Monday, November 23, 2015

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Gateway Diner

Diners can be such tacky affairs, but in a good way. Like me, Mom, FYI.

Shiny, red vinyl, chrome, and neon: diners are iconic NYS family run businesses that operate 24/7, where you can always get a burger and a shake or an egg sandwich for not too much money and probably bump into someone you know and where the servers know you by the third time you dine. Those 10 page plus plastic menus that are bigger than the Post would take you forever to consider seriously so you usually order the same things over and over again, but there's always bad coffee delivered quick and hot and kept topped off if you need time to think about it.
Red and Pony outside the Gateway Diner
Gateway Diner, near the Westgate Mall on Central Avenue, has been a part of Albany's food scene since 1971. Greeks in the kitchen are always a good thing, although the menu here doesn't do that heritage much justice. Spanakopita, a Souvlaki or a Souvlaki Salad (of all things), Gyros with beef, pork or chicken rolled up with pita or served as a dinner are about all they have, although there was "hometown Greek dressing" in an Athenian wrap that had some feta - that sounded tempting. The rest of it was the comforting, reassuring usual: pancakes and eggs for breakfast, liver and onions, fried everything (especially for apps), something like 15 burgers to choose from, lots of sandwiches including that hot turkey mess with the gravy on the white bread, and a selection of large but standard Amerkin salads (the "California" has cottage cheese - why do I think that's funny???).

Pony went for the meatloaf, again: Baked Meatloaf, served with brown gravy (or marinara - really???[$11]), it was served green-free - a pile of gray meat enough to feed your younger brother for a week, sliced and heated on a flattop with a cafeteria scoop of mashed on the side, both heavily coated in a rather bland gravy, and although the meat had a nice texture the presentation (serious lack of color) and balance (pas de legumes) this is a dish I would only recommend to you at 3:00 a.m. if you are drinking and need some salt and protein to sober up.

What can I say that the picture doesn't say for itself???

Red ordered a Tuna Melt ($8.00) on wheat, served with a side of overly sweet coleslaw and big thick pickle slices. It was a hearty deal, lots of tuna (the fishy kind) and greasy in a good way, but she was left wanting a bit more of that drippy Amerkin cheese. Surprisingly, it was not served open face.

Crunchy and buttery, this is a grilled tuna with cheese NOT a "Tuna Melt". 
Foodie Friend has been trying the salads, going for that Souvlakia Salad ($11) this time but with the pork instead of the chicken listed on the menu. Lots of fresh crunchy lettuce, no skimping on the feta, pepperoncini, cuke, green peppers, tomatoes, onion and lettuce with a lovely lemony dressing that was sharp but not too garlicky, and some good olives. The marinated pork was tender with a touch of char with a nice lick of oregano. I took a piece from her plate and, when she wasn't looking, I used my superpowers to take another one without getting caught. It was, in all ways, a very good Greek salad.

Good salad as things get Greekier
Well there's a locally pretty famous blogger who poked fun at me recently (NOT A GOOD IDEA TO POKE GODDESSES AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!) for trying the calamari everywhere I went for several months on end (and I still like the stuff), but I'm doing it again by having the Greek Gyro with chicken ($8.00), basic chicken souvlaki, at all these Greek diners, as it kind of levels the playing field AND, hey, it's a Greek diner and Dad told me as a very little Greeklet never to order spaghetti in a steak house, and though I don't generally listen to anyone, in this case, he's right.

This gyro had loads of grilled marinated chicken breast chunks that were pretty good, though not nearly as tasty as the pork, with tomatoes and onion rolled up in a fat, warm, soft white pita and a generous scoop of tangy tzatziki (which I asked for on the side). Good but not well constructed, with all the onions and tomatoes at the bottom and all the meat sitting on top. Still thought it was the best thing on the table, and I ate it all, including the chips and the pickle.

I think if the tzatziki was inside the bread like it should have been if I hadn't of asked for it on the side it wouldn't have fallen apart the way it did and make a big mess all over my plate and the universe at large. 
The staff were all very pleasant, easily answering questions like "Where does soft pita come from?" (A: Restaurant Depot on Warehouse Row), serving up our meal quickly and checking in as we ate, remembering to ask if we wanted dessert or coffee, and dividing up our bill without a blink. The room was clean and bright, and to complain because I do that alot these days, the menus were a tad tacky (sticky tacky). As we paid up and headed back to our day jobs it was also fun to run into an old colleague that retired a few years back. It felt like home.

The staff wished us a good day as we headed out the door. The desserts also wished us a good day. 

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Why is there a $1.00 "to go" charge??? I recommend you go in, sit down, order your food, have it delivered to the table, ask to have it boxed, and leave the dollar for the waitress. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Doing Dishes: Peppered Steak

I don't claim to be anything more than a middle aged, middle class, middle manager that occasionally (only occasionally, mind you) shares my middle finger or "number 11" with idiot drivers. That's by day.

By night (or very very early in the morning) when I eat out or cook or kick butt at the gym or run around saving mortals in the Capital Region from the forces of evil, then I claim to be Zena, Goddess of Fire. So you may think that's awesome, and it is, but yesterday another driver gave me the "number 11", and although I'm sure in no way was it deserved, I had a taste of what it's like to be dissed and I didn't like it, and believe me, I did everything I could not to cause their car to disintegrate in thin air with a wave of my tiny fist.

Recently I dissed the B&B's Steak au Poivre as burnt (even past a fire goddess' standards), with no sauce to speak of, and no pepper neither. It was "pas ici". And they were nice to me about it, very grown up, but I'm sure in secret they wish I was mortal. So, to make amends for this and for being a food blogger with no credentials beyond after hours superhuman capabilities, I went and got me some good rib eye and decided to share my peppered steak recipe because, like me, this is awesome.

Yes, all I had was Courvoisier. 

Zena, Goddes of Fire's Peppered Steak for More than Mere Mortals

Four six-ounce 1" thick rib eye steaks, at room temperature (or two 12 ouncers, as pictured)
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste (be generous)
4 tablespoons of sweet butter
3 tablespoons of green peppercorns, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of cognac (more for drinking)
1/3 cup heavy cream

Press 2 tablespoons of the green peppercorns, salt and pepper into both sides of the meat. In a large cast iron pan set over medium heat, heat the butter until brown then pan saute your steaks, 4 minutes on the first side - do not disturb - then flip and cook on the other side 4 minutes longer approximately, depending on your preferred degree of doneness. Set aside and keep warm. While the meat is resting, lower the heat and carefully, unless you are a fire god/ddess, deglaze the pan with the cognac, then add the heavy cream and remaining green peppercorns and simmer until reduced and heated through, approximately 5 minutes longer.

The sauce should hold its own and not take over the bottom of the plate.
My apologies to B&B - I only wish you the best.

Love, Zena

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Innovo Kitchen: ECHO Echo echo

After a really really really annoying day there's nothing better than getting together with a couple of good friends for a good nosh instead of a good cry.

Is there an echo in here???

October 19th through October 25th, 2015 was restaurant week in Colonie - fixe prix three-course menus for just $20.15. The Chamber of Commerce did a nice job of listing the 20 participating restaurants and their menus; most were ramping up to offer diners something new at bargain prices, so this was a good time to try something new, and speaking of new, Innovo, which had just opened on October 2nd, was on the list.
Innovo Kitchen is at front of a new strip mall where there used to be a bowling alley
Located at 1214 Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham (Route 7), Innovo Kitchen is, on the inside, a big, cavernous, wide open space reminiscent of renovated old buildings where they keep the structure and the structure is visible and then the old stuff is fixed up to shine and you've got this nice balance of times past and present, only it's not an old building, it was just built, albeit with some of the hardwood from the old Bowlers Club, supposedly, so it struck me as kind of affected. I found the noise level really high and it seemed like there was an ECHO Echo echo resounding throughout the space, which Batman might have liked, but not Zena, Goddess of Fire. However, it was rather attractive, if not a bit cold and industrial.

The dining room is attractive but kind of noisy. The room with the windows is available for private parties.
Three of us arrived in time for happy hour at the bar (uh, happy 2.5 hours, from 400 to 630 daily - a very happy thing....), featuring $4 glasses of select wine and beer. I had two, poured out my woes and brightened up a bit. The special wines weren't anything special but the price was nice and so was our barkeep. Stretch and I each had two, while Puppy enjoyed a delicious Cosmo before we were seated in the dining room.

The bar was well staffed and the staff were all very friendly
Sometimes you just NEED a Cosmo
The Innovo fixe prix offered plenty of options - four first courses to choose from, five entrees and two desserts. Flatbread (not housemade) served with a white bean dip was offered gratis as a starter; the dip was a bit bland but still creamy and satisfying.  Puppy ordered the Duck Meatballs, two nice size tender morsels served kind of chi-chi with 3 different "sauces" - a bitter celeriac, a salty gravy and a sweet cheery moutarde. Good, but it didn't taste like duck. Stretch went for the Crunchy Kale Salad - also sweet and salty and savory, with a nice crunch  from the addition of roasted almonds and croutons. The greens were tender and mild, and the dressing was light handed and delicious. I went for the Five Onion Bisque (red, white, scallion, garlic and shallot and chive oil drizzle which equals six so I screwed something up). Anyway, this one was not for the faint of heart (of course, I was fine): creamy and garlicky, served hot, topped with a tasty crunchy goat cheese crouton. We liked this one best of the three - intense and delicious. Also the table was given a basket of soft, fluffy, molassesy oat bread, as well as some fresh semolina bread that were so good they didn't need anything to jazz them up. A great start.
The flatbread was not housemade, but the white bean dip was. 

The 5 Onion Soup with a simple slice of warm homemade semolina bread
Two little duck meatballs are overwhelmed by the sauces. 

The kale salad was perfect

By now the restaurant had gotten very busy, with just a few empty tables. We ordered the wine special, Insurrection ($32), an Australian CabSav-Shiraz blend that we quite enjoyed - fruity and spicy.

Our entrees arrived and we settled into sharing bites. Puppy ordered the Steak, Potatoes and Vegetables, a grilled tri-tip with pan charred brussels, carrots, onion and green beans, with a cup of hot hot hot thick cut cubed potatoes. The meat was perfectly cooked and beefy (it might have been tough if cooked much longer), with a side sauce reminiscent of A-1, and it was a generous portion to boot. Stretch had the Salmon, served with white cheddar grits and stewed tomatoes topped with charred leeks. Very nice, especially the grits - these were rich and OMG creamy. The fish had a nice crust and tasted fresh and clean. Taking a bite of a bit of everything all at once I thought that the flavors came together beautifully, but the leeks alone were a little too burnt, even for the likes of a fire goddess. I decided on the Pan Fried Pork Chop "Saltimbocca", with sage and country ham, served with mashed, spinach and red eye gravy. It was OK, not very attractive, pretty darn salty, and the spinach was bitter (kids can hate spinach and this is an example of why). But we all enjoyed the meal and took leftovers back with us, and the chop was still good on the reheat.
The salmon and grits. I just wanted a big ol' bowl of them grits. OMG.

Not a lovely presentation - mashed with spinach topped with the chork pop and gravy. Good, not great. Salty!!!

This was a lovely plate - a generous serving of veg, meat and potatoes. 
Two desserts ended the evening. The Cannoli Chips were a bit odd, with soft "chips" reminiscent of the NYS fair that could have been crisper fer sher, but the ricotta, blended with pistachio and chocolate chips and served to the side, was delightful. The Cookie Platter was wonderful wonderful wonderful (there's that echo again!) - homemade pecan sandies that were nicely crumbly, not too sweet, Milanos with raspberry, and chocolate chip classics that were crisp on the edges and chewy in the middle. I think we ate them all.
The cookies were awesome

French press decaf was a nice touch, alongside the Canoli Chips. 
The choices were varied, the servings were generous, and the staff were hustling - I was glad to see this new spot doing so well after being open only a few short weeks. I appreciated the little things - the barkeep checking that the glasses were spotless, being given the Restaurant Week menu without having to ask for it, an attentive server who managed ours and many many many other tables without missing a beat, and the chalkboard of specials in the bar (check before you are seated!). I left Innovo feeling like all smiles, and my two dear friends echoed that.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: Unlike Yelpers who want to be "firsts", I prefer to wait a while to let a new place get in their groove, but these guys all seem to be doing just fine already.  Bravo!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Capital City Diner

Albany has a lot of really cool diners - 50s throwback decor, some still with juke boxes and girls in uniforms, licenses, open all the time - very iconic NY if you ask me - and believe me, I'm a native Yew Norker AND Greek AND a superhero keeping very weird hours and sometimes you just NEED A BEER and some fried things late at night, or breakfast at 3:00 p.m. I've done my time in these places. I ate at most of them doing my rounds when I first moved to the Capital Region in 2001 and then promptly forgot about them. One can only do so many meals of white rolls wrapped in plastic and iceberg lettuce salads and canned soup.

But much has changed in the restaurant biz these past almost 15 years and I wondered if our expectations of good food, served quickly, reasonably priced, in a comfortable environment, is holding true in our area diners. Does anyone go beyond the basics to be amazing destination spots in their own right? And, most importantly, what about their souvlaki??? The quest begins. This is the first in a series of specifically Greek diners in the Capital Region. Parakalo. 

Capital City Diner
This is a real diner - one of those Greek family run shiny chrome and vinyl studded affairs with a menu that's a mile long, daily specials, and desserts a mile high. Kind of a home away from home for alot of folks. The space is clean, the staff are friendly, and the food is pretty good. CC offers daily specials, several soup du jours of the day, breakfast/lunch/dinner, and even has fountain drinks.

Four of us went for lunch and there were no real failures, although I thought the meat loaf tasted weird, like onion soup mix, and the gravy was weird like that too, and kind of salty, but Pony liked her lunch and saved half for a meal the next day (Meat Loaf Dinner served with mashed and mixed veggies, soup or salad for $11.99). The large Buffalo Chicken Salad with a choice of dressings (Foodie Friend chose blue cheese; $8.59) held no surprises but was fresh and crispy with a nice variety of veggies. Red went for the Blue Cheese Burger ($6.59); it came with a side of slaw that was soggy and warm, and a pickle, but the crusty roll and just the right amount of blue cheese topping a perfectly cooked medium-well patty was really quite delicious.  

The Meat  Loaf Dinner at Capital City Diner can feed two hungry superheroes

The Buffalo Chicken Salad was a hearty serving - predictable but good. 

The Blue Cheese Burger looks very plain but was actually delicious.

Ahhh, chicken souvlaki. The one at CC had a generous serving of tender marinated chicken, lots of onions and tomatoes, and nice thick tzatziki on the side all wrapped up in a soft warm pita ($7.29). Fries or a side salad are an extra $3 or you can have both for another $4. Good value, fresh, not processed or heavily salted/seasoned - this chicken souvlaki (which I've had many times before) has been my gold standard to date, but I'm wondering what else I will find. This one is hard to beat. 

I asked for an extra container of their tzatziki which they were happy to provide at no extra charge. I ate them both.

The desserts looked AMAZING!!!
I have a list of Greek diners in the Capital District that we plan to explore over the next several months. Do you have anyone you want to add?  Just let me know.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  Here's our list so far:
Latham '76
Route 7 Diner
Pearl Street Diner
Farmer Boy
Colonie Diner

Monday, October 19, 2015

Techno Whirly Outerspace Burgers at SONIC


Sonic - makes me think sparklers and techno fab and rocket ships. Zena, Goddess of Fire, loves this sort of superhero way-out there stuff. 

In reality: NOT.

First of all, the parking is a nightmare, but I didn't want to eat in the Zenamobile (yuck), and take-away is for ninnies that like cold fries. 

One lane is for carhop service and the other is for take out. The parking lot, above, was packed full even though the restaurant itself was half empty. Brilliant. 
OK I know you want to hear about the food but the parking lot at Sonic here in Latham is SO STUPID: please allow me to rant for a bit. Because cars were seriously backing up on Route 7 when they first opened (due to glee at having a new Sonic and/or because the parking lot is SO RIDICULOUSLY SMALL, and/or because there are not as yet any drones delivering my meal), so they closed that entrance. Which now means that you pull into the parking lot from the side road, and if there isn't a spot, you have to back up into the line of cars waiting to get in to get out. SO STUPID. Oh, wait, I said that already. We parked at Denny's across the street.

There was one spot left in the lot but that was blocked by a signboard. URGH. 
The entrance is welcoming, with plenty of outdoor seating. It was hot, however, so we went inside where it was comfortable and cool, to the end of the line, which was almost out the door. The space was clean and quiet, with a nice low din. You order, wait to hear your name called, and someone rollerskates them over to your table.  

Cold drinks dominated the display and made me want one. 
The menu is pretty standard stuff, nothing crazy modern here: cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken balls, fried sides, some breakfast creations, a plethora of frozen treats, and some enticing limeades. 

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger. They do not have a hamburger on their menu. REALLY????

Foodie Friend wanted a double hamburger. So I ordered her a double cheeseburger, no cheese ($4.99), you know, a plain hamburger, which my server interpreted as a plain hamburger - no cheese no lettuce or tomato or onion or anything else - sheesh. Just a hamburger. QUESTION:  Sonic - are you too far out there to remember what a hamburger is??? It was overcooked and a bit dry, but a condiment girl stopped at our table and offered us little packets of stuff like relish, as well as paper goods, so that perked us up.

I had the cheeseburger with the works ($4.19). It was sticky in my mouth (sticky bread and sticky cheese that kind of stuck itself to the roof of my mouth). But the meat was cooked just right, with a nice amount of lettuce and pickle, and it held together well. It was a fairly generous sized burger, too, but was, overall, kind of boring. The small fries ($1.19) was actually REALLY small, and OK, most fries are OK - never met one I wouldn't eat. These are definitely reminiscent of those McD's shoestrings, only with the skin. 

The cheeseburger was good in an old-fashioned kind of American hamburger way.
On my burger adventures I'm trying to order the basic burger, the fries, and the shake, but I was thirsty, it was a hot day, so I went with one of the limeades. I REALLY liked my strawberry limeade - and FF REALLY liked her cherry limeade ($1.69 each). They are just a bit fizzy, not too sweet, served with crushed ice and with bits of real fruit to block up the straw - this is something you don't get everywhere. Very nice.
The table was a mess. I'm also starting to hate those little annoying ketchup packets. The little peppermints are soft and buttery (see it in the middle of the table???) - that was a nice surprise. 
So nothing futuristic for this place - no surprises, but those frozen creations and other drinks do set them apart from some of the other chains. And so the next time Zena is feeling overheated she may just go ahead and try that drive-thru and get herself a Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast. Now THAT sounds cool!!!

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Brunch Bunch at Creo

Woo hoo!!! It's the weekend!

So I stay up late fighting the forces of evil (it's coming into zombie and vampire season so I've been busier than usual lately), then I spend all the next morning at the gym because I have to stay fit and I need to get a life, and end up starved and grumpy.  You too???  What was that? What did you say?? Did someone say brunch???

The space is modern, bright, and airy. 
Zena, Goddess of Fire, was invited to take on the new brunch menu at Creo, located at the corner of Stuyvesant Plaza on Western Avenue in Colonie. I showered, tried to make myself presentable (no tights or cape), grabbed a friend, zipped over to the restaurant, and settled into what was one of the most wonderful Saturdays I can remember in a really really long time.

For starters the staff were lovely - we were greeted at the door, shook hands, and were settled into a cozy booth. The restaurant is lovely - bright, light, clean, airy and chic. OK I felt that way too - it's nice to be treated as a guest of honor. Grumpy Zena had just exited the building.

For starters again I was immediately informed that they have a brunch special: $15 for unlimited Bloody Marys. If you've been paying attention you all KNOW I'm totally all over that idea, but I declined (this time).  The Bacon Bloody Mary ($10) was heady with horseradish, spicy, and smooth with just a hint of bacon in the drink. I was told that a shot of what I think was Mama Walker's Bacon Liqueur was in there - total weirdness, but it was very very tasty.

I did not need my XRay vision to see the horseradish in this Bacon Bloody Mary
The menu is very creative - think American gastro with a touch of world fusion. A few popular carryovers were there (e.g., the Smoked Trout Salad, the Creo Burger, Kung Pao Calamari, etc.) but most everything else is new. The major changes to the old include more pancakes (including chocolate and peanut butter), more gluten free plates (such as Grilled Kielbasa, a Lobster Omelet, and Tostados), and some reorganization ("Small Plates" are now "Shared Plates"; "Mains" are now "Lunch") that made perusing the offerings much easier. Our server brought a basket of small, tender corn muffins (sweet, soft, not too crumbly, fresh, warm) along with some cranberry sage butter (amazing!), and a few slices of nutty, crunchy-top cinnamony coffeecake to nibble on while we decided what to have.

Lemony, interesting - the Paillard of Chicken was a bright surprise
My friend TBB went all Paleo on me and ordered the Paillard of Chicken - lemony grilled chicken topped with frisee, grapefruit, and almonds. We both loved the slight char on the meat, which was still tender and moist, the scent of butter, a salad combo that clean tasting yet still complex: a wonderful combination of flavors and textures that held together like a well written chorus.

Just a bit too much jiggle to the eggs in this Eggs Benedict, but it was still very good.
I decided on a classic brunch offering - the Eggs Benedict. It was good, nothing amazing -  a rich plate, silken and salty and comforting. I think the eggs could have set a bit longer, the Hollandaise maybe needed a bit of zing, and the potatoes were simple, but they started with what I think were best quality ingredients, and so it was all good. And it went nicely with a Bloody Mary.

The Tostadas are so good you may have to fight off your friends so you can eat in peace. 
The kitchen surprised us with a dish of their Tostadas, an assemblage of over easy eggs with chorizo, chili, crispy homemade corn tortillas, cheddar cheese and salsa roja topped with a hit of sour cream and greens. Colorful, crunchy, spicy and fun, this is a dish that would make any gringo happy: be prepared to fight off your friends because they WILL want you to share! I may go do brunch solo some day soon just so I can eat one all by myself.

Instead of errands and shopping and yard work and paying bills and doing the wash and toting the kids around and getting out winter clothes and ordering wood and cleaning the chimney and fixing the door and washing the windows I HIGHLY RECOMMEND instead that you gather yourself up a brunch bunch of friends and go spend a couple of hours in the middle of the day on any given Saturday OR Sunday OR both talking, laughing, sharing, telling stories, eating well, and eating really wonderful food at Creo. The rest of the day, and the rest of the week, will be SO much better in the afterglow.

Thank you to our host for treating us to brunch. I think you are all wonderful.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS:  It felt good to feel almost human again.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I can think of a few good reasons NOT to go to Florida (large bugs, heat/humidity, and drivers, like me, who can't see over the dash). But the BEST reason I've had in a long time was to attend the first annual Bloody Mary Festival in Mirimar Beach with my good friend Peaches.

Saturday, September 19 from noon to 3:00. Happy three hours.
This inaugural event, benefiting Sinfonia Gulf Coast, allowed attendees unlimited tastes from 15 of the best bars and restaurants on the Florida panhandle. With dozens of sponsors and close to 600 revelers (all there primarily for the good cause, I'm sure), this outdoor party was fun and classy and sweaty, all in a good way. Zena, Goddess of Fire, actually hates the heat, but she loves blood and a good icy cold Bloody Mary. THE CHALLENGE: Could she take on 15 cold ones in just three hours??? Who would she vote for to win the People's Choice award?  Let's find out!!!

Four down, 11 to go. Good thing most drinks came with a bit of a snack on sticks.
There was only one rule: all the drinks had to be made with Cathead Vodka, which was actually not bad for hooch from Mississippi.

We started at one end at Bud & Alley's - the cups were rimmed with a salty/not too sticky spice rub, with a stick loaded with olives, lime, pickled okra, pickled asparagus, green beans, a large shrimp and a strip of thick, crispy smokey bacon inside the glass. This one became a standard for us: hot, salty, spicy, with a cooling edge of sweet tomato and citrus and ice. Delicious.

The first one is always good, get through the second, then from there it's easy
The Craft Bar had one of the spiciest offerings, with a stick holding another large shrimp and andouille sausage. Sunset Bay went healthy on us and stuck a carrot in there, but something was a bit bitter, so we moved on. Brutolu's Seafood House & Steamer made a pretty amazing Bloody Mary - a surf & turf idea - with beef jerky on the stick, and a cracked snowcrab leg in the glass. A good idea, except it was hard to eat with one hand (remember, we were walking around trying to drink them all and hadn't yet sat down in the shade, which would have been smart, but I digress).

These were not small drinks. There was a lot of emphasis on the presentation. 
So we went and sat down for a spell and enjoyed a Jalapeno Bloody Mary from Bijoux, which to this point was now my #2 with caperberry, boursin stuffed cherry peppers, and a nice bite of pork belly. Wow.

Pork belly is sinfully delicious.
From here I wasn't sure if it was the drinks or the heat or both or the forces of evil having followed me from up north, but the next few were pretty awful. Dig made one with kale and cilantro, which I don't like anyway, and it was green, but I liked their crab-stuffed peppers on the stick. The Island Wing Company did a Tiki Fire Bloody Mary that was bacon infused and garnished and topped with so much bacon it was actually greasy and gooky. The Flamin' Ugly Bloody from Louis Louis was just OK, and the one from Stinky's just seemed salty and pickly, which is about how I was feeling too.

Dig: Dig 6 feet deeper. The bacon overload in the Tiki Fire Bloody Mary was gooky. Louis Louis did a good job but didn't do anything memorable, although I WAS drinking. The offerings from Stinky's left little room for the beverage. 
I was happily surprised to visit the Beach House booth - wow! The tomato was creamy and dreamy, thick, rich, sweet, complex and delicious with just the right amount of heat. I asked about their secrets, and they (like everyone there, I think) made their own tomato juice with some roasted veg in there. I was impressed. These folks were happy and proud of their work!!!

I forgot to take a picture of the drink.
We wrapped up with few more but nothing from this point really stood out. We visited Great Southern Cafe (my notes only said "yuk"), The Perfect Pig (no notes), The Bowery on 30A (more bacon), and the NOLA Boiling Company (shellfish infused vodka with cilantro - that one I trashed).

Praise the Lard and drinks and bacon. I was doing pretty good until that seafood infused cilantro thing from NOLA. 
We listed 14 - thought we had them all - might have missed one - but we were done, and so was pretty much everyone by about 230 or so. We cast our votes, me for Beach House, which won third for People's Choice Award (yeah!), and Peaches voted for Bud and Alley's, which won the Judges (a.k.a., sponsors) Choice, and People's Choice Award second place (woo hoo!). Bijoux (remember the guys with the pork belly?) won People's Choice Award first place (yippee!).

It was a fun afternoon with lots of amazing drinks, good music from Sound Advice, a friendly well-heeled reeling crowd that was actually not overly snockered, excitement in the air, restaurants and bars proud of their offerings, which was by all accounts extremely generous, and, of course, food on a stick. Advance admission was $25 - a deal!!!

The music was good but it was too hot to dance. The grounds were lovely, not jammed, which has turned me off of events like this in the past. Those southerners sher do know how to throw a good party (for a good cause, of course). 

Zena, Goddess of Fire