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…
It’s always easy to tell whether or not I’m busy during the holidays by the frequency or infrequency in which I post. If this year’s lack of even a Thanksgiving update was any indication, it’s obviously been a whirlwind of a month and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Unfortunately that meant the little free time I had was spent shopping, testing new recipes and otherwise preparing the abode for holiday revelers.
Whenever I remain in Florida for the holidays I always make a giant pot of Linguine with White Clam Sauce and host a Christmas Eve dinner for anyone close to me who can make it. This year quite a few more people than usual chose to attend so I had a packed house.
My Christmas Eve table, complete with English Crackers. Mismatched chairs and place settings meant there were more people than ever joining us this year and that couldn’t have made me happier.
Of course my beer fridge was well stocked with plenty of holiday brews. Some of my favorites this year were the Barley Mow Tinsel, Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice and Shiner’s Holiday Cheer.
Because I had such a large group this year, instead of just the Linguine with Clams, I went full Seven Fishes. One of the dishes that came out very well was a Zuppa di Pesce, an Italian fisherman’s soup with clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops that I made in the crock pot. I added a little more oomph to the recipe by including some squid ink fettuccine which really upped the brine flavor.
I don’t typically eat Baked Ziti as it’s too heavy but I tried my hand at cooking one of these for the non-fish eaters in attendance. There was only one small slice left at the end of the night so I have to assume it went over well.
And of course no Christmas Eve is complete without the Linguine and White Clam Sauce. This is a shot of the bottom of the pot where there are more clams than pasta left. What most people don’t realize is that’s the best part. Eaten cold right out of the container on Christmas morning, there is no better breakfast. The overnight refrigeration seems to have the same effect that it does on Chinese Lo Mein (also better when eaten cold the next morning).
Once the pasta was eaten, the desert cleared away, the guests departed and the kitchen cleaned I got to sit and relax for the first time in almost a month. Took it as the right moment to crack open a bottle of Blue Moon’s Gingerbread Spiced Ale that I’ve been sitting on since last year. Time did not diminish it’s flavors and it went down well while I watched A Christmas Story about 3 times in a row.
To keep myself young at heart, I have a rather juvenile morning ritual of cereal and cartoons on the weekend. Given that this particular weekend was Christmas however, I changed it up just a little bit by cracking a Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast Stout and tossed on the John Denver & the Muppets Christmas special from 1979. Yes, I realize a late night beer on Christmas Eve and an early morning beer on Christmas Day is a little overkill, but it’s the holidays and I worked hard this year so I cut myself some slack dammit.
Just like Ralphie’s Dad, I’m a Turkey junkie so Christmas Dinner at my very good friends’ house in Riverview was much appreciated. Turkey, mashed taters, stuffing, green beans and a beet salad. After Christmas Eve’s very heavy pasta and oil based fare I was ecstatic to have some veggies along with it. The aforementioned Shiner Holiday Cheer went perfectly with this meal.
While it was no where near as hot or humid as it was last year, temps in the mid 80’s during the day meant it was rather temperate so I took a break from my heavy winter brews in favor of a refreshing Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat and it scratched the itch until the sun went down and things cooled off.
Of course we have to talk about the holiday loot. I have some great gift-givers in my circle and among some really awesome items, there were a few badass booze-themed ones that deserve mention.
This is a 64 oz. Miir Growler. The proceeds of one of these growlers gives clean water to one person in a developing country for a year. Given the spirit of the holidays this was something I really appreciated.
I’ve had my eye on this one in my Instagram feed for quite some time now and just haven’t gotten a chance to make it down to Cigar City to pick up a bottle. Fortunately my friend had his finger on the pulse and showed up with a bomber of Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Russian Stout with Vanilla and Hazelnut. I think this badboy will be a New Year’s Eve brew.
This same friend is also the one who makes his own limoncello which is one of my favorite after dinner cordials. This stuff does not last long in my house and I will be clamoring for another bottle by the spring.
It’s obvious that the majority of my friends are fellow zythophiles, so when I go to parties, dinners and other gatherings, I’m always bringing new beers with me for people to try. That’s why this bottle caddy, complete with opener, was a perfect gift. Tried it out yesterday and the best part is that it doesn’t tip over in car the way a regular cardboard six-pack does.
My Christmas Tree is a mismatched conglomeration of vintage ornaments from my youth, geeky fare like the Walking Dead, Star Wars and Marvel superheroes and booze-themed decorations. So when my friends gave me this Guinness ornament of course I already had the perfect place for it.
And in traditional fashion, here’s a photo of my dog Kira on Christmas morning, holiday bandanna on, new toy in mouth and while it can’t be seen here, tail wagging about a thousand times a minute.
So in case no one has figured this out yet, I’m somewhat of a lunatic when it comes to Christmas. I suppose a little photographic evidence of that lunacy is in order. Consider it your Christmas gift from me.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying the holiday season as much as I have. We still have about a week before it officially comes to a close, so don’t forget to try a new dish or have a holiday beer with someone you haven’t caught up with yet.
Instead of my usual “the food abides” I will close with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Beer…
Caught a show down at Jannus Landing this past weekend and we decided to grab dinner at Gratzzi Italian Grille beforehand. Without a second thought, I went with the Zuppa di Pesce.
Zuppa di Pesce is one of my favorite Italian meals but for some reason it’s difficult to find down here (and that is surprising given how much of a seafood city the Tampa Bay area is) so I was thrilled to see it on the menu. It’s no secret that I’m overly critical of Italian cuisine given my upbringing, but Gratzzi has never disappointed me. Their Zuppa di Pesce is no exception and they knocked it out of the park. This dish was absolutely loaded with seafood and the sauce was nothing short of perfect. I can’t recommend it (or Gratzzi) enough.
A fan of Zuppa di Pesce? Tried Gratzzi? Leave a message in the comments!
And remember… the food abides…