky complaint it would be that they put a good amount of food on plates that are kind of gigantic which makes the presentation look a little empty. However, I suppose if they did it the other way around, smaller plates would give the illusion of skimping on food and that would probably be worse.

Given that it seems a lot of people pass this place by and the reviews are so hit-or-miss, I have to say I’m a little confused. Gallery Eclectic Bistro was an excellent dining experience and my first visit left me with one hell of a positive impression. If you’re on the fence, give it a shot.

Tried the Gallery Bistro before? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…