Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy Monday! Cigar City Brewpub and Cronut-Style Pastry Love

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

Happy Monday!  How was your weekend?  I was super proud of myself this morning.  I had an 8:30 a.m. conference call but decided to start my work day at 7:30 a.m. to get ahead of the week before Monday officially came crushing down on me.  I was filled with the glow that morning people and the super-organized must radiate on an hourly basis.  

Then I logged into my computer and read some emails before turning to my calendar and realizing that my first conference call of the day was not at 8:30 a.m. but at 7:30 a.m.  I was now 12 minutes late for my first meeting instead of being almost an hour early.    Instead of being uber-organized, I was really slow slacker!  Harumph!  Not a good start for my Monday!

But after three back to back conference calls, I looked at my Twitter account and Piquant Epicure and Cuisine in Hyde Park Village had personally tweeted me to say they had a vanilla custard filled croissant doughnut set aside for me on the house.  Now if you do not know what a croissant doughnut is, you didn't read my last blog post.  So go back and read it ... I'll wait.  

Welcome back!  Now you know that a cronut/doughssant is a croissant doughnut and that I consider Piquant's vanilla custard filled version of a cronut/doughssant to be a gift from baby Jesus.  It is crispy, crunchy, flaky, buttery, sugary, creamy, custardy, smooth, rich, delectable and darn tasty.  If you like a well-made piece of pastry, you need to get yourself over to Piquant NOW.  And I mean NOW because ever since word came out that Piquant brought their version of the New York City cronut creation to Tampa Bay, pastry-hungry Tampa Bay citizens have been descending like zombies in World War Z. 

There's nothing like having a great Monday that suddenly turns into a sucky Monday and then finding out that a local bakery cafe has sensed you need a pick me up and tweets that they have free pastry for you!  Piquant, you are fabulous!

However since there is such high demand and I still have some of their fantastic croissant doughnuts, I do not want to bogart a pastry that a fellow Tampa citizen who has not yet tried a cronut-style confection could have had.  (Look at me, for once I am being altruistic!)  

I will be going to Piquant in the near future to try their lunch menu.  I plan on making a long Cher-style wig out of my black cats - no not killing them, just having them lay still on my head.  I also plan on wearing gigantic sunglasses so that no one recognizes me as THE Lily On The Lam.  It's very easy to camouflage yourself in a crowd when you have cats on your head.  Trust me.

On Friday, before seeing the hysterical comedian Josh Wolf at Side Splitters; my friends and I had dinner at Cigar City Brewpub in Carrollwood.  Now to be a little confusing, Cigar City Brewing and their tasting room have a separate website from Cigar City Brewpub.  I have included links to both webpages.  

Cigar City Brewpub gets major points for changing the decor of the previous restaurant - a TGI Friday's.  I walked in and it didn't scream "Hey, I used to be a TGI Friday's!"  The beer can light fixtures and barrel/cask detailing was very nice - modern and yet a nice nod to Cigar City Brewing's theme. 

I arrived first - I am trying to turn over a new leaf where I am promptly on time instead of always running in 5 minutes late with my hair on fire.  The hostess seated me at a booth right across from the merchandise case.  Evidently she knew I always love a good shopportunity.  

Also evidently, Cigar City Brewpub must know that I love a good tattooed, hipster brew loving man with a nice beard - as 2/3 of the staff seemed to be straight out of a Pacific Northwest skinny lumberjack-looking brewmeister facial hair enthusiast dream.  (Or am I the only one who has that dream?)  Not trying to be sexist here, but if you enjoy looking at handsome men with beards get on over to Cigar City.    

After staring at the male lumberjack wannabes, I had Cigar City brewing's cider to start.  I do not like overly sweet ciders, so I liked that Cigar City's cider was more on the dry side.  However the flavor components tasted a little flat to me, so I hope that they continue to work on their cider as it is a relatively new product in the Cigar City Brewing family.  Also it is important to note that Cigar City has a cocktail menu and wine, so if beer is not your thing do not despair they also have hard liquor.  

For an appetizer, I had the stuffed piquillo peppers - chorizo, manchego cheese and a very little bit of rice as the filling.  Usually with a stuffed pepper you get a lot of rice and a little meat, this stuffing was almost all chorizo.  I actually would have preferred a little more rice to cut the richness of the chorizo and the cheese, but hey if you love chorizo you have to try these.

For dinner, I had the shrimp and grits.  The grits were incredible and the sauce was beyond perfect.  However the shrimp were anorexic and the grits were topped with a gigantic pile of micro greens that were larger than the portion of grits itself!  In Florida, I am used to getting a bowl of grits as big as my head.  At Cigar City, I was served the tiniest portion of grits I have ever received in my entire life.  (And honey, I have had a lot of grits since moving to Florida.)

Because there were more micro greens than grits, I felt like I was eating a stringy salad with a couple pieces of grits as wet croutons.  I like cheese grits for the warm, creamy, cheesy mouthfeel.  The microgreens felt like you were throwing in chunky lawn clippings-- NOT a good taste sensation both in terms of texture and flavor.

One of my friends had been to Cigar City Brewpub a few weeks earlier and had said the menu was different and the grits were half the size portion that she had had on a previous visit.  Another friend said that the menu on the website had so many things she had wanted to try and none of those items were on the menu placed before us.  Obviously Cigar City Brewpub's menu is in flux and it doesn't seem like the pendulum has swung for the better.

Please Cigar City, get some better quality shrimp, ditch the micro greens garnish and give a better portion of grits.  Everyone knows grits are not expensive, you could afford to dish out a little bit more!  I feel like a Dickensian grits-loving urchin: "Please sir, s'more grits, please."

Three of us had the shrimp and grits, my other friend had the tomato bisque and the salad.  She loved, loved, loved the bisque but wished the crouton had been placed on the side versus half in the bisque as it was quite soggy when it arrived at the table.  She also remarked that her salad was bigger than all three of the shrimp and grits entrees combined.  (OK that's an exaggeration - bigger than two of them.  Ha!)  

For dessert, I had the flourless chocolate cake that has chili spices in it.  It came out topped with fresh blueberries.  The cake was incredibly rich with a nice bit of heat from the chili peppers.  The fresh blueberries were a surprisingly great combination.  But the cake itself was way too rich for my palate.  I would have appreciated half a portion the cake with a nice side of fresh whipped cream or ice cream.  (Less cake, more grits!)  There was nothing to really cut the richness of the cake other than the blueberries.  

My friends and I also wanted to try the maple bacon ice cream.  It comes out in a small espresso cup-style dish- very small scoop.  It was maple-y without being cloyingly sweet.  There was a piece of bacon on top and a slight hint of smokiness in the ice cream.  It was interesting to try but probably will not enter my repertoire of ice cream favorites.

Two friends had the bread pudding - one had the pineapple and Florida cracker ale bread pudding.  The other had the chocolate-cherry-raisin bread pudding.  They are both served in small mason jars.  Neither friend was impressed with the bread pudding.  My friend who ordered the pineapple bread pudding said that it was just too bready.  We then relentlessly teased her about complaining that bread pudding tasted too much like bread.  I offered to buy her dinner if she flagged down the Manager to say "This bread pudding is too bready."  She did not take me up on the offer.  However I did recommend she go to Duval's in Sarasota and have their to die for bread pudding which is made with homemade danishes instead of bread.  (Crazy good!)

The customer service at Cigar City Brewpub was top notch.  From the moment the hostess ran to open the door for me when I approached, I knew that Cigar City placed an emphasis on quality service.  I felt our waitress took the time to thoroughly explain the menu and make recommendations.  The runners brought our drinks and food out very quickly and the Manager stopped by to say hello and to make us feel welcome.  I was very appreciative of the quality and frequency of the customer service from all staff members with whom we interacted.  I feel like customer service has gone out the window in most businesses, so to have dinner on a busy Friday night and get A+ customer service is a blessing!

I feel that Cigar City Brewpub is still trying to get their culinary footing - are they Cuban tapas?  Are they urban brewpub?  Are they Cuban bistro?  Are they Southern down home cooking?  Are they elevated fusion cuisine?  On their snacks menu they had chicharones and corn nuts, but also asparagus in romesco.  I was craving a more brew pub friendly snack other than asparagus!  They should take a page from The Ravenous Pig - An American Gastropub in Orlando to see how good gastropub cuisine can be. 

If Cigar City Brewing could adjust their menu to be in line with their great customer service, I think Cigar City Brewpub could be a winner.  I'd like to go back to try their arroz con pollo two ways.  Overall Cigar City Brewpub had good atmosphere, excellent service and a nice selection of beer, cocktail and wine - I'd like to see their menu evolve into a stronger culinary statement but the restaurant is still relatively new and worth being patient with some menu growing pains.

P.S.  Unfortunately I was too busy chatting and having a great Friday night out to take any pictures of the food, so here's a freaked out picture of my kitten Chibby instead.  You'll see he has his talons extended - ready to swat me.

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