Good Things Happen When You Eat at the Bar

Almost always. Like 97% of the time. Don’t you agree?

A lot of people going into a place that primarily serves food and includes a good tap or bottle list are typically going to want to sit at a table. They’re there to enjoy a meal together in the company of whomever they walked through the door.  As a couple, if you’re willing to sit at the bar you can usually get a seat without a wait. And IMHO you’ll typically have a richer experience. (more on this in another post)

Stanziato'sThe most recent case in point was last night; the first stop as the professor and I head into our almost ten-day vacation.  Thanks to prior online research on Beer Advocate and such, our dinner destination was chosen for its proximity to our overnight accommodations AND good reviews for a well-chosen beer list and good food.

Upon entering Stanziato’s, “Voted Best Pizza in the Universe,” we were told it would be a 25 minute wait. On the road for four and a half hours, we were hungry and tired, so stepped outside to consider if we might like to try another place we’d passed down the road.  Deciding to start with a beer and wait, we walked back inside and the guy who had originally greeted us said we’d be welcome to eat at the bar. Score!

Now the bar is kind of small, six chairs total maybe, two of which are already taken by a guy who looks like maybe he works there and a woman who appears to be trying to sell him wine.  We hop up on the chairs, get the bottle list, ask what’s on tap, and I try a sample of a brown ale (check out cute sample glass).

sampleThe professor goes with a Captain Lawrence Imperial IPA bottle; I opt for a pour of the Sebago Brown Ale which is served in a tulip glass.  He ordered a sausage pizza, I opt for the fish tacos. (Let me just say these were the BEST fish tacos I’ve ever eaten. Seriously!)

As we’re finishing up, I look around and tell the professor I’d really love to get a pic of the pizza oven but don’t suspect they’d like if I wandered over and started snapping. There was just something so inviting about the other side of the counter, people pushing dough into shape, spreading sauce, snipping fresh herbs, and the warm glow from the wood-fired oven.  Couldn’t help myself, so caught the eye of our initial contact and pantomimed a camera action with a questioning look.

He welcomed me to step right behind the counter and get a good close shot. I wish now I’d had my good camera and had taken more, but you get the idea with this one.  Admiring the tile work, I’m told the person responsible is the same guy sitting at the bar.

pizza oven Matt Lunch

As I walk back to my seat, he gets up, introduces himself as Matt, the owner, and asks if we’re having a good visit. Learning we’re from out of state and heading north to Maine, he inquires if we’ll be stopping in Freeport because there’s a place, he says, we can’t miss. A minute later, he’s gone to the back room to retrieve a bottle of Maine Beer Company’s “Lunch” for us to try. He and the professor volley comments on favorite IPAs and the professor trades a bottle of Short’s Huma-Lupa-Licious IPA from our cooler unavailable on the East Cost. The wine rep tells me about a great place just up the road we’ve got to try, which we’ll make a point to catch on the return trip.

Tucked into a pretty nondescript along-the-highway strip-store location next to a tanning salon, Stanziato’s will not get your attention from the road. But don’t miss the opportunity to step inside. Extra kudos for locally sourcing their ingredients and dedication to an artisanal approach to good food and drink.

Stanziato’s Wood Fired Pizza

35 Lake Avenue Ext., Danbury, CT 06811 | 203-885-1057

Advertisements

Max’s Taphouse

The Facebook posts from these guys  . . .. well, I don’t actually know what to say . . . they drive me crazy. In a good way.  I want to try most everything they mention .  . . every time!  

NEW BEERS JUST TAPPED
CASKS:
Williams Bros Midnight Sun, Williams Bros Scottish Heavy and Fraoch Heather Ale.
DRAFTS:
Dogfish Head Tweason, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, New Belgium Somersault, New Belgium Tart Lychee, The Bruery Mischief, Dupont Saison, Firestone Walker Double Jack, Oskar Blues Deviant Dales, Hopfenstark Captain Swing, Flying Dog Sour Cherry, Lagunitas Lucky 13 and Sixpoints Bengali Tiger…..

   

I’m always comfortable there. It’s like visiting with cousins; doesn’t matter how long it’s been, they welcome you in, share with you the best they have, allow you to be yourself and simply settle in and enjoy the breather you’re taking from the rest of the world.

One visit, we were sitting at the bar next to some guys – maybe four or five of them – and one of them mentions to the bartender that they like coming there. The bar keep says, yeah, but it’s been a while since you guys have been in. You fish, right?  Yes, they do. Every year they come over from New Jersey for a guys’ weekend and go out fishing.  Once a year. And the bartender remembered.

Five to one female to male ratio of patrons during our most recent visit.

I’ll likely be writing more about Max’s. Need to sign off for now; just had to send out some love to them after seeing their FB post.

Do yourself a favour and make the trip to Baltimore. I think I counted 94 (yes, 94!) items currently on tap (plus more on cask), so you aren’t going to leave thirsty.  (might want to bring a DD, however)

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks

Anyone who has ever been out with me knows I appreciate a drinking/eating establishment that pays attention to details; an on-target spot understands good food and drink, nice ambiance, excellent service and all the unspoken little things that work together to create a positive experience. 

A place that meets all these points and thrills me beyond compare is Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks, in Millheim, Pennsylvania. Successful, yes, for paying attention to details, Elk Creek has something far beyond proper preparation and presentation.  There is, with this place I think, a palpable sense of intention.

And when I say intention I mean authentic, positive-focused, value-driven, community-integrated, full-on prayers to the universe stuff; none of this “the road to hell is paved with . .  .” business.

Like many undertakings, this joint was “brewing” in the hearts and minds of folks for many years before it became a reality. And I’m here to tell you, the reality of it feels kinda’ world-changing.

Picture this: a couple weeks ago I made the trip with a friend (more than two hours from home for us) to take in a Cuban band, Sierra Maestra, for what was (as are quite a few at Elk Creek) a sold out show. Family-style seating for the evening encouraged meeting new people, packed in to enjoy the night together.  So amongst hugs and greetings with friends and acquaintances from days gone by, there were also interesting conversations with folks we hadn’t previously known.   We ate and drank and talked and when founding partner, Tim Bowser, introduced the band and they drew up their instruments to play, women from all corners of the room immediately began spilling onto the dance floor.

It didn’t take long for men to join, too, and as the robust Latin energy of the musicians articulated our hips to its rhythm, I caught a glimpse out the window of an Amish horse and buggy dashing down the street.  Seriously! Where else could this happen??

I honestly hope the answer to that question is everywhere. There don’t have to be buggies, but if there were hot spots like this in little towns across the US, there would be a sea change.

Averie with Tim Yarrington

A little heated up with all that dancing, but happy to pose with head brewer at Elk Creek, Tim Yarrington. photo by Ivey DeJesus

The liquid nourishment at Elk Creek is top-notch.  Standards include a host of traditional English-style ales: the Elk Creek Copper Ale, Great Blue Heron Pale Ale, my traveling companion’s favorite: Winkleblink Ale, the Brookie Brown Ale, Double Rainbow IPA, and my favorite: Poe Paddy Porter.  Or, I should say it had been my favorite until I sampled the Big Trout Oat Stout on the hand pull the night of the Cuban shindig.  Hoo-eee!  That was amazing!  (also worth recommending is Elton’s ESB)  Was glad to finally meet and squeeze award-winning head brewer Tim Yarrington to thank him personally for all the great selections.

 In addition to great drinks, the “Nouveau Dutchie” cuisine at Elk Creek is thoughtful, artisitic – and oh, did I mention, as LOCALLY-SOURCED as possible.  Intention!  It’s really cool to walk into a place and be instantly aware that it’s not just another hole in the wall in some one-traffic light, central PA town.  The bar, the stools, the art on the wall, the beer, the food — all crafted/created / grown by people of the community. 

It was an intent of the owners, I believe, to create Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks as a gift to their greater community.  But no need to take my word for it; go experience it for yourself.  And let me know what you think.