A worthy New Year’s resolution for any mixologist would be to break away from the norm and explore alternative ingredients to make your cocktails stand out from the crowd. Today’s explosion in creative craft cocktails makes it difficult to decide what direction to take, but luckily there are some great experts in the field to guide us.
I had the opportunity to learn from one such expert recently at the 2012 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World, where Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami presented an educational and entertaining seminar on behalf of the Peter F. Heering Co.
Last year, The Atomic Grog spent one whirlwind day at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, sampling food and drinks from 16 different marketplace kiosks. For 2012, Mrs. Hurricane and I vowed to take a more leisurely approach, so we dedicated parts of three days to the same task. The result: We tasted 38 items from 25 of the 29 booths surrounding Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon. With our indulgences finally fully digested, we’re ready to share a recap and reviews below. See below:Photos of the food and drinks
The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival teases you with the enticing admonition to “taste your way around the world.” For the past 17 years, guests have circled the globe more times than the nearby space shuttle astronauts. The futuristic Disney World park is the logical setting for such an adventure, its World Showcase already the site of 11 pavilions representing countries as disparate as Norway and Morocco.
While we barely made a dent in the nearly 200 food and drink items offered up at the booths, we managed to sample most of those on our hit list. It’s highly recommended you plan ahead. Browse online reviews and photos before you go. And if you have a chance, be sure to check out a few of the many low-cost beverage seminars. We attended an informative wine seminar, plus an excellent cocktail seminar. Click here for the review:
* Miami mixologist shows how to jazz up your tired old cocktails with exotic liqueurs
The sun is setting on the 2012 festival, but many of the following reviews should still be relevant in 2013. The most popular items remain from year to year.
Slip and the Spinouts rocked the house during The Mai-Kai’s fourth annual Hulaween on Oct. 26 in Fort Lauderdale. The South Florida rockabilly favorites were the highlight of the seven-hour party that also included a costume contest, retro tunes and the return of a special “lost cocktail.” See below:Video, photos from the party
* See the Hulaween poster | Event preview
The party kicked off in The Molokai bar with the Atomic Retro Happy Hour pre-party from 5 to 7 p.m. hosted by The Atomic Grog. In a salute to the half-century-old Mai-Kai, the musical playlist featured tunes spanning the 1930s to the 1980s, from Skip James to The Cramps. A special thanks to Mrs. Hurricane for digging up most of the eclectic music.
Partygoers were also treated to a “lost cocktail” that was on The Mai-Kai’s original 1956 menu but has been retired for years. The Last Rites was a deadly concoction perfect for the occasion, impeccably crafted and presented by manager Kern Mattei’s bar staff.
* Click here for a Last Rites review and new tribute recipe
Unbeknownst to most of South Florida, a craft cocktail revolution has swept the country over the past decade, elevating mixology to heights not seen since the heady days following the repeal of Prohibition. With rare exceptions, our tourism-driven marketplace has no room for this kind of creativity.
But since opening in April 2011, Sweetwater Bar & Grill has with little fanfare become the area’s preeminent hidden gem for inventive adult beverages, plus gastropub-style food that’s just as decadent and delicious. The cocktails are indeed outstanding, but Sweetwater’s true triumph may be this perfectly timed head-on collision of the craft food and drink movements.
In 2012, being under-the-radar doesn’t necessarily mean a dingy back-alley location in the wrong part of town. Sweetwater is located in plain sight on South Federal Highway in Boynton Beach, but it might as well be a secret unmarked speakeasy. While foodies flocked to Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue and West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street, locals in south-central Palm Beach County probably thought they had Sweetwater to themselves.
But despite no advertising and little traditional media attention, word has slowly but surely circulated about the unique dining and imbibing experience awaiting at Sweetwater. We joined the chorus, raving after our initial visits in June and July. But teasing you with just a taste is quite unfair. To truly enjoy this establishment, you have to go for the gusto and sample items from across the menu, as we had the pleasure of doing on multiple occasions this summer.
Just two years ago, it was unclear if legendary guitarist Dick Dale would ever tour again. Now in his 70s, the man who invented surf music more than 50 years ago was battling complications in 2010 after a bout with cancer in 2008.
Then, miraculously, his health improved. He and his son Jimmy began playing acoustic sets, and by early 2011 plans were moving rapidly toward a limited touring schedule. Soon, the concept of “limited” flew out the window and Dale’s tour last spring and summer included six dates in Florida. The South Florida shows last June were nothing short of incredible [See review].
But rather than tire and grow weary on the road, Dale got stronger. “You’re my medicine,” he would tell the audience after his concerts, showing no signs of his frail health. Dale also clearly benefited from his clean-living lifestyle and years of physical fitness. His wife, Lana, also keeps him on track as his physical and spiritual caretaker.
More touring followed, and when 2012 rolled around he announced a rigorous 50-date jaunt across the country with not much down time. This time, there were nine Florida dates, including back-to-back nights in West Palm Beach and Miami on April 21-22. Would Dale and his band be showing any signs of rust or weariness? We would soon find out.
It seems like every year The Hukilau comes up with a new twist on the concept of a Tiki-themed weekend party. You never know what great band or special event will surprise and entertain you. With this year’s event fast approaching – it kicks off Thursday and runs through Sunday – now’s the time to scour the schedule for cool and unique happenings.
Last year, one of the highlights took place on Thursday night, June 9, during the kickoff party at the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort. Five tropical drink mixologists faced off in the Master Mixologist Rum Barrel Challenge to see who could impress a who’s who of rum experts with their own take on the classic cocktail made famous at The Mai-Kai.
The contest was held live on stage following the night’s musical performances and certainly lived up to its billing. It was hosted by tropical drink author and guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and judged by his hand-picked Rum Rat Pack, four of the most noted experts in the field. The five contestants were given 7 minutes each to prepare their creations for the judges. What ensued was a rum-soaked flurry of mixology and creativity that impressed the judges and entertained hundreds in attendance.
Click here or on the images above and below to take a look back at this action-packed contest. Then click on the play button and be sure to turn up your speakers!
The annual Tiki weekender known as The Hukilau is famous for giving participants unprecedented hands-on access to the best bands, artists and cocktail experts in the modern Polynesian Pop movement. It’s a laid-back affair where friends old and new enjoy live music, mingle at special themed parties and show off their devotion to the world of retro culture.
At no time was this on display better than at the opening night party in 2010, when hundreds of revelers were treated to an ultimate trip into the world of Tiki culture. The Bahia Cabana Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale played host to a whirlwind evening of live music, room parties and cocktail contests.
With this month’s 11th annual Hukilau fast approaching, let’s take a look back at that night of revelry with another special audio slideshow. Click here or on the images above and below to relive all the hijinks. Then click on the play button and be sure to turn up your speakers!
The Hukilau is an all-encompassing celebration of Polynesian Pop culture: Art and architecture, food and drinks, music and fashion. It’s a trip back in time with hundreds of like-minded Tiki disciples to an era when kitsch was king. The entire event is an orgiastic fest of the senses – from the outrageous lowbrow art and Tiki carvings to the exotic music to the decadent drinks and food. Fort Lauderdale’s beachside locale and historic Mai-Kai restaurant are the perfect backdrop for the revelry.
To warm up for this month’s 11th annual Hukilau, let’s take a trip back to 2009, when lucha-masked surf and rockabilly band Los Straitjackets headlined the event. Click here or on the image below to see a special audio slideshow of all the festivities. Be sure to turn up your speakers! Below that is a recap of the schedule for reference. This year’s event promises the same experience, plus much more. Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets is back with his new band, The Martian Denny Orchestra. We hope to see you there!
NEW:The Mai-Kai online store
You can now order signature mugs and other merchandise online via the Trading Post’s new e-commerce app.
* Click here to order
Backstage tour posted on Dec. 28, 2011
After outliving the original mid-century Polynesian restaurant fad by more than 30 years, you would think that Fort Lauderdale’s legendary Mai-Kai would be ready for early retirement after turning 55 today. You would be dead wrong.
The grand old dame of Tiki is riding high as the torch-bearing icon of a new generation of Tiki-loving hipsters and cocktail lovers. Reinvigorated by this new wave of Tiki mania, a growing respect and interest in retro culture, continued support by regulars and tourists, plus a million-dollar refurbishment in 2009, The Mai-Kai is still pretty spry.
It may not be the same as the late 1950s, when The Mai-Kai was the largest independent user of rum in the United States (2,000 cases were poured in 1958), but with rum and cocktails in the midst of a renaissance there’s a growing buzz emanating from 3599 N. Federal Highway.
Like the restaurant’s colorful logo inspired by Japanese animation, everything about the new Boca Raton hotspot Kapow! leaps out and grabs your attention. Creativity is running amok at Kapow! in the cocktails and, especially, the food.
It starts with the cutting-edge concept and design of the warm yet elegantly cool space in the trendy Mizner Park dining and shopping district near downtown Boca. This is to be expected considering the ownership dream team of restaurant/nightlife moguls Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich (The Dubliner, Tryst, Dada, Howley’s, Longboards, et al.) plus eco-conscious trendsetter Vaughan Lazar (Pizza Fusion).
But a cool concept is nothing without execution in the kitchen and behind the bar. Kapow! delivers on both counts, thanks in no small part to the fourth member of the ownership team, executive chef Roy Villacrusis – reigning two-time champion of the Grand Chef Throwdown at the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival.
Kapow! noodle bar launched with a VIP tasting on Nov. 22 and a public opening the following day. The menu features a blend of unique “Asiatic” cuisine with a French Vietnamese flair, leaning heavily on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Add to this an eclectic selection of hand-crafted cocktails, and it’s a recipe for an exotic dining experience right up The Atomic Grog’s alley.
My wife and I finally got a chance to visit last Sunday, joined by artist Mike “Pooch” Pucciarelli and “Mrs. Pooch.” The dominant feature of the intimate 1,600-square-foot room is the 9-by-28-foot mural made from a Pooch painting that hangs in the back of the restaurant. The Pucciarellis had attended the VIP tasting, but this was their first visit for a sit-down dinner.