Category: Beer

South Beach Food & Wine Festival Weekend

Cardozo Hotel

Cardozo Hotel

February is a special time in South Florida for Wanderlushing.  South Beach turns into Mecca for fans of good food, wine and drink as the culinary elite head into town for the annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival.  We consider ourselves lucky to live so close to this event and every year we make our escape to the slight south for this special weekend.

Dilido Beach Club View of Burger Bash

As a change of pace for this year’s event, we decided to head down early Friday to ease our way into the decadent weekend.  After checking into our hotel, the Cardozo, on Ocean Drive, we decided a drink was in order.   We headed to The Betsy Hotel about a block north on Ocean drive.  We grabbed two bar stools at the long wooden bar where we could watch the passers by through the windows facing Ocean Drive.   With glasses of wine in hand we toasted to the beginning of our weekend.  The vibe was chill and the service was good.  Not a bad way to start.

We headed back to our hotel to get ready to go to the Dilido Beach Club at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where we could watch the Burger Bash going on at the beach and get to sample the Ritz Carlton’s entry.  We ended up getting a table that was right at the edge with a perfect view of the event.  A bottle of Cabernet on the table, lamb and beef sliders on the way and beautiful weather put us in the semi-reality that is the SOBE Food & Wine Festival.  The night wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a dive bar.  We ended up heading to Lost Weekend with plans to go to to Mac’s Club Deuce next but after a pint of Brooklyn Monster it was all we could do to make it back to the hotel.  Note to self:  10% beers at the END of the evening not such a good idea.

 

Grand Tasting Village

Grand Tasting Village

SATURDAY

Come 11 a.m. sharp the doors opened wide for the Grand Tasting Village. It was a warm day, but not terribly uncomfortable. I say this every year we go to the SBW&FF, what possesses people to wear white clothing to an event where red wine will flow like slurred prose from a drunken poet? To each his own, I suppose. With two tents both a football field in length to walk through, it would take several blog entries to give you a fair and apt description of all the wine, food and spirits available over the course of seven hours. However, that said, we would like to pass along some important highlights about some of the subtle changes that have taken place since last year’s event.

 

  • The wine glasses: Gone is the elegant sophistication of the Reidel glass, replaced by a dubious sponsor in Ikea. On a positive note, the glass did come fully assembled. The complimentary first wine pour as we left the hospitality tent was welcome, as usual.
  • The “Swag Bag”: During past festivals bags would be brimming with volumes of coupons, recipes, food samples and even utensils like cutting boards, bowls and small kitchen gadgets you could keep for a few months and then use as cheap Christmas stocking stuffers. Our bags seemed considerably lighter this year, and it seemed like there were less free magazines available as well.
  • The Crowds: Maybe it’s just us, but it looked like there were more people at this year’s event. Maybe they oversold tickets to the Saturday Grand Tasting, or maybe we’re just losing our capacity to handle large crowds (especially tipsy ones), but it was more elbow-to-elbow during the 2012 event. No one was rude or cut in line, but several vendors ran out of their respective items before the tents closed at 5 p.m.
  • The Home Brew: Several intrepid students from Florida International University Cooking & Hospitality school brewed four craft beers as an academic assignment. Come to think of it, if I had a class like that in college I would have never graduated. The American Pale Ale and the IPA we tasted were incredibly bold, complex and refreshing, not overly hoppy or dry. We give them an A+ on their beer-making venture.


"Talking with My Mouth Full" Pairing Event

“Talking with My Mouth Full” Pairing Event

SUNDAY

It was nice to sleep in on Sunday after a full Saturday’s overindulgence. We took a walk over to Starbucks for coffee, orange juice and muffins. We checked out of the Cardozo at 11 a.m. and headed over to the Miami Beach Convention Center where we would be attending a Bank of America Lifestyle food and wine pairing seminar given by Top Chef judge, author of the book Talking With My Mouth Full and Special Projects Director at Food & Wine Magazine, Gail Simmons, along with wine personality Josh Wesson.

Josh Wesson

Josh Wesson

The seminar, slated to begin at 1 p.m., started a little later than expected because of timing issues with a previous event. This didn’t make a lot of people happy, including the Wanderlushes. Punctuality aside, Gail Simmons is the same in person as she is on television, friendly, knowledgeable, outgoing and definitely not afraid to say what’s on her mind. Her partner for this seminar, Josh Wesson, was equally entertaining and made funny remarks throughout the presentation. Each food item was not only delicious, it had an interesting story behind it. The Spanish artichoke and chickpea stew with Chorizo, served with pan con tomate, was influenced by her early college days in Spain; the Quinoa and brown rice bowl with sautéed vegetables and Tahini Dressing; the pork belly with pickled radishes; the Vietnamese shrimp and scallion Pancake with Asian slaw and fried shallots; and for dessert, her mom’s vanilla and plum (peaches substituting for the plum) tart. The wine selection was eclectic; yet paired well with the food. The Zardetto Spumante Rose, The 2010 Clean Slate Mosel Riesling, the 2010 Los Dos Grenache/Syrah, the 2011 Stella Moscato and a thick, yet not cloyingly oversweet, Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez NV Sherry. The portion sizes were adequate, as were the wine pours. Overall, the It was an hour-long food and wine journey we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Despite the negatives, and they are minor ones at that, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival really is a wine and food lover’s dream. Even if you pace yourself properly (and remember to hydrate frequently), there is no conceivable way you can sample everything available. It is just that big…but in a good way. We will be back next year, SBW&FF.

Jupiter Craft Brewer’s Beer Festival – January 28, 2012

Jupiter Beer Festival

Jupiter Beer Festival

Regardless of what you may think of craft beer, it’s hard not to like what’s going on across America, and the world, for that matter, with regard to the popularity of craft beer.

In our little sparging tank of the world (South Florida) we’re fortunate to experience beer-tasting events like the annual Jupiter Craft Brewer’s Festival, located in Jupiter, Florida. Taking place in the more favorable mild winter temps of January, over 40 craft brewers descend upon Roger Dean Stadium this time of year to ply their wares to the most ardent beer aficionados.

Blue Point Toxic Sludge

Blue Point Toxic Sludge

For the uninitiated, the Jupiter Fest is a large, well-organized and well-attended event that never disappoints. Besides the beer itself, there is always food on hand, along with live music and a “Silent Disco” (don’t ask). True, there were some noticeably absent craft brewers like Flying Dog and Bell’s at this year’s event, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have more than our fair share of beer choices available. With our event lanyards draped across our chests and plastic steins in hand we proceeded to sip, sample and savor a good amount of some of the finest craft ales, pilsners, stouts and wheat beers the country has to offer.

Crowd Waiting for Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Porter

Crowd Waiting for Funky Buddha Maple Bacon Porter

Several local and state breweries were there as well, including Cigar City, Dogfish Head, Funky Buddha, Stone, and Blue Point. Of these, The Funky Buddha, located in Boca Raton, Florida, by far had the most unique and best-tasting beers of the lot. The Funky Buddha No Crusts (PB & J in a bottle – brilliant!) and Maple Bacon Porter were hands down the most sought-after beers of the event (as judged by the throngs of tipsy festival goers acting like orphans seeking their next bowl of gruel), and went quickly as the kegs were tapped. The one drawback to these events is the limited availability of certain high-demand brews. Several brewers had message boards posted stating when their specialty brews would be put on the public tasting block. We missed out on the Cigar City White Oak Peach IPA early in the afternoon, but were well rewarded with the Funky Buddha offerings later in the day.

After three and a half hours of sampling fine brew, it was time to call it a day. With our stomachs full and a pleasant buzz in our heads, we all headed south to grab a late afternoon bite to eat at Sweetwater Bar & Grill, located in Boynton Beach.

Sweetwater

Sweetwater Bar & Grill

Sweetwater is a charming bar and eatery that boasts an excellent beer and drink menu while serving up some amazing food. Among the most notable items were the scallops on the half shell special topped with a topping similar to dynamite you would find on some sushi dishes; tangy, sweet chicken wings; mini burgers and fries; belgium battered octopus, and Korean beef soft tacos that were to die for.

We will definitely keep Sweetwater Bar & Grill in mind during our next adventure on the Wanderlushes highway.

Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon – Wanderlush Style

South Florida Lazy Sunday

South Florida Lazy Sunday

I am not a firm believer in preventing a hangover via the “hair of the dog.” To me, it simply delays the inevitable – so why put it off? A better cure is to absorb any traces of alcohol in the system by a strict adherence to being lazy, eating rich food and imbibing (responsibly) in the curative properties of more alcohol. This method is unscientific at best, and to my knowledge no data exists to support it. But it sure makes for a fun and filling Sunday.

Bloody Mary at Sea Watch

Sea Watch Bloody Mary

Which is where we Wanderlushes found ourselves this particular January Sunday. Every so often we like to throw caution to the wind, venture out and do a modified version of a pub crawl in our town. Ours started with breakfast, or in this case a brunch of lobster benedict and Bloody Marys at one of our favorite Fort Lauderdale beachside restaurants, Coconuts. The weather was ideal for sitting outside, but even the booths indoor offer a favorable glimpse of the beautiful Fort Lauderdale intracoastal.

Sea Watch

Sea Watch

After brunch we drove north along A1A, breezing through Fort Lauderdale into smaller seaside towns like Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Pompano Beach, Lighthouse Point, Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton. We decided to make a pit stop at one of Pompano Beach’s oldest and most frequented beachside eateries: Seawatch. Still full from our brunch at Coconuts, we ordered four Bloody Marys and sat outside on the upper deck patio/dining area that offers unbeatable vistas of the grassy dunes and beach. It’s days like this that we’re grateful to be living in South Florida and not digging out of three feet of snow in sub-zero temperatures somewhere else.

Sea Watch

Sea Watch

After sipping on our drinks and enjoying the gorgeous weather, we piled back into the Wanderlushmobile and headed north along A1A to Boca Raton, admiring many of the multi-million-dollar homes situated on either side of the street. It’s staggering to think how much people pay to live along the beach in South Florida, though it must be worth it because, as the late comedian George Carlin quipped, “You only have a**holes on three sides of you.”

Biergarten

Biergarten

We made it to Boca Raton and stopped by the Royal Palm Plaza to check out an arts and crafts fair taking place in the parking on the Federal Highway side of the shopping center. There were people there selling original art, clothing, homemade pickles and jewelry. We wandered around for a while checking out the wares and decided a little snack was in order, so we ended up ordering some noshes at The Biergarten Boca Raton. The décor at this Boca newcomer is decidedly hofbrauhaus, with waitresses clad in festive Oktoberfest dresses and a menu consisting of German and American bar bites and pub grub. We ordered beers, a plate of chicken wings, sausage bites with mustard dipping sauce and bier cheese fries, which were good, but were served sundae style and with a thin cheese sauce. Overall the Biergarten is a fun place to enjoy some lighter fare and beers, especially outside, weather permitting.

Biergarten Apps

Biergarten Apps

Most people would be sated at this point and call it a day. But not the Wanderlushes. With the sun still shining we were bound and determined to make the most of this lazy Sunday, so we headed over to Mizner Park to check out the Cheese Course.

Cheese Plates

Cheese Plates from The Cheese Course

This establishment does wine and cheese right. Not only do they boast a world-class array of some of the finest domestic and imported cheeses, they have an eclectic wine selection so you can purchase and enjoy both on the premises. A pleasant woman working behind the counter offered samples of three delicious cheeses, which we all tried.  After sampling the Cahill Porter, Cacio di Bosco (Truffle!) and Teahive cheeses we decided we had to share  couple of cheese plates to complete our evening.   We looked for a nice bottle of red to accompany our selections and settled on a bold and zesty Sebastiani California Zinfandel.  We then sat down at a long, rustic wooden dinner table (country style) and enjoyed our cheese, bread and wine feast. Whatever traces of hangover or blahs we had in the morning were long gone by the time we left Boca Raton early that evening. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, in our book.

Cheese Culture Lacking

Cheese Culture has an identity crisis.

The small, mom and pop cheese and wine shop located on Las Olas Boulevard, in Ft. Lauderdale, doesn’t know whether it wants to be a small wine and cheese purveyor, or simply a quaint cafe that serves wine and cheese.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s a cafe/store/place you really should avoid. In fact, the folks at Cheese Culture may want to brush up on their people skills.

On this particular evening we attended a sparkling wine tasting “event” that we had received a “special invitation” via email hosted by Cheese Culture requesting an RSVP.  We expected a cheese pairing (or at the least recommendations for pairings) for each wine.  How silly of us to expect that at a cheese shop.  There was neither.  The wines were laid out on display with no description or pairing recommendations, just bottles on a table.  This was really just a distributor sampling much like you find in any grocery store on any given weekend.   No RSVP required.  Okay, we got that and went in for the tasting fully expecting to want to order a cheese platter at some point.

The host and hostess of the event, representing the distributor, were in the very back of the small store.  They were pleasant people, offering decent pours of five sparkling wines just in time for the New Year’s holiday celebration. We enjoyed sipping on some delicious sparkling wines (a Prosecco most notably, that shined above all the others), though there were a couple forgettable ones. Still, the hosts were amicable and answered any questions that came their way.

As we wandered the store we stopped in front of the one (yes, only one!) cheese case to see what we wanted.  The Cheese Culture’s staff made no effort whatsoever to ask us if we needed any help, if we were interested in any cheese – nothing.  We were especially taken aback by a gentleman (who may or may not be one of the owners) that walked right in front of us as we eyed several cheeses in the glass case.  He was clearly able to hear our conversation inquiring about what we may like to try but chose to ignore us.  Mind you, this is the second time we’ve gone to Cheese Culture and both experiences have been similar.

We had great hopes for this shop as we started to watch the signs go up and were able to get a preview at the Las Olas Wine & Food Festival.  Our hopes were dashed not one, but two times since.  There are other great local cheese shops with large, but unique choices that want our business, so that’s where you will find us.

Cheese isn’t the only stinky thing in this establishment.

Riverside Market Wine Vs. Beer Event, October 15, 2011

Riverside MarketIf you’re a serious South Florida beer aficionado looking for the next big thing in hop heaven, chances are you’ve stumbled upon the Riverside Market, a small craft beer and food establishment in Fort Lauderdale’s plush, historic Sailboat Bend neighborhood. If you haven’t, then you are truly missing out this unique gem of a beer-drinking joint.

Cheese & Pretzels

Cheese & Homemade Pretzels

The Riverside Market is a throwback to a bygone era, looking more like a local country store or bait shop from the outside. Getting there is like entering a time portal into Fort Lauderdale’s past as you make your way through Sailboat Bend, surrounded by amazing vegetation, passing several small mom and pop stores and crossing over an old turn-style bridge. But once you find the Riverside Market, you will not be disappointed. Owner Julian boasts one of the most eclectic retail beer collections you’ll find anywhere in South Florida. Riverside has gained quite a reputation as a quiet, laid-back place to enjoy a fine craft beer amongst friends and “soon to be friends.” The beer selection is a microcosm of the microbrew world, with many familiar faces and an eclectic array of unfamiliar (yet inviting) ones all sitting quietly behind glass in the Riverside Market’s large refrigerators. What’s even better, if you see a beer you really like, grab it, uncap it (using one of several bottle openers conveniently hanging in several areas of the store) and enjoy. Patrons bring their empties to the front and pay on the way out.

Beer Selections On this particular Saturday night Riverside Market hosted a Beer vs. Wine food-pairing event, pitting  several craft brews and wines against each other for alcohol supremacy (honestly, though, I don’t believe there are any real losers in this battle—except maybe brain cells). Both were paired with several appetizers and small entrees prepared especially for the event.Fish Selection

The pours were quite generous throughout the night. The only real knock we had for the evening was the quality of the food. Which isn’t to say it was bad, really, only that is wasn’t very good (the cheese course looked like it came straight from the Publix Deli, sans plastic tray). A couple of the entrees seemed a bit pedestrian, not just in taste, but in presentation as well. Surprising considering the quality of the food we have previously had at Riverside Market.  Also, the beer choices seemed out of context with the wine and food.  If it was an attempt at offering a glimpse into seasonal craft beers, it only mildly passed the test.  We looked longingly into the coolers containing a myriad of exceptional craft beers wondering why better selections had not been made for the pairing.  It struck us that perhaps the host for the evening,  a local wine distributor,  was not truly a beer fan.

Homemade Ice Cream

Homemade Ice Cream

Pork with Mustard Sauce

Pork with Mustard Sauce

Despite some of our misgivings about the selections, we the Wanderlushes, had a great time at the Riverside Market hanging with fellow beer and wine lovers in one of the most relaxed settings you’ll find – provided you can find it. Let’s hope this hidden gem stays somewhat hidden and unspoiled for as long as possible.

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