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Lincoln, NE – March 14, 2012

During my last trip to Lincoln I found several nice places that made up for my disappointment with Marz.  However, hands down, the best of the bunch is the Bourbon Theater.  I can assure you the next time and every time I’m in Lincoln I’ll be stopping by to see Luke Edson!

The Bourbon Theater is an interesting venue – a music club (the night I was there featured a DJ playing house, very loudly) along with an amazingingly well stocked bar and the very talented Luke Edson behind the bar.

For openers, I enjoyed that fact that Luke spent a few minutes chatting with me to find out what I like in a drink.  After our conversation he made me his twist on a Rob Roy.   Featuring Skye scotch along with Dubonnet, orange bitters and an orange twist, this was an amazing cocktail – and better than the original Rob Roy.  This wonderful smokey scotch with the orange flavors was very cohesive and well done. 

The next drink Luke made for me was the Mont Blanc, an original of his.  Here it is.

  Mont Blanc

  • 1-1/2 oz St. Remy brandy (or better)
  • 3/4 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 – 1/3 oz Averna

In my notes at the time I wrote “OMG amazing!”  It’s like a boozy dessert.  Vanilla notes, a hint of cherry and an almost creamy texture.  This is, without a doubt, one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. 

By the way, if you want to make this at home (and I will be!) you will need the use Bianco vermouth, not dry vermouth.  Bianco is a sweetened white vermouth and using dry will not yeild the same result at all!

Cheers!

Lincoln, NE – March 13, 2012

I feel like I could have just as easily titled this post Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I’ll explain in time, but that’s what my two separate experiences at Marz in Lincoln, NE have been like.

My first visit was last August, and the notes and pictures are still in my Blackberry, just waiting to get published.  So, with a return trip to Lincoln this week I was really looking forward to visiting Marz again and having a some great cocktails and food.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Marz is located in downtown Lincoln and has an incredible hip and cool vibe.  With 20 something foot ceilings, a very long bar lines one side and cozy velour covered half circle booths run down the other side.  With a space age decor and a comfy lounge area at the rear, and a very nifty acid jazz, chill electronic soundtrack going, I liked it as soon as I walked in the door.

During my first visit I had an ongoing conversation with the bartender who was very knowledgeable and into her craft.  She started me with a Smokey Vesper since a James Bond flick was running on the TV over the bar.  For my second drink I had the Martian Sunrise (pictured above), which features Cuervo, pineapple and pomegranate juices in a riff on the Tequila Sunrise.  A strong drink with plenty of punch from the tequila it settled in nicely once some of the ice started to melt.  Interestingly enough I also got a taste of banana from this one, and wasn’t sure if it was from the drink or the banana split I had for desert!

Along with my drinks I had a dinner of the homemade mac and cheese, which was good, very good.  All in all, my visit there last August was quite impressive.  So when I arrived in Lincoln last night I was very much looking forward to eating and drinking there again.

Boy, what a difference 7 months makes!  The atmosphere was just as hip, and given that it was in the 70’s, the outside patio was full when I arrived around 9pm.  Unfortunately, that’s about where the goodness ended and mediocrity took over.  I asked the bartender what he makes that’s unique and his.  His answer was pretty much a blank look and then mumbling something about their Manhattan’s being good.  OK, so he’s not really a bartender into cocktails.  I ordered a Sidecar Named Desire from the menu.  Consisting of Raynar VSOP cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice I was surprised when it was served with a sugared rim that had been wetted with a lime wedge.  The first two sips were overwhelmingly lime and that was spoiling the drink – not to mention that anything resembling a sidecar has no business being served in a sugared rim.

At about this time the second bartender (whose best feature, I learned, was her breasts spilling out of the top of her sundress) came over to ask how it was.  I started to ask her about the sugared rim and her answer was that the bourbon – which prompted me to correct her to brandy, she didn’t even know what was in the thing – made it strong and so they thought it should be sweetened.  I told her the lime on the rim was too much so she offered to pour into a fresh glass, which I gladly accepted.  As we continued talking I tried to point out that a cocktail like this is supposed to be strong.  Her final answer was “I just do what they tell me to do.”  So, two lifeless bartenders on duty.

So, without the lime and sugar on the rim it was drinkable, but unremarkable.  It was a bit disjointed and needed, most likely, some work on the proportions of Cointreau and lemon juice, and also, most likely, a dash of bitters.

As for my dinner, I ordered the cleverly named Moons of Pluto which were described as provolone risotto balls served with marinara sauce.  It failed to mention that they were breaded and deep fried, which was disappointing.  The risotto and cheese was good, and I would have enjoyed the balls if they hadn’t been deep fried and just drizzled with a bit of olive oil instead.  As for the marinara, it had the consistency and flavor of slightly thinned out tomato paste.  Again, disappointing.

Finally, as way of adding insult to injury, there was only one dessert item available, a honey lavender creme brulee.  I normally may have gone for it, but was dismayed by only having that one choice and passed instead.

All in all I was very disappointed by the second visit.  When back in Lincoln down the road I may try it again in the hoped of finding the good Marz is back.

Cheers?

Milwaukee, WI – March 10, 2011

Two sure signs of spring in Milwaukee are when the ice melts completely from my pool (and when the stories about ice fishers losing their trucks in lakes run in the paper) and the food trucks appear on the streets again.  The good news is both happened this weekend!

Yesterday, after a morning haircut and some shopping I was on my way home when I spied an El Charrito taco truck sitting on the side of the road.  I did a quick circle around the block and pulled up behind him.  Boy, am I glad I did!

The menu is basic and straightforward – tacos, quesadilla, tostadas,and burritos with a variety of meat options – pork, chicken, chorizo, steak.  For the more adventurous the options include head, tongue and chitlin.  I also appreciated the selection of Jarritos sodas that are available.

I ordered two pork tacos with a lime Jarritos.  At $4.50 I had a meal that was enough for my lunch time appetite, and was far tastier than anything from any fast food joint.  Oops, did I just give away my review?  Damn…

Yes, the tacos were excellent.  The corn tortillas were firm and strong enough to hold the spicy pork, lettuce, tomato and onion.  The pork was flavorful and the whole package was about as authentic as it gets.  Washing it all down with the Jarritos was just a bonus.  

The only drawback to the experience was eating off my lap in the car.  Hopefully next time the location will be adjacent to a park or some other place with picnic tables near by.  

I definitely recommend giving the El Charrito truck a try when you see it!

Milwaukee, WI – March 7, 2012

So I’m sitting at the bar and I hear, in this low, almost whispering voice, “Nice pants.”  I look around and there’s no one within ear shot, so I shrug it off and take another sip of my drink.  But then I hear the voice again, “Great looking haircut.”  Again, I look around and nothing.  I try to shrug it off, but when a few minutes later the voice asks “Have you lost weight?” I call the bartender over.

“Brett, I keep hearing this voice saying things like “nice pants” and “great haircut”.  What gives, are you screwing with me?”

Brett looks me right in the eye and tells me, “It’s the peanuts, they’re complimentary.”

One of the nice things about Bryant’s (South 9th and Lapham, Milwaukee) is that you don’t have to worry about either random hours or complimentary nuts distracting your taste buds from the cocktails.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had occasion to stop by and enjoy these two outstanding creations by Emily.

First is the Glamour Shot, pictured above.  When Emily asked what I was in the mood for I quickly answered gin, but that I didn’t want something run of the mill or a classic.  So, out came the Plymouth gin, Domaine de Canton liqueur, Cynar liqueur, bar syrup and lemon juice.  An interesting combination I thought, between the ginger Canton and the bitter Cynar, with is derived from, among other things, artichoke.  The result was a terrific cocktail that leads with the ginger of the Canton then quickly follows with a slightly bitter bite.  The bar syrup and lemon juice round out the drink and give it balance so that it’s boozy, but in a mellow way.  An excellent offering from Emily.

The second drink is her Milwaukee Manhattan.  This drink was designed for a contest that Emily had entered (and, incidently, won) for the best variation on the classic Manhattan.  Featuring Bulliet rye whiskey with the usual sweet and dry vermouths (making this on perfect) and both Agnostura and Peychauds bitters, the twist is the addition of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur (which I love!).  Again, a very well constructed cocktail that tasted incredible.  The cherry from the Luxardo was out in front on this one, with the sweet vermouth, bitters and rye filling in behind it.  This is a complex cocktail, with layers of flavors to be discovered.  Again, kudos to Emily for a job well done.

Cheers!

The Twilight Lounge – February 27, 2012

Yes, the age old question, Coke or Pepsi, finally comes to the Twilight Lounge.  Of course, I don’t really care which is better by itself.  Who drinks just plain Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola?  No, for this taste test I’m going to drink Coke and Pepsi the way it was meant to be drunk (no, not with cocaine), with rum!

For this face off I made two rum and colas using the same recipe.  2oz of Sailor Jerry spiced rum, 1 lime wedge, a 12 oz rocks glass filled with ice, topped with the cola.  So how did our competitors fare?

The rum and Coke has that very familiar, syrupy taste, which is not surprising since probably 98% of the all rum and cola’s I’ve had in my lifetime used Coke.  So this was a very comfortable drink, kinda’ like meatloaf with mac and cheese.  It tastes good because I’m used to it and have been drinking it all my life.

The rum and Pepsi was very good with a brighter, lighter flavor.  I think this actually allowed the Sailor Jerry to be put on better display and add more to the flavor profile of the drink, especially the spices.  It’s different, and that’s good in this case.  Kinda’ like getting that mac and cheese made with smoked gouda instead of cheddar.

So, the verdict?  I liked them both.  The rum and Coke is familiar and comfortable.  But the rum and Pepsi just was a bit better as a cocktail.  I liked that the rum was more prominent.  After all, that’s I why I drink cocktails!  In my book, Pepsi is the winner!

Cheers!

The Twilight Lounge – February 25, 2012

A quiet evening at home after the week in Vegas is just what I needed last Saturday.  A couple of movies and cocktails were the order of the day.  However, I wasn’t content to have the same ‘ol same ‘ol, so I started rooting around in the Twilight Lounge amongst the drink recipes.  What caught my eye was this little number called the Melon Patch (yeah, I know, they caught your eye too, didn’t they?).  With vodka as its base, I knew it would be strong enough for me, yet with melon flavored Midori and orange flavored Cointreau, I knew that Gwen would also enjoy it.

  Melon Patch

  • 1-1/2 oz Midori
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz vodka
  • soda water

 

In a shaker with ice combine everything but the soda water and shake.  Pour, ice and all, into a rocks glass and top with soda water.

The vodka and soda water do a nice job of cutting the sweetness of the Midori and Cointreau, leaving a nice, refreshing cocktail.  The combination of the flavors evokes a hint of bananna along with the orange and melon flavors of the liqueurs.  This one would be perfect for warm summer evenings or pool side on a hot day.  It’s a good thing summer isn’t that far away!

Cheers!

Las Vegas, NV – February 23, 2013

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a trade show in Las Vegas week before last.  It was a fun and busy 4 nights between the show, customers, peers.  Of course, I did find time to have a little fun as well, like the night I ended up at the Foundation Bar at the top of the Mandalay Bay hotel.

I did have one interesting cocktail while I was there.  This was an original creation of one of the bartenders at the Eyecandy Lounge, located right on the casino floor at Mandalay Bay.  It was a rare quiet moment at the bar and we were able to chat a bit.  He calls this the Sunshine Sour, and it’s kinda’ a mash up of the tequila sunrise and a whiskey sour. 

It starts with Finlandia grapefruit vodka.  If you know me you know that I am not a fan of flavored vodkas.  However, I’ve had the Finlandia grapefruit before and it is very, very good and one of the few flavored vodkas that I do like.  Added to the Finlandia is orange juice, sour mix and a splash of Aperol.  The use of Aperol really caught my eye since you don’t see too many bartenders playing around with it.  It added a nice, bitter undertone to all the sweet in the drink and really rounded it out.  I enjoyed this one thoroughly and am going to try to recreate it here at the Twilight Lounge.  All I need to do is get the vodka and Aperol!

Cheers!

Milwaukee, WI – February 16, 2012

As some of you know, I’m a fan of the Dinner Party Download podcast from NPR (and now a bona fide radio show).  If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.  It’s lively, it’s entertaining and it helps prepare you for the weekend’s dinner party or other social events.  And, it has a weekly cocktail!

A while back (in October of 2010 to be exact) they ran a history bit regarding the great London Beer Flood of 1814.  It seems that a vat filled with 135,000 imperial gallons of beer gave way, causing more vats of beer to also collapse.  In the end over 320,000 imperial gallons of beer crashed out of the brewery and into the surrounding neighborhood, killing nine and destroying a number of homes and businesses (including several taverns).   

So where else to get a cocktail to remember the event than Milwaukee?  A call was made to Bryant’s looking for an appropriate cocktail, and bartender Katie Rose was up to the task, creating the “Last Call to Porter” for the show. 

Fast forward a year and a half, and, finally, I was at Bryant’s on an evening when Katie Rose was on duty.  I asked if she had what she needed to make me the Last Call to Porter, and, yes, she did!

  Last Call to Porter

  • 1 oz Knob Creek bourbon
  • 1/2 oz green Chartreuse
  • 1/2 oz Benedictine
  • Porter beer

Combine the bourbon, Chartreuse and Benedictine in a shaker with ice and shake hard.  Strain into a chilled coupe and top with your favorite porter.

A wonderful, woody flavor emerged and danced across my tongue.  The combination of the liqueurs and the porter leave an impression of Aperol, but the finish is much stronger and is a very nice mix of sweet and bitter.  A fantastic effort by Katie Rose!

As to how she came up with the ingredients, she makes it sound easy.  The Knob Creek is aged for nine years and thus represents the nine who died in the flood.  The Chartreuse and Benedictine were selected since beer was originally invented by monks (and these two liqueurs were as well).  And the porter – well, you shouldn’t have to ask.

So, the next time you stop by Bryant’s and Katie Rose is behind the bar ask for a Last Call to Porter.

Cheers!

Milwaukee, WI – February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Day and Gwen and I decided to try someplace new for dinner.  A quick flip through our entertainment guide and I found The Eatery on Farwell in Milwaukee’s Eastside neighborhood.  It turned out to be a great find!

As usual, before ordering dinner we had a cocktail.  I was pleased to see a number of original cocktails on the menu (and none of them incorrectly termed a martini!).  After perusing the list I settled on the Hot Dan.  I was eager to try it because it used Roaring Dan’s Maple Rum from local distiller Great Lakes Distillery.  I love to see local restaurants supporting local providers!  In addition to the rum, the Hot Dan is made with house made allspice, simple syrup, cloves, a squeeze of orange and hot water. 

My first impression was the maple from the rum with an added sweet component to the flavor.  There was a hint of citrus on the back end, thank you orange slice.  A nice drink to chase away the chill of a cold Valentine’s Day evening.  The farther I got into this drink, the more the allspice took over.  By the time I was done with the cocktail the allspice was a bit too powerful – I’d like to see a little less of that in the drink and either a bit more orange or perhaps even a dash of Agnostura bitters. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, the Hot Dan is a good cocktail.  Gwen had the KK Smash, another cocktail featuring a spirit for Great Lakes Distillery (Kinnickinnic Whiskey in this case) that is a twist on the whiskey sour.  It was delicious!

As for dinner – it was fantastic.  The Pig in a Pot was absolutely fantastic, with mushroom duxelle providing an absolutely wonderful base for the pork tenderloin.  The presentation, in a terra cotta flower pot, was terrific and the potato galette was a fantastic accompaniement.  The Braised Short Ribs were also excellent and the root vegetable mash that came with it was every bit as good as well.

The next time you find yourself hungry or thirsty and in the vicinity of Farwell Ave. in the Eastside, you can’t go wrong with The Eatery on Farwell!

Cheers!

Fargo, ND – January 17, 2012

I know, I’m skipping around chronologically, but I just can’t let this one go…

I was in Fargo in mid-January during the coldest snap of this winter, with temps in the minus 15 range – before the wind chill!  I and my associates stopped at will remain an unnamed beer and burger joint.  Frankly, the beers, burgers and beer cheese dip for the fries were all very good.  But now, I was ready for dessert.  Problem was, there really weren’t any dessert items on the menu.  However, no worries as I had seen root beer floats on the menu before ordering dinner.  Sooooo, I asked for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  “We don’t have any ice cream,” our erstwhile (and brain dead) waitress deadpanned.  Sure you do I told her…you have root beer floats on the menu, you must have vanilla ice cream.  “I’ll have to ask if it’s OK,” she replied … my, the service level here is just knocking me over!

About 5 minutes later she comes back with a bowl filled with vanilla ice cream – very freezer burned vanilla ice cream.  “You don’t sell many root beer floats, do you?” I wisecracked.  All I got back from her was a very puzzled look.  Clearly her brain had been frozed a long time ago.  So, I did get my dessert…but really wished she had made my night by telling me I couldn’t have the ice cream, or that they were out, or (best answer yet), they had some but it was freezer burned and not up to their standards.

Oh well….