CLEARWATER — Like a lot of bars, Yard of Ale Gastro Pub on Ulmerton Road has an enormous assortment of craft beers. By my count, they keep about 30 on tap and serve another 40 or so in bottles and cans.
Like a lot of bars, Yard has an outdoor patio bar with live music in addition to its indoor bars.
What Yard of Ale has that others don’t: chef Tavis Schafer.
It’s unusual to tout food in a column dedicated to drinking, but I’ve written before about how important bar food is to the adult beverage consumer. Those who do it well create a unique atmosphere that makes you want to explore more combinations.
Schafer has created an outstanding lunch and dinner menu that matches Yard’s breadth of the beer, wine and spirits selection in both creativity and creative flavor combinations.
This isn’t strictly bar food, although you can get funky sandwiches (Roquefort Burger, I’m looking at you), and Yard of Ale chicken wings in several flavors (Jameson BBQ is now on my Christmas card list).
What blew me away was the extra-crabby Maryland Crab Cake served with a red bell pepper coulis, shallots and fried capers. Then came the seared scallops with mashed potatoes, capers and arugula. The New York strip steak with Belgian fries and garlic butter also were a highlight.
For about eight years, Schafer was the chef at Mad Dogs & Englishmen on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa. He now has an enormous facility to feed, with 28,000 square feet of bar, private dining space, wine room and patio to serve.
The entertainment complex next to Feather Sound has changed hands several times in the past 15 years, going from Stormin’s Palace (a sports bar and night club) to The Venue (which was a nightclub, steak house, bar and sushi restaurant), then just The V (similar).
Yard of Ale’s owners, Sean James, Barry O’Conner and Marcus Winters, are the same trio who started MacDinton’s on South Howard Avenue in Tampa and later opened Yard of Ales across from MacDinton’s and in downtown St. Petersburg. This is the first to feature a full menu, with beer pairing suggestions for almost every item.
The Clearwater gastro pub is a huge space — big enough to feature a Muay Thai fight card indoors tonight on what used to be a dance floor — but it’s the food that will keep me coming back.
Genius bartender Ryan Pines at Edison Food + Drink Lab has been playing with chef Jeannie Pierola’s high-tech kitchen toys. It led him to create two carbonated bottled cocktails. One, the Andes Manhattan, is made with Kappa Pisco, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Ancho Reyes Licor de Chile Ancho and Bitterman’s Burlesque Bitters. The second, the Bloody Revenge, is a mixture of Don Julio Tequila Reposado, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, blood orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar and sorel. Both were incredibly refreshing.
ROUX COMING SOON
Suzanne and Roger Perry, owners of Datz and Dough in Tampa, hosted a recent sneak preview into the new menu at their Cajun-themed Roux restaurant, which is scheduled to open later this month on South MacDill Avenue in Tampa.
Of note to sippers is the Proud Mary, a Cajun Bloody Mary developed by bartender Flip Revy, formerly of Ciro’s Speakeasy & Restaurant. He’ll be making them with Bathtub Gin, whiskey tomato jam instead of horseradish and Hangar One vodka. The drink is adorned with a skewer of cherry tomatoes and a crawfish.
The bubbliest room in Tampa might be in the Champagne chromatherapy suite of the food-themed Evangeline spa inside the Epicurean hotel on South Howard Avenue.
During a recent tour, they were touting the Table for Two couples treatment featuring candle lighting, soft colors and a Campagne soak in an oversized Jacuzzi tub for two. A vitamin-rich clementine couples massage— whatever that is — “nourishes and calms the most sensitive types while stimulating collagen and elastin production to improve skin texture.” Oh, and you sip Champagne in the Champagne tub inside the Champagne suite. This sensual version of “Inception” will set you back $350. Champagne-soaked details and reservations available at epicurean hotel.com.
Eater recently named its 38 most-essential bars in America. I’m usually dubious of such lists, but food writer Jordana Rothman is among the judges and she happens to be one of the coolest people on Planet Earth. If her esteemed and well-traveled palate is contributing, the list is legit.
Alas, only one bar from Florida made the list: The Broken Shaker in the Freehand Miami Hostel on Miami Beach. The bar, judges said, is “the modern imagination of what Miami must’ve been like in the deco days — all daiquiris and live music and outdoor drinking.” The punches change daily. (I’ll have a Little Miss Sunshine with Florida kefir lime, lemongrass, Thai basil, St. Germain liqueur and Wodka vodka, please), and the prices are reasonable, which is remarkable in a town famous for well cocktails that push past $20 a pop.
Before you go, check the bar out online at thefreehand.com.