Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beer Geekin'

Willard's Tap House has opened just down the road.  Life as we know it has changed forever.  Willard's is the most elemental tap room you can imagine:  50 feet of polished bar, half a dozen tables, and 40 beer taps.  Yeah, 40.  A couple of TV's, no significant food, no video poker, no dancing girls, no Captain Morgan or Patron.  Just 40 taps.  And, if I my eyes have not deceived me, none of those taps has Bud Light dripping out of it.  O frabjous joy!  Paul Unwin, owner and beermeister of  the Cajun Cafe, put me onto the place.  Paul has 80 beers of his own, 15 on tap, and he goes to Willard's on his off hours.  Get the picture?  The knowledgeable staff at Willard's considers Paul a god, which makes sense.

The truth be known, Willard's is on the way to the Cajun.  Is that karma, or what?  So, naturally, I stopped in on my way to the Cajun for crawfish.  Willard's lineup includes everything from AB Oaked IPA  (that's Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewery, not that other AB) to Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine to Victory Wild Devil, which was my choice for the night.  Wild Devil is from the same folks who make the amazing Hop Devil IPA, and in fact is the same beer brewed with Belgian ale yeast. Great malt body and big time hops, an IPA blessed with that slightly sour funkiness that makes Belgians so wonderful.

A careful review of the tap lineup reveals an inordinate number of highly hopped ales, a commodity that is in notorious short supply in Tampa Bay and Pinellas County in particular.  This joint has a big future with real beer lovers, (One such beer lover in attendance tonight was a certain middle linebacker with our favorite local football team.)   And lucky for me, Willard's is located across from my favorite breakfast spot, The Golden Bear, so I can always stop in for a brew on the way out for waffles.

Willard's Tap House is at 12500 Starkey Road in Largo (that's Florida, folks), half a mile south of Ulmerton Road.


Jack and Me and the Maggie B

The truth is that I have fallen down in my blogging duties.  The excuse is that I have been writing Other Things, specifically, short fiction for publication.  Here's a taste, part of a 2500-word story that I recently submitted to Tinhouse and Glimmertrain.  If you would like to see more of this, leave a comment, and if a few people are interested, I'll publish the rest.


Jack and Me and the Maggie B

by Ev Newton

Neither Sebago Lake nor Jack Gordon was a stranger to tragedy.  Late in the war, a couple of British Corsair fighter planes on training flights collided over the lake and plunged flaming into water 200 feet deep.  The pilots did not escape, and they remain trapped in their planes at the lake bottom still today.  Later, when the nuclear submarine USS Thresher sank 8,000 feet to the ocean bottom off Boston, Jack’s only son Peter was aboard.  Some said Jack just didn’t give a damn after that.  Just ran his business and didn’t give a damn.  Once, over coffee and Sally’s hotcakes, I heard Jack and my dad whispering about the crushing helplessness that had descended on Sebago folks on both occasions, but especially on Jack.

“I coulda done something besides stand on my dock and watch.  Just watch ‘em sink out they-ah.”  Jack pronounced “there” in Maine standard cadence with two syllables, “they-ah.”

The story around the lake was that Jack had piled life jackets into one of his little boats and raced out to the middle of the lake, only to find nothing but an oil slick and some bits of floating foam.  The story may have been true, but I guess no one ever asked him directly.

“And somebody shoulda found my boy before the hull caved in.  But nobody did.”

 I snuck a look at Jack’s face while he was talking, but it looked the same as always.

Coffee gone, we went fishing.

Back then, Jack’s weather-beaten old boathouse featured the only dockside pump on Sebago Lake where vacationing fishermen could gas up without climbing out of their boats.  Sure, you could fill one of those red five-gallon tanks a little cheaper at Kirby’s Store, a mile south of Jack’s, but then you had to hump it across Route 114 through the cold morning fog and down the stony beach to where you left your boat tied to the big willow at the water’s edge.  Most found the few pennies they saved not worth the portage.

Not that Jack was the easiest man to do business with in this regard.  He toted a ring of keys like a monkey’s fist hung from his pants, and when you wanted a tank of his premium white gas, he’d stroll the length of the floating wooden dock, fumble for the right keys and unlock first the rusty steel cage that guarded the pump and then the ancient Amoco pump itself.  If he forgot to turn the gas on back in the boathouse, as he sometimes did, he would stroll back to get that done, relocking the pump and cage before he left and reunlocking them upon his eventual return.  No gas flowed unless Jack hovered at the pump to oversee the safety aspects of the whole operation.  And to get paid.  In cash.  On a slow day, this operation could waste a half-hour of good fishing time. 

For a few bucks at Jack’s, you could rent an old metal boat with rusty oarlocks and ass-breaking metal bleacher seats.  Those seats froze you in the spring and fall, and seared like a hot griddle on those few glorious days we called summer in Maine.  Of course, a rowboat was a puny weapon if you were hunting the trophy salmon that lurked famously in Sebago’s artesian waters.  So Jack would also rent you, for a few bucks more, a woefully inadequate outboard motor, one that usually started after a couple of pulls. 

In the years before DDT took its toll on the short food chain – fishermen ate the fish; fish ate the black flies – salmon was king in Sebago and Sebago was the king of Maine lakes.  Landlocked since the old C&O Canal leading to Casco Bay closed in the nineteenth century, the salmon had evolved into the ultimate freshwater game fish, big, sometimes huge, depending on who was telling the story, wily in the water and feisty on the hook.  In a hot fry pan, they turned succulent as trout on a butter diet.  Every epic salmon quest began at Jack’s.

End of Part 1 

© Ev Newton 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Celebrating the Return of the Crawfish

Ugly little suckers, these crawfish, but so-o-o damn good.  Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, √©crevisses, they are crustaceans like their lobster cousins, only fresh water in origin.  They resemble some oversized, creepy-crawly bug, but that only keeps away the crawfish newbies and leaves more for me. Bad looking, good tasting.  Boil 'em up with lots of cayenne papper and a potato or two, and they make a sublime feast.

One of the best things about living in Florida is that it is so close to Louisiana, where almost all the crawfish in the western world call home.  Better yet, The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou has jumped in early in the season and is boiling 'em up even as I sit here typing.  Just thinking about them makes my mouth water.  In fact, I think I'll , , ,

See ya!