So I took a trip up to Connecticut with my girlfriend this month. Not only did I get to introduce her to my family but I also was afforded the chance to introduce her to some of the rather impressive food and beer that the state I grew up in currently has to offer.
The first morning after we arrived, my parents took a special trip to Gaetano’s Deli and brought back some stuffed breads. Here we have both their pepperoni and their eggplant. Biting into these is like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother.
Dinner that night with my family was at Ralph-n-Rich’s and I couldn’t resist getting the Zuppa di Pesce; it’s a rarity in Tampa, so if I see it on a menu I will almost always order it. I finished the entire plate.
Day two was one I’d been looking forward to for quite a while. Until I was three years old we grew up five minutes away from Zuppardi’s Apizza and eating their pies for the first time was a seminal experience. I wanted my girlfriend to be able to experience that for herself. And she did.
We started with the Plain Cheese…
Then moved onto the “Special” – Meatball and Onion…
And then a White Tomato…
And finally we finished it all off with my absolute favorite, the White Clam. Sweet fancy Moses, do I miss Zuppardi’s…
Day three was something special. We’ve had a long standing debate on what constitutes a “real” Lobster Roll. I maintained that if it’s hot lobster on a roll with just butter, it’s a Lobster Roll. If it’s cold with mayonnaise and lots of crunchy vegetables, that’s a Lobster Salad Sandwich. As my girlfriend had never experienced the former, we headed to Lenny & Joe’s so she could try one.
Hot lobster, on a roll, with just butter. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a “real” Lobster Roll.
And of course, I couldn’t have stopped at Lenny & Joe’s without also getting an order of another New England seafood staple, the Fried Clam Strips.
That evening we met some very old friends for a few drinks and a couple of apps at the Hub and Spoke. First up was the Burrata, which, interestingly enough, I had never tried before.
Second was the Bang-Bang Shrimp. This is not like the stuff you can get at a Bonefish Grill. This was pure fire. In a good way.
On our final day of the trip, my family headed to La Zingara in Bethel, which I maintain is one of the best Italian restaurants in the entire state of Connecticut. Their Lobster Risotto has to be the best version of Risotto I’ve ever tasted.
And of course Connecticut produces some dynamite craft beer. After years of never being up there during the fall, I was ecstatic that I had the opportunity to finally try Two Roads’ fall offerings. I really enjoyed their Ok2berfest Marzen and even though it was a little hoppier than I was expecting, I still found it topping my all-time lists.
My girlfriend opted for the Hanging Hills Brewing Company Dechtoberfest Lager which she really enjoyed.
Washed down that pizza at Zuppardi’s with a Festbier from Counterweight Brewing. This went really well with the pies, especially the White Clam.
While we were at Lenny & Joe’s we ordered the Thimble Island American Ale. This traditional Amber Ale was so off-the-charts amazing that we endevoured to do two things:
First, we made a point of finding Thimble Island’s Brewery which was only a short drive away from the restaurant so we could go in and try a flight. Every beer on the palate was incredible.
Second, we made a point of coming home with at least a sixer of the American Ale so we could enjoy it during the rest of our trip. The sweetness and the malt are just so perfectly balanced, I’m not joking when I say it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
A quick lunch at Southport Brewing Company (which interestingly enough doesn’t brew its own beer) afforded me the change to try to Back East Brewery’s Octoberfest. This was a solid Marzen, and I dug the sweeter notes.
Next on our list was Tribus Beer Company. The offerings from this newer brewery were still summerish in nature but my girlfriend still enjoyed the smoked porter while I was impressed with the cherry sour.
For my final brew, I circled back to Two Roads with their Roadsmary’s Baby Pumpkin Ale. This one also tops my list of as one of the better pumpkin ales I’ve tried. Two Roads is the real deal.
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Ultimately it was a great trip and all the food and beer offerings made a simple trip to see my family really feel like a vacation. My girlfriend is already looking forward to the next trip and consequently I’ve started planning some more Connecticut food and beer-ventures in my head.
Been to any of the restaurants or tried any of the beers listed above? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… beer is freedom… and the food abides…
Enjoying some of Big Storm’s Swinging Stone Scotch Ale and Wavemaker Amber Ale in the comfort of my own home this weekend. When your special lady friend is all kinds of awesome and shows up at your door with growlers from one of your favorite breweries, you bust out the good Chipotle Gouda from the specialty market.
I really dig when a brewery experiments and I’ll never pass up the chance to try a unique beer. When I heard that Coppertail was brewing a stout with 300 lbs. of Stone Crab claws tossed into the wort, I made a point of stopping in and picking up a couple bottles. So for today’s New Beer Friday, I present Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout.
Captain Jack’s pours the richest and darkest of browns with about a finger of foamy beige head (which unfortunately dissipated before I could get a good photo) and significant lacing on the glass. On the nose is a bit of mocha, a bit more roasted grains and just a hint of brine.
On the first pull are solid chocolate notes with some more roasted grains. Those carry through to combine with just a little bit of toasted biscuit before you get to the crab flavors on the back end. Mouthfeel is creamy and really coats your tongue. This tastes like a beer you’d want to enjoy on a waterfront and I’m surprised to be saying that about a stout.
I love this brew and probably could have downed the whole 750ml bottle in one go if I wasn’t being careful. Some people may be put off by the concept of beer and shellfish, but if you’re anything like me (i.e, you wholeheartedly believe oysters and a good lager are the food of the gods), you’ll have no complaints.
Even if you do, as long as you’re not allergic to shellfish, give this one a try anyway. It’s a solid stout that doesn’t sit at the bottom of your stomach like a rock, the crab is not overpowering in the least and the flavors mix in a really interesting way.
Tried Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout? Leave a message in the comments section below!
And remember… beer is freedom… and the food abides…
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 an 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…
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.
Brazil – Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Bread paired with a Xingu Black Beer.
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.
Mexico – Chilaquiles de Pollo – Layered Corn Tortilla and Chicken w/Queso Fresco, Sour Cream and Fresh Cilantro
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).
Chew Lab Pavilion – Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Fresh Corn and Pepper Jam
Canada – Beer Cheese Soup paired with a Moosehead Lager
Japan – Teriyaki Gyoza Bun – Steamed Rice Bun filled with Chicken, Vegetables and a Sweet Teriyaki sauce.
Sustainable Food Pavilion – Ricotta and Zucchini Ravioli with Rustic Tomato Sauce (presented on sustainable VerTerra Dinnerware!)
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 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.
Ireland – Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie paired with a Kilkenny Cream Ale
France – Croissant aux Escargots – Escargot Croissant w/ Garlic and Parsley paired with a Kronenbourg Blanc 1664 Ale
Hawaii – Tuna Poke w/ Seaweed Salad and Nori Strings paired with a Kona Big Wave Golden Ale.
China – Beijing Roasted Duck on a Steamed Rice Bun with Onions, Lemongrass and Hoisin Sauce paired with a Kung Fu Punch. Still my hands-down favorite dish three years in the running!
Wine 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
Belgium – Belgian Beer Flight – Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde, Palm Speciale Beige Amber Ale and a Stella Artois Cidre
Craft Brew Pavilion – Florida Harvest Craft Beer Flight – Brew Hub’s Keybilly Island Ale, Two Henry’s Blueberry Vanilla American Wheat, Orlando Brewing’s Grateful Pumpkin and a Swamp Head’s Wild Night Honey Cream Ale.
Italy – A very blurry Limoncello in Italy . One of my favorite after-dinner cordials.
Germany – Because even though it’s available all year-round, no trip to Epcot is complete without a full-sized Altenmunster Oktoberfest enjoyed by the lagoon at sunset.
France – Crème Brulee Vanille Chocolat – Vanilla and Chocolate Crème Brulee with caramelized sugar.
Belgium – Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream
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.
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.
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.
Rear view of the pint glass with all participating countries.
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 & 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.
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…
Ah… it’s that time of year again. My favorite beer season is upon us! Looking forward to trying some new fall brews this year but still happy to see these show up at the local grocery store.