The food abides…

Restaurants

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.

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…


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!

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…