Heading North to Get South: Finding Florida

The Floridian Restaurant St. Augustine

Florida is a unique state, it’s it the most Southern state geographically but probably the least Southern state in the South. In fact, in Florida, the further South you go the less southern charm there is, this leads us to a small identity crisis. We have lots of outside influences because many residents are from somewhere else, they came here on vacation and decided to stay. So we don’t have a lot of traditions or local delicacies, we are mostly chain restaurants and strip malls.

This past week my family and I headed North to St. Augustine, a city on the East Coast of Florida just South of Jacksonville. I had been there before and have to admit I was slightly disappointed. I thought it would be this great town with charm and history, real traditional Florida, and instead I found a tourist trap. It was complete with day glow t-shirts and cheesy attractions, just like most of Florida. Most of the restaurants there offered fried shrimp and hamburgers, all frozen from Sysco I am sure. There was beautiful architecture and beaches but it was all marred by neon signs and wax museums, not at all what I was looking for.

I am glad I gave it a second chance, this time I stayed away from St. George Street (the biggest neon offender) and hung out on the outskirts of Old Town and I was rewarded. Our first great find was a restaurant called The Floridian.They are doing what I thought was impossible in Florida, serving delicious traditional Southern recipes made from local, seasonal and sustainable food. Not only that, but the menu is full of options, you can make many of the dishes gluten-free or vegetarian. We started with some local beers, Red Brick’s Hoplanta (yes it’s from GA, but I had never had it and it’s close enough) and Intuition’s I-10 IPA. Intuition’s was more to my liking , more of a West Coast style IPA.

Red Brick's  Hoplanta and Intuition Ale Works  I-10 IPA

Then we had some appetizers, Fried Pickles, house made pickles spiced with the locally grown Datil pepper ( think a sweeter version of a habenaro) Served with buttermilk herb dressing.

Fried Pickles

and the  Oysters Floridian, broiled Oysters with  home-made pimento cheese ( a southern staple that is making a comeback) and pickled slaw.

Oysters Floridian Broiled Oyster with Pimento Cheese

For my main course I chose the N Grits with Shrimp ( other options besides the shrimp were blackened or grilled fresh catch or tofu.) The grits were actually polenta cakes topped with the shrimp in a creamy remoulade sauce with fresh strawberry salsa and local feta cheese.

N Grits with Shrimp

My husband and son also had great meals, Waffles with Pulled Pork, and a Fried Green Tomato Hoagie.

The next day my son and I tried another local eatery called Yard Bird Cafe. It is a cute cafe hidden in a plaza on King Street, it is only open for breakfast and lunch. I would call it southern favorites with a college twist. It is across the way from Flagler college and I imagine a lot of students and staff frequent this restaurant, large portions of hearty homemade food that is inexpensive and unique. Black eyed pea hummus, Peanut butter and banana french toast, Chicken with peach and fennel salsa to name a few.

I had the homemade Chicken and Biscuits, delicious, and they came with a side of collards, my favorite, made even better with the local datil hot sauce. Yes, there are biscuits under there. My son had a pulled pork cuban sandwich.

Yard Bird's Chicken and Biscuits

So this time instead of coming back from St. Augustine disappointed, I came back re-energized and inspired for my home state, I even made my own pimento cheese. We do have great local farms and dairies (and breweries), we do have traditions and local cuisine. We just need to seek it out, embrace it and make a name for ourselves. We may not be a true Southern state, but we may be something better if we try.

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There is Craft Beer in Iceland

Ul Fur IPA Iceland

My husband and I went to Iceland last month for our 20th anniversary trip. I had seeing the Northern Lights on my bucket list and Iceland seemed way more romantic and fun than the other places we could see them. As the trip grew nearer I was getting more and more excited. Iceland seemed like such a cool country, every time I googled there was something new I wanted to see when we got there. There was one exception, the beer, in particular my hoppy IPA’s . I saw they had some european imports and some local breweries but where were my hops? I was worried I would find a lot of dark malty beers and Belgium style yeasty ales or worse American imports like Bud Light, after all beer has only been allowed in Iceland since 1989, they have a lot of catching up to do. At the first restaurant we went to, we asked for an IPA but none of the bartenders or servers seemed to know what that was, so we ordered a couple local beers on tap, Gull and Viking. Oh no it’s true, Bud copy cats. Both watery and not much flavor except fizz. They had Guinness in a bottle and I thought that was my fate for the next 3 days.

The next day we went sight seeing and ended up at Strokkur Geysir around lunch time. They had a cute cafe with a buffet of authentic Icelandic fare. It was cafeteria style and there were coolers of beer  and wine that you could go up and chose from, imagine my excitement when I saw India Pale Ale on one of the bottles. It was the UL Fur brewed right there in Iceland. Guess what it was delicious, nice and hoppy like an American IPA, hints of grapefruit which I love, very balanced and only 5.9% ABV (dare I say a sessionable IPA,why can’t we do that in the US).

Well now that we knew what we were doing, we found that most places carried this beer they just didn’t know what an IPA was, luckily we now knew what the label looked like and could point when we ordered. If they brewed IPA’s in Iceland though, someone somewhere must know about beer.  Its now day 2 of the trip, I have seen the Northern Lights, so my new bucket list item is find a craft beer bar in Iceland. Thank god for smart phones, my husband checked ratebeer.com and found a new highly rated beer bar called Micro Bar while we were walking around Reykjavik. As luck would have it we happened to be on the same street it was located on, and in the same block. Ok we even walked by it a couple of times until we realized it was in the lobby of The City Center Hotel.

Micro Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland

I believe there were about 8 taps and tons of bottled beer. They had an extensive Mikkeller selection as well as European and American Craft Beer Imports. Staff was very knowledgeable and friendly and matched us up perfectly to the right beers.

Micro Bar Beer List

We made it our go to spot for the rest of our trip. We even got these to go. Mikkeller’s 1000 IBU, a rare find. (Disappointing though, way to sweet and malty for my tastes)

Mikkelller 1000 IBU

So know before you go, there is good beer in Iceland you just have to know what to look for and where to find it. Oh and I did see the Northern Lights, they were fantastic as well.

Northern Lights, Iceland

Hoppy IPA Day! Celebrate with Beer and Bacon Meatloaf and Onion Ale Mustard Gravy

It’s my new favorite holiday, IPA day, a day to celebrate my favorite style of beer, India Pale Ale. It’s not for everyone, it is somewhat bitter from the hops and can be strong, but it is also crisp, refreshing, and full of flavor. Think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on steroids, and then you get where I am coming from. IPA’s are a favorite style of beer enthusiasts, and can be found at most independent breweries and craft beer bars. One of my local favorites is Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA. I used this beer in my celebratory dinner of meatloaf and gravy, but feel free to use your own local IPA, or better yet taste taste several until you find your favorite.

Beer Bacon Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meat (my favorite 1/3 pork, 2/3 beef)

1/2 c plus 2T IPA style beer (choose your poison, mine was Cigar City Jai Alai)

1 t minced garlic

1T Worcestershire sauce

4T ketchup

2 t Dijon mustard

1 egg

1t salt

1/4 t pepper

1 1/4 c panko bread crumbs

1 t honey

4 slices of bacon cut in half

Preheat over to 350, In a large bowl combine, ground meat, 1/2 beer, garlic, Worcestershire, 2T ketchup, egg, salt, pepper and panko. Form into a loaf and place in a baking dish. In a small bowl add 2T ketchup, 2T beer, and 1T honey mix and spoon over meatloaf.

Place raw bacon over top of meatloaf

Bake in oven for 45 minutes

Onion Ale Mustard Gravy

4 T butter

2 sweet yellow onions sliced

1T worcestershire sauce

2 t mustard

1/4 c flour

1/4 c IPA beer

1 1/4 c water

3 T brown sugar

add 3 T butter to a large skillet, add onions and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, then add mustard, Worcestershire, and flour, cook for 3 minutes on med/low. Add beer cook for 1 minute, then add water and cook over medium until gravy has thickened about 5 minutes, add 3T brown sugar and 1 T butter, whisk until incorporated and butter has melted, season with salt and pepper, serve over meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

 

Also try

Beer Cheese Dip

Day Tripping With My Favorite Teen Age Botanist

I love to travel. Yes, I know everyone says that, but I really do. I love exotic trips full of adventure.  I love relaxing tropical vacations where I just plop my bottom down in foreign sand, but I also love a day trip to a rural town and a meal at a mom and pop restaurant just as much. Everything is an adventure to me, no matter how big or small, I just like to experience new things.

This week my kids had a day off of school and, as we usually do, my fourteen year old son and I went on a little day trip. He was once my constant companion, attached at my hip whether I liked it or not, now he is a teen, ready to start high school. I appreciate our time together more because I know we don’t have much time left. Not like this anyway. He’s not much into sports, cars, or shopping. He is a lover of nature, and always has been. Even during his terrible two’s and now his angsty teens, he is most calm and at peace on a nature trail or surrounded by trees. This is his zen. He calmly waits for bugs or squirrels to come to him,  he notices the differences in leaf shapes of various ferns, he walks quietly not to disturb the birds. We plan our trips accordingly.

This week we went to the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, kind of a far drive from our home just to see plants, but this is what we do. We were not disappointed, the gardens were beautiful, the tower amazing.We saw the largest koi we had ever seen and a trail of just different species of ferns.

For fun, we stopped at  Spook Hill where your car is supposed to magically roll up the hill in neutral, but ours didn’t. Maybe because we had the top down so we could feel the wind in our hair, maybe because it’s a hoax. Either way the adventure was in trying and it gave us a chance to hypothesize on why it didn’t work for us.

Our next stop was a local candy factory in Dundee that makes it own chocolate and citrus candies and jellies. The sign said it was once featured on food network, how could we resist. This was my kind of place, I am a sucker for anything homegrown or made. We found a bag of candy for each of our family members, carefully decided based on their tastes. I got some jellies and local honey. This was a citrus town and they were proud of it. The lady at the counter was happy to answer all our questions, confirming all products were produced locally and even ran a catalog out to our car after we had left in case we wanted to place an order, “free shipping”, she assured us.

Time for the two hour ride home, my son ate his Fruit Pearls, another local Dundee, Fl product, I thought of different ways to use my newly purchased jellies. This is why I love to travel.