Product Review: Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

“There are no basic drinks, just basic people.”

It’s hard to believe there was a time when pumpkin spice wasn’t a meme, but an actual source of excitement. I think my first taste of getting genuinely geeked out about the flavor was when pumpkin cheesecake showed up at a Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. The questions were instant–“Who put these tastes together? Why is cinnamon/pumpkin/spice so freaking good? How do I get more? Is there still going to be a pumpkin pie?”

The rarity was a huge part of the appeal, and as pumpkin-everything creeped into our lives, the rush was gone. I think my breaking point was bringing home pumpkin spiced goat cheese from a New England supermarket and my daughter asking why it existed. “Because they know I’ll buy it, you smart-mouthed kid.” I vowed that 2016 would be a year of pumpkin spiced moderation. I got one beer on draft early and nodded in approval. I have had one pumpkin-spiced coffee this year. (I did eat a tub of pumpkin cookie butter from Trader Joe’s, but I’m only human.)

That’s why I had to chuckle when I was asked to review Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast – it was like the Captain himself heard about my Halloween Humbugness and decided to intervene. The pumpkin spiced shot comes in a round bottle making its best effort at looking like a pumpkin, and it makes a perfect centerpiece for any Halloween party bar … if you’re into that sort of decor. It’s the first pumpkin spiced rum on the market and is designed to be everything from a chilled shot to an ingredient in a few fall cocktail recipes.

I’ll be honest, I braced myself to taste something closer to egg nog with a heavy pumpkin flavor before pouring it out (full disclosure – my first sip was out of the container because it felt cool in the moment) and was surprised to get a decent amount of cinnamon and spice along with the pumpkin. It was lighter than I expected, which made it easier to mix into drinks.

The crowd favorite was what the good folks at Captain Morgan call the Apple Jack-O (recipe below). We dubbed it the Jack-O’Blast n’ Cider. (Say it quickly … a few times. Get it now?) Either way, the reviews were positive and my wife said that this should be flasked and kept on-hand for all fall/holiday activities that involve walking around outside. I tried a splash in coffee and, while it wasn’t bad, decided this was best for cold drinks. (And that’s probably why there is a huge “best served chilled” suggestion all over it.)

All in all, if you’re a pumpkin person, you can get a lot of mileage out of this product. If you’ve hit your limit on all things pumpkin, skip the shot and make the cider cocktail or try making a spiced version of a dark and stormy or something similar.

They sent along a few other suggestions, including:

Apple Jack-O
4oz of chilled apple cider
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast

Orange Pumpkin Smash
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
2oz club soda

Combine Jack-O’Blast and orange juice in a glass filled with ice and stir. Top with club soda.

1oz Jack-O’Blast shot
4oz Lager

Drop shot of Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast in a glass of lager beer.

Blasted Brew
0.5oz Jack-O’Blast
0.5oz Cannon Blast

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a shot glass.

Captain’s Cauldron
1.5oz Captain Morgan Jack-O’Blast
2oz orange juice
1oz cranberry juice
Optional: 1oz club soda topper
Lemon wedge – squeezed

Combine all ingredients in a glass filled with ice, stir and garnish with a lemon wedge.

ABV: 30% / 60 proof
Price: $15.99 / 750 ml

You can find Jack-O’Blast at most liquor stores.

State Fair Treats & Walmart: a Marriage Only Texans Would Understand

The State Fair of Texas ends today, … didn’t get a chance to make it out there this year? (Or, you just simply weren’t in the mood to navigate a sweaty sea of humanity in the sweltering heat, intermittently pausing to open up your wallet and shake it until it’s empty?) Well, I have good news for you and your taste buds … but, bad news for your cholesterol count. A variety of deep-fried, State Fair favorites are now available, indefinitely, at none other than … Walmart. Yep, you read that correctly. It’s such a delightfully perfect pairing (and I do not think I need to elaborate as to why that is). State Fair Treats has opened up shop inside of the Coit Rd. location in Plano.


Isaac Rousso, three-time winner of the Big Tex Choice Award for “Most Creative” deep-fried offerings, is the mastermind behind this amazing marriage of commerce and culinary delights. (You can thank Rousso for the imagining of past delicacies including the Fried Pop-tart, Smoky Bacon Margarita, and Deep-Fried Cuban Rolls.) State Fair Treats features a 45 snacks and treats from the requisites like corn dogs and nachos to indulgent sweet treats like Funnel Cake Fries, Fried Oreos, and the Texas Bluebonnet (a cream cheese-stuffed, deep-fried blueberry muffin topped with whipped cream and more blueberries). I may have had one two, and it was admittedly delicious. Rousso’s award-winning Cookie Fries will join the lineup of goodies this week.

While you won’t find any livestock or midway games at State Fair Treats, it’s definitely worth stopping in for an indulgent goodie or two … and bonus: you’ll still have enough cash left to buy whatever a goodie from Walmart on the way out.

State Fair Treats
425 Coit Road., Plano (Located inside Walmart)
(972) 612-9637

Hours: daily, 7am (yes, they have breakfast) – 9pm

***Thanks to State Fair Treats for inviting us in to check out the fried goodness!***

Prost! At Gordon Biersch

The beginning of fall marks the start of many exciting events–the long-awaited return of college football (and tailgating) season, the State Fair, baseball playoffs–and for the German beer fan in all of us, we have Oktoberfest. While I wasn’t lucky enough to make it to the original celebration in Munich, I was able to pop over to Gordon Biersch for their house brewed beers.

Despite a vaguely German-sounding name, Gordon Biersch has a modern and diverse gastropub-inspired menu that spans from flatbreads and fresh fish to revamped pub standards.  Their brewing philosophy is based off of the Reinheitsgebot (a purity law that was created in Germany all the way back in 1516). Gordon Biersch’s beers are brewed according to these ancient rules-using only malted barley, hops, yeast and water.

A fan of darker beers, I decided on the Schwarzbier, a brown ale with a smooth, rich caramel flavor. My wife had the Hefeweizen which is a traditional style of unfiltered, wheat beer. The hints of fruit and spice make it a great beer to sip with or without food. The crew was nice enough to bring over samples of their other three beers: MarzenCzech Pilsner and Golden Export. The Golden was an easy drinking beer with crisp, subtle hops while the Marzen had a sweet, malty taste.

Hefeweizen (left) Schwarzbier (right)
Hefeweizen (left) Schwarzbier (right)

What’s really nice is that the menu gives suggested food pairings to make the most of your experience.  The Ahi Tuna Wonton Nachos are fresh tuna tossed in a savory teriyaki and topped a mountain of crunchy wonton chips.  Add grilled pineapple, pickled ginger, green onions, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and drizzled with a cucumber wasabi sauce and Sriracha cream. And the Blue Crab Spinach Artichoke Dip is served bubbling hot with grilled crostini and herb flatbread.  Rich and decadent, it may require putting in some extra cardio time, but it was a great pair to our beers.

The Woodford Reserve Bourbon Salmon is served with quinoa and kale salad and asparagus–it’s one of a number of a “lighter” dishes available that doesn’t sacrifice flavor for calories.  We couldn’t skip dessert, so we shared a warm apple crostata with ice cream.

While the real Oktoberfest is over, but Gordon Biersch is keeping the spirit alive with well-crafted beers and food offerings. Consider swinging by for happy hour (Monday-Sunday 3-7pm & 9-11pm or all day Wednesday) for $4-21 ounce GB beers.

Other happy hour specials:

  • $4 21 ounce GB beers
  • $5 hand crafted cocktails
  • $6 select house wines
  • $5, $7 and $9 appetizer and small plate specials

Gorden Biersch – Park Lane
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8060 Park Lane, Suite 125, Dallas, TX 75231
(214) 369-2739

Prost and thank you to the Dallas Park Lane location for having us in!

The Ivy Tavern’s “Ivy Divey Brunch” Buffet

We’ve all seen brunch gimmicks from bloody mary bars to full meals as the garnish on a giant mason jars, but this one’s new to me (outside of Indian restaurants).  The Ivy Tavern, a neighborhood hangout on Lemmon, now offers an all you can eat brunch buffet.

For $15, you can mix and match all your brunch favorites as many times as your little heart desires … and your stomach can handle.  The best part is, all of the elements are actually good.  The eggs don’t have the usual styrofoamy texture that so many buffet eggs seem to have, the bacon is well seasoned and perfectly cooked (to me, at least), and the bread is perfectly toasted.

They’ve also rolled out a brunch cocktail menu with some rather … interesting … options.  You’ve got your standards–a bloody Mary and mimosas by the carafe (for $10)–and then you have your stranger options.  Think cocktails like a smoky Maria (a bloody with jalapeño tequila instead of vodka), sangria with Skittles (yuck … Common Table’s is gross and so is this one), a bizarre combination of Crown Royal Apple (eesh) with lemonade and cranberry, and what they’re calling the “Brunch of Champions”–it’s a shot of Crown Royal Maple (double eesh) served with a slice of bacon and a shot of oj.  Whether you’re meant to shoot them separately or mix them together is apparently your choice.

If you’re asking me, their brunch is a damn good deal.  Order yourself a carafe of mimosas (for yourself, obvi), then hit the buffet and get creative.  Make the most of that $15.  Then use the money you saved for an Uber home.

5334 Lemmon Avenue (Dallas
(214) 559-4424

Cuellars’ Fajita Ranch

If you’ve ventured up 75 lately, you may have seen a new restaurant sign among the many around Parker for Cuellars’ Fajita Ranch.  The restaurant opened in June and was created by three cousins offers “Ranch-Mex” options, which is exactly what you think it is from the name–the foods you’d eat when hanging out on your family or friend’s ranch, mesquite grilled, and served in healthy portions.

Their drinks are quite Tex-Mex–think plenty of margarita options, both frozen and on the rocks, and in many different flavors.  We tried a few of their flavored margaritas and they were plenty fruity and just enough boozy.


Appetizers are about as you’d expect with a couple surprises like their Bean Layer Dip and White Wings, which are delicious wings wrapped in bacon.  (Bring it on.)  Just make sure to keep it light with the appetizers because you’ll have plenty of food on its way to you after ordering your entrées.

White Wings
White Wings

For dinner, since it’s in the name, you should probably go for the fajitas.  The best part?  They have a LOT of options for you from the traditional beef and chicken to portobello mushroom and ribeye fajita style.  Just make sure to throw on some extras–think baby back rubs, jalapeño sausage, and fried eggs.  All fajitas are served sizzling and mesquite grilled … and delicious.  But if you can’t make up your mind (or have an army to feed), you can go for their “Combo Corral” options–the Fajitas del Rey feed “two” and the Tailgate Party feeds “four”.  Both are vastly huge portions of meat and come with plenty of sides and other goodies … eat hearty, and make friends to share with.

Other entrée options include steaks and chicken (available grilled or chicken fried), fish, some Tex-Mex favorites like chipotle quesadillas and burritos, and healthy things that I don’t really need to talk about because … fajitas.

Dessert is as it should be–golden, crispy churros served with molten chocolate sauce and delicate sopapillas.


3310 N Central Expressway (Plano)
(972) 905-5638

Amaro Montenegro Cocktail Competition

Five of Dallas’s most promising bartenders assembled at High & Tight Barbershop last Wednesday to duke it out over cocktails of their own creation, all of which featured Amaro Montenegro.

Amaro Montenegro is a sweeter amaro with floral, warm spice, and candied orange peel notes that finishes with an ethereal bitterness. It’s what I’d call a gateway amaro for uninitiated tastebuds. The sweetness to bitterness ratio is heavily skewed in the former’s favor, making it much easier for those who’ve never had much amaro experience to acclimate to the world of bitter liqueurs.

The event itself was a fun and casual neighborhood affair, one not tainted by pomp and circumstance. The crowd was mostly industry friends, and each of the competitors were hand-selected and invited to participate in the event, which brought some fresh faces to the Dallas booze competition scene. The featured players were Andrew Stofko (Victor Tango’s), Noah Partridge (Osteria Pane Vino & Crudo Wood Fired Taverna), Austin Gurley (High & Tight Barbershop), Rogher Jeri (Renfield’s Corner), and Ricky Cleva (Henry’s Majestic & Atwater Alley). The judging panel featured Omar Yeefoon from The 86 Company, Matt Orth from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, and Matt Brown from Total Beverage Solution.  Not too shabby of a lineup.

The order of cocktail presentations was determined by drawing names out of a hat, and with the judges in position at the bar and the spectators all with Montenegro cocktails in hand, the competition was officially underway.

andrewFirst up was Andrew Stofko with his Japansese-inspired cocktail, Seppuku Realé, which featured squid ink, seaweed, nori, and sesame. When asked about what place Montenegro holds at his bar, Andrew responded, “I’ve found Montenegro to be a great introductory amaro–less bitter than many of its counterparts, but a start in that direction to the unfamiliar palate. I use it mostly as a modifier in drinks at the bar, but for the competition I wanted to try using it as a base spirit. Other industry folk will order it as shots, too, occasionally.”

The finished cocktail was stunning in its simplicity with a mysterious black hue and nori and sesame seed garnish. Despite its potentially intimidating color, the drink was pleasant and easy (read: too easy) to drink, with an umami taste throughout that just made me want sushi real bad.

This competition was off to a good start.

noahThe next player up was Noah Partridge with his cocktail, the Montenegroni, which I must tell you was my favorite moniker of the night. Montenegroni? This is genius-level pun game. Respect. Noah’s cocktail was a play on the classic cocktail and consisted of Aperol, Horizon Gin, and Montenegro served up in a coupe glass with a lemon garnish. It was balanced, well-rounded, and boozy–all of the things you want from a Negroni. At this point, I was already starting to sense that the judges were going to struggle to pick a winner; these guys were bringing their A-game.

Enter Austin Gurley. I didn’t know it yet, but he was about to take this competition in a new direction. The barman has no lack of veneration for the event’s star ingredient. When asked about his view on the liqueur, he replied, “Amaro Montenegro is fantastic juice! austinBright rose on the nose with a nice caramel sweetness and an herbal bitter finish. It’s absolutely fantastic at balancing cocktails since it adds a nice viscosity and sweetness to offset more tart and dry components, then provides a bitter finish for complexity.”

His cocktail, Elinas Sonnet, featured a whole egg (he’s favoring flips this fall), strawberry orgeat, hibiscus syrup, caramel cordial, lime, Redemption Rye, and Montenegro with Angostura bitters for garnish. Did you get all of that? What he did with that laundry list of ingredients is nothing short of sorcery. I expected a cocktail that would break under the weight of its components, and what I experienced was a light and airy beverage that was reminiscent of strawberry milks from my childhood … except boozier and so much better.

The penultimate competitor was Rogher Jeri with a riff on an Italian soda, La Dolce Elena. Another Montenegro enthusiast, Rogher had this to say about it: “I enjoy Montenegro for its beautiful balance between the sweet and herbaceous bitterness that give Italian amari their unique qualities. I drink it on its own, neat. Sometimes mixing it 2 parts with 1 part Grand Marnier. I’ve also been playing with aging it in American Oak barrels, which adds a beautiful vanilla and oaky sweetness that balances beautifully with the original recipe. Because of the limited quantities we can age at a time, it isn’t on our menu, but if you ask, we might just have some you can sip on.”

rogherI knew the man was serious when he presented his homemade soda with yerba mate and chamomile tea. Another player who came to win! Along with the soda, his cocktail included ice made of Crazy Water 3 for its minerality, Hoodoo chicory liqueur, orange zest, and rose water. The aromatics of his cocktail highlighted the floral characteristics of the Montenegro and the presentation emphasized it as well with an elaborate rose garnish.

The final competitor of the night was Ricky Cleva with this cocktail, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. He’s no stranger to Montenegro, that’s for sure. In his words, “I have two cocktails on the menu in Atwater showcasing the versatility of the spirit. Montenegro is my favorite amaro at the moment. I imagine you’ll continue to see its presence on the menu in Atwater through the fall and winter menus.”

rickyBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead featured kiwi cordial, orange bitters, El Dorado 5 year rum, lime, Amaro Montenegro, and finished with a hibiscus Aperol floater and honeysuckle garnish. The cocktail resembled an end-of-summer sunset (how apropos) and possessed a slight funkiness and depth of flavor that I really enjoy. It was a welcome punch to my palate with its layers of flavor.

I did not envy the judges’ job that night. They had some serious deliberation to do, so they went to a dark corner to hash it out. All five cocktails were thoughtful, well-constructed, and impressively executed and vastly different from each other. If there were a Montenegro cocktail spectrum, the competitors covered a significantly wide range–from sweet, nostalgic flips to savory, opaque black concoctions.

And the winner is…

Andrew Stofko with his Seppuku Realé! Andrew’s win earns him a trip to the 2017 San Antonio Cocktail Conference that takes place in January where his cocktail will be featured. Second place distinction went to Austin Gurley with his Elinas Sonnet cocktail.

Pakpao Thai Brunch

I’m going to get right to it: Pakpao is Thai me up, tie me down delicious.  Now with three locations strong, Pakpao led by Chef Jet Tila serves up authentic Thai food with fresh ingredients in a really beautiful way.  (Like … actually nice to look at, but also beautifully done.)  Their food is amazing, but their brunch offerings are a truly unique take on Dallas’s favorite meal.  Think Coconut Pancakes and lemongrass and kaffir lime sausage hash.

The drinks offered at brunch are as unique as it gets for brunch.  You aren’t going to find bottomless mimosas or bloody mary bars here, but you will find refreshing options like their Thai Lemongrass bloody mary (my personal favorite in Dallas), their Lychee Bellini, and Chula-Rita.  The best part?  These delightful libations start at just $3.

Everything atop the plates that hit our table that fateful day was incredible.  Those Coconut Pancakes, tho.  If you eat anything there at brunch, make it that.  Delightfully light and not too sweet thanks to the pineapple syrup and coconut milk, I’d substitute my traditional flapjacks any day.  Another huge winner was the Wok Fried Egg Salad with crunchy cucumbers … who knew that Salads were better fried?  Pakpao did.  (This is also evident in Rachel’s comment about their Crispy Morning Glory Salad at the Plano Pakpao opening.)

While the brunch was a revelation, most of the food that they make it.  (I mean … I’m not sure why I was so surprised by all of the amazing brunch options with their track record … whatever.)  The less brunch-y items we tried were the Hoi Obh (steamed P.E.I. mussels with the most amazing lemongrass and Thai basil broth) and the Pork Congee.  The congee was, as best as I can describe it, a comforting porridge-like soup with ground pork and ginger.  I may or may not have insisted on taking home the little bit that was left just so I could taste it again.  Whatever.

The decor is simple and seemingly authentic down to the ingredients  stacked thoughtfully on shelves below the open kitchen window.  Located directly beside its sister restaurant, Oak, it’s easy to miss since it’s not visible from the street.

Stop in to one of the three locations for a brunch you won’t soon forget … just make sure to invite me for some coconut pancakes.

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3 locations (Design District, Plano, and Preston Hollow)


***Pakpao invited me in to check out their brunch offerings.***

Asador Fall Dinner Preview

Each season, Asador, the restaurant in Dallas’s Renaissance Hotel serving farm-to-table food, presents a delicious dinner featuring fresh, flavorful seasonal selections.  The Fall Harvest Dinner tomorrow,  September 28, will be no exception thanks to Chef Brad Phillips’s creations.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of some of the items at this season’s three-course family-style dinner, and attendees are in for a treat.  With selections like the Local Kale Salad with pumpkin seeds and apple vinaigrette, Gulf Snapper Crudo, and Mesquite Grilled Texas Raised Beef, you can’t really go wrong.

The dinner will be $90 per person and includes beverage pairings, parking, tax, and tip.  Reserve one of the few seats left for Wednesday’s dinner by emailing or calling 214-267-4815.  

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2222 N Stemmons Fwy (in the Renaissance Hotel), Dallas

susie knows all things boozy in dallas …