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…
For the last six weeks anyone who follows my Facebook or Instagram might have worried that I’ve become an alcoholic as I’ve checked into and posted photos from a rather large number of local breweries. There was a reason for my madness however and my labors have born fruit as I’ve now managed to sample a good majority of the local area Oktoberfest lagers.
We are extremely lucky that we live in one of the most brewery-dense locations in the country and this gave me the opportunity to try a slew of different offerings. The Marzen is one of my favorite styles of beer and I was surprised at how many good ones were brewed this year.
Prepare yourselves. This is going to be a long one…
3 Daughters Brewing – 3 Daughter’s “Mission to Marzen” Oktoberfest pours a solid amber color with 1 finger of white head. Nice and malty with a good caramel finish, the sweetness of this beer is significant without being overpowering.
Pinellas Ale Works – PAW’s “Pawtoberfest” Marzen pours a deep brown with half a finger of reddish head. This brew boasts heavily toasted malt notes and comes across slightly stronger than an Oktoberfest typically does, but it’s a solid offering nonetheless.
Cycle Brewing – Cycle’s “Das Rad” Oktoberfest Marzen pours a deep red with 1 finger of white head. Bready with heavy caramel notes, this one had a slightly bitter finish, but it worked well overall.
Barley Mow Brewing Company – Barley Mow’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a light reddish-brown with half a finger of off-white head. Hoppier than I was expecting with subtle notes of apricot mixed in with the caramel and spice. It’s worth noting that this was the only Oktober I didn’t try in the actual brewery. The Lure in St. Pete had this on draft so I took the opportunity to sample and it’s a good thing I did because I might have otherwise missed the opportunity.
Cage Brewing – Cage’s “Uncle Fester” is one of only a few local breweries that opted to go for a Festbier instead of a Marzen. As such it pours a lighter golden color with almost no head. Because of the style, this was hoppier, more floral and had a significant bite at the end. Regardless of the fact that I prefer Marzens this was unique and I found it quite pleasing. It probably helped that it was a hot day and Cage is an open-air brewery & tasting room.
Angry Chair Brewing – I’ve found that Angry Chair simultaneously produces some of the most creatively experimental as well as some of the most well-balanced beers around. Their Oktoberfest Marzen is the latter. Pouring a deep amber with almost no head and slightly more carbonation than is typical, this is a nice roasty, malty lager. Angry Chair’s Oktoberfest is one of the more drinkable Marzens around and it went down FAST.
Cigar City Brewing – One of the only other breweries to veer away from the the Marzen route, Cigar City’s Oktoberfest Festbier pours slightly darker than Cage’s Uncle Fester (though the filter on my photo app is making it appear darker than it really is; color is actually closer to what you see at the bottom) with a half-finger of bright white head. This is a drier beer with a more hoppy, floral note. This brew is a zythophilian statement on the end of summer transitioning into the fall. And yes I’m going to give myself credit for the legitimate use of the word “zythophilian.”
Big Storm Brewing Co. – Big Storm’s Oktoberfest Marzen was easily my favorite of all the local offerings. Pouring a deep amber with two full fingers of bubbly white head, this brew had it all; sweetness, caramel, slightly toasted malt and an incredibly smooth finish. For sole drinkablity, this one tops the list.
Tampa Bay Brewing Company – TBBC’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a very clear reddish-gold with a finger of bubbly white head. There are strong caramel and biscuit flavors with just a slight hoppiness on the back end. Another rather drinkable Marzen and worth trying.
Coppertail Brewing Co. – Coppertail’s Oktoberfest Marzen is what kicked off this entire endeavor. They had an interesting take on the traditional Oktoberfest and it made me want to see how other breweries interpreted the style. Pouring a deep red with almost two full fingers of bright white head, this lager is brewed with more hops than I’ve ever experienced in a Marzen before. It retains those characteristic caramel and malt notes but has a nice flowery bouquet with quite a little bite at the end. I know that doesn’t sound like it would mix well but Coppertail pulls it off.
Rapp Brewing Company– Rapp Brewing’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a lighter orange color with about half a finger of white head. With lots of caramel and malt notes this brew was was easily the sweetest of all the local offerings.
Pair o’ Dice Brewing Company – Pair o’ Dice’s Oktoberfest Marzen pours a light amber with two fingers of creamy white head. Another well-balanced and drinkable lager, the notes of caramel, malt and toasted biscuit effectively complement each other culminating in a well-rounded finish.
Now not all the local establishments opted to brew an Oktoberfest per se, but some did brew some really notable Dunkels. If you know your history, you know that the Dunkel was the Oktoberfest progenitor of the current Marzen and Festbier styles we currently know and love so I’ve decided to include a few of the more notable ones.
81Bay BrewCo. – 81Bay has a pretty large menu for a newer kid on the block. Their “Not on Porpoise” Dunkel pours a rich brown with about a finger of cloudy white head. Full of roasted malts there are deep chocolate notes that round out on the back end with almost no bitterness.
St. Pete Brewing Co. – SPBC’s Munich Dunkel pours a deep amber-brown with a tiny brownish colored head. This Dunkel is rather smooth possessing balanced malt and caramel flavors with just an ever-so-slight cocoa finish.
Rapp Brewing Company – Yes, Rapp makes the list twice. I’ve already sung the praises of Rapp’s Munich Dunkel in a previous post so there is very little more I can say about this one other than once again emphasizing how insanely tasty this beer is.
And there you have it folks, Tampa Bay’s Best of the ‘Fest. These brews have been listed in no particular order and while I have no one favorite overall I will go out on a limb and give some props in a few categories: Angry Chair had the most balanced Marzen, Coppertail the most unique take on one, Cage Brewing offered the best Festbier and Big Storm rounds out the list for being the most drinkable of the bunch.
Unfortunately there were a couple of that I did not get to try, most notably Dunedin Brewery’s 2016 Marzen. I’m hoping that by the time I make it up there, they will still have some left but if not there is always next year. I’m also hopeful that some of the newer breweries whose more recent openings made it difficult to pursue a traditional Oktoberfest will have the time to do so in 2017. I look forward to some new ones while seeing how these old favorites are further refined.
Have a favorite Tampa Bay Oktoberfest Lager? Leave a message in the comments!
And remember… the food abides…
So my two best friends came to Tampa for a visit and after picking them up from the airport we decided to hit up Mr. Dunderbak’s for a little Oktoberfest fare. As far as authentic German food goes, they always knock it out of the park.
Started out with some apps and tried the Pomme Frittes, German Pretzel and Swabisch Spatzle with some Swamp Head Octoberfest Ale. And plenty of German Mustards for dipping.
Potato Stuffed Pierogies, German Cucumber and Onion Salad and what’s left of my Lichen Oktoberfest Ale. Harder to see in this photo but my friends got the Paprika Gulasch and the Jagerschnitzel respectively.
I’m never disappointed with Dunderbak’s but my friends enjoyed it immensely. They were thoroughly impressed not only with the food and the atmosphere, but also with our server who was incredibly well versed in his beer knowledge (right down to explaining the Purity Laws that have to be adhered to for certain brews). Doesn’t get more authentic than that…
Tried Dunderbak’s? Leave a message in the comments section!
And remember… the food abides…