The food abides…

Restaurants

Dunedin Brewery Crawl!!!

Nestled between Clearwater and Palm Harbor, this small waterfront community with a rich Scottish/Celtic heritage has become something of a mini-Mecca for breweries in the last couple of years. Like the St. Pete Brewery Corridor, zythophiles can easily spend an entire day walking around Downtown Dunedin sampling beers from a number of different brewers and that is exactly what we did. Not everyone in our crew made it to the end of the night, but those of us dedicated enough were treated to some unique new locations and some stellar new brews.

Here’s a quick round-up:

Woodwright Brewing Co. – This may have been my favorite of all the new locations. The building, a portion of which still actively operates as a woodworking company, is gorgeous and the smell of fresh cut wood is lingers in the air. There is a spacious courtyard with lots of long tables and a firepit and it’s surprisingly dog friendly. At one point I even noticed that there were more dogs than people.

Highlight – Among a host of great malty beers like Scotch and Irish Ales, a hearty porter and a solid Dunkel, I enjoyed their Woodwright Amber Ale the most. Slightly sweet with just a touch of citrus on the back end, this makes for an excellent example of what the brewers at Woodwright can do.

7venth Sun Brewery – The second oldest brewery in Dunedin, 7venth Sun is another local craft beer staple. Located in a strip center and with only a few tables outside and a few chairs inside, you don’t really come to 7venth Sun for the atmosphere, you come for the beer.

Highlight – A collaboration with Terrapin Brewing, Real Men Wear Skirts, a Scotch Ale with rye, was sweet and full-bodied with a nice rounded caramel backbone. That rye note is just subtle enough to accent the flavors.

Halftime Eats – Hog Island Fish Camp – Around halfway though our day we decided we needed to stop and refuel. Being right on the water, there was no shortage of seafood restaurants in the immediate area, but on our way to the next brewery on our list we spotted Hog Island Fish Camp and decided to give it a shot.

Highlight – Our adventurousness paid off in spades and I was treated to this amazing Oyster Po’ Boy Sandwich. I’ve never had fried oysters this good before and this sandwich was quite large. This was a good thing as it gave me a solid base to continue beer sampling at the next locations.

Cueni Brewing Co. – Speaking of the next location, across the street was Cueni Brewing Co. A relative newcomer to the Dunedin area, this place was small and their modest taps were still plying a lot of summer brews. What they did have was well crafted and I enjoyed what I got to sample.

Highlight – The Moove Over, I’m Milk Stout was a delightful experience for the senses. Cocoa on the nose, a creamy mouthfeel with just a slight fizziness to it and milk chocolate flavors on the tongue lent itself to what I found to be a surprising brew. Highly drinkable, it didn’t sit at the bottom of my stomach like a rock as most stouts tend to do.

Caledonia Brewing – Our next stop was honestly the one I was the most excited for. Another newcomer to the Dunedin scene, Caledonia quite literally wears its Scottish heritage on its sleeve. This place operates like it’s been in business for 20 years. With blue lighting, lots of pub games and a jukebox, it was packed with clientele and felt like a Saturday night hangout. What impressed me the most was the beer list. Most new breweries start small with 4-6 core beers before they begin expanding their repertoire; however, Caledonia boasted close to 30 different styles and that is an impressive feat for a place that’s only been open for 7 months.

Highlight – When you’re in a area known for it’s Scottish roots and in a brewery named after what the Romans used to call Scotland, how can you not try the Scotch Ale before anything else? The Rat Arsed Scotch Ale was a legitimate offering with high caramel notes and a pleasant sweetness. This was a mellow brew and it was appreciated after the night started to wind down.

Soggy Bottom Brewery – Another new kid on the block as well as another location that had the feel of a Saturday night destination. With low ceilings, kitschy chairs made from old kegs and license plates and a mustachioed bartender in a vest and bow-tie, Soggy Bottom is a bit trendier than the other locations. That was reflected in their beer as there were some very unique offerings.

Highlight – While I wanted to try some of their more unique brews like the mint chocolate stout or blackberry wheat, they were still pouring an Oktoberfest. Given that we’re at the tail end of the Fall beer season I had to go with the Marzen.  As this will likely be my last Oktoberfest this year, I’m glad I went out with this one because it was worth it.

Dunedin Brewery – And of course none of the day’s adventures would have been possible without Dunedin Brewery.  As the Bay Area’s oldest microbrewery, DunBrew laid the ground work for twenty years and anchored Tampa as a craft beer destination. With old favorites always on the menu and new experimentations constantly coming down the pipe, you can never go wrong with coming to the area solely to visit this place.

Highlights – Went with a flight this time around and I sampled the Fear of Change Bavarian Amber, the Oktoberfest Marzen, the Al Grundy Red Lager and the Batten Down Berliner Weisse. The Fear of Change was easily my favorite of the bunch. Aged on Guatemalan cocoa nibs and cypress wood, this beer tasted simultaneously like Germany, South America and Florida all rolled into one fantastic brew.

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If you’re a beer enthusiast visiting the Tampa Bay Area, you’re going to have to pick and choose where you sample as no one can possibly hit all 40+ local breweries in one go. But if you want to take on a large chunk at once, Dunedin’s density of craft beer-makers, all within walking distance of one another, is very attractive to that notion. Especially if you have an appreciation for Celtic heritage and darker, maltier brews.

Visited Dunedin and tried any of the local beers? Leave a message in the comments section!

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

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Post Hurricane Irma Eats @ Buttermilk Provisions

Post Irma, most retail locations were out of power, food or both. That’s why in addition to being incredibly grateful that we made it through the hurricane relatively unscathed (especially given the devastation it wrought on some of our neighbors to the south and east), I’m also very glad that one of my favorite local coffee and pastry shops, Buttermilk Provisions was up and running immediately following the storm.

The Spinach, Mushroom and Gruyere Quiche was a perfect dish of cheesy goodness. The Vegan Cinnamon and Sugar Donut was surprisingly moist. And I maintain that the Buddy Brew coffee kicks the crap out of anything you can get anywhere else.

The proprietor greeted us with a warm smile and a genuine concern for how we fared during the storm. Between that, and the food, it was a much needed bit of normal after what had been a crazy week leading up to Irma’s Florida landfall.

THIS is why I support local business as often as I can. You cannot get this kind of comfort at a Starbucks.

Hope everyone was as lucky as we were during the storm and if you weren’t that you can get your lives back to normal as soon as possible…

And remember Florida… the food abides… and so do we….


Review – Cask Social Kitchen

I had very fond memories in the late 90’s of Hospitality Night every Sunday at the old Mangroves on Howard Avenue. Perhaps it was the desire to not tarnish those memories that caused me to avoid any other establishment that was built on that location but I unconsciously steered clear of that area for far longer than I should have. It wasn’t until recently, when a good friend’s birthday dinner was planned there, that I ventured into that spot upon which now resides, Cask Social Kitchen.

While the soul of the old Mangroves is gone, it’s been replaced with a similar contemporary feeling accented with lots of barrels and exposed light bulbs. It has a relatively small parking lot for such a big building so the complementary valet was greatly appreciated especially in an area like SoHo where parking is usually brutal.

As if the name wasn’t any indication, Cask features wine and lots of signature whiskey-based (among other) cocktails, but I was impressed with the amount of local and craft beer they offered. Ordered the Spacegrass IPA from Angry Chair Brewing right down the road in Seminole Heights and it was a perfect starting brew.

They had a wide range of apps, some of which were rather unique. I went with the Buffalo Cauliflower and this dish was spectacular. I honestly couldn’t even tell I was eating cauliflower because it was breaded so well and had just the right amount of heat. I’m not quite sure why it was served with ranch dressing instead of bleu cheese and that’s the only thing I would change about the dish.

Some of my friends ordered the BBQ Short Rib Flatbread with Caramelized Onions, Fresh Mozzarella, Goat Cheese and Roasted Portabello Mushrooms. They could not stop raving about this and just looking at it made me sorry I don’t eat red meat

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By now you’ve probably noticed the “Social Kitchen” moniker tagged onto their name. Cask has a their own take on “family style” serving that they call “social eating.” A good number of the menu items have two prices. One price is for a single serving and another is for a group serving intended to share.

You’ve no doubt read my thoughts on other places that try this concept and my disappointment when it doesn’t quite work out. To this day, I don’t understand how places like the Rooster and the Till can “encourage sharing” with such small portions.

But this is where Cask knocks it out of the park. A single serving is a full portion and a sharing portion is a serving and a half. This is the perfect amount of food and Cask nailed it; this spot-on structure truly encourages sharing. It also helped that the food was prepared extremely well and it had one of those across-the-board menus that has something for everyone, but we all took advantage of this and the passing around of plates felt like a bona-fide communal experience.

I went with the Rock Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Fire Roasted Plum Tomatoes and Sweet Basil. There was a ton of seafood jammed into this dish and the sauce was perfect.

One of my friends ordered the Citrus Scallops with Sauteed Spinach, Grilled Sweet Potato, Caramelized Grapefruit and a Citrus Brown Butter. The scallops were huge, the grapefruit was an interesting tropical take and the brown butter sauce was amazing.

Another member of our group ordered the Chicken & Waffles with Vanilla Cream, Orange Spiked Maple Syrup and Honey Butter. Right up there with Shrimp & Grits, Chicken & Waffles is another one of my favorite southern dishes and Cask did an amazing job with it. The orange maple syrup was a nice touch and added a little bit of Florida flair.

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While they did have an extensive desert menu, since it was a birthday, we brought a cake and Cask had no problems with this.

The service was impeccable. Even though there were sixteen of us and we had only one server, he never flinched. He explained the serving/pricing structure in a clear way and didn’t hesitate when I asked him what current beer on tap he would recommend. Food came out on time and not a single order was messed up even though he didn’t write anything down.

I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about this establishment and I’d recommend Cask Social Kitchen to anyone especially if you’re in a larger group. It truly is a social experience, the way communal eating was meant to be.

 

Oh, and if you’re there, make sure you post a pic of what you’re noshing on. Vincent Jackson just might regram your photo. Thanks for exposure #83!!!

Tried Cask Social Kitchen? Leave a message in the comments section!

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


Capping off an evening with a blind goat…

Any evening that ends with brews at the Blind Goat after midnight can be considered a good one…


Boating Brews and Dockside Eats…

Ma Nature managed to give us one last blast of the dry season (I know I said that last time but the weather continues to surprise) with a cold front that stretched all the way down to us in the Bay Area which very rare in May. Being smart enough not to waste it, our crew headed for the high seas to enjoy some boating and kick-ass weather. Of course the day included some great food and craft beers.

I brought along two six packs for the day. The first was Uinta Brewing’s Baba Black Lager. This brew had the flavor notes of a porter but it was no where near as thick. This boasted some malty notes, some toasted barley and just a hit of hoppiness. For a dark beer this was remarkably smooth and wound up being a perfect brew to enjoy out on the water.

The second was 21st Amendment’s Brew Free! Or Die Blood Orange IPA. I absolutely loved this one. Of all the Blood Orange IPAs I’ve tried recently this was the sweetest. It honestly tasted like a hoppy, boozy Sunkist orange soda and this is a good thing.

The cooler air brought a lot of wind so we stuck to the inter-coastal waterway due to all the chop on the water. This afforded us the chance to hit the Seabreaze Island Grill and Raw Bar in Reddington Shores, probably one of the best dockside seafood eateries I’ve been to in quite a while.

Started with a round of drinks and discovered a much appreciated policy of a free beer if you arrive by boat.

Ordered a plate of Caribbean Island Wings for the table. They were cooked in a flavorful but not overpowering jerk seasoning and served with two dipping sauces.

I’m a sucker for good shellfish so I went with the Island Style Mussels. This was hands-down the largest bowl of mussels I’ve ever eaten and the red sauce it was served in was a perfect complement.

I actually had doubts that I could finish the whole thing but with a little help from my friends I’m able to share this photo of post mussel decimation…

We spent the rest of the day out on the water and then decided to hit the Candy Kitchen in Madeira Beach for some ice cream.

Not much of a sweet tooth but Ice Cream and Peanut Butter would definitely be considered my kryptonites so this Vanilla Peanut Butter Swirl was the one that got me.

Being a vintage candy shop, the Candy Kitchen also boasts what is probably the most distracting bathroom you’re ever likely to see.

 

I always feel a little sad when the dry season ends because I know once the humidity kicks in I will be barricading myself indoors where it’s air-conditioned for the next four months (or longer if the weather the last few years has been any indication). With good food, good beer, amazing weather and some great friends, this weekend was a great way to send the season off in a positive way.

Have some favorite boating brews or dockside eats? Leave a message in the comments section!

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


Fried Avocado @ Miguel’s Mexican Seafood and Grill

Had a late night at the office this week and decided to catch dinner with some co-workers. Ordered about four of these bad boys for the table…

fried-avocado

Pitted avocado stuffed with seafood and cheese then coated in bread crumbs and lightly fried. It’s a remarkably simple concept and I’m surprised that with everyone deep-frying everything from Oreos to lasagna to ice-cream no one has come up with it before now. Yes it was as good as it sounds…


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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…