Filling Up at The Empty Pint

The first thing I anticipate as I approach the little corner pub at the Southern Tier Brewery, which is literally a little pub occupying a corner of the brewery itself, is the smell.   I know that this detail may not appeal to most people, even some beer drinkers, but it truly is one of the most unique smells I have ever encountered.  Most breweries I know emit a smell that tells of the malted grains that are being used in the process, not unlike putting a soggy bowl of Grape Nuts in the microwave.  Not exactly mind blowing.  The smell here though lets you know, that beyond any doubt, the hop flower reigns supreme within.

You can catch whiffs of it outside, faint citrus wood, but once within the front door, it hits you full force.  This moment of entry is also nice due to the fact that once you are in the front door of the brewery, you still have to pass through a small, quiet foyer with just a large wooden brewery logo on the wall, and the smell of hops in the air between you and the door to the empty pint.  It gives you a moment to pause and reflect upon what you are about to enjoy.  Very Zen.

The Empty Pint is clearly designed for optimum enjoyment of Southern Tier’s fine products.  The architecture of The Pint boasts an amazing mortise and tenon exposed timber framework and is finished in rich golden hard wood and dark tiles.  One wall features the ubiquitous large windows that look in on the tanks of the brewery, and gives the patron the faint sensation that they are indeed, a part of the process.  In summer months, one can enjoy an open-air atmosphere as the frame of The Empty Pint juts out of the back the brewery and creates the stoutest pavilion I have ever seen.

On tap, one can expect to find an array of beers that will never disappoint an enthusiast and may perhaps (just maybe) open the eyes of, and excite a novice.  Southern Tier specializes in big, bold innovative ales such as Unearthly and Iniquity, a monstrous, golden, hoppy beast and its antithesis.   The beers of their main, year round line up, are all intensely well done.  Meaning, that they are not just “meets expectations, that was good” kind of beers, but instead each one tends to blow you away and cause you to want to step up on a near by soap box and pontificate the awesomeness of the particular brew you are drinking.  I’ve preached this sermon (despite lack of soap box and audience that was not the choir) on more than one occasion.

 

Half-full pints at The Empty Pint.

Southern Tier is obviously confident in their beers but remain humble, and pay homage to their roots by offering an impressive list of Belgian trappist ales and some other odds and ends such as lambics and a “guest” beer on tap.  They also have a selection of wine that usually goes beyond your staple bar offerings of White Zin and Lambrusco, nothing earth shattering, but at least a wine drinker doesn’t need to wait out in the car.

Hungry?  Well good, order whatever you’d like as long as it is a pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw.  Seriously, that and a soup of the day or a bag of chips rounds out the menu.  Which I love!  The Empty Pint is not trying to be a brew pub that all too often lose track of what got them started in the first place, beer.  Here, they recognize that you may get hungry, and they are not going claim to do anything more than make you a delicious sandwich that consists of one part something from a day-or-longer-simmering-roaster and one part something that’s been marinating-a-day-or-longer in the fridge.  That’s what makes those things good, and no one gets distracted from the main showcase of beer.  (My apologies if someone from Southern Tier reads this and informs me that someone daily slaves over a barbecue pit, smoking a pork shoulder, I had just assumed that a slow roaster was all the effort applied to the task.  Now if someone at Southern Tier reads this and decides that someone should be barbecuing a pork shoulder every day…that just may be my dream job.)

The Empty Pint also has a nice selection of quality Southern Tier gear such as t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and decent looking glassware for those looking to be visually identified by what they drink.  More importantly, you can also peruse a selection of six packs and cases as well as the popular 22oz imperial line of beers.  It is also the staging point for the three weekend tours that occur that give a detailed look at the main guts of the place.  While all these things make up a great experience at The Pint, I am still stuck on that initial smell….bright, sweet, citrusy…if only I could drink it…ah! There it is!  The smell I love, all embodied in the 2XIPA, my favorite draught there, and probably my favorite beer to date.  I am apparently not alone in this as I was told over the weekend that the 2X is about to surpass IPA as Southern Tier’s best seller.

Southern Tier is located at  2072 Stoneman Circle, Lakewood, New York.  Not really in Lakewood, but near it, just like it is also near Lake Chautauqua and the Chautauqua Institution and a whole array of other things I did not realize were in such close proximity to one another until I just now looked at this promotional website for Chautauqua County.

So, Southern Tier Brewery and the Empty Pint make for the perfect addition to your weekend getaway to a great looking part of New York to visit.  But, if you are more like me, the Chautauqua County tourism website has given you a couple options to augment your weekend getaway to The Empty Pint! Let’s get cooking!

 

All packed up after a trip to The Empty Pint.

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Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler!

Some NOLA street in July 1997. Not at all comparative to what it looks like during Mardi Gras, but the spirit is there.

Mardi Gras is here, so make like New Orleans, and let the good times roll!  According to the first thing I looked at, “laissez les bons temps rouler” is a Cajun phrase that translates to just that.

To most citizens of the United States though, I believe Mardi Gras, compared with other days of the year,  is just a day that it is easier to procure cheap plastic beads.  The day to many Christians is Shrove Tuesday, and it is the end of the Season of Epiphany.  To others, it is simply Fat Tuesday, and due to a combination of all of the history that makes it up, it is basically is a day to unload the pantry and have a party.  It is the day to cut loose before the season of Lent, during which, you have to pay for all the cutting loose you do at all other times of the year.

Regardless of the reason, if you are like me, you enjoy a day that gives you cause to do things differently and mark a day of the year as unique…especially if it can involve food.  Everyone has their heavy hitters: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are easy.  Halloween and Valentines Day have their thing going.  How about a bit o’ corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day?  Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, and Labor Day have the grill tied up.   If you try hard enough, you can have a celebratory menu for just about every day of the year: Caesar salad on March 15th anyone?  Tacos May 5th?  Bonus points to anyone dedicating pints of stout and shots of Jameson to June 16th.  Even birthdays are a cause to eat differently.   Mardi Gras should be in there too but i don’t know many who acknowledge it.   In its most basic form, Fat Tuesday is the last chance to cook up the things that some forgo as self sacrifice during Lent.  Personally, my church has an all day pancake, egg and sausage breakfast to commemorate the day and prepare for the somber Lenten season.

For me though, the day always turns to the penultimate American source of Mardi Gras: New Orleans.  And if you are, again , like me, this day gives you an opportunity to mix it up for your ears as well as your palette and play music that is fitting to the season.   So, oddly enough both Professor Longhair and Blind Melon are appropriate, but really, there is a lot of jazz out there to be enjoyed .  The food is where it is really at though.

In my teens, I had a great opportunity to visit New Orleans.  This was my first real experience in a  city outside of Pennsylvania and although I was mostly oblivious to everything around me, I started to grasp the gastronomic potential of other cultures outside of my own.  While there, we went to Emeril  Lagasse’s, toned down and more accessible NOLA.  I had some sort of gumbo and it was one of those shaping moments in your life where you can say, “That is where it all started.”  As evidence of my future tendencies, I even took a crappy Kodak Advanced picture:

Gumbo at NOLA in 1997.

I can honestly remember the taste just from looking at that…mmmm…..

 

Enough with my nostalgic blathering.  Empty out the pantry!  Cook some bacon!  Use the internet, find something new!  I think the King Cake would be a great tradition to start.  Take one to the office, whoever gets the baby Jesus brings in the cake next year.  As for me though, this year I see a po’ boy in my future.   I got to get cooking…


Strip The Strip?

The Pennsylvania Produce Terminal, at left, creates a long wall that isolates a 35 acre riverfront plot of land that developers want access to.

If I could, I would do all of my grocery shopping exclusively in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  There is something truly unique about it that is the direct result of the history of the city and its people.  Every time I am in the city I try to make a walk through The Strip as if it were an art museum.  The sights, smells, and sounds all combine to make, for me at least, an exhilarating experience.  Judging from the crowd on any given Saturday, my statement here is in no way unprecedented.  All the same, it apparently needs to be said.

Once I knew I was starting this blog I was looking forward to going to the strip to shop and take pictures, and then, with Primanti’s still on my breath and Wholey’s on my nose, I would sit down and write a kick-ass post.  Not yet, an article published today in the Tribune Review led me to change my mind and write a Strip District post now,  sans sandwich.  If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and click on that link now.

One of the key things that I love about the strip is that it feels “real”.  Real people, real architecture, real product, real Pittsburgh.  Grocery stores nowadays strive to create an atmosphere that the strip comes by naturally.  Ever been to a “Market District” Giant Eagle?  They are awesome! Why? Because they try to make it look like they convinced some old world village’s baker, butcher, farmer, and fish monger to open up shop under their roof.  As convincing as those stores are, they stall fall short of the real deal.  I have a hard time believing that that the charcuterie in a Giant Eagle is anything more than a false storefront in an amusement park designed to make you feel like you are in a different world and different time and therefore making you spend freely, because, Hey! you don’t see this everyday.  I am willing to wager though, that the guy who has been employed at Wholey’s for the shortest amount of time will be more knowledgeable in the realm of seafood than the Senior Fish Unpacker at your grocery store.  People who care about this sort of thing already know this all to be true and are part of the reason that The Strip is the Pittsburgh icon that it is.

That being said, why does the developer and the City feel the need for change?  My first reaction to the article, which happened two paragraphs in, was “No, no , NO! Dear God no!”  Next, I got all sullen and angry as I thought about somebody coming in, bulldozing the produce terminal and then building a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and one of those giant strip mall style Primanti’s that have a physical hand-out menu with staff that is nice to you and let you order a sandwich with the fries on the side.   Grrr.

And then, as I read on, I was reminded that the planned razing would affect the newly created Pittsburgh Public Market.  Which, if you have not been there yet, I highly recommend that you make a visit.  It basically is for businesses that have product to offer, that are being successful elsewhere in the Pittsburgh area, but now can have a location in the strip to sell their product.  Sort of like a farmer’s market for more than just farmers.  People who specialize in cheesecake, potato chips, candy, barbecue, Steeler art, pierogi, Greek food, you name it, they have access to space there.  East End Brewery even has a spot for tasting and growler purchases (again, highly recommended).  So, a busy, presumably successful area of the city needs a historic part of it chopped out so that a revitalization can sweep up the shoreline?  Ehh, again, why?

So, I read on, and about 3/4 of the way through the article the developer starts to convince me.  Apartments along the river, large public spaces with access to the tranquility of the river, it all starts to sound kinda nice.  Oh alright, you are right,  the Public Market could move.  What’s that you say, you’ll build with the area’s aesthetics in mind? Use bricks? Oh, well, that will be nice.  Yes, yes, that area IS a bit rough looking in places, who am I to stand in the way of progress?  I could live there.  A Strip District apartment on the river would be heaven, really.

But large public spaces don’t pay taxes or rent.  I skipped over the “office and retail building” part.  What is that going to look like?  The project will bring more people to the strip?  Isn’t it already packed shop-wall to automobile-traffic with people at busy times?  I frequently have had to use Penn Avenue as part of the sidewalk as the tide of people inexplicably, no matter what, moves in the direction I am not going.  Also, it is not as though the buildings that occupy The Strip now are full and there is no room to expand. I see empty storefronts there, I see signs of struggle and economic woe.  If there truly were “pent-up demand” I think it has plenty of room to vent.

Looking at the Google Maps satellite image of the area clearly shows an empty riverfront tract of land that is indeed begging to be more than just an ever-reliable parking lot (seriously, don’t even look anywhere else, just take $5 and save your time by going there first).  I can see it.  Lovely boardwalk shops and restaurants, bright, clean and shiny.  There will be an ice cream  shop where you can create your own scoop with any number of their near endless ingredients.  There will be a Starbucks, and a high end martini bar thing with a 47-martini-menu.  There will be a glass and steel riverfront restaurant with an open deck overlooking the barge traffic where you can get organic sustainable surf and turf dinner.  Maybe they can get one of those “Premier Collection” State stores to open a shop there, or maybe a winery?   But you know what won’t be there? There won’t be soul.  The Strip has a soul that, like a lot of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the people there carved out for themselves.  What the developer has in mind is a…a, I don’t know… a “Market District” in the actual market district of the city.  A soulless artificial false storefront designed to make you think you are somewhere else.  Maybe I am wrong, maybe it will be awesome.  But, isn’t it already genuinely awesome?


Traveling Repast

Eating while on the road rarely promises a good meal.   It is not uncommon, while traveling,  that one finds themselves at mealtime in an unknown location with unknown  resources with their gut dictating that the time to eat is now.  That is part of the reason for success of fast food in America.   Instant recognizable comfort and satiation every five miles on the highway.  No hunting necessary, the golden glow of the marquee marks the restaurants location fifty feet off of the exit.  Not too hungry yet, think you can push on?  No problem, the next exit promises the same options, if you are lucky, maybe a Panera.  I lately have been finding myself trying to avoid that pattern.  Some curmudgeons bemoan it, but my cell phone has been the greatest tool in this quest.

While traveling with Amanda this past Wednesday, hunger dictated that we eat somewhere between Indiana, PA and Pittsburgh.  We were without time constraints, so it was easy to be choosy about where we ate.  At the same time though, we did not want to start driving and pick someplace as we went because we always end up settling on something disappointing because of the fear that it is going to be the best choice before there are no choices left and you end up skipping a meal.  So I pull out my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Droid and use Google’s “places” app to locate places to eat around me.  I scrolled though the generated list, ignoring the common everyday occurrences, as a tiny arrow pointed in the direction and gave the distance to each of my potential stops.  Each entry had a rating and description and I can easily skip over places described as “TGI Friday’s like” and “worst place to eat in Indiana County” (although I admit that those places intrigue me).  Finally I saw the word that hooked me:

“Diner”

Dean's Diner, seen here in an old postcard, opened in 1953 as a classic art deco style Federo dining car that had an additional, matching, dining room added on in the back. The dining room has since been been replaced with a bigger brick and morter structure that does not match the classic stainless steel exterior.

 

Diners.  The butt of many jokes about food quality and wait staff, but at least you know what you are getting.  Not in the cookie cutter, “I’ll have a number 5 with Coke, just like I can have at any other of your locations down the street” sort of way that I was complaining about before, either.  Things here will be familiar, but chances are there will be some unique qualities that give each diner its own distinguished charm.  Four things you can you can count on though: the staff have been there for years, the same patrons have been there for years, gravy seems to be an option for everything, and there will be pie.

I have to admit though, Diner’s started out in their time, as what fast food chains are to me now.  They were prefabbed, open 24 hours a day, had a menu designed to appeal to all on-comers, and their service was fast, convenient and cheap.  Now though, fast, convenient, and cheap means eating, in the car, food purchased from a window or a touch sensitive screen at a gas station.   Don’t get me wrong, I love Sheetz, but when was the last time you were able to ask your MTO touch screen whether she would have the hot roast beef sandwich or the club?

Everyday I hear people complain about today’s modern world being rush rush rush, no one takes time to smell the roses. They COMPLAIN about it, yet are part of the problem.  It is the same complaint generation after generation.  People blame society, technology or teenagers for the blinding pace that life is passing them by, when they themselves are just too complacent to get off the beaten track and try something different or unknown and slow down.  They are too worried about their drive time or not knowing what they will order to stop somewhere new, sit down with someone they love, and order something with gravy on it.

Dean's Diner, 2175 Route 22 Hwy W, Blairsville, PA 15717

Don’t forget the pie.


Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup

Three years ago a great tradition was started.  A group of  friends simultaneously realized that none of them had to work on Presidents Day and that one of them had just bought a house with a hot tub.  Little thought more than that went into what would become known as “Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup Day”.

The first year found four guys sitting in a hut tub outside on a snowy February Day sipping whiskey and drinking beers.  Food was an afterthought and everyone was left pretty worn out by the end of the day even though we did little more activity than lift ourselves out of the water to cool off.  A good time was had by all, and it was agreed that a yearly tradition had been started.

I planned ahead for the second year.  I bought a pork shoulder and, even though I would normally not pass up an opportunity to use the grill, put it in the Crockpot for barbecued pulled pork sandwiches.  I was still keeping it simple and easy,  so a pack of sandwich buns and a package of sliced sharp cheddar rounded out my offering for the day.  We had begun to find a balance.  Boiled Butt and Baloney Soup Day provided an opportunity for a group of buddies to eat and drink good food things that paired perfectly well with the comfort of an afternoon in a hot tub.

Looking back I am surprised that food was afterthought for us.  The original group consisted of two chefs (one also a brewer) and two guys that are no strangers to good cooking and eating.  Between the four of us, we all had pretty similar tastes in what we liked to eat and drink.   As the month approached for the third BBABSD we realized that it was not going to be the same.  The house with the hot tub was no longer available to us and we needed to decide what to do without it.  A couple ideas were kicked around and they all involved food, and it was eventually decided that we would get together, cook, eat,  and drink and not get into a hot tub.

The group this year consisted of the former hot tub owning chef , myself, and a gourmand.  Everyone chipped in with ingredients and we set to work, working together in my kitchen.   The first course was mussels steamed in shallots, herbs and white wine.  We stood around my dresser-turned-kitchen-island and with fork and bread worked our way through the pile of bivalves and their wine and butter enriched broth.

Next, Chef prepared the deer loin that Gourmand brought and finished it with a balsamic pan reduction that was further enhanced with some of the left over shallots and broth from the mussels.  This too we grazed over and chose to eat standing in the kitchen rather than sit at the dining room table.  With what bread we had left, we were able to sample the sauce still hot from the pan.

For the final course we had tom yum gai, a chicken soup of sorts with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass,  which I had simmering on the range all evening.  Finally we sat.  In near silence we savored the flavorful soup as it worked its way into all the cracks and crannies that were left unfilled by late evening.  The soup left us as satisfied customers in an opium den, lounging in the living room, euphoric from all that which we consumed.

I feel that BBABSD has changed for the good.  The hot tub was always relaxing but it really could not compare to this meal, which really was nothing extravagant but had the benefit of three friends collaborating and sharing in food and companionship.   I hope that the tradition continues, and if anything, no longer occurs only on President’s Day but becomes more frequent and expands to my other circle of friends.  No need for anything formal. No need for menus, just find something fresh and good, and we’ll cook it up together.

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Repast…

repast

\ rih-PAST \  , noun;

1.Something taken as food; a meal.
Simple.  Substance consumed.  To me though, it has always meant more.  A repast is an opportunity.   Repast occurs multiple times a day, more plentiful than sleep, and can, even in its simplest form, impart special meaning to the most mundane aspects of life and leave an indelible mark.