Goose Island Four Star Pils

I’ve been broadening my horizons with lighter beers lately.  Be it this crazy warm summer or the fact that IPA’s give me heartburn now that I’m over 40, I have had a lot of great varieties of beer lately.  A great pilsner isn’t always easy to find so I was pretty excited to try the new Four Star Pils from Goose Island Brewery.  This golden brew is light, crisp and still taste like a real beer!  You can dress it up in a glass, but it’s perfect for shoving a six pack into a bucket of ice and spending an evening on the patio.  What I love is that they’ve used a combination of American and German hops to give it a depth of flavor beyond your typical pilsner.

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Try this great one with your favorite chicken or fish cooked on the grill.  I’ll wager that your favorite white wine drinker (AKA wife) will actually find this a great alternative to the vino.  I could go on and on about the other beers I love from Goose Island, but you can check out their website for the full list at gooseisland.com.  Crack open a little taste of Chicago and enjoy the last month of summer!

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H-M-G Iced Green Tea

The early heat of this summer calls for cool refreshment!  I love iced tea and have taken a liking to using green tea as a lighter alternative to traditional varieties.  Try this sun-brewed recipe for my Honey, Mint and Ginger tea to add flavor and sweetness for a perfect summer afternoon or a little happy hour cocktail with the addition of vodka and a splash of soda water.

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HMG Iced Green Tea

Ingredients

  • 2 Quarts Water
  • 4 Green Tea Bags
  • 1/4 Cup Honey
  • 1 “Thumb” Fresh Ginger
  • 3 Large Sprigs Fresh Mint

Instructions

  • Peel a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger and cut into slices.
  • In a small saucepan, combine two cups water, honey and ginger.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to let simmer for 5 minutes.
  • In a large glass pitcher, combine remaining water, tea bags, mint and honey/ginger liquid.
  • Cover pitcher with plastic wrap and place outside in the sun.  Allow to step for at least 4 hours.
  • Remove tea bags and mint.  You can also remove ginger pieces, but I like to leave them in to continue to flavor the mixture.
  • Serve over ice.

If you’re feeling like a cocktail, add 2 ounces of good vodka to an ice-filled glass, fill 3/4 with tea and then top with soda water.  Garnish with mint sprigs and an orange slice.  Either way you make it, sit back, sip and enjoy!!

Distil – Milwaukee

Our recent Milwaukee trip was full of adventures in sightseeing, music and food!  We definitely had a memorable stop at Distil.  A dark, comfortable restaurant with urban-classic decor wasn’t too busy or loud for cocktails and noshes on a Friday night out with friends.  If you’ve read some of my posts, you know I have an affinity for this type of craft American fare and distinctive drinks.  Distil did not disappoint!  The Rosa Umada was a fantastic experience/cocktail.  An old fashioned glass is sprayed with an aerosol of grain alcohol infused with clove and placed over a larger glass with smoking wood chips.  It’s brought to your table, the glass is removed to release the smoke and then a wonderful mix of bourbon, maple and vanilla is poured into it.  It’s a beautiful presentation and a fantastic twist on a classic bourbon cocktail.  I know I absolutely want to try making this at home – you can’t get enough of the smokey aroma!

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They have a great selection of small plates, we sampled the cheese board, charcuterie board and the steak tartare.  I’m sucker for these when they’re done well.  The boards looked gorgeous and were amply covered in a great selection of meats, cheese and accompaniments.  Whether is was the duck prosciutto with grain mustard, blue cheese with honeycomb and Marcona almonds or a cheddar, salami and raspberry stack they were all fresh and tasty!  The tartare had a nice texture, just enough capers and a creamy egg yolk.  The whipped bone marrow gave just enough fat and richness to set this apart from other preparations I’ve had.

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Overall, this was a really nice spot for small plates and cocktails.  I’d recommend it for a pre-dinner or pre-theater date night or happy hour.  Clinton Sterwald is an imaginative mixologist with a keen sense of aroma, taste and presentation.  The Apartment 137 is another must-try drink on their menu!  Give them a try for the best of Wisconsin’s small bites and cocktails.  You can check out their menu and story at distilmilwaukee.com.  Dig in!

Fifty West Brewing Co. – Cincinnati

It’s no secret that I, like most of America, love craft beer!  One of the gems in Cincinnati is Fifty West Brewing Co.  Located on the east side of the city, they have a wonderful selection of house brews and a good menu to match.  What I love most, is that they have a great variety beyond the typical IPA-heavy selections you see elsewhere.  Still, I started with the Petroglyph Pale Ale, which was aromatic, slightly hoppy and had a good bitter finish.  My wife went with the Fuzzy Feeling Golden Ale, a crisp fruity light beer with a good apricot flavor.  You could drink that one all day – it just tastes like summer!

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The atmosphere is warm and comfortable in the bar and the restaurant.  They also have patio space as well as a shuffleboard table room with additional bar seats.  We sat in the bar area and started with a couple of appetizers.  The Pretzels & Pimento Cheese are salty, warm and buttery.  The pimento cheese isn’t memorable, but it was definitely good.  We also tried the Cornmeal Crusted Goetta Balls.  For those that aren’t from here, goetta is a pork product made with spices and cut oats.  It’s served all different ways, but in this application it makes for a creamy “sausage-like” center in contrast to a crispy exterior.  Dipped in grain mustard, these were delicious, but really heavy – they could totally be an entree.

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We decided to split an entree and the Brontosaurus Beef Rib with Gouda Grits was really good.  This is a huge piece of slow-cooked meat with a great outside char.  Pull pieces of this rib away from the bone with just a fork and make sure you get some of the great Carolina-style BBQ sauce with each bite.  It was moist, smokey and was complimented really well by the creamy grits and crunchy cole slaw.  It’s a huge portion and I think you’d be hard-pressed to polish this thing off on your own.  It would be a lot of fun trying though!

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Overall, it was another excellent meal at one of our favorites.  The menu has a lot of great choices and I highly recommend the wings and the mussels – especially the mussels!!  Brewmaster Blake Horsburgh and Chef John Tomain will keep you coming back again and again for new beers and seasonal menus.  Check out their website fiftywestbrew.com and grab a growler at their location or one of the other outlets they distribute to around the city.  You will be as big a fan as I am!  Oh, I almost forgot to tell you to stop in for “Penny Tuesdays” when you flip for every beer and either pay full price or just a penny – either way, you’ll come out a winner…

Love & Salt – Los Angeles

Big cities provide big opportunities for a great dining experience and Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach did not disappoint!  Located just blocks from the pier, it’s a small, warm and comfortable place for an easy dinner with friends or solo, as I was this week.  The atmosphere is California-cool with ample seating at tables, the bar and the kitchen bar.  I was early for dinner at 6:30, but the place was completely full an hour later.

The menu is a beautiful collection of Italian-inspired dishes with a California twist.  Choices include small plates, salads, meats, pasta and seafood.  It’s really well put together with just enough choices to appeal to a wide audience.  Of course I started with a cocktail and the dirty martini was nearly perfect, but for the absence of blue cheese-stuffed olives.

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Fresh ingredients are abundant on the menu.  I sampled the Fava Bean Toast made with whipped ricotta, preserved lemon and pecorino.  It’s beautiful, fresh and the perfect size starter for the evening.

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While the pizzas, meats and pastas all looked and sounded wonderful, I went to the lighter side with my entree and chose the Grilled Octopus.  Another work of art on the plate, it was slightly spicy and grilled to a perfect light char.  The dish also includes crispy potatoes, chorizo, salsa verde and a bit more preserved lemon.  I can’t tell you enough how good this was!  I am definitely going to have to try my hand at making my own preserved lemons.

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The prices were reasonable and the service was friendly and timely.  Chef Michael Fiorelli has a deft hand with local ingredients, flavor combinations and an interesting menu.  I would absolutely recommend this place for your next trip near LA/Manhattan Beach.  You can find out more on their website loveandsaltla.com.

Sable Kitchen & Bar – Chicago

If you’re looking for inspired craft cocktails and delicious small and medium plates, I have a place for you!  On my trip to Chicago last week I had a chance to eat at Sable Kitchen & Bar after a few cocktails at The Berkshire Room.  I figured after a few great bourbons, I was going to need to follow up with the same caliber of cocktails.  Thankfully, Sable is just a block and a half away.  The cocktail menu here is vast, creative and intriguing.  Think of your favorite bourbon or gin elevated with combinations of ingredients like tarragon syrup, cola bitters, cinnamon-infused pear brandy and caraway liqueur.  I loved the Wheatley Convention Center, a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, averna (an Italian citrus liqueur), vanilla, Lemon Wetherby’s cola bitters and angostura bitters – smooth and sweet with a brightness from the citrus.

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I love the food menu here as well.  Executive Chef Lawrence Latrero knows what he’s doing in this kitchen!  There are a handful of selections in each category of snacks, seafood, meats and veggies.  The lobster rangoon were perfectly crisp outside and creamy inside.  We also really enjoyed the flatbread with asparagus, mushroom and truffle, but anything with truffles is a no-brainer for me.  Being a meat-lover I really appreciated the Wagyu beef sliders.  Tomato jam, garlic aioli, cheddar and a quail egg make these anything other than your typical slider.  They were so good that we ordered two and had to order two more right away!

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If you save yourself any room, I would highly suggest the churro ice cream sandwich with brandied apples – whoa!!

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Honestly, you can do no wrong here.  Everything was well-executed and definitely has me ready to come back to try more!  If you’re in Chicago, get to River North and check them out.  Detailed info and menus can be found on their website sablechicago.com.

The Berkshire Room – Chicago

I travel to Chicago for business – a lot.  Needless to say, there’s no shortage of fantastic places for dinner and drinks.  Sometimes though, you need somewhere a little less busy and a little less pretentious to enjoy a craft cocktail and nosh a few snacks to unwind.  I found the perfect place a few years ago in The Berkshire Room and have made it a regular stop ever since.

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Located in the River North area just around the intersection of Ohio and State (that alone should indicate it’s awesomeness) this small lounge is on the first floor of the ACME Hotel.  The interior is just dark enough and is a great mix of Prohibition-cool and modern style.  There’s a decent selection of beers and ample wine choices, but this is a cocktail lounge.  They are true mixologists here creating interesting craft cocktails with a selection of bourbons, gins and liqueurs.  Think Willy Wonka with booze to get an accurate picture here.  This week I stuck with a simple Bulleit Rye Old Fashioned – OK, maybe two!

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There’s a limited selection of small plates and desserts for accompanying your drinks, but the true gems are the cocktails.  Try the “Dealers Choice” – you pick the liquor, the flavor profile (sweet, savory, herbaceous, etc.) and the glassware and the mixologist creates something on a whim for you.  Great for happy hour or after dinner, I can’t tell you enough how much I love this place!  Check them out at theberkshireroom.com.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA

I love that beer has had a revival over the past 5 years!  There’s been an explosion of local brewers and innovation in types, flavors, bottling, canning, etc.  What’s not to love, right? The starting point for many new breweries, and always a crowd favorite, is the IPA.  I’ve had more than I can count, but Ballast Point hit the nail on the head with this one.

There is great body in this beer with a crisp citrus hop flavor.  You’d think that the addition of grapefruit would make this overpowering, but it really compliments the beer well.  Who would have imagined that a winter fruit would make for a great summertime beer?  I love this beer with salmon or chicken, but it pairs really well with a lot of dishes.  I’d like to say it’s an all-day sipper, but at 7% ABV, it gets a little boozy on a long afternoon in the sun.

You can find this gem on tap and canned or bottled in lots of places due to their purchase by Constellation Brands (Corona, Modelo).  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed in this diversion from the everyday IPA!  Check them out at ballastpoint.com.

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