The food abides…

Beer

Best of the ‘Fest! – The Best of the Tampa Bay Area’s Local Oktoberfest Beers

For the last six weeks anyone who follows my Facebook or Instagram might have worried that I’ve become an alcoholic as I’ve checked into and posted photos from a rather large number of local breweries. There was a reason for my madness however and my labors have born fruit as I’ve now managed to sample a good majority of the local area Oktoberfest lagers.

We are extremely lucky that we live in one of the most brewery-dense locations in the country and this gave me the opportunity to try a slew of different offerings. The Marzen is one of my favorite styles of beer and I was surprised at how many good ones were brewed this year.

Prepare yourselves. This is going to be a long one…

3-daughters-marzen

3 Daughters Brewing – 3 Daughter’s “Mission to Marzen” Oktoberfest pours a solid amber color with 1 finger of white head. Nice and malty with a good caramel finish, the sweetness of this beer is significant without being overpowering.

 

paw-marzen

Pinellas Ale Works – PAW’s “Pawtoberfest” Marzen pours a deep brown with half a finger of reddish head. This brew boasts heavily toasted malt notes and comes across slightly stronger than an Oktoberfest typically does, but it’s a solid offering nonetheless.

 

cycle-brewing-marzen

Cycle Brewing – Cycle’s “Das Rad” Oktoberfest Marzen pours a deep red with 1 finger of white head. Bready with heavy caramel notes, this one had a slightly bitter finish, but it worked well overall.

 

barley-mow-oktober

Barley Mow Brewing Company – Barley Mow’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a light reddish-brown with half a finger of off-white head. Hoppier than I was expecting with subtle notes of apricot mixed in with the caramel and spice. It’s worth noting that this was the only Oktober I didn’t try in the actual brewery. The Lure in St. Pete had this on draft so I took the opportunity to sample and it’s a good thing I did because I might have otherwise missed the opportunity.

 

cage-festbier

Cage Brewing – Cage’s “Uncle Fester” is one of only a few local breweries that opted to go for a Festbier instead of a Marzen. As such it pours a lighter golden color with almost no head. Because of the style, this was hoppier, more floral and had a significant bite at the end. Regardless of the fact that I prefer Marzens this was unique and I found it quite pleasing. It probably helped that it was a hot day and Cage is an open-air brewery & tasting room.

 

angry-chair-marzen

Angry Chair Brewing – I’ve found that Angry Chair simultaneously produces some of the most creatively experimental as well as some of the most well-balanced beers around. Their Oktoberfest Marzen is the latter. Pouring a deep amber with almost no head and slightly more carbonation than is typical, this is a nice roasty, malty lager. Angry Chair’s Oktoberfest is one of the more drinkable Marzens around and it went down FAST.

 

cigar-city-marzen

Cigar City Brewing – One of the only other breweries to veer away from the the Marzen route, Cigar City’s Oktoberfest Festbier pours slightly darker than Cage’s Uncle Fester (though the filter on my photo app is making it appear darker than it really is; color is actually closer to what you see at the bottom) with a half-finger of bright white head. This is a drier beer with a more hoppy, floral note. This brew is a zythophilian statement on the end of summer transitioning into the fall. And yes I’m going to give myself credit for the legitimate use of the word “zythophilian.”

 

big-storm-marzen

Big Storm Brewing Co. – Big Storm’s Oktoberfest Marzen was easily my favorite of all the local offerings. Pouring a deep amber with two full fingers of bubbly white head, this brew had it all; sweetness, caramel, slightly toasted malt and an incredibly smooth finish. For sole drinkablity, this one tops the list.

 

tbbc-marzen

Tampa Bay Brewing Company – TBBC’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a very clear reddish-gold with a finger of bubbly white head. There are strong caramel and biscuit flavors with just a slight hoppiness on the back end. Another rather drinkable Marzen and worth trying.

 

coppertail-oktoberfest-1

Coppertail Brewing Co. – Coppertail’s Oktoberfest Marzen is what kicked off this entire endeavor. They had an interesting take on the traditional Oktoberfest and it made me want to see how other breweries interpreted the style. Pouring a deep red with almost two full fingers of bright white head, this lager is brewed with more hops than I’ve ever experienced in a Marzen before. It retains those characteristic caramel and malt notes but has a nice flowery bouquet with quite a little bite at the end. I know that doesn’t sound like it would mix well but Coppertail pulls it off.

 

rapp-marzen

Rapp Brewing Company– Rapp Brewing’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a lighter orange color with about half a finger of white head. With lots of caramel and malt notes this brew was was easily the sweetest of all the local offerings.

pair-o-dice-marzen

Pair o’ Dice Brewing Company – Pair o’ Dice’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a light amber with two fingers of creamy white head. Another well-balanced and drinkable lager, the notes of caramel, malt and toasted biscuit effectively complement each other culminating in a well-rounded finish.

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Now not all the local establishments opted to brew an Oktoberfest per se, but some did brew some really notable Dunkels. If you know your history, you know that the Dunkel was the Oktoberfest progenitor of the current Marzen and Festbier styles we currently know and love so I’ve decided to include a few of the more notable ones.

81bay-not-on-porpise-dunkel

81Bay BrewCo. – 81Bay has a pretty large menu for a newer kid on the block. Their “Not on Porpoise” Dunkel pours a rich brown with about a finger of cloudy white head. Full of roasted malts there are deep chocolate notes that round out on the back end with almost no bitterness.

 

spbc-munich-dunkel

St. Pete Brewing Co. – SPBC’s Munich Dunkel pours a deep amber-brown with a tiny brownish colored head. This Dunkel is rather smooth possessing balanced malt and caramel flavors with just an ever-so-slight cocoa finish.

 

rapp-munich-dunkel

Rapp Brewing Company – Yes, Rapp makes the list twice. I’ve already sung the praises of Rapp’s Munich Dunkel in a previous post so there is very little more I can say about this one other than once again emphasizing how insanely tasty this beer is.

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And there you have it folks, Tampa Bay’s Best of the ‘Fest. These brews have been listed in no particular order and while I have no one favorite overall I will go out on a limb and give some props in a few categories: Angry Chair had the most balanced Marzen, Coppertail the most unique take on one, Cage Brewing offered the best Festbier and Big Storm rounds out the list for being the most drinkable of the bunch.

Unfortunately there were a couple of that I did not get to try, most notably Dunedin Brewery’s 2016 Marzen. I’m hoping that by the time I make it up there, they will still have some left but if not there is always next year. I’m also hopeful that some of the newer breweries whose more recent openings made it difficult to pursue a traditional Oktoberfest will have the time to do so in 2017. I look forward to some new ones while seeing how these old favorites are further refined.

Have a favorite Tampa Bay Oktoberfest Lager? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…


Green Bench Brewing Co.’s De Soto Low Session IPA

I know it’s the fall and I’m usually all about the dark beers but this one was worth noting.

green-bench-desoto-ipa

For an IPA, the De Soto Low Session from Green Bench Brewing Co. was remarkably mild with a mellow bouquet and only a subtle hoppiness. Clocking in at only 2.5 ABV, this was easily the most drinkable IPA I’ve ever had. Definitely a viable alternative to a macro-brewed light beer.


Came for the Oktoberfest, stayed for the Dunkel! Rapp Brewing Company’s Munich Dunkel

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been sampling a number of local area Oktoberfest beers in an effort to pull together enough to write a piece about the Best of the Bay. Yesterday’s sampling took me to Rapp Brewing Company, a place I had yet to make it to previously. I’m glad I did because in addition to the great Oktoberfest lager I came in for, I discovered something else even more amazing.

Not only is Rapp an incredible craft beer operation specializing in German styles (with a huge variety totaling almost 40 taps), but it boasted one of the best Dunkel’s, if not one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Rapp Brewing Company’s Munich Dunkel…

rapp-munich-dunkel

The Munich Dunkel pours a rich dark brown with about a finger and a half of khaki-colored head and significant lacing on the glass. There’s a nice bready aroma with just a subtle hint cocoa.

This brew boasts a surprisingly enjoyable mouthfeel; lighter than I’d expect this kind of beer to have but still thick enough to grab your tongue. The toffee and malt flavors are abundant on the first pull with notes of toasted biscuit and a little nuttiness. On the back-end it rounds out to a nice solid caramel finish with a dash of chocolate. What I enjoyed most was the noticeable absence banana notes which seems to be a common trend among Dunkel recipes and I’m not the biggest fan of banana.

While I love almost every style of beer, it’s no secret that my palette tends to skew towards the dark side especially in the cooler months. However I can honestly say that my preference is not coloring this opinion: this is easily the best Dunkel I’ve ever had. An older gentleman sitting at the end of the bar was also singing the praises of the brew with a giddy, childlike glee as if he were a kid with an ice cream cone. It’s safe to say I’m not alone in my opinion.

This is a full-bodied, drinkable Dunkel and if I had the time and was not driving I would have stayed for at least three more. If you dig Dunkels you’re doing yourself a disservice by not stopping in and trying a stein and I can’t recommend it enough.

Tried Rapp’s Munich Dunkel? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Baked Lemon Pepper Tuna Ventresca Croquettes

I’ve made fried croquettes before but after a long day of sampling local Oktoberfest beers I wanted something a little lighter. Tweaked my normal croquette recipe by both baking and using Tuna Ventresca (marinated tuna bellies) instead of pouched or canned.

tuna-ventresca-croquettes-1

For this dish I combined 2 eggs (beaten), 2 finely chopped green onions, 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/4 cup of panko bread crumbs, 1 heaping tbsp of Dijon mustard, 1 tsp of kosher salt, 2 tsps of freshly ground black pepper and a 7 oz. jar of Tuna Ventresca making sure to reserve the olive oil it was packed in. Formed that into patties, dredged them in more panko bread crumbs and placed them on a sheet pan prepped with cooking spray. Took the reserved oil and brushed it on top of the patties, then baked at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Flipped the patties and brushed the other side with the oil and baked for another 14 min.

tuna-ventresca-croquettes-2

Served the croquettes on a spinach and romaine salad and paired them with a Kona Big Wave Golden Ale which was a nice lighter ale to go along with the fish. The olive oil gave them a good brown and the panko a great crunch that went well with the greens. The best part was that since the Ventresca was marinated it didn’t dry out during the baking like normal tuna would have.

This is a good recipe to keep in my arsenal for entertaining. I’d imagine these can be prepped early and the patties refrigerated right on the sheets then tossed in the oven when it’s time to bake with only a minor adjustment of the baking time.

Have a favorite croquette recipe? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Coppertail Brewing Co.’s Oktoberfest Tapping 2016

As much as it gets a bad rap, social media can be a great thing in the world of food and beer…

coppertail-oktoberfest-1

Last Friday I got a photo in my Instagram feed of a cool looking liter mug and a message from Coppertail Brewing Co. to stop in the next day for their 2016 Oktoberfest Tapping event. They would be showcasing their new Oktoberfest and Tampa Dunkel brews and also have said mugs for sale. I asked how many of the mugs would be available and apparently they only ordered about 2 dozen of them so they’d go fast. Made it a point to get down there as early as I possibly could so I was in the door by about 1:30 and low and behold I was able to get my hands on one.

coppertail-oktoberfest-2

Coppertail has this unique bottle art that is a mix of avant garde and nautical themes and their Oktoberfest mug/bottle art is just as kitschy. How can you not find a droopy-eyed, mustachioed octopus in lederhosen cool?

Mug purchase included one free fill and discounts on subsequent fills all day and this year’s marzen was rather impressive to boot. Sweet and malty with just a slightly hoppy kick at the end. Well worth the trip, mug or not.

Tried Coppertail’s Oktoberfest? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…


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…


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.

Ingredients:

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…


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…


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!

Libations:

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.

Limoncello

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

Oktoberfest

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.

Deserts:

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…


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.

PGC 2

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…

 


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.


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…


Road Trip – Jersey City – Vu, Zeppelin Hall, Porta Pizza and Barcade

Had to do a little traveling for work this past week and found myself in Jersey City. Not the first time I’ve been there but luckily I got to try quite a few places I’ve never been before.

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The first night our Partner took us to dinner at Vu at the Hyatt Regency. A five-course meal in a private room with a view overlooking the Manhattan skyline was honestly a great way to cap off a day of both travel and work.

Crab Cake at Vu

One of the more notable courses was the Maryland-Style Crab Cake which was prepared very well.

Pike at Vu

For the main course I chose the fish, which was a Grilled Pike with a Quinoa Salad and Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes. Pike is one of those fish I’ve just never gotten a chance to try before for one reason or another and I really enjoyed the flavor (likely enhanced by the excellent way it was prepared).

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The next night I wanted to strike out and see a little more of what Jersey City had to offer. Fortunately my sister lives twenty minutes away so she served as my guide for the evening.

Zepplin Biergarten

We started out with a couple of beers at Zeppelin Hall, an authentic German biergarten. Draft selection didn’t quite compare to my local Tampa favorite, Mr. Dunderbak’s, but it got the job done. That’s a Hoeggarden and a Hacker Pschorr Oktoberfest.

After drinks we headed to an upscale pizza and pasta restaurant called Porta Pizza.

Gose at Porta

It’s important to note that Murphy’s Law of Rare Beers is not without a sense of irony; after trying Victory’s Kirsch Cherry Gose for the first time a few weeks ago, I’ve been searching Tampa high and low for a taphouse that has it on draft or a liquor store that sells it in bottle but to no avail. Funny that I find it again in a pizzeria in Jersey City of all places.

Olives at Porta

We ordered the olives to snack on while we had our drinks which were very good. They included among others, Castelvetrano olives, which is a particular variety that isn’t easy to find in Tampa.

Pizza and Ravioli at Porta

For dinner we split a Margherita Pizza and an order of Ravioli. Let’s be honest here; we could have taken the PATH into NYC and found a decent slice of pizza in ninety seconds by walking in any direction. But as with the biergarten, the pizza at Porta got the job done. I was slightly more impressed by the ravioli which was served with a really savory cream sauce, somewhat reminiscent of an Alfredo but with a distinct smokey flavor.

EVOO Ice Cream

Our server kept raving about a new desert they had just started serving so we gave it a shot and it wound up being the Piece de Resistance. The Dark Chocolate Covered Extra Virgin Olive Oil Gelato Bar with a Brown Butter Crumb was amazing. I’m not much of a desert guy but I do like some ice cream every now and then and this stuff was off the chain.

Rogue Hazelnut Ale at Barcade

We ended the evening with a couple more drinks at a really unique little joint called Barcade. As the name implies it purveyed an impressive selection of both craft beers and vintage arcade games. Every game I remember from arcades in my childhood was there; Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac Man, Mr. Do, Asteroids and many others. If you played it when you were a kid in the 80’s it was there and its apparent someone put a LOT of love into locating and/or restoring functioning cabinets of all these games. The draft selection was impressive and I went with Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Ale which I had never tried before but really enjoyed.

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While Jersey City may not be anyone’s first choice when it comes to food, especially with all the epicurean options of New York City right across the river, there were still some gems hidden away and I’m glad we took the time to explore a few.

Been to Jersey City? Have any favorite locations? Leave a message in the comments section below!

And remember… the food abides…


Review – 100 Montaditos

I tend to shy away from chain restaurants and their cookie-cutter menus but 100 Montaditos is an exception in almost every way possible. First, it’s a primarily European chain with only two other US locations, one in NYC and another in DC so it’s not exactly like a Chipotle. Second, their menu, is so huge you could eat there 1000 times and never get the same combination twice. Third, I’ve seen the menus for their other locations and there are definitely some variations. All of which, coupled with the incredible flavors of their food, garnered the need for a review…

100-montaditos sign

Literally translating to “100 small sandwiches,” I probably wouldn’t have attempted to seek out 100 Montaditos on my own (and if it wasn’t for the fact that it opened up right next door to the Wiregrass Brass Tap that I frequent every other weekend I might not have ever tried it). When explaining it to others, the best description I can give is “Spanish Sliders.” I love choice when it comes to menus and this place serves it up in droves.

With a decidedly Spanish décor, 100 Montaditos is another type of half-service location where you order at a counter and they bring you your food. Because the selection is so large, they give you a paper menu and a pencil and you check off what you’d like (as if you were ordering sushi). With a number of different kinds of breads, sauces, meats/fishes, cheeses and toppings, the flavor combinations are outstanding.

100 Montiditos 4

My first time there I tried the #15 (Baby Shrimp, Lettuce and Ali Oli), the #71 (Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese and Arugula), and the #77 (Anchovies, Fresh Tomato, Mayo and Spanish pickles). On the side I just ordered some fries with their incredibly spicy Serrano Ketchup and a small bowl of their Spanish Olives.

You would think three tiny sandwiches wouldn’t be much, but once it’s on the plate it’s actually quite a lot of food. Everything was fresh, from the meat to the sauces to the bread. My favorite of the bunch was the # 77. The anchovies and the pepinillo pickles were extremely flavorful (and I don’t normally reach for mayo when I make a sandwich).

100 Montiditos 2

On my second shot, I tried the #25 (Tuna, Fresh Tomato, Arugula, Spanish Pickles and Ali Oli), the #66 (Manchego Cheese, Fresh Tomato, Green Pepper and Anchovies) and the #75 (Smoked Salmon, Blue Cheese, Arugula and Olive Oil). This time I tried the Bravas Potatoes instead of the fries and while I wanted to try to Ali Oli sauce as a side, the spice-o-holic in me couldn’t tear myself away from the Serrano Ketchup.

Again, nothing short of a flavor explosion. The #66 was my favorite in this bunch although the Tuna in the #25 held it’s own. The Bravas Potatoes were a little more robust than the fries and I will probably stick with those on future visits.

For those with a proclivity for red meat, there are plenty of options from traditional Spanish meats like Chorizo, Serrano Ham, Salchicho, Lomo and Christorra as well as more American fare like Philly Steak, Meatballs and BBQ Pulled Pork. If you’re looking for something other than a sandwich, they do have salads and a number of appetizers and small plates like Tortilla Espanola (a type of Spanish egg fritata), Crispy Calamares, and Croquetas.

If you want to have a drink, a selection of beer, wine and sangrias are available. While I was waiting, I did hear someone at the table next to me comment on how much they loved the sangria, so take from that what you will.

100 Mondatidos also has specials on Wednesdays and Sundays with Wednesdays being 1.00 sandwiches and Sundays a 2 for 1.

montaditos-dulces

And while I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, their Chocolate Montaditos look kind of amazing. Chocolate bread with different combinations of fillings like Sweet Cream, Hazelnut Spread, Chocolate/White Chocolate, Spanish Almonds and Oreo Cookies look like they will win over desert lovers everywhere.

As you can probably tell from my above photos, I’ve preferred to take their food home rather than eat in-house and 100 Montaditos just might have become my Sunday night go-to, when I just don’t feel like cooking. Although at some point I’m pretty sure I will order takeout again, bring it the 10 steps next door to the Brass Tap and eat it there. Pairing this food with a spicy beer like 5 Rabbit’s 5 Vulture Oaxacan Dark Ale or Pair O’Dice’s Mexicali Jalapeno Lime Pale Ale would be nothing short of astounding.

Tried 100 Montaditos? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Victory Kirsch Cherry Gose @ the Brass Tap

Stopped off at the Carrollwood Brass Tap with a couple of good friends the other day and they had a very interesting brew on tap, Victory’s Kirsch Cherry Gose.

Victory Kirsch Gose

I’ve been a big fan of Goses since I first tried them a couple of years ago. Goses are sour beers that are typically brewed with coriander and salt which makes for a very interesting combination of flavors. While many are citrus-based as it gives the brewer an already sour note to start on, this was the first time I’ve tried one brewed with cherries.

This pours a bright red with a good deal of foam; it almost looked like a cherry soda. You could smell the cherries right off the bat.

The Kirsch had a slightly acidic feel on the tongue and the carbonation was higher than in most brews I’ve tried. This beer had a solid consistent taste of tart cherries and salt from the first pull to the back end; there was almost a candy-like quality to the flavor. If you’ve ever had a Black Cherry Warhead when you were a kid this is the closest thing to it in liquid form that I could imagine (although not quite as pucker-inducingly sour).

Looking forward to locating this in a bottle so I can see if the flavor compares with the draft. If you can manage to locate this and you like sours, definitely try this one.

Tried the Victory Kirsch? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


40th Birthday Beer – Growlers, Glasses and Guides!

Last night some friends of mine took me out to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. Among some really great gifts were a couple of beer-related gems.

Cigar City Growlers

Two of my buddies stopped by the Cigar City Brewery and picked up a couple of growlers. One is the Little Lady Friend which is a Belgian Session Ale and the other is the English Dark Maduro a slightly different take on their Maduro Brown Ale. I’ve never tried either of these varieties before so I’m looking forward to cracking at least one of these open tonight.

Laser Etched Glasses

And they will be served in one of these. Another group of friends picked me up some really cool new beer glasses and had my initials laser-etched into them.

Great Florida Craft Beer Guide

While I’m sitting on my lanai drinking a couple of brews, I might as well enjoy some reading material as well. Another friend gave me the Great Florida Craft Beer Guide which is guaranteed to lead me on some great beer-seeking adventures in the very near future.

Huge thanks to all my friends who came out to celebrate the fact that the earth rotated around the sun 40 times since I was born. I’m a lucky guy…

And remember… the food abides…


Small Bites – Smoked Salmon and Gorgonzola Crostini and Fig Jam and Goat Cheese Mini-Toasts

Had some good friends over for a few drinks and that always means a table full of small bites to munch on. If there’s going to be a good deal of drinking involved, I always prefer smaller plates as opposed to a full dinner. Everyone can eat their fill and decide for themselves how much to eat and how much to drink. Since we did mainly apps, I experimented with some crostini and mini-toast dishes which my friends apparently dug.

Gorganzola and Smoked Salmon on Crostini

The first was a Gorgonzola and Smoked Salmon with Fresh Dill Weed on Crostini. Popped these in the oven for about 5 minutes at 350, just long enough to melt the cheese and heat the salmon a little.

Fig Jam and Goat Cheese on Mini-Toast

The second was Fig Jam and Goat Cheese with Chopped Pecans on Mini-Toasts. Left this one in the oven at the same temp but for about 10 minutes as the goat cheese took a little longer to melt.

Of course I have great friends who never show up empty-handed that contributed to the table full of food.

Twinkie Cake

The highlight was probably my friend’s dessert which was a Twinkie Cake.

Twinkie Cake 2

Yes, that’s a cake made out of layers of Twinkies and fresh strawberries. Tasted very similar to a strawberry shortcake. I haven’t eaten a Twinkie since I was a kid and I don’t really remember them tasting this good.

And last but not least, what’s a night of drinks without some good beer?

Sam Adams Cherry Wheat

One of my friends mentioned that they liked this, so I picked some up. I haven’t had a Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat since college and it was as good as I remember if not better (which is saying a lot as I’m sure my palette has changed a great deal in the last 20 years).

A good night spent doing one of my favorite things to do: gathering around a table with good brews, great food and even greater company.

Have a favorite app or desert? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…


New Beer Friday! – Big Storm Brewery’s Wavemaker Amber Ale

Rather than wallow in the fact that the Fall and Winter Beer seasons are over and slowly rationing out my dwindling stock of Marzens, Harvest Wheats and Pumpkin and Winter Ales I’ve given myself the task of trying more of what the other seasons have to offer with an open mind. For today’s New Beer Friday, I’m starting with the Wavemaker Amber Ale made by the boys over at Big storm Brewery right here in the Bay Area.

Big Storm Wavemaker Amber

The Wavemaker pours a deep red with about half an inch of head (which unfortunately dissipated while I was trying to get the lights out on my lanai to turn on). There’s a significant toasty aroma which is rather pleasing.

The first pull brings a slightly sweet caramel and malt flavoring complimented by a very mellow citrus note with just the tiniest bit of spice. There’s a little bit of a bitter bite on the back end but it rounds out rather quickly. This is an expertly balanced amber ale; as dark as this beer is, it’s still remarkably light. This is the kind of beer I could drink outside on a hot summer day.

I’m digging the Wavemaker. It’s a very solid amber offering and enough of a kick in the pants to make me want to get my ass down to Big Storm’s tasting room over in Odessa, especially if I can get this stuff on draft.

Tried the Wavemaker Amber or any of Big Storm’s other brews? Leave a message in the comments section!

And remember… the food abides…


Road Trip – Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Photo Round-up

Yes I’m quite aware this is about six weeks overdue, but with the holidays starting right after the end of the festival, this has literally been my first free weekend. Fear not though; the experience is still fresh in my mind. That’s the kind of impact Disney leaves. The chefs and event planners do a phenomenal job and I can’t stress enough how much this event is worth the cost, pricey though it may be.

So here’s a photo round-up of some of my favorite dishes and drinks gathered over three vists:

Steamed Green Lipped Mussels

New ZealandSteamed Green Lip Mussels with Garlic Butter and Toasted Bread Crumbs – The photo doesn’t quite show the scale, but these mussels were huge and packed with flavor.

Turkey and Mushroom Bobotie

AfricaSouth African Bobotie (Egg Quiche) with Turkey and Mushrooms. An interesting combination of flavors and textures and not at all something I would expect food from Africa to taste like.

Grueyre and Mushroom Wheat Pasta

FranceGratin de Crozets de Savoie – A semolina wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyère cheese. Paired with a Kronenbourg Blanc 1664 beer. The wheatiness of both made for an excellent pairing.

Escargot

FranceTartlette aux Escargots – Escargot tart with garlic, spinach, bacon and parmesan cheese (removed the bacon because I don’t eat red meat). Because what’s France without some snails?

Tuna Poke

Hawai’iTuna Poke – Marinated tuna with seaweed salad and fried lotus root chips. – I’ve never had Tuna prepared like this before and the lotus chips were particularly unique.

Fisherman's Lobster and Seafood Pie 2

IrelandLobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie – Lobster, scallops and other seafood with melted Irish cheddar and browned mashed potatoes. Paired with a cool Guinness Stout of course.

Veggie Haggis

ScotlandVeggie Haggis with Neaps and Tatties – A spiced vegetable cake with rutabaga and mashed potatoes. Always wanted to try haggis, but the red meat prohibition stopped that from happening until now. Paired with an Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer.

Potato Cake with Smoked Salmon

ScotlandPotato Pancake – Also from Scotland, a potato pancake with Scottish smoked salmon and herb cream cheese. No recommended pairing but the Innis & Gunn worked quite well with this one too.

Tilapia Coconut Lime Sauce

BrazilMosequa de Pescada – Fresh tilapia with a coconut lime sauce, hearts of palm and steamed rice. The hearts of palm were a particularly nice flavor enhancement. Not pictured, but I paired this with a Xingu Black Beer.

Lobster Mac and Cheese

USA – Baked Lobster Alfredo – Another shot of the lobster mac & cheese. The Samuel Adams Octoberfest with it couldn’t have been a more perfect pairing.

Hoisin Duck

ChinaBeijing Roasted Duck – A roasted duck sandwich with red onions and lemongrass with a hoisin sauce on a steamed rice bun. This may very well have been my favorite dish of the entire event. The duck was tender, the hoisin sauce was savory and the steamed rice bun was like biting into a sweet cloud.

Bear in mind this is just a small sampling of some of my favorite dishes. I do not eat red meat but there were plenty of dishes for those who live on the bloody side of being a carnivore. Some of the more appetizing dishes included, Beef Empanadas from Patagonia, Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto and Potato Crunchies from Australia, Kielbasa and Potato Pierogies from Poland and an interesting Kimchi Dog with Spicy Mustard from South Korea.

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And of course this is the International Food and WINE festival so there was plenty to drink. It’s no secret that Disney prepared for the global wine shortage long before it had an impact, hence the appearance of beers in just about every country in addition to the wine. As the craft beer movement has exploded over the last few years this was a good move and much appreciated by a xythophile like me.

Hungarian Wine

PolandDonausonne Blaufrankisch – Being a beer aficionado I stuck mostly to brews but this Hungarian “bull’s blood” style wine was amazing.

German Flight

GermanyBeer Flight #2: Altenmunster Oktoberfest, and three beers from BraufactuM, the Roog, Darkon and Progusta IPA. There are two flight choices in the German Biergarten and I went with the darker of the two. The Roog was a smokey brown ale and was one of my favorites from the bunch.

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

Craft Beer BuildingDogfish Head Punkin’ Ale –  They have an entire building dedicated to craft beers and since the festival takes place during my favorite beer season, I had to do at least one pumpkin ale.

Blood Orange Margarita

MexicoBlood Orange Margarita – Okay so technically this is not a Food & Wine festival item as it can be purchased all year-long at the Tequila shop inside the temple in Mexico. But this tart blood orange margarita with whipped cream and a cinnamon rim was so much like a desert I had to get one.

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As you can see there’s a lot to taste at the Epcot International Food & Wine festival and there’s something for just about everyone. I recommend this to anyone who can swing the cost of it (Epcot Park Admission plus the cost of food and drink). It can get expensive but it’s worth it.

And speaking of worth it, you may also notice the plastic dish in most of the photos. They’re available for sale at a kiosk right as you’re walking into the World Showcase for about 4 bucks. I highly recommend picking one up as the thumb slot for stabilization and the drink holder that fits every beverage cup in the park makes it much easier to eat (and take photos if you’re THAT guy, like me 😉

Been to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival? Leave a message in the comments!

And remember… the food abides…