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…
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…
Historically, the location at 1502 SoHo has never really been a place I paid much attention to, largely because it’s located at the very end of Howard Ave. When you’re rolling the dice you literally have 30 other restaurants or bars to pass before you get to the end of the strip and something else always caught my attention before I got there. When I first moved to Tampa it was Le Bordeaux. After that it became St. Bart’s Island House. Most recently it was the Samba Room. Honestly I never really had the desire to try any of them. However, the new concept, CopperFish Seafood Grille and Raw Bar aims to change that. If my dining experience last night was any indication, they’re going to do an incredible job.
After valet parking (VERY much appreciated in a place like SoHo which can get really crowded), the first thing I noticed was the feel of the place. It has a slightly upscale vibe but without that pretentiousness that restaurants like this can sometimes fall victim to. The decor is a really interesting blend of contemporary and New England coastal. The heavy beechwood tables, wrought iron fixtures, copper art and bright white hurricane shutters almost made me feel like I was dining on the water in Rhode Island, Connecticut or Massachusetts. There’s an outdoor bar with couches, white curtains and a cool-looking fountain and the patrons there seemed to really be enjoying themselves.
Our group was seated immediately at our reservation time and our server was well versed in the menu, specifically noting the items on the largest raw shellfish selection I’ve seen anywhere in Florida.
Our group started with the Grilled Gulf Oysters as an appetizer and they were absolutely amazing. They had at least eight different types of seasonal oysters available from all different regions and we decided to go with the Gulf variety. Grilled as opposed to steamed, which is something I’ve never tried before, these were cooked with a little garlic, butter and parsley, a bit of parmesan and romano cheese and a light dusting of seafood seasoning. Easily some of the best oysters I’ve ever had and you could tell how fresh they were in the first bite.
Following the apps, I had to decide on my entrée, and I was drawn to one item on the menu before anything else… the Hot Lobster Roll. A lobster roll is a New England thing and it’s incredibly hard to find a place down here that serves one. If they do, it’s usually a mayonnaise-laden cold lobster roll (which I maintain is not a real lobster roll; it’s a lobster salad sandwich). CopperFish does serve a cold version of the roll if that’s your preference.
This was a phenomenal Lobster Roll. The lobster meat was incredibly fresh, the bun was toasted perfectly and the sandwich was lightly buttered rather than slathered in it as lobster rolls can sometimes be. There was also the welcome addition of a tiny bit of what I can only describe as a creamy seafood au jus and it kicked the whole dish up a notch. If you’re from New England like me and you really miss a good lobster roll, definitely consider this.
The roll came with their signature Old Bay Kettle Chips, but I wanted to try a side item that looked really good, so I also grabbed an order of the sea salt and vinegar potato planks. These were crispy and pulled in the flavor notes without overpowering you with salt or being so drenched in vinegar that they’re soggy. They also served the planks in an individual fry-basket on top of a heavy cutting board which I thought was an ingenious presentation choice on the part of the chef.
It’s worth noting that their alcohol selection, while not overly extensive, included quite a few uncommon wines and unique microbrews. There were a handful of 22 oz “bomber” beers and I tried the Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale which is a microbrew I’ve never had before. A deep red-brown ale, it had a great flavor and complimented the seafood perfectly.
Each of my friends enjoyed their meals as much as I did and we left more than satisfied and intending to return. The manager even stopped us on the way out to ask how we enjoyed our experience which just proved to me how serious they are about making sure their patrons are pleased.
If you like seafood as much as I do and you’ve driven by 1502 without ever giving the eatery there a second glance, do yourself a favor and try CopperFish. I can’t imagine anyone having anything less than a stellar dining experience.
Tried CopperFish? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides…