“Long bridge ahead. Check gas”
This is my new favorite road sign, replacing the wild boar warning in France, because it is located right after the last exit where one could secure more fuel. Good one! The seven mile bridge connects Tampa and St. Petersburg, which you’ll need to cross to get to Peg’s Cantina/Cycle Brewing Company. And you definitely want to do that.
I’d been reading about the burst of new craft beer in Tampa, and I had hoped to try several- especially Rapp Brewing, 7venth Sun, Barley Mow, and Green Bench. But one obstacle kept my exploration tiny: unlike other beery cities with robust transit systems, visiting these places requires a car. And a car means keeping beery intake to a minimum.
But drive I did. Pulling up to Peg’s Cantina/Cycle Brewing is like pulling up to someone’s home where a party is in progress, and in a way it is. Mom & Dad own the restaurant, Son brews the beer out back. The brewpub and eatery dwell in a bungalow with a porch and a fenced front yard- quite inviting. I ordered the Cycle Brewing sampler, sat outside on the porch (keenly aware of the snow in Boston) and watched the locals chatting as the sun set before me. There were a few people in their early 30s, several couples over 50 (it IS Florida…), and a birthday party with ages ranging from toddlers to grandparents. What amazed me was that of the five beers on tap, three were hop forward, and completely different from each other. Below are, left to right, FreeWheel (session IPA using English hops), Fixie (session IPA using American hops), Dancing Cody IPA, Bottom of the 9th Brown (lightly roasty ale), and the Patch Kit Porter (wheat porter with lactose). It’s not often I sip five beers and can’t decide which is best because they’re all outstanding. When it came time to pick a pint to pair with my delicious crab-crammed quesadilla, I remembered the car- cursed- and ordered one Fixie.
Next stop: Cigar City Brewery in Tampa. I’ve been before, and stopped in to load up on bottles of this spectacular beer to bring back to Massachusetts. Since last year, the tasting room has been expanded with a super-long bar and high-tech menu flashing real-time draft availability behind the bar keep. I started with a sampler paddle of Humidor IPA (truly one of the best beers in the world- on Planet Kris anyway), Tocobaga Red, Shifting Straight, and Dos Anos Kumquat. Après avoir goûté quelques bières, la vache espanole qui habite dans ma tête a parlé française avec beaucoup de confiance à le couple adorable qui se sont assis près de moi (photo ci-dessous). Ils etaient très gentils et essayerent parle avec moi! (Marjorie Jacobi serait fière!) Janick est un brasseur amateur dans Montréal, et me dit d’un cooperative brasserie s’appelle “MaBrasserie.” http://www.42bieres.ca/2013/02/mabrasserie-brasseurs-cooperatifs/
Dans le monde de la bière, il est courant de connaître les mêmes personnes. Janick me dit que mon ami, Eloi Deit, est maintenant avec Brasserie Dunham proche de Montréal. Je l’ai rencontré quand il était le brasseur à Cheval Blanc. Je me souviens encore le premier bière de Eloi que j’ai bu: une belle crème ale. Maintenant, celui-ci est la même bière aiment par tous les personnes! Je lui n’ai vu pas pour trois ans. Eloi, m’appelle!
A la fin du soir, j’ai bu un collaboration avec Green Flash: Candela, une bière comme un vin de seigle. Mon Dieu- formidable!
Mer-acuLois. (a play on miraculous- get it?) That’s the name of my mermaid super-hero that first came to me in a dream at age 7. She can breathe under water- that’s her power. She’s not a cutesy Disney mermaid. She is a no-nonsense, beer-drinking gal who reads a lot and rescues other super-heroes by kissing them. In my childhood dream, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Robin were all chained to a steel ball under water- goners until she revived them. She rocks. My brilliant attempt at expressing her is above. Check back in a couple of months- I’ll give her a makeover after I graduate from cartoon drawing class.
So it makes sense, knowing my long history of being haunted by groovy bookish mermaids, that when I read about a craft beer bar that also sells antiques and was a full 40 minutes out of my way from Tampa to Orlando (where I was headed for work) of course I went. Because it’s called Mermaid Juice.
Mermaid Juice is not a place. It’s an experience. Don’t mistake it for some laid back hipster hangout, although you’ll feel comfortable if that’s your thing. But that’s just it- everyone would feel comfortable here. It’s world-class customer service without the pretence of feeling waited on. It happens without you even realizing it- every need met without asking, or even realizing you have a desire. Owner Daneaux (as in, book ’em) Narrow and his matre d’ Phil create the magic atmosphere. Phil noticed I was taking notes on a coaster and silently handed me a little notebook. I asked if the place I was ordering food from took cards. “No worries- we’ll pay them cash and you can pay us- order from anywhere you like.” Daneaux listened to the conversations and opened special bottles all evening with tastes for everyone- introducing people to new beers by matching what he’d heard them say they like about beers they were familiar with. Wow.
Somehow the characters- I mean customers- seemed to be on cue. After chatting with local homebrewer Matthew Geleske, he scurried home to retrieve a few bottles for me to try. Two of them were fine. The third, his rye saison, is one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I’m hoping he’ll send me some of his next batch- or better yet move to Cambridge and open a pub with it!
And the experience doesn’t end just because you leave. I emailed a quick thank you to Phil and Daneaux for a wonderful evening- here is what I got in return. Who does that?
Where will you find more BFM beer in one bar than anywhere else? (Save for perhaps Au Bon Coin in Nernier, France) Redlight Redlight in Orlando. Yes really! Can’t find it to save my life in Boston; head to the city with the most fast-food restaurants per capita and- voilà! Plenty of a connoisseur’s beer. It’s a mystery.
The last time I was in Orlando, Redlight Redlight was in its old location- which was charming in a way but did have a particular boy-sweat beer-soaked frat-house odor that occasionally interfered with appreciating the fine beers. The new location, pictured below, smells like fresh air and happiness. Even though it’s in a strip mall, they managed to make the large space cozy with plenty of nooks with great people views, including a horseshoe-ish shaped bar. The tall ceiling and wood-plank-flanked walls help keep the noise from becoming overwhelming. Best of all (aside from the beer list, which is extraordinary) it doesn’t have a television. Not one! People have to look at each other and talk. So European; so wonderful. Of course there are a few stragglers still face-down in their devices (myself included for a few minutes) but it’s impossible to avoid interacting with other patrons. Love it.
Owner Brent Hernandez and his right hand (pictured above) mentioned that BFM’s Jérôme Rebetez will be there in May. Plan your trip visit now!