It’s August and I’m clinging to summer with everything that I’ve got. I’m still living in flip flops and shorts on the weekend, our cornhole boards remain resolute in my back yard, and most importantly, I am far from prepared to part with refreshing summer cocktails. And why should I? It was approximately 146º out there tonight with about 114% humidity. #texas
Enter: New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka. I happily received a bottle in the mail, and let me tell ya, this stuff is basically sunshine in a bottle. New Amsterdam Pineapple is delightfully fruity … enough to be sippable on its own, but it really begs to be highlighted in a cocktail. This vodka is sweet enough to eliminate a real need to add much in the way of additional sugary mixers. In fact, New Amsterdam Pineapple’s sweet flavor profile really begs for a punch of spice to balance it out. Here are two sweet ‘n’ spicy recipes to try (I whipped up the Midsummer Mule, and it was quite delicious.)
Midsummer Mule 2 oz. New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka
0.5 oz. Lime Juice
0.5 oz. Simple Syrup*
2 oz. Ginger Beer
6 slices, diced chili peppers
Muddle 3 chili slices in a tall glass and then pour in all liquids. Add ice and garnish with the remaining 3 chili slices!
*While I did include the simple syrup in my cocktail, I might try leaving it out next time. I’m not convinced it’s necessary since the vodka is really quite sweet on its own!
Highball’s Paradise 2 oz. New Amsterdam Pineapple Vodka
2 oz. Pineapple Juice
0.5 oz. Lime Juice
1 tbsp. Jalapeno Jelly
Shake and strain into tall glass over ice. Then, add 2 oz. of soda water. Garnish with sliced chili peppers (optional) for an extra kick!
When it comes to bars, it’s nice to see that more and more are placing an emphasis on including Texas-brewed craft beer. A few weeks back, I had the good luck to try out the latest addition to Addison’s bar scene that does just that, Ron’s Place.
Take a proven recipe for success, add in copious amounts of beer and hard liquor, and you have something worth talking about. Ron’s Place opened July 23rd and is the latest on Addison’s restaurant row (a.k.a. Beltline). Ron’s Place is the brainchild of twins Mark and Dirk Kelcher, and these guys are seasoned professionals; they’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years. Locals may be familiar with their other bars (The Hubalso in Addison and Ron’s Corner Tavern in Bedford). I have gotten to know The Hub since it’s the home to football watching parties for my alma matter, Texas Tech (GUNS UP!), so I was eager to see what they had in store.
The Kelcher brother’s newest endeavor is a smaller scale bar that focuses on craft beer and also has a vast selection of bourbon, whiskey and scotch . Inspired by their eccentric Uncle Ron and his obsessive beer can collection, they’ve created a friendly little neighborhood bar. (You know, like one of those places where everyone knows your name.) There is plenty of character packed into the place, given the modest size of the bar. Dimly lit, the walls are flanked with rustic-looking bookshelves displaying their booze and some of Uncle Ron’s famous international beer can collection. It’s a welcoming bar where you can go as you are, get a good drink and probably strike up a conversation with a fellow patron.
While the hard liquor they offer is worldly, I found that the beer list is mostly American. They pride themselves on taking advantage of domestic brewed beers and, get this … offer at least 12 Texas-brewed beers on tap.
During my visit, I managed to maneuver myself through the packed space to score a seat at the bar. I tried out two different beers I haven’t seen in many other Dallas bars. The first was a beer out of Montana’s Big Sky Brewing Co. called, funny enough, Moose Drool. Despite the name, this brown ale was rich, tasty and full of flavor. It was a bit creamy and could complement a wide variety of foods. The second beer I tried was from even further up north, the Alaskan White. This was a fairly typical style Witbier with hints of citrus and spice.
If you’re anything like me and suffer from analysis-paralysis when it comes to decision making, you will understand my appreciation for the concise beer descriptions on the menu. It won’t make the decision for you, but should help make the job easier. That said, the staff was very personable and attentive, and are glad to help out. The descriptions worked for me as both beers I went with were well worth it. Next time I will probably go for one of their Texan brews and maybe a whiskey (or two).
Tack on a short and sweet menu of bar food favorites and Ron’s Place has a winning combination that Uncle Ron would be proud of.
Maybe it was that I went on Grand Opening Day, or that it was happy hour and The Hub is next door, but parking spots were hard to come by. I ended up finding a spot behind the building without too many problems. Just know, when visiting Ron’s Place, go ahead and take the first spot you see, even if it’s a few doors down. (It’ll be worth the walk.)
I recently attended an event highlighting Caledonia Spirits and have been intrigued by the brand since. Each of their spirits is crafted in small batches with Vermont honey. (And this honey is le-git! I was given a jar of raw honey to take home and taste and I don’t think I will be able to go back to honey as I knew it. This raw, unfiltered honey has never been heated so it has traces of pollen, propolis, and beeswax.
Barr Hill Gin (90 proof) is handcrafted in small batches. Raw honey is added just before bottling with a finishing taste of juniper berries. Barr Hill Gin has a gold medal and “Gin of the Year” at the 2013 Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition and it won the a double gold meal at the 2012 New York International Spirits Competition.
Tom Cat Barrel-Aged Gin (86 proof) is aged for four to six months in new, charred American White Oak barrels. It has whiskey-like notes of oak and spice with a finish of juniper and honey.
Barr Hill Vodka (80 proof) is handcrafted in small batches completely from raw honey. It has notes of honey, flowers, and vanilla and has a very smooth finish and was (way too) easy to drink.
Oh, and all three of these products are gluten-free and kosher … so that’s neat.
I’m a big fan of the “fancy” cocktail. Don’t get me wrong … there is a time and a place for a good ol’ plain Jane vodka soda. (Usually that time is whenever I am on a diet, and that place is wallowing in a pool of sadness…just kidding! …kind of.) But, if I really want to savor what I’m drinking, I enjoy seeing what happens when bartenders are allowed to flex their mixology muscles and craft drinks that stretch beyond the realm of classic cocktail offerings. If you’ve never been to Pepper Smash at The Shops at Legacy in Plano, believe me when I say that “creative” is their thing. I am still trying to figure out whether their cocktails are more aptly described as “art,” or “science,”- but whatever the case may be- they are mixing up some mighty delicious libations.
Pepper Smash graciously invited me in to check out a few of their new menu offerings, and of course to reacquaint myself with a few of their delicious signature cocktails.
We kicked off the evening with one of Pepper Smash’s most popular cocktails: the Fire Smoked Dr. Pepper ($11).As the name suggests, this cocktail is quite literally smoked before your very eyes, infusing Maker’s Mark with a smoldering oak essence created with a nifty apparatus apparently designed for this very purpose (though it vaguely looks like something Walter White would have stashed in his RV). Imperial sugar Dr. Pepper is add to the mix, giving the cocktail a delightfully familiar sweet-smokiness.
Smoked wood chips are impressive, to be sure, but you aren’t really winning at craft cocktails until you throw a cotton candy machine into the mix. That’s right, Pepper Smash keeps a cotton candy machine behind the bar for the sole purpose of crafting one drink: the Cotton Candy Martini ($10 — Absolut, lemon juice, vanilla syrup, champagne, and you guessed it: cotton candy). I had a hard time conceptualizing how this cocktail would “work”, so I had to order it to see for myself. A familiar fluffy cloud of pink cotton candy is served in a martini glass, and the liquid ingredients are then poured over the cotton candy, which dissolves amidst a fleeting instant of melancholy. But, you can still taste it. Not shockingly, this cocktail is on the saccharine side and reminded me vaguely of a boozy Orange Crush. Definitely an interesting selection.
Because cotton candy machines and booze smoking apparatuses apparently aren’t enough, Pepper Smash offers two cocktails that are frozen with liquid nitrogen: the Pineapple Express ($11 — Bacardi Pineapple, ginger, pineapple juice, champagne) and the Triple M’s Explosion ($12 — pineapple and strawberry infused vodka). The presentation of this duo is dramatic to say the least, as wisps of “smoke” dance atop your cocktail glass when it is placed in front of you.
“But, what is a Pepper Smash,” you may wonder? I’m glad you asked, because I simply can’t visit without ordering one. The cocktail kitchen’s namesake, the Pepper Smash ($10), incorporates a bold blend of Tito’s vodka, red bell pepper, jalapeno, onions marinated in 100 proof vodka agave, and lime juice. Spicy and robust with just a hint of sweetness, this unique savory cocktail is probably my favorite one on the menu. (I recommended it to the guy seated next to me at the bar, and he ended up drinking three.) I say the Pepper Smash is “probably” my favorite, because I have a hard time dismissing Eden’s Garden ($12 — Plymouth gin, elderflower, cucumber, basil, mint, jalapeno, lime juice- as a close second).
With so many creative, tasty cocktails to focus on, it would be easy to overlook the food at Pepper Smash. Don’t. Everything I have ever sampled from their kitchen has been seriously delicious. Sometimes, I find myself day dreaming about their Smokey Mac & Cheese ($9 — cavatappi pasta, sharp cheddar, gruyere, smoke). Everything I sampled on this visit was equally as tempting.
We started out with the Pimento Cheese ($8), which was topped with bacon jam, and accompanied by buttery grilled sourdough and blistered shishito peppers. Holy new favorite appetizer. If there is something in this world that cannot be improved upon by bacon jam, I want to hear about it.
Pepper Smash always hits it out of the park with their flatbreads, and this visit was no exception. We sampled the Al Pastor ($12 — cider braised pulled pork, sweet onion puree, pineapple, jalapeño, and lime). The toppings were generously portioned, with a little taste of every ingredient in every bite. If you are a fiend for spicy dishes, this flatbread is definitely for you; loaded with fresh jalapeños, this dish definitely woke up my palate.
When it comes time for dessert and the manager asks, “Wanna try something weird?” there’s clearly only one correct response. We were presented with a liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream concoction- incorporating Licor 43, vanilla ice cream base, basil, and fresh strawberries. I love unexpected flavors in desserts, and the basil was an awesome addition. This was an off-menu delight, but I feel confident it can be snagged upon request.
TLDR: the next time you feel inclined to treat yo’self to an incredibly unique, seriously indulgent cocktail experience (yes, it really is an experience), + some killer eats, head on over to Pepper Smash at the Shops at Legacy. (And probably plan on Ubering it because the urge to try all of the cocktails on the menu is pretty overwhelming.)
Moving to New York City from a state flowing with craft brews, local spirits, and wines lining either side of the highway through the heart of Texas Hill Country, I didn’t believe there was a land more proud of their distilleries. Texas is a state that wears its pride on its sleeve as a badge of honor; whereas, New York is the kid everyone knew was talented, but now they’re charming everyone with a whole new bag of tricks.
Wednesday night, All the Tastes of New York threw an intimate launch party at Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse to kick off their book, Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom by Heather Dolland. The evening featured tastings from over 20 local craft distillers along with passed hors d’oeuvres and first-hand discussion on the importance of “Farm to Glass” movement. Guests enjoyed sips of gin, moonshine, vodka, cider, bourbon, and more… each went down smoothly with a bite of slider and helping of chicken parm. My favorite cocktail of the night goes to a spicy blend of Port Morris moonshine muddled with jalapeño dubbed the “Salma Hayek”. However, I could sip (or gulp) a whole bottle of Sorel, the wheat spirit distilled with hibiscus, ginger, nutmeg, cassia and clove, and sweetened with cane sugar from distillery Jack from Brooklyn.
The book Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom dives deeply into the movement “Farm to Glass”, sharing the journey of 30 craft distillers, their journey to success, and what it means to grow locally in terms of spirits. The book is set to release on July 4, 2015 for $29.95 and will be available through retailers such as Amazon.com. You may not be able to get your hands on a copy just yet, but you can read below to gain a little insight into Heather’s background, what this “Farm to Glass” movement is all about, and what you should be sipping on this summer.
Could you give me a little more of your background and how you got into the wine and spirits industry? What interests you most about it? I am the founder and owner of All The Tastes of New York, a startup firm that organizes and hosts themed “food crawl” dining experiences at some of Manhattan’s top restaurants. Launched in 2012, All the Tastes of New York enables groups of eight to 30 participants to enjoy appetizers, entrees and desserts at three restaurants within walking distance of each other.
For more than 8 years, I was also a Brand Ambassador for many premium wine and spirit brands. Working with these brands and creating Food and Wine Festivals to promote them, led to my awareness of the increasing number of distillers in New York State. After getting to know many of these craft distillers, I was inspired to tell their story.
What do you hope to achieve with your book? By writing this book, I will like to aid in the awareness of what it means to be a craft distiller and help support this budding New York industry. Because my business focuses on promoting brands, my desire is that we can grow together.
What is your connection to the “Farm to Glass” movement? Why do you think the importance is behind it? For years we have heard about eating local and the farm to table movement. Now with the influx of craft distillers, we are able to drink local and embrace the farm to glass movement. It’s important to remember that the Farm Distillery Act that passed in 2007 to make distilling easier in New York State, was about allowing farmers to increase the value of their crops. Many of these distillers make Vodka and Gin distilled from New York apples and Whiskey and Bourbon from New York corn. A large number of these distillers come from generations of farmers.
What is your go-to drink and food pairing? I really do not have a ‘go-to’ food and drink pairing. I have a tremendous love of food and drinks. Most of this is the joy of creativity and exploring new tastes and flavors. I rarely eat the same food and drink combination because I thrive on new experiences!
Do you have a favorite spot in the city to grab a drink? One of my favorite spots to have a drink is Middle Branch. A speakeasy in Murray Hill.
What is your top summer cocktail recipe? I am very fond of Tequila and generally spicy cocktails. My top summer cocktail is a Passion Fruit Margarita with Jalapenos.
The best of the best came out during the weekend of the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival. I was able to attend four of the seven events during the festival. Each event was unique and extremely well-planned and executed.
The Grand Tasting Friday night was overwhelming to say the least. There were more than one hundred restaurants, wineries, breweries, and distilleries represented in the Worthington Hotel’s Grand Ballroom. I had to plan a strategy to make it all the way though so that my stomach and liver didn’t hate me at the end of the night. (Or the next day, for that matter.) The highlights were, of course, Fort Worth favorites such as Rahr & Son’s Brewing and Firestone & Robertson Distilling.
#latenight Desserts after Dark at 809 Vickery was a short Uber ride from the Grand Tasting. This event was all about who had the best dessert and who could make the best cocktail using Firestone & Robertson’s TX Blended Whiskey. (I’ll bet you $50 that Susie was really upset that she had to miss this event.) There were eight desserts and eight drinks featured. My favorite drink was the Proper Manhattan from Proper. I also enjoyed the Texas Peach (TX Whiskey, vanilla bean simple syrup, Texas peach preserve, pistachio foam and cinnamon) from Bob’s Steak and Chop House. The Fan Favorite of the night was from Thirteen Pies. It was called John’s Banana Milk Punch (TX Whiskey, cream, house-made banana puree, and a farm egg, garnished with a banana marshmallow and vanilla cookie crumble.)
Saturday night consisted of cowboy boots and lawn chairs at the Burgers, Brews, and Blues event. This event was held along the banks of the Trinity River with eleven chefs and twenty-two craft breweries showcasing the best each had to offer. The live music included sets from James Hinkle, the Michael Lee Clemmer Band, and the Chris Watson Band. I am always up for a good beer, so this was probably my favorite event of the weekend. There was a good mix of local breweries such as Rahr, Lakewood, Rabbit Hole, Panther Island, and Martin House. Unfortunately, the lines were extremely long for the burgers, so I opted for more brews than burgers. (Oops.) My favorite burger that I did wait in line for was Rodeo Goat’sChaca Oaxaca which was a beef/chorizo burger with avocado, queso fresco, fried egg and tabasco mayo. (Yes … it was delicious.)
Sunday Funday wrapped up the weekend at the Coyote Drive-In. There was a wide variety of food trucks to sample during this event, but my favorite food truck in attendance was definitely Salsa Limon. The food truck is usually parked next to The Cellar at 2919 West Berry Street (across from TCU) and their tacos can also be found at their permanent location located at 929 University Drive. They are all about serving the best Mexico City-style tacos in Fort Worth. PRO TIP: Add plenty of jalapeño cream salsa if you like a kick to your tacos!
Bravo, Fort Worth … bravo. If you have the chance to attend any of the events at next year’s, make it happen. It’ll give you the chance to find some new Fort Worth treasures and enjoy old favorites.
The thing I love aboutRA Sushi is the imaginative and often unexpected twist they seem to gravitate toward when dreaming up their delectable menu items. Take my current favorite RA cocktail offering, for instance- the Emperor’s Cucumber Margarita ($9; Patron Silver, Combier Liqueur d’Orange, lime juice, Japanese yuzu, agave nectar, cucumber). The last place in the world you would expect to find a legit marg might be a sushi restaurant, but trust me, this interesting spin on a traditional ‘rita is uniquely delicious.
Channeling that same creativity and use of thoughtful and surprising ingredients, RA Sushi has dreamed up nine new menu items, which will be available for a limited time (through August). I had the opportunity to sample some of the new menu offerings, and they did not disappoint.
RA has added three new cocktails to the roster, and my favorite of the bunch had to be the Pear and Lemon Blossom ($8.50),a pear-infused lemonade, made with Absolute Pears, St. Germain, lemon sour, and a pear puree. The pear flavor in this fruity cocktail was not shy, and it mingled nicely with the tart lemon; oh-so-sippable and refreshing for spring. Also new are the Hot Tropics Margarita ($8.50): Tanteo Tropical Tequila, Combier Liqueur d’Orange, shaken with mango purée, lime juice and agave nectar, served with a chili-salted rim; and the Peach Basil Sour ($8.50): Bacardi Peach Red, St. Germain, fresh basil and lemon sour.
RA also has some new limited time sake offerings, including TY KU Coconut Nigori Sake ($8/$16 *330ML Bottle): premium nigori sake infused with the refreshing taste of coconut and aromatic hints of vanilla; and, the enticing Discovery Sake Flight ($9): which includes three 2 oz. pours: MIO Sparkling, Kizakura Pure and Saturi “Little Lily” Nigori.
Two new appetizers have been introduced, each featuring seabream. I found myself wondering “What’s a seabream?”, and soon learned it is in fact a mild white fish with a taste and texture similar to sea bass. We sampled Red Seabream Carpaccio ($11): finely sliced red seabream and lemon topped with a spicy yuzu dressing, organic micro greens, truffle salt and touch of lemon zest; this light dish was full of fresh, delicate flavor, and it was a favorite at our table. Also available is Red Seabream Nigiri ($4.50): red seabream over rice, topped with spicy yuzu dressing and truffle salt.
We sample two new entree offerings, and I particularly enjoyed the Tuna California Roll ($9), a classic California Roll topped with a mix of tuna, avocado, cucumber, bell pepper and cilantro, finished with togarashi, garlic chips and black pepper soy sauce. Garlic lovers, this roll is for you. The toasted garlic chips were bursting with flavor, and I loved the extra crunch they provided for added texture. We also tried the Langostino Strawberry Salad ($12): langostino, strawberries, cucumber and avocado over arugula, tossed in citrus vinaigrette, served with a tangy kiwi wasabi sauce and truffle salt. This salad was very light and fresh, making it a perfect warmer weather dish.
Whether you’re thinking about checking out these tempting new menu items, or if it’s high time you stopped in for some of your old favorites, a great time to visit RA Sushi would be between Monday, May 25, and Sunday, May 31. During “Nicky’s Week,” RA Sushi will donate 100% of sales from a variety of menu items to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in order to benefit kids battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. So, go and eat sushi for charity!
I have visited the Dallas Galleria more than few times (women be shopping’, yo), and I’m kind of mad at myself that all along, I have been missing out on the greatness that is The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich.
Aptly named, this sleek, contemporary spot is nestled away on the second floor of the Westin Galleria, and just paces away from the interior mall entrance. I had a chance to belly up to the bar to check out The Second Floor’s liquid offerings. Let me tell you, they’ve got a lot going on here, folks. This is not your average hotel bar. It may be attached to the Westin, but the sippable menu at The Second Floor easily competes with offerings you would expect to find at some of the best watering holes in Dallas. If you haven’t discovered this spot yet, it could be a game changer. Ladies, is that shopping trip you dragged your guy on taking just a liiiitttle bit longer than originally advertised? Sit him down at the bar, and you’re solid for at least another hour. Better yet, are the odds ne’er in your favor when swim suit shopping? Screw swimsuits … they have cocktails.
When I say they do things differently here, I’m not kidding; I was impressed to learn that The Second Floor actually makes their own hand-crafted aromatic tonic, infused with orange bitters and burnt cinnamon. The Second Floor’s creative and thoughtful cocktail menu offers seasonal features in addition to old standbys; one fan favorite is the Cucumber Sip (Organic cucumber vodka, elderflower, strawberry, & soda, $12), which I’m told is The Second Floor’s most popular drink. I had the opportunity to sample the House Sangria ($8), which was chock-full of boozy berries that I’m told spent a good amount of time hanging out in a cognac-lemon-elderflower concoction prior to taking a dip in my glass. (Is it rude to ask for a fork to get these leftovers from the bottom of my glass?) The sangria was rich and bursting with fruity goodness, and ultimately waaayyyy too easy to drink.
A few new inventions that are featured on The Second Floor’s spring cocktail menu include:
Perhaps the thing I was most impressed with overall about The Second Floor’s fleet of beverages is their extensive whiskey menu. With more than 70 American whiskey offerings in total, and an equally impressive Scotch list, the menu runs the gamut from old standards to Texas labels to far more exotic options. (18-year Japanese whiskey, anyone? ) Intriguingly, The Second Floor offers a very nice variety of whiskey tasting flights. Oh, yes. Flights start at just $12, but if you’re feeling saucy, go for “The Big Spender”–this flight features three whiskeys each aged 21 years or better (Hello, 25-year Macallan), and it can be yours for a mere $100.
Additionally, The Second Floor boasts a comprehensive wine list with more than 80 offerings by the bottle, 20 of them by the glass. If you are a beer drinker, they’ve got you covered, featuring 12 premiums, 12 Texas craft brews, and 5 domestic options. Pro-tip: With any food or beverage purchase, The Second Floor will validate your Westin Galleria parking, which is kind of awesome. Must remember this come holiday shopping.
Stay tuned for another post soon about their new menu offerings for Summer 2015!
The Second Floor offers up some mighty fine happy hour specials.
Happy Hour- 4-6 PM, Monday- Friday
Specialty cocktail of the day (changes daily) $5
Domestic beer $4
“The Best $5 Wine in the City”- Honoro Vera, Garnacha OR Les Costières de Pomerols, Picpoul de Pinet
Various snacks and small bites, $2-5
The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich The Westin Galleria Dallas, Level 2
13340 Dallas Parkway Dallas, TX 75240