Miami's Best Brunches

You can’t beat brunch.  A great brunch is the most sumptuous meal of the week and it’s the best excuse to have all of your favorite foods at one time.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, just think how important brunch must be!

Looking to plan your Sunday brunch?  Here are my favorite spots in Miami:

Acqua at Four Seasons Miami
An elegant setting to enjoy brunch favorites with a Mediterranean flair.  With extensive cheese, carving, Asian food stations and more, there’s truly something for any taste.  If you’re not in the mood for a Mimosa or Bloody Mary get a mojito — all are unlimited.  Request a table by the window for nice views of Brickell and the bay.
$70 per person.  Located in the Four Seasons Miami, 1435 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 381-3190

Area 31
Chef John Critchley’s brunch is a gourmet buffet featuring caviar, paté, cold cuts and cooked dishes like roast chicken breast and steak frites.  While sipping on unlimited Mimosas or Bellinis you can enjoy live music.
$50 per person.  Located in the EPIC Hotel, 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Downtown Miami.  (305) 424-5234

Balans
Whether it’s breakfast or lunch, Balans has it all.  You can’t go wrong with one of the four kinds of eggs benedict or the enormous breakfast burrito, though you may be tempted by the lobster club wrap or the chili beef salad.  The à la carte menu ranges from around $8 to $15.  To get your day started there’s a full menu of cocktails for $11 each.  Just be sure to arrive early otherwise you could have a long wait (especially at the Miami Beach location).
Both Saturday & Sunday.  Two locations: 901 South Miami Avenue, Brickell and 1022 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 534-9191

Biltmore Hotel
It doesn’t get any more lavish than Sunday Champagne brunch at the Biltmore Hotel.  The array of selections include carving, omelet, sushi and tapas stations, plus a wall of desserts.
$75 per person.  Located in Fontana Restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables.  (305) 913-3202

Bizcaya at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove
The Ritz-Carlton always gets brunch right.  Here you’ll enjoy all the traditional favorites plus made-to-order sushi and sashimi and grilled-to-order fresh fish — all in a gorgeous setting that includes a cascading waterfall.  And of course, you’ll be able to take in the view with free-flowing Champagne.
$52 per person, $25 for kids 4 to 12 years old.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, 3300 Southwest 27th Avenue, Coconut Grove.  (305) 644-4680

Cioppino at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
A buffet so big you’ll be full just looking at it.  Go easy on the pasta, salads and grilled meats so you can save room for caviar (three different types), raw oysters and sushi.  Of course there are unlimited Bloody Marys and Champagne cocktails (Mimosas, Bellinis and a few more), and an entire room just for dessert.
$72 for adults, $36 for children under 12.  Located in the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Drive, Key Biscayne.  (305) 365-4286

Eos
The à la carte menu features a variety of frittatas and egg dishes that start at $12.  Or try the buttermilk pancakes that are topped with caramelized apples and spiced candied walnuts.  Plus you get to enjoy complimentary Mimosas or Bloody Marys with your meal.  Bonus: brunch gets you free entrance to Club 50’s Sunday Refresher party where you can groove to a live DJ and enjoy light bites until 5pm (it’s normally $30).
Located in the Viceroy Hotel, 485 Brickell Avenue, Brickell. (305) 503-0373

Rusty Pelican
Go for the great view of downtown and Brickell, stay for the enormous fresh seafood spread.  If you’re not in the mood for peel and eat shrimp, raw oysters or steamed crab, there’s always the assortment of cold salads and ham or beef at the carving station.  Enjoy the view with unlimited Champagne, Mimosas or orange juice.
$33.95 per person, $13.95 for kids 5 to 10 years old, under 5 free.  3201 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne.  (305) 361-3818

The Setai
Craving Asian cuisine?  Check out Sunday brunch at the Setai.  In addition to eggs, pancakes and traditional brunch breads, there’s a wide assortment of Indian, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian dishes.
$67 per person, $34 for kids 5 to 12 years old.  2001 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.  (305) 520-6400

Talula
Escape the craziness of South Beach at this cozy brunch.  The buffet is set up on the restaurant’s garden patio and features a carving station, pasta, fresh local fish, breakfast favorites like waffles and pancakes and an elaborate display of homemade desserts.
$29 per person which includes juice and coffee.  210 23rd Street, Miami Beach.  (305) 672-0778

Tre Italian Bistro
A great value and a convenient spot for people who live in downtown.  A la carte items are $12 and come with a complimentary Mimosa, Bloody Mary, sangria, orange juice or cappuccino (each additional drink is $3).
270 East Flagler Street, Downtown Miami.  (305) 373-3303

Tropical Chinese Restaurant
It’s a bit of a drive from downtown and Miami Beach but it’s the best dim sum in the area.  A word of advice: don’t get too much off of the baked and fried items cart so you can load up on delicious steamed dumplings.  Dishes range between $3 and $7 so your bill can be as small or as big as your appetite.
Both Saturday & Sunday.  7991 Southwest 40th Street, Miami.  (305) 262-7576

8 oz Burger Bar
I could eat 8 oz’s juicy burgers any time of the day (my favorite is the Niman Ranch lamb), but they’re even better with Bloody Marys that you can customize at the Bloody Mary bar.  Unlimited Bloody Marys cost $20.
1080 Alton Road, Miami Beach.  (305) 397-8246

Have a favorite brunch spot that’s not on the list?  Send an email to tips@amateurgastronomer.com.

AG Pick Under $10: 2008 MAN Vintners Chenin Blanc

Don’t let the name confuse you.  This South African winery makes wines that both men and women will enjoy.

It’s actually women who inspired the name.  MAN Vintners was started by three men who created the name by combining the first letters of their wives’ names — Mary, Anette and Nicky.  It’s how Charles Back, José Conde and Tyrrel Myburgh were able to spend their weekends away from their wives making wine.

MAN Chenin BlancThe 2008 Chenin Blanc was the first wine I tried from MAN Vintners.  It’s bright and zippy and fills your mouth with fresh tropical flavors.  Best of all, it costs less than $10.

This white is 100% Chenin Blanc sourced from various vineyards in the Agter-Paarl region in southwest South Africa, just inland from Capetown.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and is left on its lees until bottling for a richer mouthfeel.

Aromas of melon and guava introduce crisp flavors of honeydew, starfruit and ripe lime.  Refreshing acidity and good minerality culminate in a clean finish.

This Chenin Blanc is a versatile white that goes well with seafood, shellfish, light cheeses and salads.  Or enjoy it on its own on a hot afternoon.

The 2008 MAN Vintners Chenin Blanc costs $9.

Colorado Wine: Bookcliff Vineyards

Before I could leave Colorado I had to try some of the state’s wine.  There are more than 40 wineries in Colorado but unfortunately I only had the chance to check out one.  Fortunately it was a good one: Bookcliff Vineyards.

Bookcliff Vineyards was founded in 1999 by husband and wife John Garlich and Ulla Merz.  Their 33 acre vineyard is located in an area of western Colorado known as “the Vinelands,” a place where grapes were grown in the early 1900s.

The tasting room is located inside their fermentation and bottling facility, a relatively small warehouse in North Boulder.  When I walked inside I was greeted by Justin Jannusch, Bookcliff’s assistant winemaker who also led the tasting.  It was intimate and informal, the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a tasting.

Bookcliff grows 10 varietals (Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Muscat Blanc, Orange Muscat, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Black Muscat), and has an impressive range of wines for its size.  In the tasting room I had a hard time narrowing down the choice of wines to taste among the 16 offered.

I decided to start with two whites.  The 2008 Viognier ($16) was a delicious introduction to Colorado wines.  Flavors of lime and honeydew give way to a clean finish that had just a hint of spice.  Next was the 2008 Riesling ($14), sweet yet light with notes of green apple and a crisp finish.

Moving on to the reds, my first wine was the 2004 Merlot ($14).  With its fresh red fruit flavors, it reminded me of the Merlot from Long Island that I enjoyed during my trip to the North Fork.  Next I really liked Friday’s Folly ($11), an upbeat red blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah), that has bright cherry and plum flavors.  It’s smooth and very easy to drink, making it a great wine for pizza or pasta.

I was almost surprised at how much I enjoyed the 2008 Tempranillo ($25).  It has lively flavors of cherry and red plum rounded out by cedar and vanilla.

My favorite of Bookcliff’s reds was the 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($25).  Raspberry, black cherry and plum flavors finish with a hint of smoke and spice.  Gentle tannins give the wine a smooth mouthfeel.  Like all of Bookcliff’s reds, this wine is very versatile and can pair with a variety of meat and pasta dishes.

I ended the tasting with the Finali ($20), a port-style dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes.  Fruit forward with some spiciness and sweet without being syrupy, this wine goes well with dessert or on its own.

As I was savoring the wines Justin gave me a tour of the facility, showing me everything from the crusher and destemmer to the bottle labeling and corking machines.  It was nice making a personal connection to the winemaking process at Bookcliff, and it really enhanced my tasting experience.  I definitely recommend visiting the tasting room or vineyard, or pick up one of their wines if you travel to Colorado.

For more information on Bookcliff Vineyards visit bookcliffvineyards.com.

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Mile High Mead

After all the beer I was ready to drink something sweet.  I found this something sweet at Redstone Meadery in Boulder.  Redstone produces mead, or honey wine.

Though today you won’t often find it at bars or on restaurant menus, mead has a long and illustrious past.  The name conjures up images of knights noisily clinking mugs at a celebration or vikings guzzling it on the open sea.  But mead is much older than that — archaeological evidence for mead production dates back to 7000 BC.

Often referred to as the ‘nectar of the gods,’ mead was enjoyed by people in Europe, Asia and Africa.  References to mead appear in folklore, mythology and literature.

With such a noble past, how can you not want to try mead?

Don’t let a dislike of sweet wine turn you off.  Mead comes in a variety of flavors and styles so you’re bound to find one that suits your taste.

Traditional mead is made with honey, water and yeast.  From these basic ingredients, mead can be sweet or dry, still or sparkling, flavored with fruits, herbs and spices, and even aged to give it a port-like quality.

Redstone Meadery makes more than 10 hand-crafted meads, available to try for free in their tasting room.  Much of the taste comes from the different honeys used in each recipe, which is mainly sourced from the Boulder area.  The mead spends about 5 to 6 months in stainless steel tanks, then another 5 to 6 months in the bottle (though some meads are aged longer).  All of Redstone’s meads are gluten free and have no sulfites added.

I started my tasting with Redstone’s Nectar.  These are sparkling meads that are medium in sweetness with 8% alcohol.  The Nectar is made with 5 parts clover honey and 1 part wildflower honey, with real fruit added after fermentation.

I tasted the Sunshine Nectar first ($14 for a 750 ml bottle).  It was light and refreshing, with a crisp and tart flavor from the addition of apricots.  Next I enjoyed the Boysenberry Nectar ($14), which had a nice fruit flavor and was pleasantly dry.  My favorite was the Nectar of the Hops ($16), a dry hopped version of the Nectar.  With floral aromas and flavors plus a hint of bitterness to cut the sweetness, it was fresh and delicious.

From the Nectar I moved on to the Mountain Honey Wine.  All are 12% in alcohol and are made with different honeys.  I started with the Traditional Mountain Honey Wine ($21).  Made with orange blossom and wildflower honey, it was medium in sweetness with notes of citrus and orange.  I also enjoyed the Pinot Noir Pyment Mountain Honey Wine ($21), made with desert blossom and black button sage honey.  Dry and full-bodied, this mead had a hint of smokiness from French and American oak cubes.  My favorite was the Juniper Berry Mountain Honey Wine ($21), also made with orange blossom and desert blossom honey.  Medium-dry with a hint of sweetness at the beginning, the mead had great spicy and woody flavors.

I couldn’t resist purchasing a taste of the Redstone Reserve.  These meads are made once a year and aged before bottling.  Unlike the pale colored Nectar and Honey Wines, the Reserves are dark copper to brown in color, with a sweet and syrupy taste.  They make a great after dinner drink or can be served with dessert.

When I visited the meadery they were offering tastes of two Reserves.  I started with the 2003 Boysenberry Reserve ($50 for a 500 ml bottle), which was released in August 2006 and was made from three different honeys.  It was smooth, fruity and well-balanced, with a refined sweet honey taste.  My favorite of the two was the 2004 Cyser Reserve ($55).  Released in December 2007, this was made with a trio of honeys and fresh apple cider from western Colorado.  The apples and honey made a delicious combination.  It was a warm and sweet mix that brought back memories of apple picking in upstate New York when I was younger.  It was a great end to my first real exploration of mead.

As I learned at Redstone Meadery, mead is surprisingly versatile.  It can pair with a variety of foods, from sushi to spicy dishes, to pasta and roasted meats.

You also don’t have to enjoy mead on its own.  Try using it in cocktails.  Redstone Meadery has a list of mead-based cocktails, from the simple Meadmosa (sparkling mead and orange juice), to the not-so-traditional Ophelia (mead, muddled orange, Tuaca and Jack Daniels).  Or you can use it in cooking, to flavor a sauce or vinaigrette.

Redstone Meadery offers free tours and tastings at their tasting room in Boulder.  They can ship mead to most states, including Florida.  For more information visit redstonemeadery.com.

Up next: The tasting tour of Boulder takes me to a Colorado winery

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Colorado Brews: Odell Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues

Continued from: New Belgium Brewing Company

After New Belgium I headed to Odell Brewing Company.  Though I wasn’t familiar with Odell before my trip, it had been recommended by friends and locals.

Odell Brewing Company was the second microbrewery to open in Colorado.  It is located in Fort Collins, just a few minutes away from New Belgium.  At the helm is Doug Odell, whose passion for crafting beer started in his kitchen in Seattle.  In 1989 he moved to Fort Collins with his wife Wynne and opened up the brewery.

With more than 10 beers on tap at the tasting room, I couldn’t decide what to order — so I ordered them all!  A taste of them all, that is.  Odell Brewing Company offers two different tastings that allow you to sample their classic beers as well as their seasonal and experimental brews.

I started my classics tasting with the light and refreshing Easy Street Wheat Beer.  Just as with the other Colorado wheat beers that I enjoyed, this was smooth and easy to drink, with a great citrus flavor.  From that I moved on to the Levity, Odell’s lighter take on amber ale.  It’s full-bodied and crisp without being bitter, just the way I like my amber ale.

I went back and forth on what I liked more, the Levity or the 90 Shilling, Odell’s flagship beer.  A lighter take on the traditional Scottish ale, it’s a medium-bodied amber that is bright and refreshing.

Though I’m not usually a big pale ale fan, I did enjoy the 5 Barrel Pale Ale, which had lively hop flavors and aromas.

My classics tasting wrapped up with the delicious Cutthroat Porter.  The name doesn’t have anything to do with the brewer or the drinker — it’s actually the name of Colorado’s state fish.  Deep dark in color, the Cutthroat Porter is robust yet smooth with hints of chocolate and coffee.

The second tasting featured what Odell calls “experimental” brews — unusual, small-batch beers made from a variety of ingredients that are served and sold exclusively in their tasting room.  These have included nitro ales, oatmeal and dried corn ales, fruit and vegetable ales and beyond.  Of the experimental brews that I tried, I really enjoyed the Orange Blossom Honey Ale.  It’s brewed with Arizona orange blossom honey, which gives the beer a hint of sweetness and a dry finish.

As with most microbreweries, the best way to find Odell beer is to travel to Colorado.  Odell is currently only available in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Missouri and Arizona.

On the way back to Boulder I took a detour to Lyons, to visit Oskar Blues.  Their claim to fame: in 2002 they became the first U.S. microbrewery to brew and can their own beer.  Yup, their beers come in cans, not bottles.  And they’re likely the best stuff you’ve ever swigged from a can.

Oskar Blues was opened in 1997 and became a brewpub in 1999.  Their goal was to craft robust brews in small 20-barrel batches using the best ingredients.  They describe their brews as 4-dimensional beers with layers of flavor that are designed for beer adventurers.

The idea for canning beer came about as a joke.  Founder Dale Katechis thought the idea of drinking his namesake bold and hoppy pale ale from a little can was hilarious.  After hand canning the beers, Dale found that the myth of aluminum cans imparting flavor was not true.  Instead the cans kept the beer fresh by protecting it from light and oxygen.  The cans were also easier to recycle and less fuel-consuming to ship.

Pale ale fans will enjoy Oskar Blues’ flagship beer, Dale’s Pale Ale.  It is in between an American pale ale and an India Pale Ale, brewed with hefty amounts of European malts and American hops.  It has a hoppy aroma and a rich malt and hops flavor.

My favorite was the Old Chub.  It is a Scottish strong ale that is brewed with seven different malts, hops from the U.S. and United Kingdom and a dash of beechwood-smoked grains imported from Germany.  Dark brown, almost black in color, this creamy beer has semi-sweet flavors of caramel and chocolate, with a hint of smoke on the finish.

Skip dessert and order a Ten FIDY.  Or skip dinner and order a Ten FIDY, that’s how rich and creamy this imperial stout is.  Oskar Blues perfectly describes it as the beer equivalent of a decadently rich milkshake made with malted-milk balls and Heaven’s best chocolate ice cream.  Yum.  The Ten Fidy is black in color with flavors of chocolate, malt, coffee, cocoa and oats.  It packs a punch at 10% alcohol.

Oskar Blues’ brews have won numerous awards around the world.  Pretty impressive for The Little Brewery that Cans.

The good news for us out-of-state beer drinkers is that Oskar Blues distributes their beer to nearly half of U.S. states, including Florida.  I recently found some at Whole Foods and Sunset Corners Wines & Liquors in South Miami. Click here to see where Oskar Blues is available in your area.

Next: Mile High Mead

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Colorado Brews: New Belgium Brewing Company

If you’re visiting Boulder I definitely recommend taking a trip north to Fort Collins.  It’s a nice hour or so drive past large fields and rolling hills, with stunning mountains in the distance.  Every so often you’ll come across a crowded housing development and wonder why people would want to live right on top of each other when there’s so much open space.

I wanted to go to Fort Collins so I could make my first visit to my longtime favorite Colorado brewery: New Belgium Brewing Company.

I first became a fan of New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat when I was in college in Texas.  Since moving to Florida I rarely see these beers because they’re not distributed on the east coast (except in Georgia and the Carolinas).  So to me, drinking New Belgium beer is a special treat when I travel out west.

New Belgium Brewing Company’s story started in a basement in 1989.  Aspiring homebrewer Jeff Lebesch had just returned to Fort Collins after a bike tour of European villages famous for beer.  Using ingredients and recipes he brought back, Jeff brewed his first two Belgian-inspired beers: a brown dubbel he named Abbey and an amber ale he named Fat Tire (in honor of his mountain bike).  With the help of his wife Kim Jordan, Jeff took the brewery commercial in 1991.

I looked forward to visiting New Belgium’s brewery so I could taste my old favorites straight from the source and discover new ones.

Fresh from the tap, Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat were even better than I remembered.  Fat Tire is a well-balanced ale with toasty malt flavors and fresh hops.  Sunshine has crisp flavors of orange peel, apple and honey.  It is filtered, which makes it lighter than other traditional wheat beers.

It was hard to choose which other beers to sample at the brewery.  There were ten beers on tap but each person only gets two free tastings (definitely go with friends so you can try more).  I decided to try the Mothership Wit first.  This is an organic beer modeled after Belgian Witbier or white beers.  It has refreshing citrus and coriander notes with a hint of tart lemon.  As someone who loves this style of beer, I found New Belgium’s Wit to be really good.  I’d rank it right up there with my favorite American Witbiers, just under Blanche de Brooklyn from the Brooklyn Brewery.

For my second beer I decided to go back to the brewery’s roots and try the Abbey.  This Belgian dubbel is brewed with six different malts and an authentic Belgian yeast strain.  Deep golden brown in color, the beer has a rich and slightly sweet taste.  It’s a really well-rounded, full bodied beer that can go with a range of foods from burgers to chocolate.

Though I’m sad to say this about my college favorites, I think I’d skip Fat Tire and Sunshine Wheat if I saw Abbey or Mothership Wit on tap.  Though the day any New Belgium beer is available at a bar in Miami I’ll be there!

Next: Odell Brewing Company and Oskar Blues

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Boulder’s Best Brews

My favorite way to explore a new city is through taste.  And the best way to taste Boulder is through its beer!

At the heart of downtown Boulder is Pearl Street.  On it you’ll find restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and of course, brewpubs!  With four blocks closed to cars, it’s a great place to window shop, seek shade under a tree, or go on a pub crawl.

I started my beer tour of Boulder on the eastern end of Pearl Street at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery.  Open since 1993, this community-based neighborhood pub was modeled on the thriving microbrewery scene in Oregon.

Don’t come here looking to catch the game.  You won’t find any TVs at Mountain Sun.  It’s the place to go when you want to chat with friends or play a game of Scrabble.

Like many Boulder-area breweries, Mountain Sun serves its own beer, brewed on site and fresh from the tap.  It’s a pretty large selection too — with 15 choices that range from pale ales to stout, you’ll need some time to make up your mind.  If you think the selection is impressive, so is their taste.  Mountain Sun’s beers have won awards all over the world, including six gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, the world’s largest beer festival.  All the beers are well priced.  An 8 oz. glass costs $2.60, a 16 oz. pint costs $4.20 and a 48 oz. pitcher costs $11.60.

Along with the beer, there’s a full menu of burgers, sandwiches and vegetarian fare.  Even if you’re not a vegetarian, the tempeh reuben and the quinoa, black bean and vegetable wrap are hard to pass up.

With so many different beers, you’ll want to come to Mountain Sun a few times so you can sample them all.  Or ask the friendly servers for a taste of a few.  On the lighter side, I loved the Jah-Mon Ginger Wheat.  It’s crisp and refreshing with a great taste of fresh ginger that lingers in your mouth.  Drinking a pint with my avocado and veggie sandwich I felt very healthy, like the ginger was able to negate the calories and the heaviness of the wheat.  If you don’t want the ginger taste to be as strong, you can get a mix of the Ginger Wheat and Blackberry Wheat (which has a very mild fruit flavor and isn’t sweet at all).

On the darker side I highly recommend the Isadore Java Porter.  Black in color like Guinness, the Java Porter is rich and creamy with a hint of coffee.  It’s almost as thick as a latte, so don’t order it if you’re already full!

From Mountain Sun I headed west on Pearl Street to the Boulder Draft House.  It’s just north of Pearl on 13th Street.  The Draft House serves up a selection of beer from the Colorado Brewing Company.  Pints cost $4.50, though if it’s your first time I’d recommend ordering the beer sampler.  You’ll get a taste of each beer on tap for $7.50.

One of the first beers that I enjoyed was the Alpenglow Amber.  Deep copper in color, it has nice flavors of caramel with a hint of chocolate malt and a mild hop finish.  Also good were the two wheat beers, the 13th Street Wheat and the Blackberry Wheat (also pleasantly mild in fruitiness, though I preferred the one at Mountain Sun).  The oak-aged Oatmeal Stout was another favorite.  It was thick and creamy with flavors of cocoa, cedar and vanilla.  Being a wine drinker, it was neat to see how the oak influenced the stout’s flavor.

Like live music?  Then you’ll definitely want to check out the Draft House in the evening for a taste of the local music scene.

My last stop was Walnut Brewery.  It’s located just south of the pedestrian mall on Walnut Street, which runs parallel to Pearl.

The brewery is located in a charming historic building.  With high ceilings, wooden tables, and all sorts of beer paraphernalia on display, it’s the kind of setting that makes you crave a pint and a burger (I recommend the Hickory Burger which is topped with melted cheddar cheese, hickory smoked bacon and Stout BBQ sauce).

Walnut Brewery’s hand-crafted beers have won multiple awards at the Great American Beer Festival.  Pints cost around $4, or you can try them all in a sampler.

I decided to go straight for the Old Elk Brown Ale and was immediately glad I did.  It has rich and savory malt flavors thanks to the mix of caramel, Munich and chocolate malts.  The taste is complex without any bitterness, with a subtle, earthy finish.  It was delicious with my burger.

Though I usually refrain from picking favorites (especially because there are so many different styles of beer), I’d have to say the Old Elk Brown Ale was my favorite beer I tasted in Boulder (Mountain Sun’s Ginger Wheat was a close second).  In fact, it’s one of the best brown ales I’ve ever tasted.

Because I was only in Boulder for a few days I barely scratched the surface on the city’s brews.  Looking for more information on Colorado’s Breweries?  Click here to see Metromix Denver’s extensive guide.

Next: The beer tour continues with a visit to a favorite Colorado brewery, plus some of the tastiest brews I’ve ever sipped from a can.

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Destination: Boulder

Breathtaking mountains, great hiking, pedestrian and bike-friendly streets, charming restaurants and cafés, and tons of breweries — these are what make Boulder such a great destination.

I recently spent a long weekend in Boulder for my friends’ wedding.  It was my first time there and I loved it from the start.

Coming from flat South Florida, I found I couldn’t take my eyes off the mountains.  From the iconic Flatirons, to the distant ranges that I drove by, I was glued to the scenery.

Besides the incredible views, you can’t beat Boulder’s dry air.  No humidity is such a treat when you’re used to living in a steam room!

Of course you can’t visit Boulder without exploring its many breweries and brewpubs!  Over the next few days I’ll be sharing some of my favorite brews, as well as my visit to a meadery and my first taste of Colorado wine (spoiler alert: it was pretty good!).

Even if you’re not a beer drinker, Boulder is a great town for foodies.  I had a lot of fun strolling through Boulder’s farmers’ market on Saturday.  It’s the largest farmers’ market in Colorado, and features an assortment of locally grown fruit, vegetables and flowers, as well as meat, cheese, nuts, coffee, wine, bread and pastries.  Bring your appetite so you can taste some of the locally prepared food.

The Boulder farmers’ market is located next to Central Park on 13th Street between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue.  It’s open on Saturdays from 8am to 2pm until November 7th, and Wednesdays from 4pm to 8pm until October 7th.

If you like tea, you must visit the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.  It’s also on 13th Street so you’ll walk by it if you go to the farmers’ market.  Built in the late 1980s, the teahouse was a gift to Boulder from the Mayor of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to celebrate their sister city ties.

Stepping inside, you feel as if you’ve entered an Asian palace.  The ceiling and columns were hand-carved and hand-painted in vibrant colors by more than 40 artisans.  It’s truly a special place to enjoy a cup of tea and a bite to eat.

Tea enthusiasts won’t be disappointed — there are pages of teas to choose from including Puerh teas.  Though not well known here, these teas are prized in China.  The tea has a strong flavor, the result of several unique processing steps and aging underground (some Puerh tea is aged up to 50 years!).

Breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner are served at the teahouse.  Traditional afternoon tea costs $18.95 per person and $10.95 children under 9.  Reservations for afternoon tea are required 24 hours in advance.

If you love raw oysters, you won’t want to miss happy hour at Jax Fish House on Pearl Street.  Every day from 4 to 6pm you can get East Coast oysters for $1 each.  The oysters are big and juicy with a fresh, clean taste — definitely worth a special trip!  A selection of appetizers including peel and eat shrimp and ceviche cost just $3.  House wine and draft beers are $3 as well.  From the bar you can look back at the kitchen for a glimpse of executive chef Hosea Rosenberg, the winner of Top Chef season five.

The best meal I had while in Boulder was at the Black Cat.  This intimate bistro cooks up organic fare with produce harvested daily from their own farm (you’ll see their produce at the downtown farmers market).  Chef Eric Skokan’s menu changes often and expresses both the season and what’s exciting right now.  Each dish excels at letting its main ingredients shine, with subtle flavors adding support.  The green beans that came with my appetizer were delicious, and likely only had a little olive oil and salt on them.  For my main course, the duck was perfectly cooked in a heavenly lavender, honey and thyme sauce, and so tender I barely needed a knife.

To pair with the mouthwatering cuisine, the Black Cat has a great wine list.  There are many bottles from wineries you’ve likely never heard of, and even a few from Colorado.  Our server helped us select a lush Meritage from Washington.

The Black Cat is located on 13th Street just south of Pearl Street.  Definitely call ahead for a reservation.

If you’re in the mood for a late night snack visit Boulder Baked on Broadway Street.  Here you can get all sorts of baked-to-order cookies, cupcakes and comfort food.  Open from noon until 2am Monday through Saturday (midnight on Sunday), Boulder Baked is the place to go when you’re craving a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie or a chocolate peanut butter cookie (they make both).

Click below to read more:
Boulder’s Best Brews
A Visit to New Belgium Brewing Company
Odell Brewing Company and Oskar Blues
Mile High Mead: Redstone Meadery
Colorado Wine: BookCliff Vineyards

Great Tasting Kosher Wines for the High Holy Days

Celebrate the Jewish New Year with great tasting Kosher wines!

In February I reviewed a selection of Kosher wines, all made in Israel and widely available at wine stores throughout the United States.

Kosher wines don’t have to be overly sweet and syrupy.  Today Israel’s wines are winning medals and finding their way onto wine lists at top restaurants.

Here are some of my favorites:

2004 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon ($24)
This wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.  It has big flavors of blackberries, cherries and cassis with a hint of vanilla and spice that lingers in the finish.  This wine pairs nicely with steak and lamb dishes.

2005 Yarden Mount Hermon Red ($12)
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and fermented in steel.  Wild berry and cherry flavors are complemented with a hint of herbs.  Serve this with grilled meats, duck or pizza.

2005 Galil Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($14)
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and fermented in steel.  This big, juicy red has flavors of ripe plum and blackberry with a hint of bell pepper and spice.  This wine goes well with beef, lamb and hearty chicken and pasta dishes.

Golan Moscato ($12)
This Kosher bubbly makes a great aperitif or dessert wine.  It’s 100% Muscat Canelli and made in the style of Moscato d’Asti.  Mouthwatering floral and honeysuckle notes and a crisp finish make this wine light and refreshing.

Click here to see the original article

AG Pick: 2006 William Knuttel Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir and I have a love-hate relationship.  Of the Pinot Noir that I love, I hate that it costs so much!

Unlike with other varietals that are easier to grow, it’s really hard to find a good value Pinot Noir.  If you get one that costs less than $20, there’s a good chance it will lack the depth and structure that this grape can deliver.

Miles from the movie Sideways puts it best: “Pinot needs constant care and attention . . . Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.  Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”

After extensive searching, I’m excited to say that a good value Pinot Noir is no longer a thing of myth!

William Knuttel Pinot NoirMy friends Kory and Meg introduced me to the delicious 2006 William Knuttel Pinot Noir.  I love both the taste and the price.  It costs around $23 a bottle but tastes like nearly double.  Just don’t tell Bill Knuttel, I don’t want him to start charging that much!

This Sonoma Coast wine has all sorts of yummy layered flavors.  It starts with enticing aromas of red fruit, cinnamon, smoke and rose.  As you sip the wine, flavors of strawberry, cherry and red plum slowly reveal notes of spice and earth that culminate in a zesty, lingering finish.

This Pinot Noir is a very versatile wine that can pair nicely with a variety of dishes, from chicken to prime rib.

With only 400 cases produced, the 2006 William Knuttel Pinot Noir may be hard to find in your local wine shop and even online.  For an easier to find taste of Bill Knuttel’s winemaking skills, pick up a bottle of wine from Dry Creek Vineyard (Bill is their executive winemaker).  I’m a big fan of their wines, especially their Meritage and Zinfandel.  Check out my review of the 2005 Somers Ranch Zinfandel.

If you do find a bottle of William Knuttel Pinot Noir be sure to buy it (or several).  You can thank me later!