The food abides…

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Review – Cafe Ole

I’d been to Cafe Ole a couple of times in the past and I always remembered liking it. Through no fault of their own however, they just sort of fell off of my New Tampa radar as I turned my palette towards exploring some of the more culinarily-diverse locales in the Bay Area. The fact that they’re in such an off-the-beaten-path location on Cross Creek Blvd simply means I forget that they’re there. It wasn’t until they expanded their restaurant that I had started hearing a buzz about them again.

When my sister and brother-in-law came to town for a recent visit with their family, they had one kid-free evening but wanted to stick close-by. Having just heard of their expansion from yet another friend, I suggested Cafe Ole.

Cafe Ole easily falls into the “hidden gem” category. Tucked in a strip-center next to a Martial Arts studio and behind a gas station, what appears on the outside as nothing special belies a decidedly Spanish experience.

There is a bar side which is slightly more casual and the recently expanded dining room which is still casual albeit slightly more upscale. The decor is Spanish, through and through and we were fortunate enough to be there on a night a Latin jazz band was playing which was rather entertaining.

I’m a big fan of tapas. I love to try new things and the ability to order many small plates as opposed to one big one always resonates with me. Needless to say, we attempted to try as much as we could here.

Cafe Ole 2

Queso Y Aceitunas – Aged Manchego cheese served with marinated Spanish olives. Spanish authenticity at its finest. If I didn’t have to worry about fat and sodium, I could honestly eat olives and cheese all day long.

Cafe Ole 3

Patatas Alioli O Bravas – Deep fried diced potatoes finished in an alioli sauce. These were perfectly fried without being greasy at all and the alioli was a flavorful complement.

Cafe Ole 6

Salpicon di Mariscos – Mussels, clams, calamari, scallops, and shrimp, marinated with extra virgin olive oil and doused in a Spanish red vinaigrette. If you love shellfish, this was excellently prepared.

Cafe Ole 5

Croquetas de Atun – Tuna croquettes with a tomato pesto sauce. Really liked the breading on these; they were fried, but still tasted lighter.

Cafe Ole 4

Chicken Empanadas – The chicken filling inside these fried turnovers was warm and inviting, like a savory Pop-Tart.

Cafe Ole 7

Calamari Fritos – Fried Calamari with tomato pesto. With the biggest pieces of squid I’ve ever come across before, these things were like calamari onion rings!

Cafe Ole 8

Pumkpin Ravioli – Served in a savory cream sauce this may be the best pumpkin ravioli I’ve ever had. Note that this is a seasonal item which was still on the menu when we visited but is likely not available now.

All of the food was spot-on and the portion sizes were actually larger than what I was expecting for the price. If you’ve followed my epicurean adventures for any length of time, you know that the portion size/price correlation is a major sticking point of mine. Cafe Ole scored huge bonus points with me in this department. I left full and my wallet wasn’t empty and that’s ALWAYS a good thing.

Cafe Ole 1

Of course I’d be remiss as a zythophile if I didn’t mention the ice-cold Mahou Spanish Ale I ordered which is rather hard to find on draft. And while not pictured I also tried the Sangria which was nothing short of amazing.

The food was tasty and authentic, the service was great and the atmosphere was perfect for just a relaxing night. My sister and brother-in-law loved it and I was given a gentle reminder not to forget to give a little patronage love to the local eateries that may be right in my backyard.

If you’re in the New Tampa area, there aren’t a lot of non-chain options. So if you’re looking for something with a little more oomph than a Chili’s, keep Cafe Ole in mind.

Tried Cafe Ole? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Pineapples on Acid!

Pineapples on Acid

Made these as a little treat for all of the grown-ups at a BBQ I recently attended. This idea comes from my old college roommate and its simplicity is genius. Pineapples soaked in Jagermeister and Coconut Rum then chilled in the fridge four about 4 hours just to let everything absorb and the flavors to meld. Just put out some toothpicks and let everyone spear their own fruit. If you’ve ever had a cocktail called a Surfer on Acid, this tastes just like one.

Oh and don’t waste any of the liquid at the bottom; it’s the best part. Pour that into a couple of shotglasses and enjoy the goodness!

Have a favorite alcoholic cuisine? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

New Beer Friday! – New Belgium’s Heavy Melon Ale

My office closed a little early for the long holiday weekend so it afforded me a perfect opportunity to get a jump on New Beer Friday with New Belgium’s Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale.

New Belgium Heavy Melon

I’ve always been partial to Fall and Winter offerings but as a seasonal brew, this one pretty much nails Summer right on the head.

Heavy Melon pours a orange/honey color with almost three full fingers of frothy white head and significant lacing on the glass. The fruit aroma is fragrant from the moment the bottle is cracked and opens up further as it is poured into the glass.

Contrary to the name, this is a light and airy brew with plenty of carbonation. The first pull gives the flavor of melon and while I can taste the namesake watermelon, I also get a little more honeydew than I was expecting. The melon mellows out a little until the back-end where there’s a combination of wheat and lime that really comes through to balance out the sweetness.

It’s pretty obvious that this brew was made for people who don’t really like beer, but that’s okay; I found it enjoyable all the same. In fact, this particular beverage will likely follow me to a few Memorial Day Weekend events I have on tap.

And speaking of Memorial Day, don’t forget to pause for a second to remember why we’ve got that long weekend. Beer is freedom and while you’re enjoying yours, remember to thank those whose sacrifices bought and paid for that freedom.

Tried New Belgium’s Heavy Melon? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Chicken, Shrimp and Andouille Chicken Sausage Jambalaya

With some remaining Abita Louisiana Spiced Ale left over from New Beer Friday I wanted to steer dinner towards something spicy that it would pair well with and I’ve been thinking of Jambalaya for a while now.

Jambalaya 1

This Jambalaya is extremely simple. You just put everything in the pot and let it do its thing. And since I don’t eat red meat, the Andouille Chicken Sausage is a perfect substitute if you can find it. I have tried this in the past with uncooked chicken added at the beginning but I didn’t like the result because you had to cook it longer which dried everything out. Cooked chicken added at the end with the shrimp seems to work better and its still plenty of time for the flavors to meld.


1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups of water
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium cloves of garlic minced
1/2 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 Andouille Chicken Sausage sliced on the bias
1 cooked, chicken breast sliced into short strips.
1 tsp parsley flakes
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined.

Add oil, water, stock, sausage, parsley, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and rice into a large non-stick saucepan and stir well. Bring  mixture to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is cooked and absorbs most of the liquid. Stir in shrimp and chicken and cook for another 5 minutes. Take off heat and let stand with the cover still on for another 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with a little more cayenne pepper and some salt or a little bit of hot sauce (I’m a fan of Frank’s Red Hot).

Jambalaya 3

It’s that easy folks. This is a very low maintenance recipe so it’s perfect if you’re entertaining. Next time I may try my hand at some seafood gumbo but this worked rather well with the beer, so I’d consider it a successful pairing.

Have a favorite Jambalaya or Cajun recipe? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

New Beer Friday! – Abita’s Louisiana Spiced Ale

Abita Louisiana Spiced Ale 1

I randomly came across Abita’s Louisiana Spiced Ale at the store the other day and thought it would make a great New Beer Friday brew. Admittedly, I have little experience with vegetable/herbed beers but even from my vantage-point, this one is obviously unique. To be completely honest, this ale is not going to be for everybody but for those with an adventurous palate, there’s little to be disappointed by.

Abita Louisiana Spiced Ale 2

Abita’s Louisiana Spiced Ale pours a golden yellow with quite a bit of haze to it. There was a full inch of bubbly head that dissipated quickly with some spotty lacing on the glass. It gives off a slight aroma of citrus before yielding to a host of Cajun spices.

The first pull is honestly a little confusing. For about half a second, it almost tastes like a saison or a farmhouse ale but that note immediately retreats and you encounter the spices. It’s loaded with paprika, bay leaves and heavy dose of cayenne pepper. Those flavors mellow out on the back end and that’s when you can taste the vegetables, most notably, celery and a little bit of tomato. That note of cayenne continues through and sticks around afterwards.

As with most Abita brews in the past, I enjoyed this one. It’s definitely an interesting mix of flavors that are not commonly used and this would pair well with Cajun food. So much so that I’m planning on making a batch of jambalaya tomorrow night just to have something to serve this beer with.

Easily worth picking up just to try it, though again, it’s not for everyone. If you’re planning a crayfish or crab boil or you intend on cooking up some gumbo or other Cajun fare this is the perfect complement.

Tried Abita’s Louisana Spiced Ale? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…

A visit to Big Storm Brewing’s new Pasco Taproom

I’ve long sung the praises of Big Storm Brewing Company as one of my favorite Bay Area microbreweries. This past weekend I got a chance to stop in to check out their new taproom in Pasco County, just next door to their old one. Apparently I missed their Grand Opening celebration by a day, but that was actually okay because it afforded me the opportunity to take it all in without having to deal with a crowd.

Big Storm 1

Decked out in gray wood and coastal colors, it’s a much larger space than their old taproom but it retains the wide open feeling of the previous location with the brewery floor right there in the same space.

Big Storm 2

A large full-sized bar replaced the old four-seater and 20 taps ply their current catalog of brews in 5, 7, 10 and 16 oz glasses. I loved the 5 oz option as it gave me the chance to try a great deal more varieties than I would have been able to with full pints.

And of course the beer. The folks at Big Storm truly care about beer and that love is apparent in every single ale and lager they make. While not full-fleged reviews of each, here’s a couple of the beers I sampled:

Big Storm 4

Started light with the Berry Subtle Strawberry Saison. With Florida strawberries in season right now this was a good call as a brewing component. A light and refreshing beer, this didn’t have the aftertaste I usually associate with saisons which is a good thing.

Big Storm 3

Turned it up a notch with the Lie to me Imperial Cherry Chocolate Stout. Cherries and chocolate go incredibly well together and this strong and heady brew utilized that combination well.

Big Storm 5

The Red as Rain Irish Red Ale was something special. Irish Reds typically have a somewhat burnt note on the back end because of the heavily roasted grains. This one had a very smooth body with no burnt flavors and it left every other Irish I’ve tried in the dust.

Big Storm 9

As a one-time brew for their Grand Opening they made a special version of their Waterspout Milk Stout with Cocoa Nibs. Really dug this one and its flavor was reminiscent of a chocolate milkshake.

Big Storm 10

And of course no visit would be complete without the beer that first introduced me to Big Storm, the Wavemaker Amber Ale. I still maintain this is the best Amber Ale I’ve ever had.

As I’ve said, I’ve long heralded Big Storm as one of the best breweries in the ever-growing beer scene in the Bay Area. Between their amazing beers and their new taproom, there’s no excuse not to pay them a visit.

Tried Big Storm Brewing Company? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Sunset Black Lager @ Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival

Headed over to Epcot with some friends to check out the new outdoor kitchens and try some of the seasonal beers they’re pouring.

Sunset Brew

Currently sitting by the lagoon near Germany in the World Showcase, watching the sunset and enjoying a sample of Kostritzer’s Schwartzbier Black Lager. This combination is perfection.

Hope everyone’s enjoying their Saturday as much as I am…

Pickled Jalapeno and Habanero Chicken

Recently, I’ve been buying these badass spicy artisan pickles from the Chill Dill at the Wiregrass Fresh Market. The last time I was there I struck up a conversation with the pickle purveyor and he gave me some advice: “When you’re done with the pickles, marinate some chicken in the brine and peppers.”

Well I took said advice and it came out awesome. A fiery, burn-a-hole-in-your-stomach kind of awesome, but awesome nonetheless.

Pickled Jalapeno Chicken

After letting it marinate in the peppers and brine for about 2 hours, the finished product is an insanely flavorful (and hot) piece of chicken. And because I am that masochistic, I decided to double-down on the heat and made a batch of sriracha mashed potatoes to go with it which actually complemented things quite well. I did cool things off with a pear and gorgonzola salad and a glass of sangria though.

What can I say, I like my heat.

Have a favorite spicy dish? Leave a message in the comments section below!

And remember… the food abides…

The Eddie @ The Lure

Stopped into The Lure in St. Pete because I’ve been drying to try the Grasshopper Tacos (yes, actual grasshoppers) and unfortunately they were out. Apparently they have to import their grasshoppers from Thailand and in such small batches that they run out very quickly after getting in a shipment. Had to settle for the Eddie…

The Lure - The Eddie

Grown-up tater tots, these are tossed in Gorgonzola, olive oil and a ton of fresh garlic. Potatoes are hollow sucker for a man bereft of fried insects… but these definitely helped.

Tried The Lure? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…

Gasparilla Brews!!!

Gasparilla Brews 2016

Gasparilla preparations have begun in earnest and the ship’s quartermaster has returned with some tasty beverages for tomorrow’s festivities. Barley Mow’s The Huntsman Red Ale, Cigar City’s Invasion Pale Ale, Ballast Point’s Even Keel Session IPA and Red Brick’s Laughing Skull Amber Ale. In cans to adhere to local no-glass container laws of course.

Happy Gasparilla to all my fellow Tampa residents and be safe tomorrow!

And remember… the food abides…

Mini-Deserts at Cape May

Had dinner with some friends at the Cape May Café at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club last night. In addition to the freshest seafood buffet I’ve ever eaten, they had a mini-desert section.

Cape May Deserts

Clockwise from the left, Flan, Lemon Chiffon Cake, Peanut Butter Walnut Blondie, Flourless Chocolate Cake and Pistachio Cheesecake. These were small enough to try everything without the guilt of eating five different deserts. I maintain I do not have much of a sweet-tooth but every one of these was amazing, especially the Pistachio Cheesecake.

Tried the Cape May Café? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Road Trip – 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 20th Anniversary Photo Round-up – Now with bonus swag!

With the holidays firmly in the rear-view mirror I once again have a little bit of time to give some credit where credit is due to the remarkable event and menu planners at Disney’s Epcot. They’ve pulled off another great International Food & Wine Festival for 2015 which also marked the event’s 20th Anniversary.

My friends and I managed to make it up there four times during the Festival season this year which afforded me the chance to try just as many dishes and drinks as last time if not more. So without further adieu, here’s a photo round-up of some of my favorite dishes and beverages from around the world.

New Dishes: These were either new to the 2015 menu or dishes I hadn’t had the opportunity to try before.

Brazilian Cheese Bread

Brazil – Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Bread paired with a Xingu Black Beer.

Bush Berry Shrimp

Australia – Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp w/Pineapple Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas paired with a Cooper’s Brewery Extra Strong Vintage Ale.

Chilaquiles de Pollo

Mexico – Chilaquiles de Pollo – Layered Corn Tortilla and Chicken w/Queso Fresco, Sour Cream and Fresh Cilantro

Lobster Roll

USA – New England Lobster Roll paired with a Goose Island Honker’s Ale (Though I will maintain until my last dying breath that cold lobster with mayonnaise is Lobster Salad Sandwich; it HAS to be hot lobster with butter to be considered a Lobster Roll).

Poached Salmon

Chew Lab Pavilion – Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fresh Corn and Pepper Jam

Beer Cheese Soup

Canada – Beer Cheese Soup paired with a Moosehead Lager

Teriyaki Gyoza Bun

Japan – Teriyaki Gyoza Bun – Steamed Rice Bun filled with Chicken, Vegetables and a Sweet Teriyaki sauce.

Ricotta and Zuchinni Ravioli

Sustainable Food Pavilion – Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli with Rustic Tomato Sauce (presented on sustainable VerTerra Dinnerware!)

Cheese Tasting Platter

Cheese Studio Pavilion – Trio of Artisan Cheeses – Karst Cave-Aged Cheese with Honey, La Bonne Vie Goat Cheese with Craisin Bread and Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Cheese with a Berry Port Compote.

Cheese Fondue

Cheese Studio Pavilion – Another from the Cheese Studio, a Cheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread

Old Favorites: Returning dishes which I’ve really enjoyed in the past.

Lobster and Seafood Fisherman's Pie

Ireland – Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie paired with a Kilkenny Cream Ale

Croissant aux Escargots

France – Croissant aux Escargots – Escargot Croissant w/ Garlic and Parsley paired with a Kronenbourg Blanc 1664 Ale

Tuna Poke

Hawaii – Tuna Poke w/ Seaweed Salad and Nori Strings paired with a Kona Big Wave Golden Ale.

Kung Fu Punch

China – Beijing Roasted Duck on a Steamed Rice Bun with Onions, Lemongrass and Hoisin Sauce paired with a Kung Fu Punch. Still my hands-down favorite dish three years in the running!


Wine and Cheese Sampler

Wine Studio Pavilion – A wine sampler consisting of a Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, Still River Winery’s Apfel Eis (Apple Ice Wine) and a Sterling Vintner’s Cabernet Sauvignon paired with the above mentioned Cheese Trio from the Cheese Studio

Belgian Beer Flight

Belgium – Belgian Beer Flight – Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde, Palm Speciale Beige Amber Ale and a Stella Artois Cidre

Craft Beer Flight

Craft Brew Pavilion – Florida Harvest Craft Beer Flight – Brew Hub’s Keybilly Island Ale, Two Henry’s Blueberry Vanilla American Wheat, Orlando Brewing’s Grateful Pumpkin and a Swamp Head’s Wild Night Honey Cream Ale.


Italy – A very blurry Limoncello in Italy . One of my favorite after-dinner cordials.


Germany – Because even though it’s available all year-round, no trip to Epcot is complete without a full-sized Altenmunster Oktoberfest enjoyed by the lagoon at sunset.


Creme Brulee

France – Crème Brulee Vanille Chocolat – Vanilla and Chocolate Crème Brulee with caramelized sugar.

Belgian Waffle

Belgium – Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream

Chocolate Covered Cannoli

Italy – Cannoli al Ciaccolato – Chocolate Covered Cannoli

Bonus Photos: Swag! – I walked away with a lot of extra stuff this year, some related to Food & Wine and some just purchased during the Festival. Most of it was worth noting.

Passholder Glass

Food & Wine 20th Anniversary Commemorative Passholder Wine Glass – The Passholder Wine Glass was awarded to Annual Passholders who attended the Food & Wine Festival at least three times during the season. There was a rigmarole you had to jump through with lines and stamps in order to verify your attendance each time, but you don’t go to theme parks if you’ve got a major problem with lines so it was worth the wait.

2015 Pint Glass

Brews Around the World 2015 20th Anniversary Pint Glass – I’ve been collecting the Brews Around the World pint glasses for quite a few years now. The 20th Anniversary glass is special because they’ve added a round blue glass disc to the bottom making it unique from past years’ glasses in more than just the graphic design.

2015 Pint Glass 2

Rear view of the pint glass with all participating countries.

Food Tray 2015

2015 Festival Sampling Tray – If you’re going to sample both food and alcohol (pairing as the festival menu designers intended) you’re going to need a tray. In the past these have just been plastic plates with a cutout for drinks, but this year they went above and beyond. These resin trays are sturdier than in the past with full-sized cup holders designed to accommodate any size beer, cocktail or wine glass.

Rose and Crown Hat

Rose & Crown Pub and Dining Room Distressed Ball Cap – Totally loved the look of this hat. It is now mine. Free advertising for the Rose & Crown Pub? Maybe. Still a great hat.

Bass Ale

England Souvenir Tall Beer Stein – And speaking of the Rose & Crown. Bought an ice-cold Bass Ale. Got to keep the glass.

And there you have it folks. This is the second year I’ve sung the praises of the Food & Wine Festival. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check it out, it’s expensive, but worth the money. If you’re an annual passholder and don’t have to pay for a ticket on top of the food, there’s little reason not to try it at least once.

My sole recommendation would be to avoid Saturdays. As the annual passholder numbers grow and as more and more people learn about this Festival, Saturdays tend to look like a Zombie herd from the Walking Dead at certain points during the day and the food lines get very long. You’re better off going on a Sunday which is much less crowded as it tends to be a travel day for vacationers, or better yet taking a day off during the week where occupancy is at its lowest. But no matter what day you go, just go.

Tried the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Merry Christmas from the Food Dude!

As I said last night, I was unfortunately not able to spend the holidays in Connecticut with my family again this year. However, I was lucky enough to be able to spend them with some great Tampa friends whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over 20 years now.

Christmas Dinner 2015

My friends hosted an incredible Christmas dinner in their Westchase home and I’m still drooling over the grilled honey-glazed pineapple, the gruyere scalloped potatoes and the pear and bleu cheese salad in addition to the Christmas turkey with all the fixings (I swear I’m like Ralphie’s father in a Christmas Story with turkey).

Christmas Limoncello 2015

My friends also made some homemade limoncello. Limoncello is my favorite after-dinner sipping drink and this stuff may be the best I’ve ever tasted. It most certainly beats the hell out of anything you could buy in a store.

Christmas Limoncello 2015-2

Not only did they serve their chilled Limoncello throughout the day, but they made a batch big enough to send everyone home with a bottle. I do not expect this to last through New Years.

Nib Smuggler and Tinsel

And speaking of gifts, my friends are as avid zythophiles as I am, if not more and we almost always give each other something booze-related. This year they knocked it out of the park with Barley Mow’s Tinsel Holiday Spiced Ale (which I JUST had last week at the Brass Tap and loved) and Funky Buddha’s Nib Smuggler Chocolate Milk Porter. Can’t wait to dive into a couple of these while I’m on vacation this week.

Christmas Toys

And last, but not least, I leave you with something entirely non-food-related. A photo of my dog Kira on Christmas morning, passed out among some of her new toys like Randy from a Christmas Story. Because who couldn’t love that. And yes, I realize I’ve now made two references to a Christmas Story, but it’s been on for the last 24 hours and I haven’t changed the channel once so it was kind of unavoidable.

With that, I leave you with a heartfelt Merry Christmas from the Food Dude. I hope you’re all savoring each and every the flavor that the holidays have to offer and even better, sharing them with the people you care about.

And remember… the food abides…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Beer Friday!

It’s just a few minutes after midnight which means it’s officially Christmas. It also means the Southern Tier 2Xmas Ale I just cracked open officially counts for New Beer Friday! Funny how things work out like that.

2Xmas Ale

Really digging this beer. Brewed in the style of a traditional Swedish Glogg there is a LOT going on in this one.

2Xmas Ale pours a deep ruby color with about an inch of head that dissipates quickly and leaves very little lacing on the glass. There’s a subtle dried fruit aroma with heavy spices (most notably nutmeg) and just a slight hint of pine.

On the initial pull there’s a distinct brown sugar and allspice flavor which is followed by a fruity fig and plum note mixed with heavy spices. This is not a bad thing and I’m picking up almost all of the holiday spices; cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom. The flavor rounds out on the back-end with some orange zest and just a touch of ginger. Threaded throughout is a pleasantly warming alcohol feeling and while I’ve never tried a Swedish Glogg before, I’d have to assume this is traditional.

With so many flavors packed into one ale you would think this would be somewhat of a schizophrenic beer but it’s not. This is a rather well-balanced brew and it’s most definitely what I would consider to be a perfect holiday beverage. For those not in the know, we’re currently experiencing the hottest Christmas on record in Florida, and this beer is making me forget that it’s currently 87 degrees and insanely humid outside right now. Mission accomplished Southern Tier… mission accomplished.

Tried Southern Tier’s 2Xmas Ale? Leave a message in the comments section below!

And remember… the food abides…

Christmas Eve 2015

Whenever I’m not in Connecticut with my family for the holidays I always host Christmas Eve dinner for my friends down here in Tampa.

Christmas Eve 2015

A table full of great people, a gigantic pot of linguine and white clam sauce, some holiday tunes and a good craft beer. That’s my Christmas Eve. Hope everyone is enjoying theirs as well!

And remember… the food abides…

64 oz. Growler from the Portland Growler Company

Being a fan of craft beer, you will inevitably come across a brewery that doesn’t bottle or can all their offerings (I’m looking at you and your freaking delicious Oktoberfest, Big Storm Brewing Co). If you want to enjoy some at a later time, you’ll need a growler.

In case you’ve been living under a rock or you tend to read my ramblings solely because of the food, a growler is simply a resealable container that allows you fill up your favorite beers at a taphouse or microbrewery for consumption at a later date. Since Florida finally eliminated the asinine ban on the 64 oz. varieties in May, these containers are becoming more and more commonplace.

With the holidays around the corner you may be looking to get yourself or the craft-beer-lover in your life a growler or two of some favorite brews. If so, you’ll likely be tempted to buy one from the microbrewery where you purchase the beer. Don’t.

Make no mistake, I am not discouraging buying brewery-branded growlers at all, just do that on an average Tuesday. For the holidays, if you’re looking for a growler as a gift for yourself or for someone else, look no further than one from the Portland Growler Company.


These growlers are handcrafted pieces of art; a remarkable combination of form and function. Portland Growlers come in a variety of designs and colors with a number of different options and add-ons like logos, leather leashes and carrying crates for transporting more than one.

Form: I went with the 64 oz. design called the Loop in the satin gray color pictured above. I chose the logo (because I personally think their tagline is clever) and went with a second on the cap. I won’t lie, when I put this down on the bar at my favorite taphouse, a number of fellow zythophiles commented on how cool it looked. I’m the last person who cares about that sort of thing, but this growler definitely gave me some street-cred.

Function: Being ceramic, this bad boy has some weight to it, even empty. That translates to a heavier load to carry but the tradeoff is that this growler keeps your beer chilled longer than any metal or glass variety I’ve ever seen. To me, that’s worth its weight in gold because I sometimes travel an hour or more to visit some of my favorite breweries. The only thing glass has over it is being able to physically see how much liquid is left. However, anyone with basic math skills can figure out how many beers the bottle holds (and with simple subtraction, how much is left) so that shouldn’t even be considered a con.

Cards on the table, these growlers are not really what I’d consider inexpensive, but neither great art nor superior products ever are. Craft beer isn’t cheap either so if you’re only frequenting your local sports bar for 99 cent drafts, you probably have no need for one anyway.

Worth every penny in this zythophile’s humble opinion.

Own a Portland Growler? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

And remember… the food abides…

New Beer Friday! – Goose Island’s Festivity Ale

Goose Island Festivity

I was a huge fan of Goose Island’s holiday offering a couple of years ago, Six-Geese-a-Laying (so much that I think I still have one or two squirreled away in the back of my beer fridge). For some reason, no one carried their holiday beer down here last year so this is the first one I’ve gotten to try since then. It did not disappoint.

Festivity pours a dark brown with about a half an inch of brown head that dissipates with just a slight lacing on the glass. There’s a heavy aroma of nuts and brown sugar which is very pleasant.

Mouth feel is more carbonated than I would have expected but that’s not a bad thing. The first pull really hits you with some strong, caramel and toffee notes. They carry through to a toasted nutty flavor before finally rounding out on the back end with fruity hints of plums, figs, dates and what I believe taste like currants. The flavor combinations compliment one another rather well.

This is exactly what I expect for a Christmas beer and I’m really enjoying this one. If you can find it, I definitely recommend making some room for it at your holiday tables this year.

Tried the Festivity Ale? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Kringla Bakeri @ Norway in the Epcot World Showcase

My Disney crew and I hit up Epcot this weekend for our second trip to the International Food & Wine Festival this season (will have plenty of blog fodder to write about after the fest ends).


While there were a ton of deserts everywhere because of the festival, we still took small detour to the Kringla Bakeri in Norway so a couple of my friends could grab an authentic Norwegian pastry or two. Bearing in mind I’m not much of a sweets-eater, the sweet almond pretzel and the rice cream still have to be my favorite deserts in the park, festival or not.

Totally worth the stop every time…

Tried the Kringla Bakeri? Leave a message in the comments.

And remember… the food abides…

Review – The Rooster & the Till

My friends and I have really enjoyed trying new places in Seminole Heights as of late. For our most recent outing we decided to give a shot to another farm-to-table joint, the Rooster & the Till. Located on North Florida Ave, the Rooster & the Till is a similar restaurant to the Refinery, one of the first restaurants I reviewed on this blog.

The Good:

The Rooster and the Till can definitely be considered a dining experience. The ambiance is hip and upscale which contrasts greatly with the neighborhood it’s located in; this is a good thing because you don’t expect it when walking in the door. Décor is interesting with lots of hardwood, open lighting fixtures, large slate boards and kitschy table decorations like twinkle lights in mason jars. They’ve recently expanded, almost doubling in size since they first opened, which means more seats for more people.

Rooster & Till 1

We started with drinks and they had a good selection of local craft beers on draft. I had a 7th Sun Orange Dreamsicle which turned out to be an excellent brew.

Our server, who was very knowledgeable explained the menu (Modern American cuisine locally sourced from nearby farms and gardens) and their serving style (smaller plates and they encourage sharing.) More on this later.

Rooster & Till 2

We started with an artisanal cheese slate which had some incredible flavors on it. A balanced tray, it included four styles, a sharp, a mild, a creamy and a hard. My favorite of the four was the Bay Bleu cheese, which was salty and sharp and paired very well with some fresh honeycomb. I also enjoyed the goat cheese which had a unique flavor.

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After that we ordered some “small plates.” We started with the Falafel Spiced Tofu with Salted Plum, Fennel, Chickpeas and Cilantro Yogurt. This was interesting and the salted plum was something very different.

Rooster & Till 4

We also tried the Crispy Cobia Collar with Nuoc Cham and Sesame Turnip Salad. I’ve only had cobia once or twice before but it was never prepared like this. Skin-on, bone-in isn’t something I’ve had much experience with, but if you were willing to work for the meat, it was worth it. The Nuoc Cham, a kind of Vietnamese sauce, was a perfect complement.

My friends also did a selection of raw oysters which they said were spot-on.

Rooster & Till 6

For our “slightly larger” plates we tried the Fazzoletti which is a giant piece of pasta a little larger than lasagna folded over itself and stuffed with onion pistou, sous vide tomatoes, parmesan cheese and olives. For a dish that skewed Italian, it hit the mark.

Rooster & Till 5

We also tried the Mako Shark Steak. First time ever having Mako Shark and I may very well have a new favorite fish. My guess is the preparation had a good deal to do with that.

My friends also tried the Pork Jowl with Corn Pudding and Pickled Turnips and they were very impressed.

On a whole, the food was excellent. Lots of new tastes and intriguing flavor combinations which I’d never experienced. That just added to the whole atmosphere of the evening.

The Bad:

You may have noticed I’ve been putting portion sizes in quotations. I’ve stated this before: portion sizes HAVE to match prices if I’m going to enjoy myself. Small portions are fine if the prices are small as well. This is not money thing, its full stomach thing. I live relatively far from the city proper so if I want to enjoy a few drinks I need a base in my stomach. That being said, the Rooster & the Till’s portions failed at this.

I knew this was going to be an issue when our server had to “explain their serving style because people sometimes don’t understand, get angry and leave.” With that kind of warning, how can you not raise an eyebrow?

First off, I don’t understand how they can encourage sharing with such small plates. Perhaps it makes more mathematical sense if you’re dining for two instead of three, but that would only make the price-per-head even larger.

We ordered a cheese tray, individually had two drinks, a small plate and a large plate and each walked out paying over 80 dollars. 240 greenbacks for three people would have been fine if I had left the restaurant full, but I did not. To make matters worse I couldn’t really enjoy a full drink at the next bar we went to afterwards for fear of not being able to drive home.

It’s somewhat of a shame because the food is worth trying and it may prevent me from going back unless I don’t plan on enjoying a beverage at all that evening.

The Ugly:

Like anywhere else in Seminole Heights, the parking at the Rooster & the Till is atrocious. It’s a problem with most of the businesses in the area because there are residential properties right behind everything. I drove around for nearly 20 minutes trying to find a spot I wouldn’t get towed out of and managed to stumble upon a couple leaving a spot in an adjacent lot. Had I not made that, who knows how much longer I would have had to circle.

This is something Seminole Heights as a whole needs to address and come up with a solution for (I’ve attempted to go to the Independent on three separate occasions and all were a no-go because I could not find anywhere to park and I’m not walking half a mile on N. Florida Ave). As Seminole Heights expands, it’s only going to get worse.

The Bottom Line:

Regardless of the few things I took issue with, I will still say the Rooster & the Till is worth trying. The food alone is delicious and the atmosphere/presentation makes for a great dining experience. Just remember to go in with the mindset that it’s GOING to be pricey if you want to leave feeling full. And unless you get there early in the evening before all the parking is gone, bring your lucky rabbit’s foot; you’re going to need it.

Tried the Rooster & the Till? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Review – Big Storm Brewing Co.

In a New Beer Friday in March I posted my thoughts about Big Storm Brewing Co.’s Wavemaker Amber Ale and made note that I needed to visit their brewery, which was only about a half hour away from me. Well it took me five months and a random Friday off for other reasons but I finally made it. And now I’m wondering why I waited so long.

Big Storm Brewery 1

Let me preface this by saying ALL craft beer is light years better than most mass-produced macrobrews. But something I’ve noticed is that the breweries that concentrate more on the making of the beer in rather than the selling of the beer, tend to be more experimental, which yields more complex and flavorful recipes.

Big Storm Brewery 2

This is evidenced by Big Storm’s tasting room. The entire brewery is located in an industrial park in Odessa FL (you actually walk in through a giant garage door) and their tasting room simply consists of a small bar and a few tables right in the middle of the brewery floor. Brewmasters are ten feet away from you checking kettles and brewery workers load pallates right next to your table. It’s cool to be right in the thick of the process while you enjoy your beverage.

While the seating was limited, the place was filled with beer-lovers, a few of whom were obviously regulars. The girls behind the bar were very friendly and knew just about everything there was to know about each style. At one point my server consulted the brewmaster for me about a question I had regarding the seasonal availability of the Oktoberfest.

Big Storm Brewery 3

Speaking of the Oktoberfest, it was the first beer I tried. A traditional marzen-style ale, Big Storm’s Oktoberfest pours a solid copper color with about a finger of head and slight lacing. You can pick up a scent of sweet caramel as is traditional.

The caramel comes through on the first pull with an accompanying maltiness. Just a bit more carbonation than is usually found in this style produces slightly more tiny bubbles which deliver a more robust flavor. Said flavor does not mellow on the back end but does round out to a sweet finish and, interestingly enough, I picked up just a hint of candied yams.

I’ve long been an advocate of Samuel Adams’ Octoberfest and touted it as one of my favorite beers. As difficult as this is for me to admit, Big Storm’s Oktober beats it in every way. This is a perfect fall beer. Sadly, they do not bottle or can this particular brew so you’ll have to go to the tasting room to try it. When you do, bring a growler!

Big Storm Brewery 4

As you know I tend to gravitate more towards ambers, reds and browns, so next I tried the Chief’s Bitter Brown Ale. This was a rather unique take on a standard brown ale especially since bitters tend to be much lighter.

The Bitter Brown pours a dark brown, almost blackish color, with nearly two fingers of head and a heavy lacing that stuck around for quite a while. There’s a very earthy aroma to this beer.

The first pull delivers a heavily roasted malt flavor with hints of dark chocolate and the bitterness is right there on the forefront. It doesn’t mellow at all but becomes stronger on the back end with a slight black licorice aftertaste which I found rather pleasing. I would warn only that you may have to like bitter ales in order to appreciate this one but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a very complex and layered brew.

Big Storm Brewery 5

Finally, even though I’ve had it before I had to go for the Wavemaker Amber Ale on draft. It is every bit as good as the first time I tried it and the draft only intensified those flavors. The Wavemaker is hands-down one of the best Amber Ales I’ve ever had and I’m thankful the brewery as close as it is which means high availability.

As the Fall Beer season is my favorite time of the year, I have a number of local breweries with interesting Fall flavors (Pair O’Dice’s Pumpkin Vanilla, Wild Rover’s Sweet Potato Stout), that I plan on trying before everything disappears at the end of October, but I will be back to this one at least once before then, with friends in tow. True, Odessa can be kind of a hike from the Downtown Tampa or St. Pete/Clearwater areas, but the folks at Big Storm really care about the beer-making process and if you’re the type of zythophile who appreciates that, it’s worth the trip.

Tried Big Storm Brewing Co? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides.

Lump Crabmeat Eggs with Tomato and Onion

Lump Crab Eggs

Had some leftover crab from a stuffed mushroom recipe I made the other night so I decided to work it into a little Sunday morning breakfast. Scrambled eggs with lump crabmeat, fresh tomatoes and onions and a dash of Old Bay.

Review – Local Public House and Provisions

Local Public House 1

Let’s face it, there’s not really much of note in San Antonio, Florida, a small rural town far from the urban sprawl of Tampa Bay. So when my friends discovered this little known hideaway, I was very intrigued. I’d been looking forward to trying this place ever since they mentioned it and I finally got the chance last week.

The Local Public House and Provisions is exactly that… local. All beer and wine is brought in from local microbreweries and wineries and all food is locally sourced. As the farm-to-table movement grows, it’s a very positive thing to see it done well in almost every establishment it’s attempted in and the Local Public House can proudly add itself to that list.

Being that the location is so off the beaten path, it was surprising to find the inside as jazzed-up as it was. The architecture was an open ceiling plan with lots of wrought iron fixtures and soft lighting. A pretty talented band was playing a rocked-out version of a rather poppy Elton John song and the patrons suggested a good deal of people were willing to make long trips from more urban/suburban areas in order to experience the establishment.

In other words, this was my kind of place…

Local Public House 3

Starting with the beer, I ordered a flight, (the most unusual of which was Fox Meadery’s Pink Stuff, a pink lemonade mead). All of their beer comes from local breweries which rotate out on a constant basis. That night’s offerings included selections from Barley Mow, Coppertail, Cigar City, Big Storm and Motorworks.

.Local Public House 4

I liked the Barley Mow Americana Golden Ale the best of the bunch so I decided on a full glass. The Americana was a well-balanced, grassy, hoppy ale with a very refreshing citrus note on the back-end. Great beer for a hot summer night.

Our server was up front and honest with us that the kitchen was backed up so the food might take a little bit longer and she brought us an order of boiled peanuts as a recompense. The last time I had boiled peanuts was at a baseball game when I was 14 and I didn’t remember them being that good but they did a great job of tiding us over.

The menu, while somewhat small (a good thing when they do each dish very well), was a mix of typical pub fare and classic southern dishes but each with their own little twist. Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Chicken Liver Po’Boys, Catfish & Chips and Chicken & Dumplings are some of the dishes that can be found on their menus which are clipped to the back of a cedar plank.

Local Public House 5

For an app I went with the Beer Cheese Fondue and Fries, an original take on the classic pub favorite, cheese fries. I list the fries second because while they were just shoestring potatoes (still homemade of course), the star of the plate is definitely the fondue. This is not your average cheese sauce out of a can. It was creamy with a nice little savory flavor at the end.

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One of my friends got the Andouille Corn Dogs for their app and loved them. Another original take on a classic pub dish.

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Although the Chicken and Dumplings were screaming my name, given the beer and the fries, I opted for something a little lighter. Went with the aptly named Big Salad, a gigantic salad with shrimp, gorgonzola, fresh fruit and a rather flavorful kumquat Vidalia dressing. Neighboring Dade City is the kumquat capital of the country and I appreciated the fact that they managed to work it into their menu.

In addition to the standard menu there are also weekly specials that are only served on certain days of the week like Shrimp & Grits on Thursdays and Chicken & Waffles on Mondays. Chicken & Waffles alone are enough to bring me back to the Local Public House again but the entire experience is guaranteed to do that on its own and I intend to follow through with a few more friends in tow.

A little out of the way? Yes. Worth the trip? Definitely.

Local Public House 2

Tried the Local Public House? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Coppertail/Stillwater Collaboration – Good Ideas Session IPA

Got a chance to try out the Coppertail Brewery last weekend for a fellow zythophile’s birthday. Among a number of really great sour beers was an interesting collaboration with Stillwater Brewery called Good Ideas.

Coppertail-Stillwater Good Ideas Session IPA

A Session IPA, this was very hoppy with a heavy floral note but what I really enjoyed about it was the underlying hint of pine that lasted from the first pull to the back end. Tasted almost like a holiday beer. Christmas in July? I’ll take it.

Definitely planning on heading to Coppertail again soon as I’m very interested to see what their Autumn offerings will entail.

Tried Coppertail? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…

Everglades Shrimp and Grilled Parmesan Polenta Cakes

My own take on the classic southern Shrimp & Grits recipe.

Shrimp & Polenta

Shrimp sautéed in olive oil, lime juice, white wine and a pinch of Everglades seasoning served over grilled polenta cakes with parmesan and crushed black pepper.