"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Beer Travel: Rochester, New York

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron. Follow him at @geekcanuck

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

We were recently planning  a weekend getaway and mulling over our go-to list of favourite cities in driving distance, including Lexington, Chicago, Montreal, Detroit and Toronto. However, we’d recently been to most of them and were itching for a new adventure, so the Clockwatching Tart had the bright idea to visit the Finger Lakes region of New York state, specifically Rochester.

It didn’t take much online research for me to realize that Rochester has a very good craft beer scene and where there is craft beer, there is good food (as well as bearded dudes, pun-named beers, and sparsely decorated concrete tap rooms with friendly vibes). Just like that, we were off to Rochester!

The drive from London, Ontario to Rochester, New York is really only about three-and-a-half hours but with the border crossing, it was more like four hours -- which meant we were ready for lunch! Our first stop on the way in was the Rohrbach Brewing Co. Buffalo Road Brewpub.

Rohrbach Brewing

The atmosphere inside was a bit of a throwback - less the aforementioned concrete tap room and more the wood-paneled, dimly lit and comforting bar you might remember from decades past. The service was friendly and the portion sizes were more than generous.

Rohrbach Brewing

I tried their Space Kitty Citra Double IPA and found it a little underwhelming. The most interesting beer I tried at Rohrbach was definitely their Rainbow Street IPA, which was meant to evoke rainbow sorbet through the use of milk sugar, raspberry puree, lime concentrate as well as tangerine and vanilla extracts. There was a lot going on and it was only lightly carbonated but the raspberry and lime came through clearly and it was a nice way to start our adventures in Rochester.
Final score: 2.5/5

AJ's Beer Warehouse

Our next stop was AJ’s Beer Warehouse, which was the mostly highly rated local bottle shop on - and for good reason. The shop itself was spacious, which isn’t as common as you might expect - some stores make you feel like you are going to knock something over any time you turn around. The staff also took the time to show me around and point out a lot of the most popular options from local breweries, which was a nice touch. They also had a very good craft cider selection, much to the delight of the Clockwatching Tart.

AJ's Beer Warehouse

I focused on choosing mostly local beer from New York State, which also meant I was able to stick to my guns and not buy any Founders KBS. While KBS (and especially CBS) stouts are lovely, there is enough great beer in the world not to have to buy beer from companies who might not treat their employees particularly well. Of interesting note to Ontario beer nerds, there was a really prominent display of Collective Arts gose with guava, which was further proof of their goal to expand into the U.S. market.

Beers of New York State

I was more than happy with the little collection of local cans we left with. The only exception to the local can rule was a bottle of B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher, an absolutely wonderful oatmeal imperial stout from Hoppin’ Frog in Akron, Ohio that I discovered back during our early trips to Chicago. Final score: 4/5

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

After we checked into our hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn, which we chose for its pool and downtown location, but also had inexpensive parking and brightly lit hallways thanks to a large atrium), we walked to Fifth Frame Brewing Co., which immediately made us feel at home. It is the type of taproom you’ve encountered countless times if you visit many newer craft breweries. You feel relaxed but also excited at the possibility of finding just the right thing from the draft list. Thankfully, Fifth Frame didn’t disappoint in that regard. There was cider for the Clockwatching Tart and I had Bounce House, a triple-fruited gose with guava, mango and pineapple that was just wonderfully aromatic and alluring.

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

I followed that up with Pull Out Couch, a petite pastry stout with cocoa nibs and coffee that was really nicely balanced with lots of coffee up front. The coffee aspect was an important part of Fifth Frame, as they have lovely coffee bar and breakfast menu that tempted us to go back for breakfast (and cans of Bounce House to take home with us) the morning after. My only tiny complaint about Fifth Frame was that I couldn’t really figure out what their evening food menu was without looking at their website but overall it was fantastic.
Final score: 4.5/5

Nosh, Rochester

Dinner was proof of why the Clockwatching Tart and I travel so well together. She loves to map out places on Google Maps and make spreadsheets and itineraries; I just tend to just check out Ratebeer and be more spontaneous about things - but you definitely need both mentalities to have success. In this case, I think I just Googled “unique dining Rochester” and stumbled upon Nosh. A quick Lyft ride later, we were seated and had (very good) cocktails on the way.

Tuna Wonton Nachos

I don’t normally show photos of myself in these posts, but this one is fitting as I feel the dish is absolutely perfect. As you might remember, I’ve become an absolute nut for sushi-grade tuna and especially poke bowls so it should come as no surprise that I ordered the Ahi Noshos, which were a take on nachos using wontons instead of tortillas and covered with ahi tuna, cucumber daikon, salsa, seaweed and tobiko (fish eggs). It was only $14 and it seems to me that it should be on every menu in North America (albeit in smaller portion sizes) in the coming years.
Final score: 4/5

The Playhouse, Rochester

A few years back, we discovered our first retro arcade / craft beer bar in Lexington, Kentucky and ever since then, I look for them whenever we travel. Thankfully, Rochester once again came through, this time with The Playhouse. There was a combination of older fare like Frogger and Donkey Kong and more modern titles. The place was swarming with kids but made up for it by having Caffe Americano, a double stout with coffee and vanilla from Cigar City Brewing, on tap.

The Playhouse, Rochester

We ended up spending most of our time at a sit-down racing game before retiring back to the hotel for a well-deserved swim.
Final score: 3/5

Genesee Brew House

Before leaving Rochester, there was one last place I wanted to check out, the Genesee Brew House, which was equal parts museum, restaurant, pilot brewery, and tasting room. While not exactly a craft brewery, it was still an incredibly fun place to visit. We learned about the history of brewing in Rochester and checked out all the artwork on their cans and bottles over the years.

Genesee Brew House

We also had a flight at the tasting room where we discovered something the locals clearly already knew: that the Genesee Ruby Red Kölsch is absolutely wonderful. The ruby red grapefruit was fresh and strong on the nose and the beer itself was just really light and balanced and approachable, earning it’s “beer of summer” moniker. They had only recently released it and we’d seen people with the little, yellow cans around town, but this was our first chance to grab some for ourselves.

Genesee Brew House

The cans were sold out, but the next best thing was amazing deal on a filled growler along with two pint glasses for only $20, which I happily said yes to.

Clockwatching Tart

The Brew House itself is located right on the Genesee River and its High Falls, which made the stop all the more worthwhile.
Final score: 4/5

To cap off our trip, we were in a Wegman’s picking up a few things for friends and I stumbled upon 12-packs of the highly sought-after Ruby Red Kölsch. Given its close proximity to home, ease of getting around the city, emerging craft beer scene, good food, and location at the heart of the Finger Lakes region (spoiler alert: nearby Geneva, New York is adorable and awesome too), Rochester has now been added to my list of go-to cities.
Final score: 5/5  


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Road Trip - Chicago Style!

I have been very lax in updating this blog recently, but now that the spring weather is here I will try to get back on track by talking about our trips so far this year.  We’ve been to Chicago, Las Vegas and Toronto in 2019 and we’re planning another short road trip soon!

Over the Christmas holidays we took a trip back to Chicago.  We like travelling over the Christmas holidays because we’re usually off work, and often lucky to have mild enough weather for a road trip.  

Chicago is a 6 hour drive for us, which is definitely manageable, but this time we decided to break up the trip with a stop in Kalamazoo, Michigan for a night to check out all the new craft beer places in the city since our last trip way back in 2013. There are a lot of changes!

We stayed at a hotel close to downtown and walked to the new HopCat Kalamazoo first.  HopCat has really expanded over the years from their first location in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you see one on your travels, it’s an excellent place to try local craft beer.  The Kalamazoo location is huge and in an old train station. We made it in time for happy hour and had some delicious beer, cider and snacks.

Next we checked out Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.  Last time we were here, it was just a bar with a food counter, now they’ve expanded to a full service restaurant as well as the bar.  Their beer is some of the best in North America, and we featured it in the Beer Baron’s first post on this site!

We had some more snacks and beer and moved on to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange where they have a stock ticker and beer prices rise and fall throughout the night.  It’s a cute concept.

The next morning, we decided to make one more detour before Chicago and visited the famous 3 Floyds Brewery in Munster, Indiana, about 45 minutes outside Chicago. We picked up some precious bottles and had a really spectacular lunch in their busy brewpub. The food was outstanding and the staff was super friendly.

Finally, on to Chicago!  On the way into town we stopped at Marz Brewing in the up-and-coming Bridgeport neighbourhood near White Sox stadium.  The brewery is gorgeous and the beer is fantastic. It’s a great community place.  

Our hotel on this trip was the brand new Aloft Chicago Mag Mile.  We like Aloft hotels - they’re a little bit modern and usually have a bar and live music in the lobby on weekends.  This one was perfectly located and an easy walk to Michigan Avenue and all Chicago attractions. One of the reasons we love Chicago, other than the amazing food, drinks and shopping, is that hotels can very cheap!  Our hotel was less than $90 USD per night in the perfect location. In the winter and spring on weekends, we’ve gotten some amazing hotel deals in the city.

On our first night we walked to Headquarters Beercade River North.  Matt loves an arcade bar and this is one of the best we’ve ever been to.  The games are FREE to play and they have a great beer and cocktail selection.  

Afterwards we tried Rick Bayless’s new speakeasy, Bar Sotano. We’ve enjoyed his Chicago restaurants, Frontera Grill and Xoco in the past, so as soon as we heard about this new addition we made a reservation!  We’re so glad we did. The entrance is in an alley behind the restaurants and you check in at the front desk before being led behind a curtain and down the stairs (sotano means basement in Spanish).

The drink menu was spectacular and we tried several cocktails, including this mango cocktail served in a plastic bag!

The food menu is mostly small plates but Matt had the burger, which we were shocked to find was one of the best we’d ever tasted!

The next day we did a little walking and shopping and stopped by Millennium Park to visit the bean.  Matt had a Chicago Dog in the park.

That evening we hadn’t made plans but wanted to try one of Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s restaurants.  We ended up at the Little Goat Diner, We sat at the counter and had some amazing food!  Matt had the tallest burger in history!

We also checked out the Chicago outlet of one of Matt’s favourite San Diego breweries, Ballast Point, and played some more video games at Emporium Fulton Market.   The perfect end to a fun and filling trip.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Captain Marvel: The HFF (Higher, Further, Faster) Cocktail

Post by Matt

As is tradition around here, when I’m really excited about an upcoming super hero movie, I tend to celebrate by creating a cocktail to celebrate the character. I think my most successful cocktails have been for Wonder Woman and Doctor Strange, but I had the most fun trying to figure out a worthy cocktail for Black Panther.

We’ve had our tickets to Captain Marvel since January 7, so to say I’m excited for the movie is a bit of an understatement. When I asked the Clockwatching Tart about what cocktail she thought we should make to celebrate Ms. Danvers, I told her her main colours were red, blue and gold and that the movie’s tagline was “Higher, Further, Faster”. Her immediate response was “Champagne and Cognac” because “it has a nice gold colour and is strong as heck, straight forward, and classy”. Who am I to argue against that logic?

To make things interesting, we decided to try three variations of a French 75, which is Champagne and Cognac with simple syrup and lemon juice. For the first version, we went with the classic and just added a cherry for a splash of red in honour of Captain Marvel.

Add the following into a cocktail shaker with ice:

¼ ounce (1 ½ teaspoons) lemon juice
¼ ounce (1 ½ teaspoons) simple syrup
1 ounce (30 ml / two tablespoons) Cognac (we used Remy Martin VSOP)

Shake and then pour the liquid into a chilled Champagne flute and top with:

4 ounces of Champagne (we substituted French sparkling wine from just outside the Champagne region, because… money)

Garnish with a lemon twist and a cherry and enjoy! The Clockwatching Tart and I found the cocktail dangerously easy to enjoy with a nice balance between the brighter notes of the lemon and the depth and complexity of the cognac. We agreed that if you ordered it at a fancy cocktail bar, you wouldn’t be disappointed.

The Clockwatching Tart loves cider and recently came across a beautiful bottle of Calvados, which is French Apple Brandy. My favourite Ontario winery is Cave Springs from the Jordan area near Niagara. Their Dolomite has a beautiful limestone minerality to it that I absolutely love, so we decided to see if they would make a successful variation of a French 75. We prepared it the exact same way, but substituted Calvados for Cognac and Cave Springs for the previous Brut. While it would be great on a summer day and was nicely aromatic, it lacked the depth of the original and wasn’t quite as good.

Our final variation substituted Dillon’s cherry gin for both the lemon juice and the simple syrup. While it was a valiant effort, there was just too much going on with everything the gin brought to the table and it wasn’t worthy of Captain Marvel (or our palettes).

In the end, there was only one drink worthy of the Higher, Further, Faster name (and inclusion in our regular cocktail rotation): the original French 75 with a cherry. Cheers to Brie Larson and her fight for underrepresented voices and to Captain Marvel laying waste to the box office and all the trolls.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Cheese Fondue for Two

cheese fondue

When Matt and I got married we asked for, and received, a fondue pot.  I really wanted one, but it's not the most practical gift. I can't say we've used it regularly over the years, but we broke it out for Christmas Eve dinner and had a wonderful cheese fondue. 

Melty, tangy cheese on all manner of fruits, vegetables and bread is about the best meal there is.  We watched Die Hard while enjoying our fondue, and it may just be a new Christmas Eve tradition!

I don't know what Matt enjoyed more, eating the fondue, or arranging the fruit, veggies and bread on the tray.  

Here's the recipe for Fondue for Two.  This is enough for a meal for two hungry people or an appetizer or snack for four.  Double the recipe and add more hearty dippers like salami and pretzels to feed a crowd. 

1 garlic clove
1 cup dry white wine
250g Emmental cheese, shredded
250g Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon cornstarch
juice of half a lemon
black pepper to taste

Things to dip:
  • slices of baguette
  • pretzels or pretzel bread
  • toasted bread cubes
  • grapes
  • apple slices
  • chunks of salami or cooked sausage
  • boiled mini potatoes
  • blanched vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, etc.
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub both halves all over the inside of the fondue pot. 

Add the wine to the fondue pot and heat slowly until hot but not boiling.  

Toss the cheeses with cornstarch. Over low heat, add the cheese slowly to the wine, stirring to melt after each addition. Don't let the mixture come to a boil, just keep it warm and stir until it becomes glossy and starts to thicken. 

Add lemon juice and pepper. 

The cheese may still be thin at this point, but it will thicken up as it sits.  

If you have a proper fondue pot with a heating device, keep the cheese warm over the heat source while you eat, reducing the heat as the level of the cheese goes down as it's eaten.  If you're using a regular pot, you can warm it up on the stove periodically if it gets too cool. 

Use long forks to dip into the cheese.  Be careful!  It's hot!


Monday, November 19, 2018

10 Craft Beer Questions with Storm Stayed’s Justin Bélanger

This post comes from Matt Brown, the Beer Baron. Follow him at @geekcanuck

Opened in late 2017, Storm Stayed Brewing Company has quickly become one of my favourite craft beer spots in the city thanks to its modern but welcoming beer hall vibe, friendly and knowledgeable staff, unique location (169 Wharncliffe Road South in London’s Old South, whereas all the other breweries in the city are currently in the east end) and, of course, great craft beer. Aside from their own broad selection of craft beer, they also have a couple of rotating guest taps and a selection of wine and cider, which makes it an ideal stop for the Clockwatching Tart too.

I’m proud to kick off my new 10 Craft Beer Questions feature with Justin Bélanger, brewer and co-owner of Storm Stayed Brewing Company.

1. What was the first beer you tried that really opened up your mind to the idea that beer could be special? When did you first have it and how did you discover it?

The first beer that really got me to enjoy beer as a drink was probably Tankhouse by Mill Street. It was the first flavourful beer that seemed like it was brewed to be enjoyed and not just consumed quickly while cold. I first had this beer while looking for something to drink while grading lab reports, a job that needed liquid support.

2. What was your go-to style of beer five years ago? And what is it now?

Five years ago, my go-to style would have been an IPA everyday. Hops and more of it! That was probably one the reasons that made me brew more often, so that I could get those great fresh hop aromatics. Today, my beer of choice would be an Irish Red or a Pilsner, great beers with subtle flavour that compliment food instead of overpowering it.

3. How did you get into brewing?

I got into brewing because I thought the science behind it was interesting, and I think that the science has been what has kept me interested in it as a hobby and now as a career. What I love about it is how small tweaks in the water chemistry or fermentation temperature can drastically change a recipe.

4. What was your most epic fail as you were learning to brew and what did you learn from it?

During my early homebrewing experiments, I thought it would be a great idea to use brown sugar (in large quantities) to help boost the alcohol content. Well, the brown sugar didn’t fully ferment out and had a sickly sweetness that stopped you from drinking more than a sip or two. I learned that if you want to brew good beer, you need healthy yeast.

5. When did you decide to open Storm Stayed and what made you decide to choose Old South as a location?

Back in 2010, I did a bike trip across Canada and I would visit pubs and breweries as I biked along. I just loved the atmosphere and camaraderie, and that has followed through to today. The beer scene is such a supportive environment, brewers helping others whether for ingredients or questions. Storm Stayed was my effort to join a great group of people (I was tired of the grind of working for a large organization). While planning our brewery, we wanted to have a community-oriented business and to do that, we needed to be in one of the neighbourhoods. We considered Old East, which already houses most of London’s beer scene, Old North, and Byron; but the location that really drew us was Wortley Village. Unfortunately, there weren’t any buildings available in the village that would have been suitable for a brewery but in the process, we found our great location (still in Old South, but now located in The Coves).

6. What Storm Stayed beer are you most proud of and why?

I’m really proud of Sunburst and Patina. Sunburst is our New England-style Pale Ale and it has a low bitterness which makes it smooth and easy to drink but also has nice grapefruit aromatics. Our Patina is my version of an Irish Red and it has a nice caramel and slight roast character -- it makes for a great campfire drink.

7. If you could have created any specific beer from the past 20 years, what would you choose and why?

Right now, I’m really digging pilsners and have been looking for them everytime I’m out. Both Vim and Vigor by Tooth and Nail and Bellweiser by Bellwoods are ones that if I see it on tap, it’ll be the first and last beers of the evening. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a pils on tap at Storm Stayed in the future.

8. Is there anything specific about Storm Stayed that you think makes it appealing to different demographics?

The great thing about Old South, Wortley, and The Coves area is the great diversity in our population. We want our space to feel safe and welcoming and we’ve tried to make an accommodating environment that everyone could enjoy.

9. What is your favourite thing about the London craft beer scene?

What I love most about the London craft beer scene is how close knit it is and how much everyone supports everyone. We’ve worked together on bulk-buys to help with costs, we’ve taken part in festivals together (Forked Fest, Anderson Anniversary, etc.), and we’ve even competed against each other (congratulations Equals on your bowling win, we’ll bring our A-game next time).

10. Do you have any special beers planned for the winter? Anything exciting craft beer lovers in London should be looking forward to from Storm Stayed?

If you look into the brewery the next time you’re visiting the taproom, you’ll notice a couple of stacked barrels off to the side. I am super excited about them! Experimentation was a key factor in wanting to open my own brewery and being able to use wood of different origins (red or white wine, bourbon, brandy, etc.) is a further extension of our experimental goals. Look forward to those releases around our anniversary (early January).

I’m also looking forward to doing small batch tinctures. This is something that you’ve already seen in the past (e.g. Coffeebreak), but we’ve now acquired some new equipment that’ll allow us to work on a larger scale than our pilot system.

Thanks, Justin!  

If you have any suggestions for who you’d like to see from the London craft beer scene in the next 10 Craft Beer Questions column, let us know @geekcanuck

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Short & Sweet Sunday - Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

Chicago Dog

This post is by Matt, the Beer Baron who also loves hot dogs! 

I admit to getting weirdly obsessive about odd things sometimes. It happens mostly with movies and food - both things I absolutely love. If I get a certain movie (like Aliens or L.A. Confidential, for example) in my head, I will obsess about it until I get the chance to see it again. The same thing goes for food. If I crave a certain food, it becomes a matter of when and not if I will eat it next.

Yesterday, for some odd reason, I wanted a Chicago-style hot dog, which we discovered on our first trip to Chicago a decade ago and then had again on a visit in 2013. Rather than drive the 640 kilometres to get a real one (which I briefly considered), I decided to make my own.

Chicago Hot Dog

A Chicago-style hot dog is an all-beef wiener put on a poppy seed bun, then topped (in this order) with yellow mustard, sweet green pickle relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle spears, sport peppers (pickled peppers), and celery salt. 

Most of the ingredients are pretty easy to come by except for the poppy seed bun, so I had to improvise by using a basting brush to brush melted butter on the tops of my normal hot dog buns so I could then coat them with poppy seeds.

The end result was absolutely delicious. The mix of flavours and textures is really what makes it special. While I never liked Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, I think Chicago nailed it when it comes to hot dogs. Cheers!