When chef Jeannie Pierola opened the restaurant Edison in August, it was billed as a "food + drink lab." But without a liquor license, the drink part of the bill stayed relatively dormant.
That changed on the first day of summer, when the restaurant added a menu of drinks that are as playful, experimental, thoughtful and satisfying as the food.
To execute the next-level cocktails, Edison hired bartender Ryan Pines from The Rack. Readers may remember that it was Pines who in April provided the adult beverages for the extravagant Patron dinner by chef Ted Dorsey at the J.C. Newman Cigar Company factory in Ybor City.
As with Edison's food menu, drinks are batched by flavor categories: savory, spicy, bitter, floral, fruity, sour, creamy and clean.
The delicate Tea in Lima, for example, uses Pisco Porton infused with Jasmine Silver Needle tea by Tampa's TeBella Tea Company, along with honey syrup, lemon and egg white. The Gypsy Rosa Lee starts with Averell Dansom plum gin liqueur, adds some Cocchi Americano Rosa, and finishes with lemon and Bitterman's Burlesque Bitters for a sweet, refreshing finish.
The Southern Telegraph plays to Pines' love for spicy drinks with its mixture of Rhum Clement, Premiere Canne, cherries, jalapeno, agave nectar and mint.
With such a strong start, I look forward to seeing where the bar program goes from there.
The "Joon's Backyard" poured during a guest-bartending night by Andres Aleman at Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa. Aleman made the outstanding craft cocktail with dark rum, bourbon, Aztec xocolati bitters and agave syrup infused with Cohiba tobacco.
Florida Avenue Ale by Cold Storage Craft Brewery in Tampa, poured at my high school reunion at the Tradewinds resort on St. Pete Beach. The American wheat beer with slight blueberry notes literally saved the evening.
Pays Du Soleil farmhouse ale-style beer by Saint Somewhere Brewing Company of Tarpon Springs.
MARKHAM VINEYARDS VISITS
One of the benefits of writing about wine is meeting the people who put the grapes in the bottle. Something about being connected to the land apparently produces a large crop of genuinely nice people.
Last week, Bryan Del Bondio, president of Markham Vineyards, drove through Tampa during his annual tour of Central Florida. The Napa Valley vintner provides wine each year for the Liberty Weekend Food & Wine Experience at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The dinner includes an elegant, four-course gourmet dinner by executive chef David Didzunas while The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra plays in the airport's atrium.
Del Bondio met me at Carne ChopHouse in Ybor City for a tasting. He's been coming to Tampa for wine visits for decades. This time he was pitching his winery's excellent lineup of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc.
My favorite: The 1879 Cellar Blend, which is a tribute to the vineyard's founder, Jean Laurent, who built the winery's stone cellar 130 years ago. The blend, which earned 91 points in 2011 from Wine Spectator, paired magnificently with the outstanding Cuban sandwich at Carne.
Our lunch was less a pitch of his wines and more a research conversation by Del Bondio. He was excited to hear about the growing restaurant scene in Seminole Heights, the late-year opening of the Bern's Epicurean Hotel in South Tampa, the new Birchwood Inn boutique hotel in St. Petersburg, and Tampa's exploding craft beer and craft cocktail movements.
"Do flights come here from San Francisco?" Del Bondio asked a travel companion. "We'll have to fly here direct next time instead of Orlando."