Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Breweries, Bodega & Kalamazoo – Downtown St. Pete

Last week, Creative Loafing’s free newspaper had a huge spread about local craft breweries – we didn’t even realize we had so many in the Tampa Bay area!  Lance and I both had off today, so we decided to go check a few of them out.  When looking at a map online that outlined the “St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail,” we saw that three of them were within walking distance of each other in downtown St. Petersburg – St. Pete Brewing Company, Green Bench Brewing, and Cycle Brewing. 

We headed to St. Pete around noon, but realized that none of them opened until 2pm (I guess most people don’t start drinking that early on a Wednesday!)  So we spent a few hours wandering downtown and checking out the local shops.  We saw a piece on the news recently about huge graffiti murals decorating alleyways behind Central Avenue – and while we explored the city we stumbled upon them.  They are enormous, whimsical designs that brighten an otherwise dreary back street. 

We stopped in a few art galleries and antique stores, then came upon the Kalamazoo Olive Company.  They have a huge selection of gourmet oils and vinegars in stainless steel dispensers that are all available to sample.  James was very welcoming and gladly let us sample as many as we wanted.  He was knowledgeable about his products, and we ended up going home with a bottle of the Garlic Olive Oil.   

Next time I’m in the area I may get a bottle of the Tangerine Balsamic (I would have bought it this time, but I still have Cinnamon Pear Balsamic leftover from Joe & Son’s).  When I brought it home, I realized that they both come from the same distributer, Veronica Foods in Oakland, CA – which is why they had a lot of the same products.  If you do want to check out Kalamazoo, they have a Groupon available for 1 more day for either $25 worth of oils or vinegars for only $12, or a $40 Trip to Italy sampler pack for $20. 

When 2pm came around, we headed to St. Pete Brewing Company.  It was so hot outside today that we were anxious to get inside in the AC.  We were greeted by Rob, who explained a bit about the beers and poured us flights.  I really loved the fact that you weren’t obligated to choose 4 beers for the flights – you could pick as many or as few as you liked, and they were only $1.50 each.  I got 3 of the lighter beers, and Lance got 4 of the IPAs and darker beers.  My favorite was the Summer Ale – a lemon wheat beer.  Lance really loved the I-275 Imperial Red, which was made in collaboration with the Sarasota brewery JDubs. 

They had an old-school TV set up with Mario Kart 64, so Lance and I raced a game while finishing our beers (I won…although to be fair, I was the one who grew up with a Nintendo 64.  Lance had the original Super Nintendo.) 

It was nice to see that the local breweries support their competition – it seems to be a tightly knit community between all of them.  St. Pete Brewing had arrows pointing to the other breweries nearby.  Rob explained that although they do all brew beer, they each have unique styles that they specialize in, so each has their own niche. 

Next, we headed to Green Bench Brewing, which was a little over a half mile down the road.  Again, it was incredibly hot outside today, so we were thirsty again by the time we got there.  I absolutely loved the design of this space – it is located in a restored 1920’s brick warehouse that used to be a mechanic shop.  The interior has a polished concrete bar with an interesting hexagon backsplash, large weathered metal pendant lights, funky industrial lights made of pipes, and of course, a green bench.  You can see the brewing process through the windows behind the bar. 

We ordered sample flights here as well – again mine are all the light beers.  I’m slowly acquiring the taste for darker beers, but most IPAs are way too hoppy for me.  My favorite was a tie between the Happy Hermit Pale Ale & the Rye Saison.  Lance liked the Surrealist – which was a sour IPA. 

When it gets cooler outside I’d love to come back with friends and drink outside in their courtyard.  They have lounge chairs and picnic tables set up out on a lawn, lights strung above, and a cool mural that says “Greetings from Green Bench Brewing Co.”   You can play corn hole or bocce ball on the lawn, and apparently they have a fire pit at night. 

We decided to take a break from the beer for lunch at Bodega – a walk-up restaurant that sells Latin market food.  It was right across the street from Green Bench and I’ve heard great reviews about it.  It doesn’t seem like much, but they have some seating in front of the order window and a cute little covered patio in the back.  The tables were decorated with succulents growing in leftover cans.

I ordered the Pollo Asado – coconut marinated grilled chicken breast that came with white rice, black beans, and maduros (sweet plantains).  Lance ordered the Cuban sandwich.  Mine was a large portion – the chicken was moist and seasoned perfectly, and the plantains are the best I’ve ever had.  I only wish they’d given me more plantains and less rice.  Lance’s Cuban was very good, but I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.  This restaurant is well worth visiting!

The last brewery on our tour was Cycle Brewing – which was located back near St. Pete Brewing. They have an awesome logo with a funny creature drinking beer while riding a bike (a large metal sculpture version of it is backlit on the wall right when you enter the bar).  They have colorful art hanging on the walls, a rack to hang bikes, and a chalkboard outlining the available beers.   

Unfortunately they did not have the option to try a sampling, so we each picked just 1 beer.  I had the Ryerish Red and Lance had the Nooner #6.  I would definitely get mine again – Lance liked his but it was very strong. 

We finished our day by returning back to where we started at St. Pete Brewing – Rob had told us that his girlfriend sells boozy cupcakes at the bar Wednesdays starting at 5:30pm.  Tonight’s flavor was the “St. Pete Cannonball”, which was a chocolate imperial stout cupcake filled with Irish Whiskey ganache & topped with Baileys frosting.  WOW they were amazing – and they were only $1.50!  Check out her website – Baked by Erin.    

We are exhausted now after the long afternoon of brewery-hopping, but we had so much fun!  I’d highly recommend it! 

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