Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beers with Widgets

The beers in the gallery above have a few things in common. 

First, they are all from the same region, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Yeah, I know that some people don't want Ireland and England in the same sentence but I have ancestors from Ireland, Scotland and England. The English connection goes back to Sir William Forman, Lord High Mayor of London in 1538, knighted by Henry VIII. At least that's what I choose to believe, it may be a whole different Forman (Foreman) line. The Irish and Scottish connection gets a bit blurred and I'm not sure which country they got kicked out of first, but I'm pretty sure some of my ancestors oppressed other of my ancestors. 

Next, they are all on my patio table waiting to be sampled (over the course of a few days, otherwise writing this article would be difficult at best) so that I might share these pearls of wisdom with you. Oh the work I go through for the sake of art and truth.

And most important, they are all in draught cans which produce a taste close to a real draft. What produces this is a neat thing called a beer widget and some extra nitrogen. You see, beers from the UK and Ireland have considerably less carbonation than American beers. That's what this little story is about, and my opinions on the beers of course.

British, Irish, Scottish and Welsh beer is not as heavily carbonated as American Beer and most of the head comes from air introduced when the beer is 'pulled' from the cask to the tap. This works fine, but the problem is that when these beers are bottled or canned there is no head when poured. The good people at Guinness solved that by creating the widget.

The Beer Widget-

The widget is a plastic, nitrogen-filled, sphere with a tiny hole in it that is added before the can is sealed. It floats in the beer, with the hole just slightly below the surface of the beer. When you open the can, the pressure inside drops and the compressed gas inside the sphere is quickly forced out through the tiny hole into the beer. This increases the amount of foam, or head on the beer. 

The end result is that when you pour the beer into a glass you get that wonderful head so unlike the head on American beer. This head does not overflow the glass but rather cascades delightfully into the glass leaving a small foamy head on top of the beer. The beer remains unfettered with all of the unneeded gases and has a smooth taste.

Another method used, and a couple of the beers above use this, is a false bottom in the can filled with nitrogen. 

My opinions and commentary follow. 

Murphy's Stout- This is a low alcohol (4%) Irish cream stout from Cork, Ireland and I like this better than Guinness as it has more flavor. The can tastes very close to my memories of this stout in Ireland where most pubs have a Guinness tap and a Murphy's tap sitting side by side. 

Young's Double Chocolate Stout- I like this one better than Murphy's, but the comparison isn't totally valid as the style is a bit different. Brewed by Wells and Young in The United Kingdom it is a milk stout with 5% alcohol. It has a nice sweet bite to the taste coming from the chocolate malt. Probably one of my favorite stouts.

Bellhaven Scottish Ale- Brewed in Dunbar, Scotland since 1719, this is one of my favorite ales. The ABV is 5.2%. I first had this on the overnight train to Edinburgh and had a few more while I was in the city.  

Boddington's Pub Ale- Brewed in Manchester, England, the ABV is 4.7%. It starts out creamy when poured and has a nice simple taste.

Old Speckled Hen- This beer was originated in Abington, Oxfordshire in 1979 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the MG plant. Old Speckled Hen was the nickname of a service car at the factory covered in paint splotches. It is a bitter with a 5.2% ABV and has a very nice taste. 

Wexford Irish Ale- Brewed in Bury St. Edmunds, England, this ale weighs in at 5% and has a nice creamy look when poured. The taste is a bit lacking and is a bit closer to a lager. Not bad, but nothing amazing.

Tetley's Smooth Flow- This is an English Bitter with only 3.6% alcohol. My first experience with this was at a bar in Mold, Wales. This is a very good bitter. The term does not mean not bitter in taste, but rather not sweet. Bitter is another term for pale ale.

John Smith's Smooth Ale- Dating back to 1778 in Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, England, this smooth ale is the biggest sponsor of horse racing in the UK. The Smooth Ale is actually a smooth (hence the name), mild (3.6%), creamy English pale ale. I like it better than a Bass.

But the grandaddy of widget beers is Guinness, after all, they invented it. 

Started in 1759 in Dublin, Ireland, Guinness has become symbolic of Ireland. At 4.3% it is a lighter beer and lower in calories (only 125 calories for a twelve once serving). They even tout health benefits by saying, "Guinness is good for you." I run this past my wife when she starts to complain that I've had too many beers.

I discovered Guinness nearly forty years ago when it was in six ounce bottles in the local ShopRite. I've had it on and off since then, mostly when I go to an Irish place, but occasionally at home. I enjoyed a few pints in England and Ireland and the best pint I ever had was at the source when I toured the plant at Saint James Gate in Dublin. Even though there are others that I like better, I'll fall back on a Guinness often, mainly due to availability. You can get it almost anywhere.

The list is not all-inclusive, there are probably more widget beers out there that I have not yet seen. Any beer above is better than the standard mass-produced American swill and some come close to craft micro-brews. The main thing though is the non-gassy feeling after a beer or two. Try a few and see what I mean.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Frank's Italian Restaurant, Wappingers Falls, NY

Eggplant Spinacelli
We've passed his restaurant for years, always thinking about stopping but never doing so. One of the main reasons is that it sits just before a light on Rt 9 and it kind of sneaks up on you when you're going south. I usually remember it as I pass, when it is too late, or when I'm headed north and I can't make a left to get in. The parking lot is a bit tricky to get into, and out of, but there is plenty of parking in the rear. 

Anyway, we went in and it is bright and pleasant inside with stone floors, brick walls, granite table tops and plenty of natural light. We were seated in the front overlooking route 9 by the window which was perfect for the food photography. Kayleigh was our server and she was helpful, friendly and enthusiastic. We looked through the menus and made our choices.

Salad with gorgonzola
Teresa ordered the Eggplant Spinacelli shown at top for $15.50. It was an eggplant and spinach dish with a really nice sauce. She said it was probably one of her top eggplant plates she's had, and almost as good as our neighbor's eggplant. I tasted and I agreed with her. (I polished off half of the leftovers that night and it was truly good with plenty of garlic)

Both of our dishes came with choice of soup or salad and we both opted for the salad. I added gorgonzola for an extra two bucks, well worth it considering the amount they gave me. Both dishes also came with a side of pasta and you can choose whether to use the same sauce as your main course, or use a different one.
Veal Saltimbocca
I ordered the Veal Saltimbocca at $19.50, my 'go to' dish when I try a new place. I do this as a basis of comparison, but that doesn't always work out since there are so many interpretations of it. Here they did it well with plenty of veal and used a marsala sauce which worked well. The only complaint is that they put far too much sauce on it and it was more soup than sauce. I solved that problem by putting the meat on the bread plate before cutting and drained off some of the sauce. Don't get me wrong, my meal was good, but Teresa's was so much better.

Next time, and there will be a few next times, I'll get one of the other veal dishes with a red sauce as that is what I think they do best.

Overall, nice ambiance, excellent service and very good food at fair prices. Stop by sometime and see what I mean.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kibberia Middle Easter Restaurant and Cafe, Danbury, CT

We were headed to Danbury for some shopping and I decided to do a bit of research before going to find someplace different to eat. I wanted Middle Eastern, there is a large community of Middle Eastern people in the area, and I came across Kibberia so we decided to give it a try. I am glad we did.

The restaurant is in a mall, the same one with The Panda House, and what you do is order at the counter, pay, and take a table. They bring the food to you. We were looking at the menu and there were too many things to choose from. Teresa decided on the Lentil and Cabbage Salad, shown above, for $6.99. It reminded me of a Middle easter taco salad, minus the meat. It was quite flavorful and fresh tasting. The portion was so big some of it came home with us. 
I ordered the Kafta Pocket Combo shown above. Kafta is a slightly spicy beef and lamb patty and it was served in a pita with lettuce, tomato and a nice sauce. It came with a side of tabouleh, hummus and a small pita for $8.79. It was very good, very filling and very fresh tasting.

Overall, excellent food at good prices. Friendly people and a nice ambiance. We'll definitely be heading back for more. Oh, it is  very friendly for all of my vegetarian friends. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tony Boffa's, Middletown, NY

Tony Boffa's Restaurant in Middletown is a place we haven't been to in years, and a place we kept saying we needed to go to again for years. Going back made me remember why I used to like it, and made me realize I should go there more often.

They've been around for over 60 years now it still has the same feel it always had. This is an old school Italian joint in Middletown, probably the last of its kind. It isn't fancy inside or out but it is clean and bright, if not a bit shop worn. No, a better term would be lived-in. The restaurant has a comfortable feel and reminds me of my family restaurant. They have a simple, yet ample, menu and the prices are competitive with comparable restaurants.

Teresa ordered the eggplant parmesan special pictured above. It was a huge portion and it was really good. The sauce had a nice balance of sweetness with a bit of the tang of a good tomato. The eggplant was perfectly cooked, the ricotta mixture was perfectly seasoned and the cheese plentiful. 

I ordered the Veal Brasciolettini which is a thin veal that has been breaded and rolled up in mozzarella, provolone, salami and spices. Think of an Italian version of Veal Cordon Blue and you've got it. It came with salad (nothing fancy, iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots and green olives) and a side of pasta. The veal was well executed with a hearty flavor, quite delicious.

The service was good and the food delicious. Total bill for two dinners was about forty bucks. Stop by sometime and eat. I think you'll be happy you did.