Category Archives: Drinks

Uncle Pep’s

 

Uncle Pep’s

I am always fascinated by how small businesses are created. I’m intrigued by the process, the strategy and thought behind it,  the branding.  I’m especially intrigued when I see a dear friend of mine going through that process.

Starting a  business is never easy.  It comes with hurdles and unforeseen pitfalls that can quickly stifle a dream. It takes special willpower and nerves of steel to go after your passion. I’ve watched my friend go after his passion vigorously and have been really impressed by the way he has been steadfast throughout this whole process. I’ve seen him deal with issues that I would have never dreamt of while going through this whole ordeal. He never gave up on getting this thing launched and I couldn’t be prouder of him. That is why I wanted to share with you a little bit about his journey,  and through some Q&A below, allow you to get to know Uncle Pep’s and how it all came to be.

What Is Uncle Pep’s?

Uncle Pep’s is a premium cocktail mix company, offering up two styles of Bloody Mary Mix (“The O.G.”  and “Spicy”) and also a Brunch Punch for all of you mimosa lovers.

I’ve tried both Bloody Mary mixes. What I like about this mix is it doesn’t taste processed, it tastes like I was at a 5-Star restaurant getting a fresh squeezed mix from a mixologist. My preference is the Spicy option. The hint of pepper that just slightly stings the nostrils and gives you that kick in the ass that you need from a Bloody Mary to get your morning back on track is exactly what this mix delivers.

The Brunch Punch, well … I can drink the whole jar in a day with or without liquor, it’s that refreshing. It’s not your typical mimosa it’s a bit less sweet and more full on citrus. Again, that fresh squeezed homemade feeling.


But I want you to know a little more about Uncle Pep’s.

I got the opportunity to ask my friend some questions that I thought all you guys would want to know.

I hope you enjoy!

Q & A


Q: What made you want to start Uncle Pep’s? Why cocktail mix?

A: Life is full of surprises! I’ve always had a strong passion for Bloody Mary’s. I’m the guy that either makes all the Bloody Mary’s at a party or takes an hour to build-my-own Bloody Mary bar. I’m fascinated by the garnishes. The problem though, are the mixes. The store mixes offer either a watered-down mess or a salt bomb! Nothing is FRESH! I wanted to give other Bloody Mary fanatics a new option. A Bloody Mary mix that was fresh-pressed with hand-picked ingredients and a natural flavor. No tomato pastes or outrageous sodium levels. Fresh ingredients only! I know the canning process so I said why not! I literally bought a juicer and started experimenting with fresh vegetables and spices until I found the right blends. And for those that aren’t Bloody Mary fans, we also created a “Brunch Punch” which is our play on the famous mimosa cocktail. Again, we hand-pick our fruit and fresh-press our ingredients into every jar. My “test” market was friends and family for about a year. I wanted honest feedback and I ended up with repeat texts and calls asking for more! I believed I had something here so I took the next steps to turn this idea into a business. 

Q: Who in the hell is Uncle Pep?

A: So Uncle Pep was my grandma’s brother. His name was Peter but my grandma called him “Peppy” as a kid. That was shortened to “Pep” as he grew up. Uncle Pep was a bad ass! He was a WWII vet and a merchant marine on the American cargo ship “Robin Moor” which would become the first U.S. merchant ship to be sunk by a German submarine – six months before the United States entered WWII. Uncle Pep took a secret photo of the U-boat that was one of the most sensational of WWII and caught worldwide headlines. He snapped the picture from a lifeboat in the open sea, minutes after the submarine had torpedoed the ship. The original photo is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., along with a letter of appreciation from then-Secretary of State Cordell Hull. I was fortunate to hear all about his life on the sea but I also was able to learn a ton from him. His passions included canning everything! He made his own dandelion wine (similar to white wine), peppers and all types of canned vegetable and fruit juices. He was a master at it! It really is a childhood memory of mine that led to what is now also my passion.

Q: How difficult was it to launch your brand?

A: I have so much respect for small business owners after going through this process myself. It requires a lot of dedication and determination to turn an idea into a business. I had no clue what I would have to go through in order to get this off the ground. There were many times that I felt overwhelmed and wanted to throw in the towel rather than continue to fight. The passion I have for this however helped me push through the difficult times. I’ve learned a ton and I know I will have to continue to grind, but it will be worth it at the end of day. I tell people this all the time: If it was easy to do, everyone would be doing it. 

Q: Was there anything during this process that surprised you or you didn’t anticipate?

A: I knew at some point that if I wanted to sell my mixes then I had to make sure they would be safe to consume. I did not know how intense that process would be. If you are considering doing any type of food or beverage related business, be sure to study up! I had to take (3) certification courses, several training courses and pay for multiple shelf life testing from food laboratories. My six month plan of “idea to product” was way off! That was the biggest and most expensive obstacle that I have had to face so far. Also, at some point I knew the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had to get involved. Imagine having your business investment in total control of someone else. That’s how I felt when the FDA inspected my commercial kitchen space to watch me, from start to finish, make my mixes. It was such an intense moment for me. The inspector said nothing the whole time and just wrote notes on a pad of paper. Thankfully I passed. What a relief! 

Q: What have you learned from this experience

A: I am still learning, but the most important thing I have learned so far is to not quit! You are going to encounter bumpy roads and you’ll need to stay the course. There is A LOT of red tape. Don’t let it scare you. That’s what I’ve done up to this point. I’m a business owner which sounds so weird to say, but also pretty damn gratifying. I haven’t studied this much since college. Although it’s a different type of studying because a fail can lead to such a setback that your business may not recover. My advice? If you have a passion, go for it! Life is too short to hide in the rat race. 

Q: What are the next steps for Uncle Pep’s?

A: So we are still an early stage startup company. I will admit that the next obstacle of ours is to get our brand out to the masses. Currently we are only available through our online store however we are hoping to reserve space at local farmers markets in Charlotte, NC, this summer. We hope to share more through social media and our website after the COVID-19 madness settles. Be sure to follow and like us on both Facebook and Instagram! 

 

The Famous Uncle Pep

Right now, they are currently offering BOGO 1/2 OFF on their website- no coupon needed-discount is applied at checkout: https://unclepepsmix.com.

They are delivering anywhere in the U.S. and let’s face it, everyone could use a cocktail while we are all cooped up at home!

Uncle Pep's

Thank you so much for reading, everyone.  Be sure to follow Uncle Pep’s journey through their Social Media channels:

https://www.facebook.com/unclepepsmix

https://www.instagram.com/unclepepsmix/

The Mint Julep

 

Mint Julep Month

April is Mint Julep month, so in honor of this classic southern cocktail I’ve listed out a few different recipes (along with some how-to videos) for you to try all month long.

How to fashion a true Mint Julep is a hotly debated topic in the world of bartending and mixology, especially in the South. The few ingredients it takes to make one remains constant, yet opinions on how best serve one are varied. Many muddle the mint and sugar together , while others insist that the mint should be smelled not tasted. Therefore, they take mint leaves and “swab” the bottom of the cup to release the mint aroma (see video below). Some use loose sugar or sugar cubes, while others prefer simple syrup. Some even infuse mint into their simple syrup. With the numerous ways to make this cocktail, we thought it best to show you various ways to see what strikes your fancy best.

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Below are varies recipes and ways to make a Mint Julep

The classic take on the Mint Julep is served in a silver julep cup (pictured below).

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If you can, pre-chill your julep cups or glass tumblers before filling with crushed ice. This prevents the ice from melting too quickly.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 oz  Bourbon
  • Fresh Mint
  • 2 tbsp Simple Syrup (some use a little more)
  • Crushed Ice
  • Powdered Sugar (drizzled on top)
  • Fresh Garnish Mint

Mix together simple syrup either muddled with mint or by itself, and Bourbon. Fill glass with crushed ice and pour mixture over top. Sprinkle top of ice with powdered sugar. Garnish with a mint sprig. 

*How to make Simple syrup: 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup distilled water. Heat to dissolve sugar, stirring constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.

 

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If this cocktail didn’t seem uppity enough , there are also heated debates on what type of bourbon to use. Woodford, Bulleit, Old Forester, Blanton’s, etc. Everyone has their favorites, and in the South, everyone has an opinion. The best advice is to use a quality Bourbon, something that will make the drink remarkable. You don’t gulp down a Mint Julep, you savor it, you devote yourself to it. So, why would you fill your cup with poor grade bourbon?  Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out and purchase something top shelf,  just don’t fill your cup with something you would take a shot with while at Coyote Ugly’s.

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Here is a variation on the Mint Julep

INGEDIENTS

  • 10 mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
  • Seltzer water
  • Crushed ice
  • 2 1/2 ounces Kentucky bourbon whiskey

Place the mint leaves in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass and top that with the sugar. Muddle these together until the leaves begin to break down. Add a splash of seltzer water, fill the glass 3/4 full with crushed ice, and add the bourbon. Top with another splash of seltzer, stir, and garnish with a sprig of mint. 

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How to Make a Mint Julep

How to Videos: (note the various takes on how to make this cocktail)

 

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History of the Mint Julep

Predating the Kentucky Derby, the handmade sterling silver cups have been coveted and collected by the influential and powerful since the early 1800s.  The classic design associated with the silver cup is accredited to early master silver smiths Asa Blanchard of Lexington, Kentucky and brothers William and Archibald Cooper of Louisville.  There are basically two main styles of julep cups:  one is with a beaded rim and the other sports bands at the top.

In a 1908 Chicago Tribune article about the mint julep, Lexington’s Samuel Judson told a reporter: “Take a silver cup—always a silver cup. Fill it with ice pulverized to the fineness of snow. Bruise one tender little leaf of mint and stick it in the ice. Then dissolve a spoonful of sugar in about three-quarters of a Kentucky drink of good whisky and let the fluid filter through the ice to the bottom of the cup. Shake the cup slowly until a coating of a thick white frost forms on the outside. Trim with mint and hand to an appreciative gentleman.”

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Over time, the popularity of the Mint Julep has grown,  largely because of  spirited individuals who loved it. One of those individuals was the very well-liked politician from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, Henry Clay. Clay served as United States Senator on three separate occasions from 1807-1811, 1831-1842, and finally from 1849 until his death in 1852. He also served a term as Secretary of State from 1825-1829. Senator Clay made the Mint Julep prominent at the world renowned Willard Hotel’s Round Robin Bar in Washington DC. No doubt it was shared with his powerful constitutes who then went back to their respective  districts and States and told folks about this amazing cocktail.

The Straw:

We also owe the Mint Julep a great thank you for the further development of the straw.  In the 1800s, the rye grass straw came into fashion because it was cheap and soft, but it had an unfortunate tendency to turn to mush in liquid. To address these shortcomings, Marvin C. Stone patented the modern drinking straw, made of paper, in 1888.  He came upon the idea while drinking a Mint Julep on a hot day in Washington, D.C.; the taste of the rye was mixing with the drink and giving it a grassy taste, which he found unsatisfactory. He wound paper around a pencil to make a thin tube, slid out the pencil from one end, and applied glue between the strips. He later refined it by building a machine that would coat the outside of the paper with wax to hold it together, so the glue wouldn’t dissolve in bourbon.

Renowned Mint Julep Celebrations:

The Kentucky Derby  – May 5th, 2018

National Mint Julep Day – May 30th

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month

 

How do you make yours? What kind of Bourbon do you use? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Cranberry Mule

Tis the Season For Cocktails

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The holiday season can go either way. It can be a festive, jolly ole time … or …  it can be a real shit-show. Either way, you are going to need to arm yourself with some holiday spirits to get you through the end of the year. 
While other cocktails take plenty of prep, steps and time, the Cranberry Mule is a quick and tasty beverage that can loosen up even the grumpiest of Scrooges. 
A lot of fall & winter cocktails are served hot and/or filled with cinnamon or nutmeg. This is a more refreshing option. For your tasting pleasure, I give you:

The Cranberry Mule

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 oz. cranberry juice
  • 2 oz. vodka (Doc Porter’s -From Charlotte, NC)
  • 1/4 c. lime juice, plus extra for garnish
  • 3 oz. ginger beer
  • 1 package whole cranberries

DIRECTIONS

This one is pretty easy:

  • Combine cranberry juice, vodka and lime in a copper cup with ice. Top with ginger beer, whole cranberries and garnish with a lime wedge.

 

Have a Dish (or Two) at Haberdish

Haberdish

Charlotte, NC

In the South, food is serious business. There is a lot of sweat, and pride that goes into this region’s dishes. With the knowledge and the alchemy of seasoning  one must master, it’s easy to get it wrong and you certainly can’t fake it. I’ve lived in the South all my life and I have seen establishments fall by the way-side as they try to fabricate a stereotypical southern menu … some feeble attempt at being “cute” or “quaint”.  It’s always a menu of what they think Grandma would have made that typically just ends up being a bland, and overcooked hot mess. Places like this try to hide the poor quality of food by the decor,  serving it up on plates that have “Ya’ll” or “Bless Your Heart” on it … like that is suppose to make it all ok.

No, it takes real skill to cook southern food. This region’s cuisine pulls from all cultures and ethnic backgrounds and you have to know what you are doing to get it right.

We have found a place in Charlotte, NC that pulls this off very nicely. It’s called Haberdish,  a southern kitchen and craft cocktail bar who dishes out southern inspired food influenced by the history of the mill town of North Charlotte (known as NoDa) .

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This place is rustic and open, with shelves of delicious booze against a handsome looking white-clay brick wall. The bar top is a magnificent soap stone that came from a quarry in Virginia. They also have salvage denim on their interior seating that was produced in Cone Mills, N.C. and their table tops are hand crafted locally in Charlotte. The bar taps are reused spindles from a former mill, and the beautiful copper lights are hand-spun,  designed and assembled in Charlotte as well.

It’s a very welcoming and intimate place.  The hostesses are nice and accommodating. We tried to sit outside in the front of the restaurant but it started to rain, so they nicely  and quickly moved us to the side patio that has a unique pergola from Belgium where the overhead slats open and close which allows customers to still sit outside without getting wet. Once it stopped raining they opened the slates back open so the sun could shine through. Ingenious idea!

Now, lets get to the good part.

The Food and Drinks

When we looked at the menu we were surprised to see the selection.  There were many signature southern items, but they were anything but typical.

  • Smoked Deviled Eggs
  • Liver Mush Toast
  • Kale Grits
  • Smokey  boiled peanuts

Thats just to name a few small items.

A true sign of a good restaurant is when you have trouble ordering because you want all the things! So, what we ended up doing, and something we recommend, is choosing a few different items and share. You can check out there menu right here

The first move was towards the hush puppies (served with this delicious sweet tea butter). Next, went went with the pickles because well…I love pickles.  With the pickles you can choose from dill, bread & butter or the daily pickles. On this particular day, they had these spicy pickles which were just damn dynamite! They had a huge kick to them  but they were fantastic!

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With our appetizers we ordered some cocktails. Jillian got the Smoked Mint Julep and I got an Old Fashion.  The Smoked Mint Julep was everything we had hoped for. Most places butcher this cocktail but Haberdish delivered the goods. For those who have never had a Mint Julep, you must try theirs and for those who love this cocktail like we do, you will appreciate their take on it.

As for the Old Fashion, most places can’t make a proper one, leaving you wishing you had never ordered it in the first place and I always judge a bar by their Old Fashion. Haberdish yet again came through. They just know how to make cocktails, period.

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For the Main Dishes we went for the Pork Shank and the surprising good brined, and Smoked Chicken, a juicy concoction glossed with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce. We also had the BBQ glazed carrots and charred okra.

The chicken might be one of the best menu items we have tasted in a long time and if you go, you must absolutely have this dish. The portion size is great for two people.

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Every single dish was thoughtful, exciting and delicious. Hiberdish does an fantastic job of giving you a complete dining experience without having to spend loads of cash on pomp and over priced food accompanied with ill-made cocktails. This place has both style, and just a great vibe to it. You back all that up with great food, and you almost get into the realm of perfection. Take a bow Haberdish … well done!

FOR YOUR VISIT: No, they do not take reservations. BUT, wait, the good news! They use the No Wait app so you can see your wait times and even add your name to the waiting list before you arrive.

 

 

Asheville for a Ladies Weekend? Yes, Please!

Written by: Jillian Hillard

With Asheville exactly 2 hours to the minute from our home in Charlotte, it’s the ideal get away for many occasions. As the last of my girlfriends sail away to marital bliss, it has been a popular spot for Bachelorette parties. The city’s beautiful mountains, laid back culture, thriving local food and brewery scene, truly provides a great setting for a lady’s last hoorah of singledom. Get ready to check off your #squadgoals, with some musts in Asheville.

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Staying in Asheville

Asheville is one of those cities that you can do the traditional hotel stay, but if you aren’t Airbnb or VRBO’ing it in the mountains or historic districts, then you are missing out on the lure of fresh mountain air and nostalgia. Also, what group of girls doesn’t love the opportunity to have an open space to chit chat in their pj’s while sipping mimosas together?

Note to caution, depending where you are just make sure you have good directions for the Uber or call the local cab company. For the smaller of the two bachelorette parties, we stayed in Montford, which was about a 10 min walk into the city, and the area couldn’t have been cuter!

Friday Night Dining

Like any classy bachelorette party, Friday night both times in Asheville started out with a delicious dinner at a top spot. I had the pleasure of eating at both Posana and Rhubarb, each offering their own version of “local” cuisine. They are actually right next to each other in the heart of downtown Asheville. Rhubarb’s craft cocktails and fresh farm roasted chicken sealed my sentiment for their offerings, while Posana’s Carolina Bison and Beet Tartare is unlike any tartare I have had before.  I keep dreaming of the next time I can bite into it. It’s also worth mentioning that the last bachelorette party I attended had 17 girls and due to some transportation issues, half the party arrived much later. Posana was extremely accommodating keeping the drinks flowing for the girls there and getting the girls who arrived later quickly lubricated. Both times, a good dinner followed by a few night caps at local watering holes ended the night so we could be ready to take on the next day.

Tip: Make a reservation.

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Saturday All-Day Funtivities

It’s the Saturday all day funtivities that deserve the bulk of this article. Keeping up your figure in your 30s is a real struggle. Both bachelorette parties sought to start the day with some physical activity which is readily available surrounding Asheville. A mountain hike or any of the many 5K-10K runs in the city are a great way to energize for the let’s be honest, day drinking to follow. So without further ado, the two day drinking activities I recommend most.

Asheville Brewery Tours

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With the tagline, “let the locals drive you,” our driver Lindsay Lee of Asheville Brewery Tours was phenomenal. It felt like a longtime friend fresh with the knowledge of the local brewery scene picked you up. Our particular tour started at noon and took us to three of Asheville’s own Green Man Brewery, Hi-Wire and Catawba. At each we received a tour and background info, multiple tastings and enough time to sit and enjoy the atmosphere before hopping to the next one. It was a well-timed trip ending at 4pm.

A personal favorite was Green Man with its newly opened facility and great décor (and light fixtures I want for my home).

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I really enjoyed the English Porter, but I am not much of an IPA gal so sorry for those looking for an IPA review. My fellow ladies who are into IPAs found H-Wire more their jam. While at Hi-Wire we also enjoyed the Foothills Meats food truck with again “local farm-to- table” ingredients. Their Cuban sandwich paired with beer was everything needed for a day of drinking.

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In addition to beer, all of the breweries offered some form of live music, outdoor spaces and games from cornhole to Jenga. Asheville in March at 70 degrees is hit or miss, but we hit well not having to worry about transportation and getting a cultured beerucation!

The tour drops you back off in downtown Asheville, close to many other breweries. This led us to tour one more brewery, the popular Wicked Weed, which is also great for non-beer drinkers, and people who love dogs. This brewery does a good job of attracting people and puppies.

Zen Tubing

Oh, what fun you will have floating down a river for 4-5 hours! I mean it, this is one of the best times I have had at a bachelorette party. It’s simple, you rent your tube and rent a tube for a cooler, and proceed to float down the French Broad River while drinking your own spirits and chomping on snacks with your best friends. It’s for all ages and if you do the Midtown one, it will end you just minutes away from the New Belgium Brewery in case you didn’t bring enough to drink on your float! As you float you pass the majestic nature scene of Asheville, while also meeting and passing other floaters along the way. There are “professional” floaters with “Taj Mahal-like” floats that are sure to initiate a giggle and photo op. We did get caught in a storm but it was part of the fun to be honest, and allowed us to meet some fellow floaters for more cheers along the way.

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Sunday Brunch

All successful Southern bachelorette parties generally comes to a close with the traditional Southern brunch (note: NC laws will not allow alcohol before noon, so don’t stumble in before that if you are seeking “hair of the dog” with some of Asheville’s famous Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas). On these two occasions, we experienced Mayfel’s and The Marketplace Restaurant & Lounge. Mayfels, opened by Loretta Woolley in the spring of 2003, brings Louisiana-style cuisine to Asheville’s brunch scene, and for a cute story on the name check out the site. It’s a rather small footprint so plan for a smaller bachelorette party. As an avid eggs benedict bruncher, I had to go with the Mountains to Sea Crab Cakes, and the generous pieces of crab softly bunched together as a patty showcased they know how to do a proper crab cake. The atmosphere here is warm and friendly, and the bright colors will help you feel more energetic after a hard hitting weekend.

For a bit of a more upscale experience, and larger parties, The Market Place hit the spot. The restaurant has been a fixture in downtown Asheville since 1979 and is currently headed up by Chef William Dissen who has a list of accolades to be proud of. Chef’s Dissen’s commitment to the “local” can be seen in the menu choices. My favorite thing is to buddy up with a friend and share two entrees to get a taste of both the savory and sweet side of breakfast rather than decide. On this trip, my girlfriend and I split the Banana Bread French Toast with mascarpone, bourbon macerated raspberries, and maple syrup; and the Spinach & Goat Cheese Omelet with herb roasted potatoes and a jalapeno biscuit. If I had to choose one, the Banana Bread French Toast was just on its own level. I am sitting her salivating as I write this because its hands down one of the best brunch dishes I have ever had, and that is generous considering the food I have experienced in life. It was fresh, it was sweet, it was melt in your mouth delicious.

Asheville has a little bit of everything and I only skimmed the surface with the fun things to do there for a bachelorette or any event really.

Helpful Planning Tips:

  •  Rent a home through AirBnB or VRBO
  • Make a reservation for hot restaurant spots, Curate is another great place
  • Do plan an outdoor activity, be it hiking, tubing, etc.
  • Brunch is a must because that’s what the South does best on Sundays
  • Bring a jacket or sweater at night, it’s the mountains and gets chilly
  • If you aren’t beer drinkers, call ahead to breweries to check on their liquor, cider and wine offerings; some do options for everyone
  • Go to a brewery, it’s a part of the Asheville scene, I would also recommend coffee shop stops too
  • Casual is key, you can still look super cute but this laid-back town isn’t it for sparkly dresses

The Memory of a Perfect Brunch “Preserved” in My Mind

Article written by: Jillian Hillard

To create the perfect brunch, there are a few MUST elements. Most obvious, great food and company, but add in perfect weather and a picturesque setting, and voilà!

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Let’s start by creating the setting. Nestled just on the outskirts of St. Augustine is the town of Lincolnville. With a rich history of its own, it’s hard not to stare in awe at its many Victorian-style homes, and particularly the large and lovely Victorian-style house with a wraparound porch just next to a sign sharing the town’s historic significance. The house is home to restaurant and bed and breakfast cleverly called Preserved due to all the time spent to restore it to its former Victorian glory. Charmingly enough, it was formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Maria Jefferson Shine and her husband,Dr. William F. Shine. With a reservation ready, we were seated on the porch at their version of the Chef’s Table, which had a window that peaked into the kitchen where all the magic of preparation was happening. Top this off with the sun shining in at 75 degrees with a slight breeze coming in from the salty shores at the perfect time of 11am on a Saturday, and your table is set for the perfect brunch.

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As with any idea brunch, spirits are a necessity and Preserved did not disappoint. We all went the route of mimosas, but each with its own twist. Matt settled on tradition with his classic orange juice mimosa, while my mother and I ventured out – her trying the Poinsettia and myself the Shrubmosa. Each were stupendously delicious in their own right and hit the spot in providing that little morning kick you can’t get from coffee. A Poinsetta traditionally features cranberry juice, Cointreau and a hint of orange be it from juice or zest. A Shrubmosa can be many things, but you have to discover this particular one to truly understand its pun-intended, intoxication.

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The next element and perhaps the most weighted, the food. Our noticeably British waiter had the gift of persuasion for as soon as he said “shall we start you with our homemade, warm blueberry scones with rhubarb jam,” the only answer was “yes.” So fresh you might mistake it for a cinnamon bun-scone hybrid, they were melt in your mouth good.

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The highlight had to be the main entrees and when I mentioned an element of a perfect brunch is company that to me means company who is willing to share their dishes for a true sampling of the many offerings. I went with the eggs benedict with crispy prosciutto. You know you are at a great brunch spot when they don’t ask “how you would like your eggs poached,” they just make them the way they are supposed to be made. My only critique of this dish is it left me wanting a bit more of the crispy pieces of prosciutto as they were somewhat spearing. I had convinced my mom to get their other version of eggs benedict with 102 bridge eggs and cornflour fried oysters … it was the right choice. After my bite, all I could mutter was, “It tastes of everything in the South.” And if that wasn’t Southern enough, Matt’s dish came next, the classic Shrimp & Grits with antebellum grits, Florida white shrimp, crisp bacon and creamed corn. Southern cuisine is all about comfort and I could have curled up on the porch after eating this and dozed in the warm sunshine a happy lady.

The perfect brunch, with two of my favorite people. We left bellies full and ready to take on the St. Augustine Distillery.

Learn more about James Beard nominated Chef Brian Whittington, Preserved’s local food culture and its history at www.preservedrestaurant.com.

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A Day at Raffaldini

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Raffaldini Vineyards

Located in Ronda, NC

Chianti in the Carolina’s is what they like to call it, and it’s fitting. As you ascend up the hill to get that first glimpse of the grounds and the villa, you forget that you are in North Carolina and instead get hit with the overwhelming sensation that you are somewhere magical, somewhere foreign, someplace Italian.

With brilliant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this family-owned Vineyard brings an Old World feeling to the Carolinas. It is 102 acres of pastoral hills sprinkled with fig and olive trees, and rose bushes. They have cute tables that look out over the vineyard and there is plenty of room to stretch out on the grass for a picnic or even a nap.

Raffaldini Vineyards

Then there is the Tuscan Villa which is stunning in it’s own right.

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The Raffaldini family, whose lineage stretches back to the 14th century, traces its origins to Mantua, Italy, where for generations the family produced wine on their family farm. The Raffaldini family chose the Swan Creek Region of North Carolina because the area closely resembles the winemaking region of Tuscany with rolling hills, rocky soil, gentle breezes and constant sun.

Wine in North Carolina is making a strong comeback , yet it can still be hit or miss when it comes to quality. We can say that Raffaldini is certainly one of the better vineyards we have visited and sampled. Their wine selection is extremely good and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety.

We sampled 8 different wines.

  1. 2015 Pinot Grigio
  2. 2016 Vermentino Superiore
  3. 2015 Girasole
  4. 2014 Sangiovese Classico
  5. 2015 Bella Misto
  6. 2015 Sagrantino
  7. 2014 Montepilciano Riserva
  8. La Dolce Vita

Out of the 8, we ended up buying two bottles, (2016 Vermentino and the 2014 Montepilciano Reserva) and we had an extra glass of the 2015 Girasole and the 2014 Sangiovese Classico as we walked the grounds. I would say that out of the 8, we enjoyed all but 1, which is pretty impressive and the one we didn’t really care for (2015 Sagrantino) just needs to sit a little longer to age.

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Raffaldini Vineyards currently produces Italian varietal wines including: Vermentino, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Sangiovese Riserva and Montepulciano and Montepulciano Riserva; as well as Italian-style proprietary blends. Raffaldini also hosts public and private events throughout the year. Please visit their web site, www.raffaldini.com, call 336.835.9463 or email info@raffaldini.com for more information.

Raffaldini Vineyards is located 10 minutes from the I-77—Hwy. 421 interchange. Visit www.raffaldini.com/directions.php for detailed directions. Plan your visit now, you won’t be disappointed.

The Big Texan Bourbon & Grapefruit Cocktail

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This one is pretty easy yet so tasty! In a cocktail shaker, combine grapefruit juice, bourbon, simple syrup and basil leaves.

Fill a chilled rocks glass with ice.

Add a few ice cubes to the shaker and shake well.

Strain the drink into the ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with the grapefruit slice and cherry.

You can also forgo the cherry and add basil leaves as garnish as you will see in the photo below. 

For the grapefruit juice, you can always buy it or simply squeeze it from an actual grapefruit

For the simple syrup you can buy it ready made or make it yourself by boiling equal parts sugar and water. Let cool before using.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 tablespoon simple syrup (see Note)
  • 2 basil leaves
  • Ice
  • 1 grapefruit slice and 1 preserved cherry, for garnish

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The Charleston Bog

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In a cocktail shaker, muddle the raspberries with mint leaves, lime or lemon wedges and Honey Syrup. Add ice and the bourbon and cranberry juice. Shake well and strain into a glass (I used a mason jar). Garnish with the mint sprig and/or lemon or lime wedge.

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Ingredients :

4 raspberries
8 mint leaves, plus one mint sprig
2 lime wedges (you can also use lemon, depending on how tart you want it)
1/2 oz Honey Syrup
Ice
3 oz bourbon
1 oz white cranberry juice- (I used a cranberry-raspberry mix.)

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Be careful with this one folks. You can quickly find yourself facedown on your lawn if you don’t pace yourself. This is such a refreshing drink but will certainly go to your head.

This recipe calls for white cranberry juice but I simply used a cranberry-raspberry mix.

I’ve also tried this with lime and lemon and both come out really well. As i stated before, it’s just depending on how tart you want this cocktail to be.

I hope you enjoy!

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Taking Drinks at Random Row Brewing Co.

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Random Row Brewing Co. is a smaller place, as far a square footage goes, but a brewery doesn’t have to be gigantic to be good, they just need to make good beer.  I have to say, these guys make great beer.

A group of us went on a Saturday afternoon as the sun was setting. The vibe was very friendly, there were no “bros” about, no riff raff. Actually, there was a delightfully odd mix of people hanging out. There was a good number of families with kids, a hipster here and there, another couple that I would say were in there late 50’s, a few dogs, and people in their 30’s, like us. When you have a diverse mix of people at your establishment, it should clue you up on the quality of the place.

Before I tell you about what all we tasted, let me give you the Random Row backstory  (parts of the story pulled from the Random Row website).

For several years, Shannon and Kevin McElroy brewed beer at home. In 2013, Kevin entered the DominionCup and placed second out of around 500 entries with his Keagan’s Imperial Stout. Kevin began to wonder if the skills he had developed during his day job (as a Certified Clinical Perfusionist) could lend themselves to professional brewing.

Several of the Kevin’s friends and co-workers were also very interested in beer and beer-making.  They were also interested in the concept of founding,  owning and participating in the management of a local business.  Working with a co-worker who shared his passion for beer and local business development, Kevin spent over a year doing research on professional brewing and developing a business plan.  On June 20, 2015, Kevin held his first  fundraiser, serving four homebrewed beers in the basement of a friend’s house.  Within 6 days he received the commitments he needed to launch the business, and five days later, on July 1st, Random Row Brewing Company was officially commissioned as a Limited Liability Company in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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It’s such a great story. Many (like myself) love to brew their own beer and think and wish to “some day” open their own brewery. These guys actually went out and did it and with a group of friends , which make it even better.

Now for the Beer

Jillian and I decided that since it was our first time there, we should do a sampling (something I suggest for all first timers).

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This way you get a good mix and representation of what they have to offer.  Keep this in mind when you do a tasting: You are probably not going to like every single option. In this sampling there were three that I personally didn’t like. That doesn’t make them bad, it just means that I didn’t particularly like them. However, I have friends that would have loved those choices.

While you are sampling, please take your time to enjoy them. If you are looking to get hammered quickly, don’t do a tasting, just go in an alley with a PBR and shotgun the thing.

The Choices

My favorite: The Sublimation Stout. They call it a “classic Irish Stout” but to me it’s not a classic stout. To me … it’s better. To me, it tasted like liquid smoke, something that may not sound appealing to you, but I love it.

I also really enjoyed The Hill and Element Pale Ale

Next time you are in Charlottesville make a trip over to Random Row, I think you will enjoy the vibe and beer selection.

Hours of Operation:

  • M: 4:30P – 10P

  • T: 4:30P – 10P

  • W: 4:30P – 10P

  • R: 4:30P – 10P

  • F: 4:30P – 12A

  • SA: 12P – 12A

  • SU: 12P – 8P

Cheers!

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