BBQ Blvd: Part 2

Due to their close proximity, I probably could have sampled both Champions BBQ & Luckie B’s Bar-B-Que in the same day. Instead of being a complete food lush, I decided to separate my visits to the neighboring BBQ establishments. A few weeks after my visit to Champions BBQ, I pulled into a parking spot at Luckie B’s with a healthy appetite created by a long day working in the summer heat. Needless to say my desire for delicious food and a cold beverage was extremely high and my patience for waiting was low. Fortunately for me there were only a few patrons at Luckie B’s when I came in for my mid-afternoon visit. I thought about grabbing one of the numerous open tables, but deicided to head to the bar with the hope of speedy service. I was quickly greeted by the friendly bartender who informed me of Happy Hour specials which included half off appetizers, $3 margaritas, $1 off all draft beer, and more. My eyes immediately went to the beer taps to see if Luckie B’s had a beer that would work with my food selection. Normally I mull over my menu options before I choose a beer, but I already had a vague idea of what food I was going to order. Since I ordered a smoked brisket sandwich during my visit to Champions BBQ, I knew I wanted to order something similar in order to compare the two establishments. With my food order already placed in my mind, I began to debate my drink choice. While I scanned the draft list, my bartender informed me that they were trying to get rid of a keg of Boddington’s to make way for a new beer, so pints were only a $1. As tempting as this offer was (I love nitro beers) I decided to go with a beer from one of my favorite local breweries. I ordered a pint of Cigar City’s Hotter than Helles Lager, then grabbed a menu to find something similar to the smoked brisket sandwich.

While I searched for the sandwich section in my menu I couldn’t help but notice the range of menu items Luckie B’s offered. The menu contained appetizers, salads, soups, burgers, seafood, and prime rib believe it or not. I think it is obvious that both BBQ locations are trying to offer unique BBQ menu items in order to differenticate themselves from one another. Regardless of the numerous menu choices, I found my food selection: the sliced brisket sandwich. My sandwich order came with one side item so I initially chose the cheezy potatoes, but my helpful bartender told me she wasn’t too crazy about them. She suggested I go with the southern potato salad, which I quickly agreed with since I had a feeling she knew more about the food at Luckie B’s than I did. Pleased with my food order, I leaned back in my chair and began to sip my Hotter than Helles Lager. The first thing I noticed was the sweetness of the beer. It possessed an initial taste of honey followed by the malty flavor of a lager. Craft beer lager’s are so much different than mass produced lagers like Pabst Blue Ribbon or Budweiser. I hate to sound like a beer snob, but the difference is obvious. The Hotter than Helles Lager did not have the fizzyness that I feel mass produced lagers possess. The lack of fizzyness gave the taste of the beer a chance to shine through and linger, which allowed me to savor the beer instead of drink it with reckless abandonment. This was important because I wanted to make sure that I had some beer left to pair with my sliced brisket sandwich.

Hotter than Helles Lager, sliced brisket sandwich & potato salad

It didn’t take long for my bartender to return with my sandwich. Once she set the sandwich down I could tell it was going to be very different from the one I ordered at Champions. The sandwich was served on a hoagie roll and topped with melted cheddar cheese and sauteed onions. Under these toppings set two thick slices of smoked brisket. I pulled off a piece of the brisket to sample it without any of the toppings and was immediately impressed by its juicyness. The smokey flavor was uniform throughout the meat and the outside bark contained the showcase of spices used in the dry rub. The melted cheese and sauteed onions reminded me of a cheesesteack, but the taste made me realize it was way more appetizing than any cheesesteak I have ever had. It was so tasty that I probably would have been satisfied to eat it without any sauces, but I wanted to sample  the sauces  Luckie B’s had to offer. Luckie B’s, like Champions, had several sauces to choose from. I sampled them all and was particularly fond of the mustard based BBQ sauce. The tangyness of the mustard base really went well with the sweetness of the brisket. I was halfway thru my sandwich before I realized that I hadn’t even touched the bartender recommended potato salad. I could tell visually that they used red potatoes and  more of a mayo based for the potato salad. But when I tasted it I noticed it was not heavy like store bought potato salads can be. They definitiely used mayo, but it seemed like they added something else to make it lighter, possibly sour cream. In addition to the potato salad’s light creaminess, it also had diced onions, eggs, and celery. When the bartender came over and asked me if I was enjoying my meal and told her “Yes, and you were right about the potato salad.” Unfortunately, there was one thing wrong with my meal, and it was caused by yours truly.

I quickly realized that my beer selection did not work with my food selection. Each of them were super tasty separately, but when combined they did not complement each other like I would have like. I probably would have been better off going with a darker or heavier beer like a brown ale or an IPA. Pairing a lighter beer like a lager with smoked red meat was probably a faux pas on my part, but hey, that’s what this blog is about. I’ve already stated that I am in no way a beer or food expert, so even though this is the first time in TF+BC that I have made a less then desirable food & beer pairing, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Going to eateries like Luckie B’s and discovering what goes with what is a big part of the reason why I started TF+BC. Regardless of my food & beer pairing at Luckie B’s, my overall experience there was extremely positive. Now that I’ve sampled both Champions BBQ & Luckie B’s, I will decide on which barbecue establishment in my opinion reigns supreme on 4th St.

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BBQ Blvd: Update

My last blog post was the first part of what was supposed to be a four-part series discussing the four BBQ establishments located on 4th St N in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, after doing some preliminary research I quickly discovered that two of the four eateries are temporarily closed while they move to new locations. As of right now Preacher’s BBQ & Dick’s BBQ are no longer located on 4th St N, so they will not be included in the TF+BC BBQ Blvd saga (which won’t be much of a saga anymore). I have already visited Luckie B’s Bar-B-Que, so Part 2 of BBQ Blvd will be up shortly.

BBQ Blvd: Part 1

TF+BC has sampled several different cuisines in its short history, but surprisingly barbecue has not been one of them. I assure you that it is not due to a lack of love for BBQ. Being an omnivore, I have a definite soft spot for the smoking of different meats and the regional differences that make every BBQ place unique. There is something very caveman-like about BBQ and the preparation that goes into it. Luckily, the Tampa Bay area has no shortage of BBQ places. If you live or are visiting Hillsborough County (where the city of Tampa is located) your BBQ choices include Kojack’s House of Ribs, Uncle Rodney’s Rib House, BJ’s Alabama BBQ, and many others. Across the bay in Pinellas County (where St. Petersburg is located), BBQ enthusiasts need only to hop onto 4th St. N, and they will have their choice of four different BBQ joints: Preachers BBQ, Luckie B’s Bar-B-Q, Dick’s BBQ, and Champions BBQ. All of which are located within of few miles of each other. The close proximity of four eateries that sell similar cuisine inspired a recent newspaper article (BBQ_Review-1) in the Tampa Bay Times that highlighted the differences between the four restaurants. After reading the article, I knew I would have to personally discover the differences between all the establishments. I decided to start my first TF+BC saga at Champions BBQ.
Champions BBQ is located in the 4400 block of 4th St N and it can be easily recognized by it fire-engine red building. I stopped by Champions after work which put me there after the lunch rush and well before dinner time. I reviewed the menu, which was posted on the wall, and saw all of the BBQ staples: ribs, pulled pork, smoked brisket, etc. I also noticed a few, in my opinion, non-traditional BBQ items like wraps and smoked corned beef, which led me to believe that Champions is trying to venture outside the traditional BBQ framework. Even with non-traditional items enticing me, I decided to order a BBQ classic: a smoked brisket sandwich. The sandwich came with my choice of two side orders, so I went with Kansas City BBQ beans & Southern greens w/bacon. You know, a couple of health conscious choices. Speaking of health conscious choices, I placed my food order then ventured to the beer cooler to determine my beer selection.
The beer selection at Champions BBQ was pretty standard: few Bud products on draft and a variety of domestic & import bottles. The selection did not contain what I consider to be any craft beers, but that is not a pre-requisite of TF+BC. After some deliberation, I grabbed a Negra Modelo and my food order, which was waiting for me on the counter. The first thing I noticed when I sat down with my food and beverage was how much meat I had on my smoked brisket sandwich. The bottom kaiser bun was essentially hidden by all the smoked brisket, which was served coarsely chopped and sauceless. I sampled the brisket and immediately noticed the smokey flavor. My taste buds aren’t refined enough to determine which type of wood was used to smoke the brisket, but the smoking made the brisket incredibly tender and gave it a distinct flavor. I moved quickly to my side dishes and realized that I had made some great selections. The KC BBQ beans were super sweet with big chunks of bacon and fruit (my guess was apples and/or oranges), while the bitter taste of the Southern Greens offered yet another taste category to the meal. Returning to my sauceless sandwich, I began to sample the numerous sauces Champions offered. I tried all five of the BBQ sauces (original, sweet, vinegar-based, and mustard-based), but ultimately used the spicy number referred to as “Hot & Sassy.”
This sauce had that great BBQ sauce flavor with a cayenne kick, which the Negra Modelo cooled off nicely.The dark Mexican lager offered a sweet malty flavor and low ABV (4.2%) that was tasty, but not nearly as robust as the BBQ. Even though the flavor of the beer wasn’t quite as prominent as the food, it worked well with my meal. This leads me to believe that Negra Modelo would be a great beer to bring to a barbecue. It will be interesting to see what the other three locations on the “BBQ Blvd” have to offer. Fortunately, I don’t have to Mapquest the next location, since it is literally across the street from Champions. Next stop: Luckie B’s Bar-B-Q.

Music & Food – A Can’t Miss Combination

This edition of Tampa Food+Beer Chronicles describes my most recent visit to one of Tampa’s most famous venues. This establishment has been featured on Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food Nation and Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America. It has also hosted what seems like an infinite list of musical acts like The Radiators, Tab Benoit, Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, and The Wailers just to name a few. I’m sure that most Tampanians who read TF+BC know where I’m speaking of, but for those who don’t I’m talking about Skipper’s Smokehouse Restaurant & Oyster Bar. Skippers has grown from a small takeout operation with weekly jam sessions into one of Tampa’s premire eateries that hosts musical acts daily (except Monday since their closed). My first experience with Skippers was way back in my UT days on a Thursday night, which at Skippers is known as Grateful Dead night. Since 1998, Grateful Dead night has been headlined by Uncle John’s Band, a local band that has been recreating the music of The Grateful Dead for over 20 years. I quickly learned that Skippers was a great place to do some hippie dancing, but I was unaware that I was missing out on the delicious food they had to offer.

Skippers recently hosted a tribute concert for the late Levon Helm, the drummer/singer/mandolin player for the famous musical group The Band. I absolutely love The Band’s music, so when I heard about this event I knew I had to go. I also realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to sample Skipper’s menu. Skippers classifies their cuisine as “Floribbean” because it combines common dishes from Florida & Louisiana with flavors from the Caribbean. This translates into a menu that consists primarily of seafood dishes, but also offers non-seafood items like jerk chicken and hamburgers. But I knew right away, that my order would most certainly be from the seafood category. Unfortunately, there were so many menu items that sounded delectable, that it took me forever to decide. I could have ordered the conch fritters and an oyster sandwich or some crab-stuffed mushrooms with the smoked mullet dinner. After much deliberation I eventually made up my mind and ordered a cup of their conch chowder and the blackened basa reuben. While I waited for my food order, I took in the all atmosphere that Skippers had to offer, and debated which beer I was going to pair with my food selection.

Restaurant portion of Skippers

The atmosphere of the restaurant portion of Skippers is extremely similar to seafood shacks in Key West. The wall decor includes surfboards, crab pots, mounted fish, nautical maps, oceanic sponges, and plenty of neon beer signs. Staring at those beer neons only made me crave a frosty adult beverage even more. I perused the beer list and decided on the locally produced Florida Avenue Ale. I grabbed a pint of the Florida Avenue Ale from the outside bar, and by the time I came back to my table, my food order had arrived. I immediately went for the conch chowder. Even though the menu classified it as chowder, it didn’t seem like it had any milk or cream, so I thought it was more like a stew. Regardless, I tasted the seafood stock in the first spoonful, and it gave the stew a distinct seafood flavor. The stew was loaded with veggies, potatoes, and a combination of herbs & spices that made me want to down the cup as fast as possible. I probably would have done it if my sandwich didn’t look so appetizing. My blackened basa reuben was served on marble rye and topped with cheese (my guess is american), sauerkraut, and russian dressing. The basa fish, which some restaurants have been known to try pass off as grouper, was a juicy piece of white fish with strong but not overwhelming blackening seasoning. The fish was light and juicy but the prominent flavors of the sandwich were the gooey cheese and the Russian dressing. For those who don’t like fish sandwiches that are too fishy, I would highly recommend the blackened basa reuben. It was almost like a protein packed grilled cheese sandwich. I would also recommend the Florida Avenue Ale. The Cold Storage craft brewery website classifies Florida Avenue Ale as a wheat ale, but the first thing I noticed when I sipped it was the hop flavor. This seemed out-of-place because from my experience wheat beers have a weaker hop flavor, which allows the lighter taste of the malted wheat to shine through. Maybe Skippers unknowingly tapped a keg of Florida Avenue India Pale Ale, which wouldn’t have disappointed me in the least. Regardless, the beer tasted great and it acted as a foil for the flavors of my sandwich & stew. It was hard for me to move after polishing off my meal, but once I heard the sound of my favorite songs from The Band being played in the nearby Skipperdome, I was up on my feet and heading outside.

Florida Ave Ale & Conch chowder & Blackened basa reuben

The tribute to Levon consisted of numerous local bands like Applebutter Express, Rich Whiteley Band, Thomas Wynn and the Believers, and others doing their best rendition of songs made popular by The Band. I heard all of my favorites like “Ophelia”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, “W.S. Walcott Medicine Show”, and “Atlantic City” along with some songs that I had forgotten about. Each band did a great job paying homage to Levon, and it became apparent that even though he was no longer physically here, the music he help create would make it seem like he never left. I know what you’re saying “getting pretty deep for a food & beer blog.” I don’t control my experiences, I simply interpret them for your enjoyment. I suggest you visit Skippers, grab some food, and take in a show. I’m not saying you’ll have a “spiritual” realization like I had, but I can guarantee you won’t leave disappointed.

Skipperdome

****NOTE**** All the pictures in this edition of TF+BC were provided by my main squeeze. Do yourself a favor and check out her blog at blondesilverlining.wordpress.com

Gourmet Taste with a Dollar Store Price Tag

Mexican food has a place that is near and dear to my heart. My grandfather (mother’s side) emigrated from Mexico to the United States at a very young age. Luckily for me, his mother instructed my grandmother and mother on how to create delicious Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, enchiladas, Mexican wedding cookies, and many more. The exposure to Mexican cuisine during the early portion of my life has translated into a constant desire for Mexican food, and keeps me on the lookout for a good local Mexican restaurant. It didn’t take long for me to sniff out a Mexican restaurant that is essentially around the corner from my house. Not only is this restaurant located within walking distance from my house, but it also has a weekly event that is too tempting to resist: $2 Taco Tuesday.
The Lime Tampa’s “Modern Mexican” menu includes classics like fajitas and burritos, but also offers modern dishes with Mexican flare such as fiesta bowls (veggies & proteins combined with rice) and spicy guacamole chicken wings. But every Tuesday, the taco portion of the menu receives the most attention, and rightly so since every taco is only $2!!!! That’s right, EVERY TACO, from the carne asada to tuna caliente and everything in between. The reason why this is such a great deal is because these tacos contain gourmet ingredient combinations that in my opinion are worth much more than $2.  The price tag and enticing description of each taco makes it hard not to order every taco The Lime has to offer, but during a recent visit I was able to use some restraint and narrowed my order down to a delicious trio.

(Source)

My taco order during my most recent visit to The Lime included carne asada, crispy mahi, and ancho chicken. Each taco included a corn tortilla, which in my opinion is much more flavorful than a flour tortilla. The corn tortilla taste brought back memories of making tacos with my mom and grandmother. It would be safe to say that I have pressed numerous corn tortillas in my day. Back to the matter at hand, the first taco I scarfed down was the ancho chicken, which contained grilled chicken breast, avocado, pickled red onions, cilantro, queso fresco and chile de arbol. The marinade used on the chicken was extremely flavorful, and gave the taco a great flavor. The additional toppings were not as prominent, so the marinated chicken flavor dominated the taco, which was not necessarily a bad thing. This was not the case for the other tacos. The carne asada taco contained some tasty marinated skirt steak with cabbage and salsa fresca, which gave the taco a little kick (which I loved). Even though I loved all three of the tacos, my favorite by far was the crispy mahi. This taco contained a piece of battered mahi, fried crispy, and topped with cabbage, pickled red onions, and a tremendous avocado aioli. If I had to use one word to describe this taco, besides tasty, it would be crunchy. Mahi fried crispy and fresh veggies actual created an audible signal of how fresh the crispy mahi taco was. The trio of tacos offered a multitude of flavors, which made it somewhat difficult to decide which beer to pair with them. Instead of trying to find a beer that complemented all the flavors offered by the tacos, I decided to go with a beer that complemented the current season.

Taco trio and Victory Summer Love

If you have recently visited any establishments with an extensive beer list, you would have noticed that summer seasonals are back in full force. The summer seasonal I chose to wash down my tacos was Victory’s Summer Love. I was pleasantly surprised how well the Summer Love worked with the variety of flavors presented by the taco trio. The Summer Love was light and crisp, almost bubbly like sparkling cider without the sweetness. It also contained some subtle citrus flavors that helped cleanse my palate as I moved from taco to taco. I would definitely drink this beer with or without food, and its low ABV (5.2%) could make the Summer Love a good session beer. Speaking of sessions, I encourage everyone in the Tampa Bay area to visit The Lime and have a session of your own, whether it be a taco eating session or beer drinking session. Who knows, you may create your own Tampa Food+Beer Chronicle.

Burgers & Baseball

My love for America’s pastime has been rekindled over the past few years thanks in large part to the Tampa Bay Rays. I know what your thinking “He only became a fan because they started winning,” but I can assure you that is not the case. The reason I became a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays is because they were largely responsible for giving me my first employment opportunity after college. In the summer of 2006, I was selected by the Florida Aquarium to be the first biologist in charge of maintaining the newly installed stingray touchtank at Tropicana Field. My time as the touchtank biologist at Tropicana field allowed me to see a ton of Rays games, meet players, and essentially renewed my passion for Major League Baseball. With alllllll that said, whenever I get a chance to attend a Rays game, I take it.

I figured the perfect accompaniment to a Rays game would be a visit to one of St. Petersburg’s most well-known eateries. El Cap has served delicious sports bar type food & drinks in the same location since 1963. It may be a slight understatement to classify El Cap as just the run of the mill sports bar. The walls are filled with framed Tampa Bay Rays news articles, FC Tampa Bay Rowdies banners, a boatload of pictures and trophies from local rec league teams, and numerous other local sports paraphernalia. In my opinion, El Cap is a great place to watch your favorite sporting event, but that is not the only reason its great. The food at El Cap has been voted as some of the area’s best, specifically the burgers.

I arrived at El Cap several hours before the start of the Rays game so I would have ample time to enjoy my menu selection. I didn’t spend too much time reviewing the menu because I knew what I was getting. The hamburgers at El Cap have been voted as the area’s best several times. The menu even classified them as “world famous,” so my food selection was a no brainer. I order a hamburger, cooked medium rare, with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, and mayo. I decided to pair my burger with a personal favorite, Anchor Steam beer. If I had to use a word to classify the pairing it would be “simple,” and that has no negative connotation whatsoever.

Anchor Steam beer & “world famous” burger

The burger contained all the simple flavors that a great burger should. The beef patty was extremely juicy and had a distinct flavor and texture that is exclusive to burgers cooked on a flat top grill. The bun possessed a flavor similar to a potato bun and its toasting seemed to prevent sogginess, which was a very important characteristic. The juiciness of the burger was only rivaled by the fresh vegetable toppings. The lettuce, tomato, and onions tasted like they came right out of the garden, and the mayo and cheese provided a slight tanginess that didn’t overshadow the other flavors of the burger. The Anchor Steam beer washed the burger down so well that I treated myself to another, burger that is. The beer was dominated by a sweet malt flavor, entirely different from a hoppy Pale Ale. The dark ale contains only 4.9% ABV so it went down incredibly smooth. The sweet aftertaste reminded me of a dessert, slightly caramelly & chocolaty. The pairing offered a savory and sweet combination that kept me satisfied for the entire duration of the Rays game. Sadly, the result of the game was not as satisfying as my meal at El Cap. The Rays lost 10-6 to the Cleveland Indians, but in my opinion the entire day was a win, and another exceptional Tampa Food+Beer Chronicle.

45 mins before 1st pitch, so no comments about attendance please

Local Flavor

When the middle of the week rolls around, I begin to examine local media outlets to see what interesting events will be happening in the Tampa Bay area during the upcoming weekend. On Wednesday of this week, I discovered via twitter (@BurchaLurch) that my favorite local brewery, Cigar City Brewery, would be hosting food trucks and tapping a very limited edition beer on Saturday. After reading this, I knew my Saturday afternoon plans were set. Food trucks plus local brews equal a Tampa Food+Beer Chronicle.

Brewery Equipment

I rolled up to Cigar City Brewery about mid-afternoon. The heat and humidity of Florida summer was at its peak, so a cold brew was definitely in order. Cigar City Brewery offers a multitude of different beers on tap, even some from other breweries, but I had come specifically for the limited edition White Oak aged Jean Ribault French Pale Ale. I had tasted the Jean Ribault French Pale Ale before, and really enjoyed it. It had a smooth hoppy taste that told you it was a Pale Ale, but did not have the bite that I feel India Pale Ales’ possess. With that said, the White Oak aged Jean Ribault French Pale Ale had totally different taste than the non-barrel aged version. It seemed to me that the barrel aging gave the French Pale Ale a more distinct hop flavor. Also, the White Oak aged Jean Ribault had a distinct after taste that let you know that it had a higher ABV% than the non-barrel aged version. I tried my best to savor the flavor of this limited edition beer, but before I knew it I was ready for another beer. Before I chose my next beverage, I had to see what the food truck in the parking lot had to offer.

Americanwiener Food truck

I love the ease, swiftness, and unique menus that food trucks offer. The food truck parked outside of Cigar City Brewery possessed all those attributes. The Americanwiener food truck offered 100% beef hot dogs or bratwursts with a variety of different toppings. I reviewed the menu and decided on a classic chili cheese dog with special ingredient. My dog, titled the “Jason”, was topped with a meaty no bean chili, shredded cheese, raw onions, yellow mustard, and bacon. However, this was no ordinary bacon. This bacon was like candy bacon. It had a super sweet taste and really gave the “Jason” and unique flavor, different from any chili cheese dog I have ever had. This version of a classic prompted me to choose a classic Cigar City beer to go along with it. I grabbed a pint of Ligero Black Lager to wash down my “Jason”. The Ligero had a dark flavor that reminded me of black coffee. However, the taste was much smoother and did not have the tangy after taste that black coffee does. The strong dark flavor of the Ligero worked well with the sweet savory taste of the “Jason”. The simplistic pairing reminded me of several dog and beer pairings I frequently have at Tampa Bay Rays games, which is prophetic because the next Tampa Food+Beer Chronicle will involve a trip to a well-known St. Petersburg eatery before a Rays game. GO RAYS!

CCB Ligero and “Jason” from Americanwiener