Zywiec Porter: Polish Beer?

My dad loves to tell Polish jokes. He grew up in Chicago, and as a boy, had a job delivering a Polish-language newspaper in the Polish part of town. This was back in the day that if you went walking through the wrong neighborhood, you got the old stank eye from the old grandmas and the kids on the front steps. So of course being a German kid riding his bike through a Polish neighborhood, he had to duck a few insults, and probably a few rocks. I don’t fault his love of Polish jokes, but I do roll my eyes.

I say that because there’s only one reason I picked up a bottle of Polish beer while we were at the Great Wall of Beer at Ward’s the other day. It was Polish beer. My brain instantly bubbled up a dozen of my dad’s dumb jokes and I had to reach for the bottle. The Man’s mission is to make me like beer, so the minute I show interest in anything beer-related, he buys it. He caught me holding the bottle of Zywiec porter and it was instantly added to our cart.

At $3.99 for a 16.9 oz. bottle, it’s not inexpensive, but it’s also 9.5% ABV so you’re getting your money’s worth of WOO HOO! The Man opened this up to taste when his brother stopped by for a visit, and we split it three ways while I cooked dinner. I certainly felt the 9.5% ABV on an empty stomach, but ‘m also not a professional drinker.

Before you even take a sip, the smell of chocolate hits your nose. And your first mouthful gets you good with molasses, malt, caramel, and rich oaky earth flavors. It’s quite intense from beginning to end. A bit overly sweet and in your face. It leaves a full burnt caramel taste at the end that lingers a bit too long. It has a lovely bubbly mouth feel that seems oddly cheerful contrasted with the very bold and solid flavor profiles.

Not that this is a criticism or a surprise. It is a porter; a Baltic porter to be exact. Porter is named for the people that drank the stuff in the old days. The big fellows who did hard work all day and couldn’t afford a lot of good beer in the evening. They wanted something cheap and strong. The Baltic regions produce a higher ABV porter than their comrades in other regions. Many experts attribute these variations to the commercialization of production, and the supply of ingredients because of wars and regional growing issues.

Okay, that was boring, but I had a fun time reading all about top-cropping, Reinheitsgebot, and John Feltham’s Folly. Suffice it to say that porter tends to be flavorful and packed with alcohol. And Baltic porter is just a little bit more so.

And speaking about commercialization, Wyziec started producing beer in 1852 but is now owned partially (61%) by Heineken, so that’s probably a major reason you can even get it in the US. The label claims they have been using the same porter recipe since 1881. I’m voting for them to continue doing what they’re doing. It was tasty and I’m glad we tried it. It was absolutely on the sweet and powerful side of things. I doubt I could get through a full pint on my own, and The Man is of the opinion that a half-pour is the best way to get at this beer.

So cheers to Polish beer. As for my dad and his Polish jokes… In doing some research on our family history, I suspect that part of our family line comes from a region of Germany that was handed over to Poland after WWII because of that whole invasion faux pas. Technically I think we’re a little Polish now.

Zywiec Porter
9.5% ABV, Baltic Porter
16.9 ounce bottle | $3.99 at Ward’s

[Girl21]

Ketchup and Cheese Sammies

Growing up, I had a friend who had those cool anything-goes parents. My friend got to play in her mom’s make up. The dad gave her brother a full case of Bazooka bubble gum for his birthday with the one rule that it all had to end up in the trash immediately post-chew. They had a black Lab mutt named Cucaracha that would climb the shed in the back and jump up on the house’s roof to bark at neighbors and buzzards. When I slept over there were no bed times, or rules about the TV (which was always on) or when to take a bath. It was very Pippi Longstocking.

On the other hand, there weren’t actual meal times, and no one claimed responsibility for grocery shopping regularly. And although I doubt we would get into trouble for using the stove, we didn’t know how to cook. To make matters worse, the dad was almost always out doing stuff or in his shop, and the mom often wasn’t feeling so good (in retrospect, the word would be ‘hangover’). So we were sometimes left to fend for ourselves in an empty kitchen.

This is the first place I ever experienced a ketchup and cheese sandwich. At six-years-old, it was love at first taste.

I am not talking about grilled cheese with ketchup. Just two slices of bread slathered in your standard ketchup, and then closed around whatever slices of cheese you have handy. I prefer a nice sharp cheddar or Swiss. That’s it.

Over the years, I also grew to love jelly and cheese. If brought to school and left in your backpack for the morning, the jelly soaked into the cheddar and crystallized a little. Or cream cheese and jelly. My sister went in the other direction and developed a life-long love of mustard and cheese sandwiches. And my brother went another route and does Sriracha and cheese.

I brought this up the other morning while The Man was getting his coffee and I was making his lunch for work. He was duly horrified at the thought of a ketchup and cheese sammie. After much dramatics, he allowed me my sandwich because he liked mustard and cream cheese on a bagel.

Not one to let something like that alone, I posted this on Facebook and got back a volley of other personal favorites which included PB&J with hot sauce, grilled cheese with jam, and avocado/cheese/honey. I think everyone has a secret comfort sammie. Something they eat that is fast, weird, and a little ghetto. But hits the spot and makes your belly purr.

My dad was a repair guy his whole life and every day he would take a PB&J to work and leave it in the sandwich baggie on his dash in the truck. It would sit in the sun and heat up and get all soggy and crusty. If he didn’t have time to break for lunch, or it was a particularly difficult afternoon, he would sit in his truck in the shade of a tree for a few minutes and eat that mangled, baked, dripping sammie like it was a cold beer and a pizza. Comfort food.

If you haven’t tried the ketchup and cheese version, I highly recommend it. Preferably at 2AM, in your PJs, leaning over the kitchen sink. Possibly while it’s raining. It’s awesome.

[Girl21]

Gainesville House of Beer

Gainesville House of Beer Front

You’ll have to excuse us for not leaping with excitement when Gainesville House of Beer opened its doors. It is so close to Stubbies & Steins that any superbly drunk but dedicated beer lover could stumble from Stubbies to GHOB and find it on the first try. That, and it is one in a chain of several. A chain?

But we are ever ready to do our duty to you, our readers, and the beer culture of Gainesville. So after dining at Las Margaritas with friends the other night, we buttoned our lips at the suggestion of heading downtown for a drink at House of Beer. Yes, we would go and see what it was like. We actually enjoyed these friends’ company and could suck it up and try out the new place without acting like pouting children. I said it often while heading across town. Open mind. Open mind. Open mind.

Gainesville House of Beer is on the corner of University and SW 1st, where the burger place was (Jeff’s Deli was there for a while among other things). Down the block is Stubbies, then Sweet Mel’s (and Naughty Mel’s, whatever that mess is). In fact, within easy sober walking distance, there are a significant number of popular drinking establishments like The Top, The Bull, Tall Paul’s, Loosey’s, Palomino, Mainstreet Billiard, Durty Nellie’s, Piano Bar, :08, The Atlantic, University Club, and Stubbies (yes, I mention it again only because it’s a few doors away). Hell, you could even go to The Venue and get a beer if you don’t mind metal detectors at the door. So why would you open a beer place in that exact spot?

Don’t get me wrong. They have 40 taps, plus a decent assortment of miscellaneous bottled beer. The bartender knew his way around the beer, and was more than happy to pour samples and suggest options. The only excuse is that these guys are from the Dunedin/Palm Harbor area. They don’t know the area very well. Gainesville’s House of Beer is the third in the chain, and I can honestly say third time is not the charm because there is no charm in this location.

It’s a storefront box with awkward pillars and an uncomfortable little patio area for smokers. The long bar down the back of the room guards the expansive row of taps. The industrial flooring is as exciting as the Sam’s Club “Pub Style” collection of tables and stools. And the pressed tin beer advertisements seem like they were hung up quickly to cover the walls because the TVs were delivered a few weeks late.

The most annoying thing about the night can’t be directly pointed at GHOB. At least I am hoping it was some overly-excited patron that stuffed the jukebox and treated us to a long series of bad ‘80s music. No, I agree there is good ‘80s music. But this was the stuff that you find only in the bottom of the box of Salvation Army’s Vat O’ Dusty Cassettes. As in, why would you offer this on your juke box unless you hated your staff and patrons?

This will be the end of my rant about the lack of personality of the establishment. If I wanted to go to this kind of bar, I would visit one of those gargantuan outlet centers in Georgia and find where all of the soul-drained employees went during their lunch breaks to top off their buzz. But I like my bars to have a little personality. I spend a good deal of time there after all. And the downtown is rampant with interesting places to park your arse and waste a few hours with friends.

On the plus side, GHOB does have a good selection on tap. This is not an argument. They have Victory, Bell’s, Southern Tier, Chimay, Boddington’s, Swamp Head, Rogue, Shipyard, Abita, Red Brick, Cigar City, Woodchuck, Sam Adams, Left Hand, Sweetwater, Dogfish Head, Ace, and more. And they even have fancy glasses to serve the different types of beer (and cider) in.

They do have big name beer like Bud Light, Miller Light, PBR, and Corona, so if you have those friends that can’t tolerate their beer with flavor, you’re free to bring them with you if you like. And GHOB has wine, cider, and lambics for those that are less than excited about beer. You can download the PDF of their bottle and wine selection if you like (you should know by now how much I hate this lazy way of displaying a menu online, so their terrible website was another nail in the coffin).

If you’re waiting to get into Stubbies, you could have a beer at GHOB and watch TV while someone holds your place in line. We went on a Friday night and it wasn’t busy at all. The girl on the door was writing a paper for school and watching the crowd across the street at The Bank or whatever it’s called this week.

House of Beer wasn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not a place we wanted to spend a lot of time. We all had a drink and tried to settle before giving up and continuing on to another drinking establishment. It might someday develop character. We might even go back. Maybe.

Gainesville House of Beer
19 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601

352-376-1100

www.gainesvillehob.com

Open:
Monday-Friday 2PM-2AM
Saturday & Sunday 12PM-2AM

[Girl21]

Gainesville House of Beer, CC Puppy's Breath Porter

A Little Too Civilized

We really wanted to like Civilization. Really. We tried.

But you know how you have that one friend that is super nice, and has never said a bitchy thing about anyone, ever. That girl that genuinely likes even the biggest ass in your circle of friends. The girl that’s probably not a virgin, but no one is quite sure. The one that you try to like because she is so sweet and truly nice, but you never know what to talk to her about because you’re afraid of offending her in some way. And she won’t laugh at juvenile jokes.

That’s how I felt about our time at Civilization. We wanted to like it. We tried very hard. But it just didn’t happen.

Months ago we had gone for the first time with two friends. I was still mourning the loss of 2nd Street Bakery. It was like driving past a house you lived in as a child and seeing the new owners painted it a really trendy shade of green. But I sucked it up and walked in there with my big girl panties on. We did have a decent meal there, and the neighborhood cat was panhandling nearby. But we weren’t impressed enough to go back.

Another friend absolutely adores the place with the zeal we adore The Top, and she begged us to give Civilization another try. There’s not much else open on a Monday night on the Northeast side of town, so finally we grudgingly wandered over there for dinner.

It was one of the first cool nights of the year, and the dining room was quite full (there’s a minor acoustic problem because of the one big room), so we asked to sit outside on the patio. The hostess clearly thought we were insane but was too gracious to let it show.

We started with some delish craft beer. Then the Utopian Salad; one to share between us because they are HUGE. I had the Fettuccine della Casa because the housemade pasta and creamy tomato sauce sounded yummy. The Man went for the Thai Shiitake Mushrooms w/Asian Greens. Nothing was particularly bad, although I was trying to get him to switch with me because I liked the flavors of the cilantro and scallions in his dish.

My dish was passable, except for the slightly gritty texture of the pasta and the over-abundance of roasted ‘in season’ veggies on top. This month ‘in season’ meant eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, all of which make me nervous. I couldn’t escape the heavy butter flavor in the creamy tomato sauce, which is what chefs use to punch up a weak sauce… add more butter. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t $14.00.

The Man had more to say about his dish. Some things I wouldn’t necessarily type here. I liked it better than mine, but again, it still wasn’t all that fabulous. The rice was a touch undercooked. The shiitakes were there but the flavor was not. The greens were nicely done, and again, I liked the balance of cilantro and scallions with the coconut milk. But it’s never a good sign when mere hours after eating out, your stomach starts to make sounds you only hear coming from the bathroom stalls at a booty dancing club after 1AM.

On the other hand, the salad was perfection. The dressing, the toppings, the flavors and textures. Possibly the best salad in G’ville. And of course it’s nice to get good beer with your meals.

This visit didn’t change our opinion of Civilization very much. Our first time there, the general consensus from the four of us was that the salads were perfect, appetizers were tasty, the desert was yummy, but the meals were questionable. Of the four of us, one had a special which was a weak thumbs-up, two were so-so, and my Stroganoff was far too oily to finish eating.

But the staff were painfully nice, knew the menu and the food, were gracious and timely, and obviously cared a great deal about their patrons. And Civilization is another of those true Gainesville businesses, where a lot of emphasis is put on the provenance of the ingredients, support of small business, and deep community roots.

So how could we feel so lukewarm about this place? The food just misses the mark. Punches are pulled. People are playing it safe. Everything is too nice. Aimed at being inoffensive to everyone. And you feel it. This vaguely nice personality that doesn’t seem quite real. A lack of depth or life experience that makes it uninteresting.

I’d rather sit next to that weird older guy at the bar that drinks Negronis and talks about his worst days as an EMT, than sit with the very nice girl who always smiles politely but refuses to laugh at fart jokes.

We’ll probably go to Civilization again. There’s not a lot of choices on a Monday and on the Northeast side of town. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t remarkably interesting. We’ve heard better things about the carnivore meals, but are not overly impressed with the veggie selections so far.

Civilization
1511 NW 2nd St
Gainesville FL 32601

352.380.0544

WelcomeToCivilization.com
(Okay… a pet peeve of mine is when restaurant websites have their menu only as a PDF download: Menu)

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; Saturday brunch and dinner; closed Sunday. Also home of Terranova catering.

Our meal of two craft beers, a salad, and two entrees (plus tip) was about $60.

[Girl21]