I’ve been a fan of Cigar City for quite some time now. The Tampa-based brewery has long produced some really great styles of microbrews. In fact their Autumn seasonal, Good Gourd, is one of my favorite pumpkin ales. When I heard they were opening a Brewpub in the Carrollwood area I was more than a little curious. So last Saturday a buddy of mine and I decided to head up there and check it out.
I made a reservation and it was a good thing I did, because it was extremely crowded and I’m assuming that was a good sign. The majority of the traffic seemed to be going in and out of the bar, as is to be expected from an establishment such as this, but there wasn’t an empty table anywhere else in the place and plenty of patrons waiting for a seat.
The decor was interesting with dark wooden panels, Key West-style shutters and lots of brass. It felt like a throwback to a pre-revolution Cuban jazz club, which isn’t surprising given Cuba’s influence on our city’s local culture. However there’s also a trendy contemporary influence such as the wall borders made from vintage beer cans.
Our server wasted no time taking our drink orders and we obviously chose the beer. I was a little disappointed that they did not offer any beer flights. They have so many unique beers on draft and I would have preferred a sampling of all of them rather than just having to choose one or two for the evening. She knew her beer and was able to answer questions on the fly with a complete knowledge of their catalog.
I started with the Maduro Brown Ale which I’d had before. I wanted to see if there was a consistency in their brewing and there was. This is easily one of my favorites among their standard offerings. Rich and hearty, it’s a deep brown ale with a nutty, oatty complexity. There’s faint hints of cocoa and espresso which is good, because I don’t like being overpowered by those flavors unless I’m drinking a desert beer. It’s heavier for an ale, but in the right proportions. Definitely a solid beer.
After the Maduro, I tried the Hotter than Helles Lager. As a Lager it’s a lighter brew which admittedly I don’t do as well with, but not a bad beer at all. There’s a citrus and strawberry note which mellows out into a light grassy flavor after a while. I didn’t expect such hints of fruit which may have caused my palette a little bit of confusion and ultimately I didn’t enjoy it as much as the ale but it still got the job done.
After a while we moved onto the food. This is where Cigar City Brewpub is a rousing success while simultanouesly being somewhat of a disappointment. Like Cigar City’s beer, the food is a throwback to the Latin influences of our city. The chef obviously did his research and it’s apparent in the menu.
As an appetizer I ordered the Devil Crab Roll. This was a breaded crabmeat roll infused with lime and spices and really packed a flavorful punch. It was served with a very spicy habanero sauce which complimented the roll perfectly. My sole complaint with this roll was its size, as can be seen in the photo. Yes, I’m aware I’m eating crab and crab isn’t cheap but this is not what I would consider proportionate at all. If they had brought me two of these for $14 instead one for almost $10 they would have made money and I would have been satisfied with the dish. Sadly this was not the case.
For dinner I ordered a Grilled Yellowtail with Root Vegetables and Sautéed Collard Greens. The fish was flavorful, moist and served under a brownish sauce that I couldn’t identify; it tasted very similar to an Asian fish sauce but with a slightly more Latin flavor. The root vegetables (which were not named but tasted like turnips and celery root) were crispy and not greasy but could have used a pinch more salt. The collards were excellent but I’m a sucker for my leafy green veggies so I may be biased. The flavors went well together and I was a little more satisfied with the portion size to cost than I was with the Devil Crab.
Ultimately I was left with a feeling of not quite enough food for the price I paid. I know portion sizes are a pet peeve of mine but this is doubly so when you’re dealing with a drinking establishment. If I’m going to sample their beer I want a solid base in my stomach so I can better avoid a state of inebriation and I shouldn’t have to break my wallet doing so.
Final thoughts: give this place a shot if price is no object as the food is worth experiencing. If not, I’d recommend eating somewhere else and just partaking of the beers at Cigar City Brewpub. It’s their forte and when it comes to beer they know what they’re doing.
Tried the Cigar City Brewpub or any of their microbrews? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides…