Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bacon Beer??

This is the final week of Blue Moon beer tastings to determine which new seasonal creation will make it into the Brewmaster's Autumn Sampler Pack. I got to taste each of the three finalists last night and cast my all important vote!

Being a wine drinker, I'm used to sniffing anything I'm tasting. Beer in small plastic tasting cups doesn't have much of a nose. However, I stuck mine in there, as best I could, out of habit. I peered up to a co-worker giving me an eyebrow raise that said, "really??"

First taste was a Caramel Apple Spiced Ale that was refreshing with a nice blend of spice, a bit of caramel and of course apple. It was smooth, drinkable and for sure invoked the tastes and feel of Autumn. The Blackberry Tart Ale was a little darker and a little sour with very distinct blackberry flavors.

The last beer was getting the most buzz; a Dark Chocolate Bacon Porter. Taste facilitators told me I would either love it or hate it but neither really applied to me. The beer was not one I wanted to sip, but drink with a big hunk of grilled meat. It was smokey with a hint of chocolate sweetness that lingered in the back of my  mouth

In the end I cast my vote for the Caramel Apple Spiced Ale. It best represented the theme of the sampler pack and to me, was the most drinkable. We'll see how my vote stacked up when the new pack is released on August 31. Blue Moon is tasting and taking your votes at places nationwide through Sunday, March 31. Be sure to get in on the fun!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Best Beach Food: Manasota Key

Dining in a beach town is always fun; wondering if you're going to hit the jackpot or be stuck with tourist prices, poor service and/or mediocre food. I hit the jackpot at Lock N Key Restaurant in Englewood, FL on Manasota Key.

I went to Lock N Key (LNK) for a live broadcast, promoting their entertainment, quirky happy hour and fabulous food. As the sun set, a table was pulled  under our broadcast tent outside, the continuously filled with food.
LNK is right across the street from the beach, with a long front porch full of bar-stools. They are almost always full. Don't be deceived into thinking that is the wait to get in, people love to sit outside at the beach. The restaurant is quite large inside and has a separate outdoor dining area, under cover.

The popular Pull-Tab Happy Hour is a game of chance that can score you big discounts on your drinks. You can see by the Pull-Tab on the left, that my drink was only 50-cents. The prices are good for ANY drink, even the premium stuff. Other pull tab options include, half-off and full-price to name a couple.

Once our drinks came, we set our sights on appetizers. Out came delicious discs of mozzarella in marinara sauce ($10), crispy Coconut Tempura Shrimp ($12) and messy Pulled Pork Nachos ($12). The cheese on the nachos is a special, creamy cheddar blend, made fresh to order.

We got the Spicy Maryland Style Crab Cakes ($11) sauteed instead of fried. Don't be scared, the spice was mild. I particularly enjoyed the Oysters Manasota ($12) made with bacon, onions, peppers and swiss. The Shrimp Belvedere had our mouths watering. It was stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, with a little broccoli on the side to make us feel more healthful.
The fish we tried was outstanding. The blackened Hogfish with mango salsa had a great kick. The Snapper Provencial had the perfect balance of herbs, cheese and veggies. The one pound Lobster was almost too beautiful to eat but we dug in like champs. Speaking of champs, the 16oz Prime Rib ($21) was some of the best I've had; juicy and buttery. The seasoned New York Strip was sprinkled with a homemade blend of salt and pepper that was the perfect accompaniment to my glass of Shiraz.

Whatever you do, save room for LNK homemade desserts. People from across the country come back for pumpkin bread, Cocount Cream Pie, ice cream pies and other signatures. The Coconut Cream is full of sweet creamy custard on a flaky homemade crust. The Keylime pie's tart custard is on a walnut, graham cracker crust. Put a fork in me. I'm officially done!

This beach restaurant has it all; a casual outside for those in beach attire, a classy inside for those who've showered, live entertainment, affordable prices, quality food, a caring kitchen staff, attentive servers and gracious, fun-loving owners. Bravo!
Lock & Key Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Music: Katrina

I was randomly checking 96-9 WINK-FM's twitter this week when I saw a message from someone named Katrina, talking about how she was on the road to Fort Myers, FL to hangout and play a few songs for the station. I immediately did a Google search to see what we were in for. Seems more people know Katrina's music in the UK than the US. After meeting her, I think that will be changing soon.

Katrina arrived with her record rep, her mom and guitarist Sean, who used to play with Smashmouth. She enthusiastically greeted us in her rock star skinny black pants, blingy belt and full head of cool, curly locks. Then she sang. What a voice; clear with great resonance. You can't fake it when you are acoustic, standing five feet from the people you are singing too. The way she worked the room was impressive; making eye contact with each person, singing to us not only collectively but as individuals.

Katrina was a Junior Vocal Champion on "Star Search" when she was eleven. But she turned down record contracts to be a kid, then go to law school. No longer able to deny her musical passion, she hung up her suits, put away the brief case and picked up the microphone again. Thank God!

I was kinda disappointed Katrina had to leave so fast, to share her talent with other stations up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I think she would've been great fun to go shopping with, have a bottle of bubbly at an outdoor cafe and solve the world's problems. Maybe next time.

Monday, March 5, 2012


It was one of the most profitable Outback Steakhouses in the country, until it burned down, ten days short of a year ago. With a much needed, face-life, the Outback Steakhouse in Fort Myers reopens for business today.

This particular Outback is the first one in the nation, built with the company's new, more modern design. The decor of many existing restaurants has been remodeled, but this is the first built from the ground up. As in any first, there is a learning curve. Managers say there are definitely things that will not be repeated, so this restaurant is one-of-a-kind. It has more style both inside and out than the Outback of old. The interior is more intimate with more color, artwork and a spacious bar. There is ample outdoor dining and cozy waiting area.

I was part of a small media group invited to tour the new building before today's opening. Of course we were also treated to a generous sampling of the new, seasonal specials along with some old favorites. I have a new appreciation for Outback after meeting Tracy; the crouton queen. She has been taste testing every batch of croutons that comes out of the kitchen. The day we were there, seven trays were discarded because they did not meet Tracy's perfect combination of toast, garlic and butter. Tracy doesn't stop at croutons, she consistently tastes other items for quality control.

The Outback is offering more items cooked over wood fire for a less seasoned, more natural flavor. The wood is inspected every half hour to ensure consistent heat.

Outback has some new seasonal items and combos like the Filet and Lobster ($14.99 for a 6oz filet). The Lobster was tender and flavorful. The Heart of Gold Mahi ($15.49) was cooked over an open flame with  a fantastic combination of artichoke, sun dried tomatoes, olives and lemon butter. For health conscious dinners, the 500 calorie Chicken on the Barbie was juicy, with a tangy BBQ sauce.

As far as appetizers go, the Bloomin' Onion is always worth the splurge, but we also tried the Chicken Artichoke Flatbread ($4.99); a great bargain. I love a flatbread that really is FLAT and crisp so I can taste the toppings without a mouthful of dough.

The bar menu includes a new Forbidden Fruit Martini made with Agave, Absolute Orient Apple and a kick of ginger, served with a shaker so you can fill at will. The Blackberry Sangria was a bit sweet for me but the Sauza Gold Coast Margarita was a great balance of sweet and sour. The wine feature now is the Alamos Malbec.

The Outback is celebrating it's return to Fort Myers today by giving back. 50% of the sales will be donated to the Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida. Bon Appetite!