Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cask: A Tampa Bay Dining Destination

As I pass by chain restaurant after chain restaurant and read on-line reviews that suggest Wawa and Five Guys is gourmet dining, and Publix delis are the Katz pajamas of delis, I have to shake my head in despair that Tampa Bay will never become a gastronomic destination.

Just when my culinary world appears the darkest, up pops dandy dining destinations such as Patanegra and Sea Salt in downtown St. Pete. Then, before I could recover from my latest feeding frenzy, I read that a new and nifty dining spot opened in Hyde Park just up the road from Haven.

Cask Social Kitchen, 208 South Howard Avenue, is a product of The Social Kitchen Company, comprised of partners Adam Itzkowitz, Vincent Jackson, and TJ Miller.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I immediately decided to take that long road trip from our stately pleasure dome by the sea, and cross the bay to our old South Tampa stomping grounds. We arrived a little before noon on a sunny Tuesday and were immediately greeted by a charming hostess and guided to an awaiting table past the casks in the lobby.

The stairs lead to the the Loft Lounge.There are several dining areas indoors and out. We were seated inside at a table looking toward the kitchen where we received menus and a complimentary bucket of savory Jamaican Jerk Popcorn.

Our first order of business after that long haul across the bridge was a couple of adult beverages. James, the most gregarious of servers, made a couple of suggestions for a Cask craft beer or specialty cocktail. I chose the Bold City Killer Whale, Cream Ale from Jacksonville. This was a light and refreshing ale - one of the best I have had in awhile.

My bride decided on Black Bubbles; Ketel One Vodka, fresh blackberries, St. George Raspberry Liqueur, fresh lemon juice, topped with champagne. One look at those berries and you knew what inspired the name of this berry lemony delicious liquid treat.

The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I decided on two appetizers to start our luncheon adventure. For the Belle, the somewhat ubiquitous Deviled Eggs. Even though they were adorned with maple Bourbon candied bacon and jalapeño salt they were not memorable.

Those eggs were good, just not great ... but, heavens to Murgatroid, just look at them there black bubbles.

The Duck Wings with orange Sriracha glaze, scallions, and toasted sesame whispered in my ear, "Come fly with me." Yes, oh yes, spaketh I. What James brought to me was not quite what I envisioned, but what I tasted was crunchy, juicy, perfectly cooked ambrosial aquatic fowl goodness.

As James confirmed, if those really were duck wings then that would have been a hell of a big duck. This appetizer consisted of six leg sized "wings" that could easily be shared, if one was inclined to share. My bride did take a bite and thought it to be very good, but she was saving herself for things to come.

We both requested sandwiches from the Fingers Not Forks menu. The Belle decided to hamburger herself up with Cask Cow, an Angus blend with bourbon bacon onion jam, fried egg, arugula, provolone, spiced mayo, on a brioche bun.

The only negative to this amazingly delicious burger was somebody forgot to add the egg. She brought half of the burger home and we checked it for egg. There was no egg. That was the only thing that kept this meaty sandwich from perfection.

I have only moans of orgasmic gastronomic delight to describe the Belly Up. The pork belly was smoked to unequable excellence, enhanced with Gruyere cheese, handcrafted sauerkraut, red onion and Cask island dressing. That tangy kraut was the perfect foil for the smokey belly.

After that pork belly and the wings of duck, I was pretty well done, D-U-N done. The Belle, on the other side of the table, had saved herself for the gift from the gods of dessert - Red Velvet Bread Pudding.

The pudding had a pleasant crispy crust with a nice warm, moist center and a spiked cream cheese and caramel topping. While this was a tasty dessert it could have been even better with either more of the caramel topping or a couple of scoops of ice cream. By itself the pudding came up a little short in my bride's opinion. I'm not a dessert person so I shall refrain from commenting.

I do have a couple of thoughts to wrap up this review. One of the owners, T.J. Miller, came to see how we were doing and if everything was to our satisfaction. In my opinion, that is a really nice touch.

Our server, James, shared with us a rather fascinating little factoid. The executive chef who prepared or at least oversaw the preparation of that excellent Angus beef burger and that heavenly pork belly, is actually a vegetarian. Now, that was impressive! Kinda like the almost deaf Beethoven composing the masterpiece, 9th Symphony 'Choral'.

Lunch at Cask wasn't cheap, $97.37 - but, hot damn, was it ever good. Cask serves brunch, lunch and dinner. We are thinking about booking a room somewhere and going back for dinner. It's on our bucket list.

Editor's Update: My bride, who is a rabid (and, I do emphasize, rabid) Tampa Bay Bucs fan, insisted I mention that Vincent Jackson is a receiver on the team.

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