I went on a little mini-vacation to St. Augustine the other day, and by mini, I mean for just a few hours. You know, what makes a vacation isn’t the amount of time spent enjoying an experience. It’s a combination of physically going someplace different, or seeing something new or—and this is the most important part for me—eating something or somewhere brand new to me. Any break from the usual day-to-day routine is refreshing. Add a change of scenery and you’ve got something special. Dine somewhere different or eat something that’s never danced across your tastebuds—that truly defines a vacation.
We were sitting in traffic on the way back to Fernandina Beach, and my wife asked me to tell her my favorite part of the day. Can you guess my answer? No, shoemaker, it wasn’t the city’s remarkable architecture, or the streets and avenues with charming Spanish names, no, sir. My response was “LUNCH!” No offense to all the other highlights St. Auggie has, but I hadn’t eaten anywhere different in ages. And what did we find in St. Augustine? Great, inventive gastropubs.
I’m sure y’all are familiar with brewpubs and even visited one or two. Fun fact: I used to be the chef of a brewpub way back in the 1990s. The modern brewpubs were a revolutionary concept when they first appeared on the hospitality industry’s horizon. The casual spots took advantage of the public’s newfound fascination with handcrafted micro-brewed beers and added simple burger-based cuisine. In fact, brewpubs became so popular, the giant corporate chains joined the fun. Kind of a shame. Brewpubs went from small, simple beer-and-burger joints to the mega restaurants which also brewed beer. And once the corporations take over and start replicating concepts with that McDonald’s attention to give you an identical experience anywhere you travel, neither food nor beer are too inspired. Just predictable. Fortunately, there are still plenty smaller versions of local, independent brew pubs around—go find one!
Another cool bar concept that also began in the 1990s was something called a gastropub. For those of you not in the know, the term gastropub was coined in England, where food wasn’t really a big consideration in traditional pub culture. Fun fact No. 2: ‘pub’ stands for ‘public house’ in England (not to be confused with Publix grocery stores in the 904.) A public house is a place where travelers and locals alike would hang out to enjoy food and really enjoy beer. My wife—who thinks the Romans invented everything from plumbing to world cuisine—claims the Romans first brought the pub concept to England thousands of years ago. I hate to admit she’s right, but there is historical evidence that indicates when the Romans migrated in First Century A.D., they built roads and introduced roadside shops for selling wine. The British transformed the Roman concept by introducing English ale and beers. These shops became what is today the English pub tradition. Here’s a recipe that combines the best of that tradition: cooking the beer right in the homemade bread. Enjoy!
Chef Bill’s KILLIAN’S IRISH RED BREAD
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 3 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/4 cup scant sugar, less if desired
• 12 oz. bottle Killian’s Red
• 1/4 cup melted butter
• Sprinkle of coarse sea salt for top
1. Sift flour, very important especially in Florida, into a large mixing bowl.
2. Add baking powder, kosher salt and sugar, stir with a whisk.
3. Add beer; gently fold flour mix into beer until just barely incorporated. Don’t over-mix.
4. Bake @ 350°F one hour. Turn out, let cool at least 15 minutes.