Philadelphia, PA: Tony Luke’s [East Coast Road Trip]

For me, the battle of Pat’s vs Geno’s is won by neither. Any time I drive by Philadelphia, I gotta have a cheesesteak. And when I gotta have a cheesesteak, I gotta head to Tony Luke’s.

There’s a couple of other menu items I keep meaning to try, but I can’t bring myself to order anything but the tried and true cheesesteak. The Beef Buster looks awesome: a huge roast beef sandwich with Buster Sauce, Tomato, Pickles, Bacon, Curly Fries. Yeah, all of that on a sandwich, even the fries. Count me in. And then there’s the challenge which I would totally never be able to eat but I’d still like to try it once: 5 pounds of cheesesteak, whiz, and onions. The problem with both of these menu items is that I’m usually driving by to another destination and either a) wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to have one of these delicious steaks or b) don’t want to sit driving in a car for another countless number of hours after attempting to eat 5 lbs of beef.

These will have to wait until I can spend some quality time in the city. I see a Philly vacation in my future soon. (Gives me an excuse to go to Capone’s, right?? And John’s Roast Pork for cheesesteak comparison, too.)

Raleigh, NC: Amazingly Good BBQ at The Pit – [East Coast Road Trip]

OK, we were fiiiinally on our way home. Raleigh was a little further north than I was originally planning for lunch but after doing the research on this place I knew it would be worth the wait. We didn’t get there until about two in the afternoon but a slab of low and slow cooked baby back ribs was calling my name.

Now, if you’ve never heard of The Pit in Raleigh, NC, crawl out of that rock you’ve been living under and get your education on. The Pit has been featured on America’s Best for Best NC-Style Pig, Man V. Food, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and Unique Eats. Bobby Flay lost, no surprise there.

We sat down and scanned the beer menu. Since we were in North Carolina I was really, really hoping for some Duck-Rabbit, but no dice. I settled on an unremarkable local beer whose name escapes me. No matter, that’s not what I was here for. BRING ME THE ‘CUE! 

Wait, it was a long drive and first I needed an appetizer. Southern-style deviled eggs to be precise. Because what’s more southern and goes better right before a big ol’ slab of 14 hour slow cooked baby back ribs? They were delish, obviously, but everything here was.

A few minutes later the BBQ gods graced me with honestly the best BBQ I’ve ever had in my life. I love BBQ, but I don’t really have it too often, and never, ever have I been floored by BBQ the way I have this these ribs from The Pit. Kinda sad I only got a half rack. I went through and tried every sauce they had out on the bar, but  the ribs were the best right on their own. Top that with a side of amazing mac and cheese, buttery biscuit, hushpuppies and mashed potatoes. I was in heaven!

If you ever get the chance to check this place out, do it. You won’t regret it. I have no idea when I’ll ever be back down that way, but sure as shit I will make my way back there whenever I am in North Carolina again.

Cigar City Brew Tour [East Coast Road Trip]

So it was the final day of our trip. I knew I had to go back to Cigar City and do a proper brew tour, get some more swag and do a tasting. I know, I know. All brew tours are the same. Once you’ve done one you’ve done them all. But I like to hear the back story and some of the nuances that make each brewery different. Plus the free beer doesn’t hurt, either.

First off, our tour guide was hilarious, and extremely helpful. After hooking us up with booties (no open-toed shoes allowed) he told us about how the brewery started, some of the huge limitations that are put on craft brewers in the state of Florida and gave us a chance to smell some of the various spices and wood used in aging their beers. Naturally, the Hunahpu spices smelled AMAZING.

After the intro he took us around to the the various other spots in the brew house, but two stuck out the most. The first was the fridge, where I learned that during the release of Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout (which is the base of Hunahpu) they use their large refrigerator to host a 60 seat Russian themed dinner, complete with Russian food and Russian themed hats, in the middle of Florida’s ridiculous hot summer. Not a bad way to cool down. The other part that stood out was the area where they were barrel aging. Pretty cool to see written on the sides of the barrels all of the barrel aged beers they have in the hopper. I wouldn’t mind seeing some of these hitting up the Luekens Liquors website.

After the tour was done we talked to the tour guide for a while, explained to him who we were and where we were from, and asked some recommendations for what to taste while we were there and what to bring home to friends. Like I said, he was extremely helpful. We headed to the bar to have a couple of flights and decide what souvenirs we were gonna pick up. The bourbon barrel-aged Big Sound was absolutely phenomenal. The regular Big Sound Scotch Ale is honestly a little too sweet for me and the bourbon barrel aging really cuts some of that and makes it an overall better beer. Elise absolutely fell in love with the El Murciélago, a really interesting, high ABV cream ale aged with with lime peel and cumin aged in tequila barrels. We picked up a bottle of that, a bottle of the non-bourbon Big Sound, and a huge gallon growler of their most popular beer, Jai Alai IPA. (There’s a reason that they sell half gallon growlers every where else in the country. This thing was basically bottomless and took about a hour and a half to kill between the bunch of us when I did a Cigar City tasting at The Ruck when we got back.)

Overall Cigar City is an amazing brewery doing some pretty crazy stuff with their beer. The kinda of crazy that I like, unlike some of the crazy shit some other unnamed breweries out there are doing. Hopefully the next time I’m around I’ll be able to coincide my visit with another one of their big releases again.

Lunch at Ceviche [East Coast Road Trip] | Orlando, FL

Like I said, at this point Elise was all beered out and needed a little change of pace. It was gorgeous out so sitting outside was a must. After scouring the internet we settled on a a highly recommended restaurant that was known for their outdoor dinning…except they no longer had the outdoor space. God dammit.

Our second choice was Ceviche and it couldn’t have been a better find. Located on this strip in downtown Orlando, it that reminded me so much of Pearl St. Tons of workers sitting down for lunch, but a lot of bars and “ultra lounges” where douchebags would congregate closed until late night. It was in the low to mid 80s which meant we were the only ones brave enough to sit outside in the “cold”. (We’re talking about Floridians here.)

The waitress brought us out some seriously strong, but good, sangria. We sipped on that and enjoyed some bread and pesto while sitting in the sun waiting for our dishes to arrive. The lunchtime tapas menu was pretty reasonable so we each got two dishes.

The Chorizo Y Pimentos had five different types of sausage in a tomato sauce with roasted tomatoes, onions, and peppers. It was basically fancied up sausage and peppers but was still pretty delicious. The dish that really knocked it out of the park for me was Patatas Bravas. These were baked, then deep fried potatoes tossed in a spicy aioli. Holy crap this was good. The place is called Ceviche so it would have been foolish of us to not get fish tapas. Elise got the Tabla De Quesos (obviously) along with the Ceviche De Mero, which was grouper marinated with lemon and lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno, and sweet onions.

I can’t reiterate how good of an experience this was. I absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a non-touristy meal while in Orlando and will definitely be back again.

Redlight Redlight [East Coast Road Trip]

One of the places I knew I had to try when I was in Orlando was Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour. It’s unequivocally touted as the only place to drink in Orlando by Beer Advocate locals (also rated 97 overall) and was listed as one of America’s 100 best beer bars for 2012 by Draft Magazine.

Let’s get this out of the way: This is a dive bar and a half. Elise did not go into this venture with this mentality and was sorely disappointed. A shame since the beer selection here was amazing, the prices were ridiculously low (pints of all but the very rarest of beers were $4, including imperial pints) and Big Bruno’s Bites was slinging delicious food truck grub all night long.

They had several beers on nitro (which is a weakness for me) that I sipped on while we chowed down on some Old Bay fries. They had fried oreos on they menu as well but after my carnie-filled day at the Strawberry Festival I decided to abstain. Entertainment was provided by the staff and regulars as a box of Shipyard thongs were delivered in anticipation of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

It was an early night due to Whiney McWhinerton not loving the place and being beered-out at this point of vacation. Next time I visit my brother I will definitely be spending some more quality time here.

Hunahpu’s Day [East Coast Road Trip]

Summary: BADASS. So lucky to be able to go to this. I didn’t even think I’d be able to go, but we were already in Plant City for the “Strawberry Festival” which was only a half hour away. After a day of LumberJills, racing pigs, carnie food and white trash as far as the eyes could see, the girls took the kids home and my brother and I headed over to Cigar City Brewing.

Even with being able go, I had zero expectations I was going to be able to pick up any bottles. Hunahpu Day lines started at like 10AM, the bottles were given away at 3 and we didn’t get there until around 4:45. And they were out of Hunahpu bands so I had no shot. I didn’t mind. Hunahpu and many other Cigar City and guest beers were flowing through the taps at $5 a pop, plus all of the free homebrew you could drink and a pretty decent band on stage. Pile on absolutely gorgeous weather and it made for a stellar day.

And then there was a ray of hope. Right around 5:30 the 7:30 line formed. The two-bottle limit would be upped to a case limit and I ended up getting a place pretty close to the front of the line. We took turns going to grab more beers and bullshitted with new friends from BeerAdvocate. Even got to try The Funky Buddha’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, something I’ve never even heard of prior to that day. Such an unbelievably good beer!

At 7:30, the line started to finally move. They only had 70 cases left, and while I was hopeful at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they sold out by the time I got there. Luckily, I was able to walk away with 4 bottles, twice as many as I had even hoped to have gotten, and all the people in our little group we waited with were able to get theirs, too. People only a little further behind us in line weren’t so fortunate.

Hunahpu Day was the first and only beer release I’ve been to and it was extremely entertaining, but I can see how those who go the entire day, set up camp, eat, bottle trade with friends, etc. enjoy the day even more. If I ever get the chance to go again or something like Kate the Great Day from Portsmouth Brewery I’ll make sure to make the most of it.

The Mash House – [East Coast Road Trip]

After leaving Dogfish Head our route to Florida took an interesting, albeit expensive swing: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Killer tolls (12 bucks? Let’s be serious). The bridge/tunnel dips a couple of times to let big ass boats through, and we happen to passing along JUST as this huge tanker was going through. The bridge is so long and the tanker moved so slow it ended up looking like we going to drive directly into the thing. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

After we got ass-raped at the tolls, we had to start thinking where we were going for dinner. When doing long road trips like this we generally decide how much further we’re going to drive, see what city we’re going to end up in, and then I check the BeerAdvocate Beer Travel Guide and TV Food Maps. There’s not a lot going on during the stretch of 95 that goes through North Carolina, but the Beer Travel Guide did point us to The Mash House in Fayetteville, and what a great choice it was.

Since we still had plenty of driving to go, we opted for the Mondo Mash, a sampling of all 9 beers they had on tap. Some were hits some were misses but that’s always the case. No one knocks it out of the park on every beer. Luckily, the ones that mattered were good. IPA and Double IPA were fantastic. Stout and porters were great. The rest weren’t a style I’m generally interested in.

It was pretty late at this point, and while we weren’t super hungry, this was the only decent food we were going to see so we ordered small: the Wood Oven Roasted Artichoke Dip and the 12-Hour French Dip. THIS FRENCH DIP ROCKED MY WORLD. Now, this was no ordinary French Dip. I’m sure you’ve all had that crappy french dip with frozen roast beef steeped for a few minutes in beef broth thrown on a crappy bun with flavorless cheese served at every crappy bar in the nation before. This was none of that. This was short ribs that were roasted for twelve hours on really decent ciabatta with cheese and Dijon cream sauce. Twelve hours! Sooo tender. French Dip perfection.

Other than some slightly chain restaurant appearance (which is hard not to do in a restaurant this size), this place was a great stop. The impeccable southern hospitality, great food and awesome beers made this a winner.

Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats [East Coast Road Trip]

OK, finally got most of my pics processed and uploaded so I can start telling you about the trip! We left around 6 AM and hit our first stop right on schedule: Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. As far as I know, this is Dogfish’s only (official) brewpub, as the Dogfish Head Ale House chain is a franchise, and La Birreria is a collab.

Now, let me preface this post with something that’ll probably piss off some of my beer nerd friends: I’m not a Dogfish Head fan. That does not mean I won’t drink Dogfish Head, and it doesn’t even mean that they don’t have beers I enjoy, because some of them I absolutely go crazy about. My problem is that they really, truly live up to their slogan: Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People. And lot of their beers are just too god damned “off-centered” for me. Ta Henket tastes like it was aged with old gym socks. Noble Rot taste like a glass of white table wine from a red and white table-clothed family-style Italian restaurant for $5 that you never get to see the label of. And there are countless others that just don’t do it for me. I dunno, maybe I’m too traditional with my beer tastes but I want my stout to taste like a stout, unless it tastes like an imperial stout, unless that tastes like a barrel-aged imperial stout. Et cetera. And I’m all for subtle hints of this spice or this extra flavor as long as it compliments the base beer, but you can keep all of that other whack shit to yourselves.

But I digress. We picked DFH because it was good stopping point, we’ve never been, you can pick up their Blue Hen vodka infusions, and like I said there are some of their beers that I genuinely enjoy. Fortunately I have some amazing friends at The Ruck that have allowed me to taste more Dogfish Head beers than the average person, but it was the day before their Weekend of Compelling Ales and Whatnot and I wasn’t hopeful there was going to be much on draft I hadn’t had. Luckily (or maybe not so luckily) there were a handful that neither Elise nor I had tried so we did a sampler to get a taste of each. Sadly, none of them knocked our socks off.

The food was OK. Nothing earth shattering but still good. It was Pizza Day, and seeing “woodgrilled pizza” with some pretty interested toppings sealed the deal for me. Summer sausage (more like pepperoni), house made bacon, and pesto pizza? Yes please. Any place south of Philly is “crab country” to Elise, so naturally crab cakes were for her.

They have a little gift shop in the front where you can pick up most of their bottles and other swag to go.  We spend some time bullshitting with guy manning the window about where we were from and about our trip (the boner this guy got about Ommegang was pretty funny). Picked up the peanut butter and chocolate infused versions of their vodka along with some other trinkets.

Overall I enjoyed the stop and will definitely be back again, next time for more than just lunch. It was a really easy drive, and we made it to Rehoboth Beach by 1PM. I can see a weekend or long weekend with friends there in our future.