The Dark Diva’s Holiday Social & Survival Guide Part 3: Gifts For Drink Lovers Made Easy, Fun & Unique

November 20, 2018

So now we’ve reached the final part of our Holiday Social & Survival Guide with tips on unique gift ideas, including custom cocktails, for your favorite drink lovers, from those who just appreciate drinks and alcohols with new and intriguing flavors to those with discriminating taste for distilling excellence to serious mixologists.

Share The Joy (literally):
Take Them Out To A Craft Distillery
Or A Top Happy Hour

Kelly, our tour & spirit guide at Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford describing the various liqueurs we are about to sample!

What better gift to give than one you can share like a tasting at a local craft distillery or a top reviewed Happy Hour. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love this gift. It’s thoughtful, fun and can be fairly reasonable, especially a distillery tasting.

Craft Distillery Tours & Tastings

The Tasting Bar of Wild Moon(R) Liqueurs that’s part of the tour at Hartford Flavor Company.

If you’re in Connecticut, there are a number of craft distillers across the state, although not all offer tours and/or tastings. You can find a list of craft distillers here with links to more information. Create a nice, formal invitation for the recipient(s) to be your guest(s) for a tour & tasting, as your Christmas gift to them, on a specific date over the holidays (or after).

Melissa, our bartender/spirit guide, pours samples for guests at the Tasting Bar of Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield, CT!

I have visited and reviewed two of these craft distillers in the greater Hartford area, which I can personally recommend: Hartford Flavor Company in Hartford and Waypoint Spirits in Bloomfield. Both offer affordable Saturday and Sunday afternoon tours

Connor was our enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide at Waypoint Spirits.

and tastings, although hours may vary during the holidays. (Click on their respective names to visit their web sites for details and contact information.) It’s a great way to get acquainted with the distiller’s art and try something new. The guides do a great job of engaging guests and conveying a lot of information in an entertaining manner.

Top Reviewed Happy Hours

Grant’s Flirtini

Check through local reviews online (such as Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog) to find fresh, interesting Happy Hours, and treat special friends to a visit during the holidays. You’ll find some recommendations for Happy Hours to visit in the greater Hartford area listed here with links to my reviews. Going out for Happy Hour at some place new can be a really nice treat for everyone.

Click on the name to read my review, which also includes a link to the location’s web site:

Bloomfield

The Republic Gastropub

Manchester

Bistro On Main
Plaza Azteca

South Windsor

Burtons Bar & Grill
Mill On The River
Red Heat Tavern
Ted’s Montana Grill

West Hartford

Blue Elephant Trail
Grant’s Restaurant & Bar
Max’s Oyster Bar
Zohara Mediterranean Kitchen

 

Pour On The Thoughtfulness:
Give Them Craft Distilled Liquors & Liqueurs
As Well As Distinctive Barware

 

Want to wrap up your Christmas shopping with a twist? Then surprise your
favorite drink lover with something different – a bottle of liquid goodness from a local craft distiller. Here are just a few suggestions from craft distillers in the greater Hartford area.

The Wild Moon® Liqueurs Variety Pack

Featuring 100ml bottles of six different Wild Moon® liqueurs (Lime, Cucumber, Lavender, Rose, Birch and Chai Spice), this is a great introduction to these all-natural, gluten-free spirits that are crafted in Hartford by the Hartford Flavor Company. The variety pack and a range of other Hartford Flavor Company/Wild Moon® themed products (barware, shirts and more) are available at the Hartford Flavor Company. Visit their web site here for more details.

Waypoint Spirits

Waypoint Spirits Craft Distilled Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey

Show your friends that you are a thoughtful and perceptive person with excellent tastes by giving them one of Waypoint Spirits’ locally crafted liquors (distilled in Bloomfield), such as Labrador Noon Vodka (a very smooth, premium-style vodka), Wintonbury Gin (botanically infused, more in the mold of Hendrick’s with less juniper flavor), and Small Batch Honey Habanero Flavored Whiskey (the spice is right for those who like a little firewater). Visit their web site here for details.

Barware

A set of 4 initialed or monogrammed Old-Fashioned or On-The-Rocks glasses makes a beautifully distinctive and highly appreciated gift for any mixologists. A bar mat for mixing, a good quality shaker and durable bar tools also make nice gifts for your favorite mixologist. You can find them online at Amazon and Bar & Vine as well as locally at places as diverse as Williams Sonoma and Target.

Give A Gift That Is Totally Unique:
Their Own Custom-Crafted Cocktail Recipe
From The Dark Diva

Whether you want a truly one-of-a-kind gift for someone very special or a perfectly themed cocktail to take a special holiday event to the next level, nothing compares to the cocktail crafting wizardry and backstory creativity of The Dark Diva.

Here’s what a recent client said of the three custom-crafted cocktails I created for an event she planned:

“I wanted to let you know that last night was a great success especially with the signature cocktails! The ranks were split between the Velvet Voodoo Martini (… my favorite) and the Purple Magic Martini. I think the Autumn Paradise would have done better but for the literal heat wave that hit us yesterday afternoon (!) which made it hard to get in the groove for fall LOL …”

And her guests concurred:

“What a wonderfully fun evening!  How clever to have a signature cocktail tasting.  That Velvet Voodoo Martini was so sweet and smooth – I wanted to slip into a bathtub full of it!”

“Purple Magic Martini – this was simply scrumptious! Fruity without being too sweet, and I like sweet!

“Autumn Paradise Martini – As someone who hates Autumn, I wasn’t even going to try this one between the pumpkin and butterscotch, BUT, the flavors blended well, and it truly was a treat, not a trick!”

Created for a party of stressed out executive assistants, these colorfully named custom-crafted cocktails also included a short story with them. (I don’t share the recipe specifics publicly, however, since they now belong to the client which assures they will remain unique.)

The Velvet Voodoo Martini
(AKA The Karma’s A Bitch Martini)

Sometimes when you’re at the end of your rope, all you want to do is make a noose out of it and hang your boss. For anyone who is overworked and underappreciated by a ridiculously demanding boss, The Velvet Voodoo Martini is made with dark magic (Irish spirits, exotic spices and sneakily irresistible flavors) that will give you sweet velvet dreams of the moment when you just walk out and leave your boss completely helpless. And, just maybe, your boss will have the same dream. If it doesn’t scare him/her to death, it should at least scare them into showing more appreciation for all you do. (Just for fun, look up poisons on Google frequently so your boss can see it. Later, tell him/her you have to meet the exterminator at your house about poisoning some rats and ask if he/she wants you to pick up lunch for them – be very insistent. That should give them pause. Haha!)

The Diva’s Purple Magic Martini
(AKA “Beam Me Up Scotty,
There’s No Intelligent Life down Here!” Martini)

This concoction is made for those days when everyone you have deal with is an ill-tempered, impatient moron who couldn’t find their butt with both hands and directions. No matter how simply and patiently you try to explain to them that what they want is not what they need, not reasonable or just simply impossible, they have all the comprehension of a two-year-old, so they pitch a fit. While you can’t do what you feel like doing to them (unless you have lots of money, access to the dark web to hire a hitman, and an ironclad alibi), you can make them all magically disappear for a while with this deliciously sweet escape that will let you boldly go where no where no boss can find you!

The Autumn Paradise Martini
(AKA “The Leaf Me Alone, I’m Having A Moment” Martini)

Like a walk through the woods on a glorious autumn afternoon, with the fresh crispness of a cool fall breeze as the bright sunshine brings nature’s spectacular palette of scarlet, gold, yellow, green and rust to vivid life, this is a moment to savor in a New England paradise. No demanding bosses. No uncooperative co-workers. No screaming kids. No annoying spouse. Now that moment is yours in a glass with The Autumn Paradise Martini. Just forget everything and chill with every sip, after warning everyone that they might encounter the Grim Reaper if they disturb your moment (or moments) in Autumn Paradise!

Learn more about my custom-crafted cocktails for events and gifts here. You can also email me: MissBri@thedarkdivarules.com.

Act now! Don’t wait, because I expect to get booked out fast!

Hopefully, you’ve found some ideas here that will make your holiday gift-giving experience easy and fun!

Hope you have a wonderfully enjoyable and safe holiday season!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Red Heat Tavern Looks to Fire Up The Local Happy Hour Competition In South Windsor/Manchester

November 6, 2018

***Today is Election Day in the U.S., so please go vote!***

This past Friday, I visited Red Heat Tavern at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. While aware that it was relatively new, I hadn’t realized they had just opened in June of this year until talking with Manager Taylor O’Neill at the end of my visit. If I had known beforehand, I might have elected to postpone my review. However, based on my experience Friday, they didn’t need a break.

Part of the Burtons Bar & Grill chain , which also has a location in Evergreen Walk, Red Heat Tavern has four other locations (all in neighboring Massachusetts) while positioning itself as a place where “… passion for great food is fueled by fire, flavor and friends.” So, how did they do when the Friday Happy Hour heat was on?

Sparked By Smiles,
Service Was Smokin’

Upon arriving around 4 PM on Friday, the seats at the Red Heat Tavern bar were already starting to fill up. Fortunately, I found a few empty seats at the far end next to the service bar area. (The décor was a somewhat similar to that of The Cook and the Bear in West Hartford – what I call urban rustic. It’s an eclectic mix of modern, industrial and classic BBQ joint all rolled into one that actually works well.) Nikki*, my bartender, was bubbly and enthusiastic during my time there. She easily answered all my questions about the drink and food choices (the Happy Hour menu doesn’t elaborate enough on the offerings —  a point I raised with the manager), cheerfully responded to my request to make my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix, and made an excellent suggestion for my second drink by recommending the Jim Beam Black Mule.
*(Unfortunately, her shift ended, and she left before I could get a picture or the correct spelling of her name.)

Red Hot Deals,
Icy Cool Drinks

The $5 Happy Hour Margarita at Red Heat Tavern. (Made to my order with lime juice instead of mix.)

A $5 price point for mixed drinks is essentially the popular Happy Hour standard. What makes the price hot or not is what you get for that price. Red Heat Tavern offers Sangrias, Margaritas and Mules that have some telling differences. While I ordered my Margarita with lime juice instead of the mix to avoid heartburn, you can get various flavors of the mix. (My Margarita was a bit tart and could have used either a touch more Triple Sec or some agave, but it grew on me.)

The Jim Beam Black Happy Hour Mule for $5 at Red Heat Tavern. (A surprisingly different and tasty mule.)

The Jim Beam Black Mule, on the other hand, was a totally unexpected pleasure. While I’m normally not a big fan of base bourbon brands like Jim Beam* and Jack Daniels, the Jim Beam Black is extra aged compared to regular Jim Beam (8 years vs. 4 years) which results in a smoother taste that works very well with the sweetness of the Mule to create an intriguing and enjoyable libation.
*(I should, in the interest of full disclosure, note that my typical bourbon of choice – Maker’s Mark, is a small-batch bourbon made by Jim Beam.)

If You Love The Heat,
Order From This Kitchen

Whether you call them bar bites, appetizers or small plates, the food offerings at Happy Hour should serve two purposes. First, they soak up some of the alcohol, so it doesn’t make you too buzzed too quick (assuming you are limiting your intake and not pouring drinks down). Secondly, depending on the offerings, it can be a good (and cheaper) way to test a restaurant’s menu to see if you want to eat a regular meal there.

The Happy Hour Dry-Rubbed Boneless Chicken Wings ($1 each) at Red Heat Tavern. (Nice heat and the meat was tender!)

At Red Heat Tavern, the mesquite-marinated wings are the best example of what they mean by fire and flavor. Priced at $1 each, your wing options consist of bone-in or boneless with a choice of Dry Rubseasoned with 11 herbs and spices, Buffalo, and Sweet Thai. I selected 3 of the boneless Dry Rub wings, which came out with a nice coating of seasoning that was flavorful with a slow-building heat. The slow heat lets you savor it and enjoy it longer versus the immediate fire of a Buffalo-style sauce. The chicken wings themselves were tender and moist, from first bite to last.

Happy Hour Fried Pickles at Red Heat Tavern. (A lot fried pickles for $5, so it’s plenty for 2 people.)

For my second choice, I tried the Fried Pickles for $5 served with a sriracha aioli. As soon as they arrived, I realized that this is an option best suited for two or more people because they do not skimp on the quantity. I ate and ate, but it still looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in the number of fried pickle chips in front of me. These house-made, battered bread and butter pickles were nicely fried for a crispy texture and brought the heat both from being freshly fried and from the batter itself.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

While I do feel like the Happy Hour menu could use some additions and some better descriptions of the offerings, Manager Taylor O’Neill said they are planning to make some enhancements now that they’re been up and running for a while. However, that discussion really didn’t factor into my evaluation. At this point, based on my experience, I feel the Friday Happy Hour service, drinks and food offerings at Red Heat Tavern worthy of my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Visit the main web site at redheattavern.com for more information, including the full menu, hours, etc. Then drop by this Friday from 3 PM – 6 PM to check out their Happy Hour for yourself and let me know what you think!

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Friday Happy Hour Review: Plaza Azteca in Manchester Is The Perfect Venue To Make Your Own End Of The Week Fiesta

October 16, 2018

Traditionally, America has been a great melting pot of diverse cultures and their influences. And, from the Kosher deli to the sushi bar to the taco stand, food and drink are at the forefront of this melding to the point of being almost ubiquitous. They add variety to our lives and culture … and that includes Friday Happy Hour. Two weeks ago, I reviewed The Blue Elephant Trail in West Hartford (***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***), a Thai place, which offered a fresh Friday Happy Hour experience. This week, I went Mexican, for another refreshing departure, with my review of Plaza Azteca in Manchester.

*Fiesta – (Spanish for “festival” or “party”) … a celebration!

A Smiling Face Is Inviting
In Any Language

very friendly and very efficient!, Luis (my bartender at Plaza Azteca) was always smiling!

At the end of a long week, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a warm smile. It can put you in the right mood to celebrate the beginning of the weekend. Luis, my bartender at Plaza Azteca, was all smiles and made me feel welcome from the moment I sat down at the bar. Never intrusive, but always attentive, he kept a close eye out to see what I needed, was very responsive in answering question,s and made sure I got what I wanted. Luis was everything a really good bartender should be to get your fiesta started –- friendly and efficient.

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

Liquid Happiness That’s Easy to Understand
And Hard to Resist

Made with tequila, rum, passion fruit juice, orange juice and grenadine, the $5 Mexican Hurricane is a at least a Category 4 on the flavor scale. Just be careful not to overindulge and get blown away.

Potent and delicious, the $5 Happy Hour cocktails at Plaza Azteca in Manchester let the good times roll, Mexican style. I started with the Mexican Hurricane (tequila, rum, passionfruit juice, orange juice, grenadine), which was just sweet enough to be irresistibly tasty while also strong enough to blow away all the past week’s problems.

The $5 Small Skinny Margarita is my idea of the perfect Margarita – tequila, agave and lime juice and nothing else! (The sour mix that’s often used in Margaritas gives me instant heartburn.)

For my second drink, I went with the Small Skinny Margarita (tequila, agave, lime juice), which was the essence of what a Margarita should be in my opinion (which, since this is my blog, rules). I’ve never been fond of the Margarita or sour mix that most places use because it’s too sweet and gives me heartburn. This Margarita was simply “perfecto!”

One word of caution. Like many of the mixed drinks at most of the Happy Hours I’ve visited, these cocktails are as potent as they are delicious. *Please use caution – getting arrested for DUI or having an accident will ruin your fiesta pronto.

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

Feed The Need And Spice Up Your Fiesta Mood
With A Range Of Temptations

With selections at multiple price points (from $3 to $6), the Happy Hour food menu at Plaza Azteca offers a lot of variety, which really is the spice of life (especially in Mexican cuisine). I opted for the Taquitos (with chicken filling and no cheese per my request). Mildly spicy with tender chicken, the Taquitos were very tasty. Normally, I order two appetizers, but this one was satisfying filling. Definitely a good choice for your own personal fiesta!

Rating: Excellent (Excelente)!

 The Ambiance Is Comfortable
And Says “Welcome (Bienvenido)!”

Sure, the interior has the expected faux adobe and wood look that permeates the typical American version of a Mexican restaurant, but it’s done reasonably well here. The bar area is nice with dark wood and tile-look bar top that gives a cozy, inviting feel. It’s as authentic as it needs to be to create the illusion in Manchester that we’re enjoying a bit of Mexico and set the right mood for a little Friday Happy Hour celebration!

Rating: Good (Bueno)!

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Plaza Azteca carves out its own niche in a crowded market with its well-done Mexican theme that has excellent consistency from the décor to the drinks to the food to the hospitality. Luis, the bartender, was the epitome of a gracious host with a warm smile and exceptional service. Friday Happy Hour had all the makings of my own little fiesta, so I give it my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Check out them out online for location and other information, then visit them in person and let me know what you think.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you.

What’s on your mind? We welcome your comments and suggestions. Like the review? Agree? Disagree? Got a Friday Happy Hour you want us to review? Let us know.

Friday Happy Hour Bar Review: The Blue Elephant Trail Raises The Bar Thai-High In Bringing A Fresh Twist To Happy Hour!

October 2, 2018

This past Friday I experienced a new and very enjoyable Friday Happy Hour experience in West Hartford when I ventured into The Blue Elephant Trail at 7 S. Main Street. Not exactly sure what to expect, I arrived at the start (4 PM) of Happy Hour to find a nice little bar tucked into the long narrow confines of the restaurant. There was a couple in discussion at the near end of the bar, so I selected a seat (they get a plus for some of the most comfortable bar stools I’ve run across) at the far (a relative term in this case) end of the bar. Just as soon as I appeared situated, Sean the bartender came over with the Happy Hour menu and a very nice smile.

Adventure By The Glass:
Putting The Happy In Happy Hour

The Happy Hour cocktail menu features some intriguing options!
The Asian Pear martini was quite enjoyable and even inspired me to create my own Silk Pear martini.

The cocktails section of the menu offered a list of intriguing possibilities (all at only $5 each) to tempt me, especially the Asian Pear martini, which I ordered for my first libation. (I love pear-flavored martinis.) Noticing that Sean tested my drink with a short straw to make sure it was right before serving it was a good indication that this Happy Hour experience was going to be a bit different.

Sean, the bartender at The Blue Elephant Trail, was an engaging young man with an outgoing personality and obvious pride in his craft!

After sampling the Asian Pear martini (which consists of Ginger Vodka, Pear Vodka and White Cranberry) and finding it to be a taste-tempting treat that was spot on for smoothness and flavor, I engaged Sean in conversation about the brand of pear vodka he used. This led into a very interesting exchange after I mentioned I was a mixologist and he explained about his bartender training (apparently, he had an excellent teacher). It is always a pleasure to meet a bartender who truly takes pride in the mixology aspect of their craft.

The Spiked Thai Iced Tea featured an international cast of ingredients that created an amazing flavor that was irresistible!

Although I would have thoroughly enjoyed having a second Asian Pear, my work as a reviewer requires that I experiment with as much of the menu as possible. Since several of the other drinks looked to be quite interesting, I asked Sean for his suggestion. He immediately recommended the Spiked Thai Iced Tea (made with an international list of ingredients: Thai Iced Tea, Spiced Rum, Bourbon and Irish Cream), so I agreed to give it a try.  It was amazing! A creamy delight that I can only describe as unexpectedly tasting a bit like an Asian eggnog, it proved to be totally irresistible.

Their drink offerings definitely brought an enjoyable sense of adventure to Happy Hour!

Food Earns Good F’s:
Fast, Fun and Flavorful

As you can see, the Satay Chicken was so good that I finished it before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture of it.

The Blue Elephant Trail Happy Hour food menu Thai’s together (a bad pun, but it’s fun) familiar aspects of Asian appetizers with a Thai twist, which makes it all the more enjoyable. While Sean highly recommended the Thai wings and wraps, which I’m sure were delicious, I opted for something a little less messy to eat, starting with the Satay Chicken ($3). It consisted of two decent-sized skewers of grilled marinated chicken served with a peanut curry sauce and cucumber relish. I have had variations of this at other places before and it has often been dry and chewy. Fortunately, however, this was moist, tender and very tasty with just the right amount of spice to tingle the taste buds.

This time I remembered to take the picture BEFORE I devoured them!

For my second choice, I picked the Spring Rolls ($2). Small, but packed with flavor, these crisp rolls had a nice crunch and a delicious vegetable filling.

I can easily recommend both the Satay Chicken and Spring Rolls as perfect choices that arrived quickly and tasted great. And you definitely can’t argue with the prices! One other food-related note: you can stop by Happy Hour and also get take-out for dinner.

A Decidedly Different Ambiance:
Intimately Inviting yet Comfortably Exotic

Here In Connecticut, as most places in America, Asian restaurants run the gamut from hole-in-the-wall takeout places to fine (and expensive) dining establishments. The Blue Elephant Trail has carved out an interesting niche with a tastefully done interior featuring an attractive, modern bar with just enough Asian touches to make it feel a bit out of the ordinary and just small enough to feel warmly welcoming. They also have a sidewalk patio that should offer a beautiful view of the fall leaves on the trees lining South Main Street.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

By now, I’m sure you’ve already figured out that The Blue Elephant Trail has earned my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** for Friday Happy Hour! The ambiance, the drink selection, and the food choices together with Sean’s friendly, outgoing personality and pride in his craft behind the bar make The Blue Elephant Trail worth a try.

Check them out online at blueelephanttrail.com for hours, directions and more.

Tell them the Dark Diva sent you!

AS ALWAYS, WE INVITE YOUR COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.

The Cook And The Bear Comes Out Smokin’ In My Friday Happy Hour Review!

August 18, 2018

The blog post represents a slight change in format going forward. We’re separating each week’s review into its own blog post to make it a quicker read for you. Any other news or information for the week, such as drink recipes, liquor/liqueur comparisons, new videos and more will be posted to this blog later in the week. Let us know what you think of the new format.

My first introduction to The Cook and The Bear was in an online article listing the “supposedly” best Happy Hours in West Hartford. (I say “supposedly” because I haven’t tried most of them yet to give them my rating, EXCEPT for Max’s Oyster Bar, which earned my top rating 6 weeks ago.) After reading about it, I admit that I was curious to see if it was the real deal, especially since I’m from the South where “barbecue” is a religion unto itself. So, not totally sure what to expect, I made the trip to West Hartford this past week to evaluate their Friday Happy Hour.

The Cook and The Bear Brings
An Uptown Rustic Twist to Happy Hour

Located in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square on the corner of Memorial and
Raymond, The Cook and The Bear is a short walk from the Memorial Parking Garage. (As a useful aside, try downloading the Passport Parking app to your smartphone for an easy, convenient way to pay for your parking.) Somewhat unassuming on the outside, The Cook and The Bear is quite interesting inside. It blends butcher block tops for the bar and tables, with white wood, white tile, and red and white checkered napkins. It feels upscale, but still quite as inviting and comfortable as any place that serves BBQ/barbecue (there are so many arguments about which term to use that I’m using both just to avoid getting into that battle) should be.

Efficient Service
with a Relaxed, Friendly Vibe

Aaron, the bartender, had the friendly, laid back vibe going on, while never missing a beat on service!

Since I arrived right at 4 pm when their Friday Happy Hour started, it was quiet at the long bar with only one other person seated near the opposite end. Aaron, the bartender, brought me the menus promptly and gave me a few minutes to decide what I wanted. Throughout my time there, he took good care of me and was quick to respond to a request. Even as it started to get busier around 4:30, he appeared to keep everything comfortably under control. My drinks were well made, and my food was delivered without missing a beat. Plus, Aaron was wearing a tropical shirt that just added to the laid back, welcoming mood.

A Fresh Twist
on Cocktail Thyme

The “too much thyme” cocktail was quite enjoyable! (The Dark Diva loves tequila!!!)

When it comes to Happy Hour, I’m all about the cocktail specials … and The Cook and The Beardelivered. Although the Happy Hour cocktail menu only has 4 mixed drink specials for $7each (which is a little on the pricey side), the two I tried were excellent. Intrigued by the “too much thyme” recipe of tequila, thyme, blackberry and lemon, I had to make that my first choice. It was a wise decision. The drink proved refreshingly different with just enough lemon tartness to balance the sweetness of the blackberry, while the thyme and tequila played nicely together in a uniquely delicious flavor profile. I would have loved to order a second one, but as a reviewer I always have to try other drinks on the menu.

The “c&B old fashion” is a new favorite of mine!

For my second drink, I ordered the “c&b old fashion” made with their private single barrel of Knob Creek bourbon, which turned out to be another smart move. The large twist of orange peel provided a bright aroma that promised good things to come as the orange sweetness blended nicely with the smooth, mellow warmth of the Knob Creek. I would order that drink again in a heartbeat.

It’s not the size of the specialty drink selection, but rather the distinctness of the drinks that I find important. And whether it was the surprising mix of ingredients or the high-end liquor used (which justified the drink prices), The Cook and The Bear deserves recognition for their Happy Hour cocktails. (Of course, you’ll also find wine and beer Happy Hour specials, but as a mixologist I tend to focus on the mixed drinks.)

I Could Have Pigged Out
on Their Pulled Pork Slider

This pulled pork slider was a taste of heaven!

An important part of any Happy Hour menu is the food. Along with the social aspect of sharing good times over both food and drink, it’s also a smart way to test out a restaurant before investing time and money on dinner. The Cook and The Bear offered a nice range of Happy Hour menu options. Naturally, I had to try their pulled pork slider, which consisted of a generous portion of pulled pork topped with slaw on a biscuit. Simply put, it was to die for! The biscuit was the perfect lightness without falling apart from the pulled pork’s juices. The pork itself was moist and flavorful, while the slaw added just the right amount of tangy crispness. Needless to say, it disappeared rather quickly. Fortunately, it was only $3, so I ordered and devoured another one. It’s a standout among Happy Hour food choices that I highly recommend!

You Have To Make Your Own Happiness,
But The Right Venue Helps

When it comes to Friday Happy Hour, you want a place that provides all the elements that make it easy for you get into the right frame of mind to celebrate surviving the week and to look forward to the weekend – excellent drinks, tasty food, superior service and a friendly ambiance. That ambiance can range from a few smiling faces to a large crowd of people laughing and talking. As I mentioned earlier, it was pretty quiet when I arrived at 4, but around 4:30, more people started coming in. They brought a fresh dynamic of laughter and conversation that just made it feel like the right place to be.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

There really isn’t any place quite like The Cook and The Bear for Friday Happy Hour. Not your typical BBQ joint, it’s a fusion of rustic country casual and uptown cool that serves intriguing drinks and really good pulled pork in friendly, efficient fashion. It should not come as a surprise then that Friday Happy Hour at The Cook and The Bear earns my highest rating of ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***!

Check them out online at thecookandthebear.com for more information, then try them out.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

As always, we invite your comments and suggestions.

 

 

Burtons Grill Raises The Bar For Friday Happy Hour In South Windsor … Inspiration Strikes For A Clearly Different Cosmo … And Queen Cayenne Lights You Up With A Twisted Tabasco® ‘Tini!

September 4. 2018

Well, meteorological fall may have begun, but we’re in the midst of another summer heatwave here in CT! This is ridiculous! I’m ready for a touch of fall chill!!! In the interim, I have some excellent ways to beat the heat starting with a new Friday (or any other day) Happy Hour destination – Burtons Grill & Barat Evergreen Walkin South Windsor!

Managing Expectations Is Easy,
If You Consistently Exceed Them!

While I have so far found a lot to like about all the bars/happy hours I’ve visited, Burtons definitely raised the bar on my future expectations, which will create a challenge for the next stops on my list. Admittedly, having never been there before, I had no idea what to expect when I visited Burtons this past Friday. I soon learned to expect a lot, starting with the first server I encountered.

Having parked in the lot behind Burtons, I walked around to the side of the patio where a server immediately asked if I was going to bar and, when I said yes, opened the door for me as if were instinctive. Inside, the bar appearance had a nice, classic contemporary vibe with a mix of wood, granite and glass. Choosing an empty seat at the closest corner, I was quickly greeted by Fabian, one of the two bartenders on duty, who presented me with several menus (drink specials and the main menu)to peruse. Here I encountered my first big surprise!

Burtons White Cosmo $5 Happy Hour Special! Yes, that’s my purple lipstick on the rim. 🙂

Online, the Happy Hour drink menu seems a bit limited with regards to mixed drinks as it only specified $5 premium cocktails with a $2 surcharge for martinis and manhattans. What I found in person was the backside of that menu, which featured 6 different specialty cocktails – 3 Mules, an Old Fashion, a White Cosmo, and a Sangria. Now, I was quite intrigued by the White Cosmo, so I ordered it to begin. A mix of New Amsterdam vodka, Tuaca, white cranberry juice and lime syrup, it was a bit tart to start, but quickly grew on me. (I was surprised to see it used Tuaca, an Italian liqueur I am quite fond of after being introduced to it by ex’s Sicilian uncle. Plus, it spurred memories of the Winterberry Cosmo I had at Bonefish Grill several years ago.) It was so good, it inspired me to create The Twisted Cosmo Blanco (recipe can be found later in this post).

Food For Thought And Taste …

Perfectly prepared and presented, the Seared Tuna Sashimi was absolutely delish!

On the online menu, it simply says ask about their ½ price shareables. What that means is that their appetizers are half off during Happy Hour. It’s a decent selection which is sure to offer something to most people. For me, the Seared Tuna Sashimipiqued my interest, so I chose it for round one. When Fabianasked me if wanted chopsticks, that sparked a short, humorous discussion about learning how to eat with them. From the presentation to the last bite, it was a fabulous dish that I would order again in a heartbeat. (I even managed to eat it all using chopsticks with only one minor embarrassment when a piece of tuna fell out of the chopsticks before it got to my mouth … haha!)

Round Two Was A Mixed Bag But Still Good!

After finishing my White Cosmo and Seared Tuna Sashimi, I was eager to check out more of their offerings. The couple to my right had ordered the Point Judith Calamari, which looked tasty and which they recommended as calamari connoisseurs (which my ex and I sued to be as well), so I decided to try it with an Old Fashion (my first time trying one). At this point, Caleb was tending to my needs because he and Fabian were tag teaming in perfect harmony serving guests at the bar in addition to handling restaurant drink orders at the service bar. Both bartenders delivered flawless service from start to finish.

My first, but not my last, Old Fashion!

When my Point Judith Calamari arrived, I found it to be a bit crispier than I prefer. That is not a knock on it, but simply an acknowledgement that we all have different tastes. The couple who recommended it really liked it and it was not bad at all. It’s just that I prefer mine fried just a little lighter. In any case, they were tasty and not the least bit greasy. The Old Fashion was quite interesting because it was something new for me, but quite enjoyable and worth trying!

High Marks For Friendliness …
On Both Sides Of The Bar!

As followers of my blog know, I place a very high premium on attitude, especially behind the bar. At the same time, however, a friendly crowd on my side of the bar also speaks volumes about the quality of any establishment. I wound up sitting between two couples who were quite friendly and enjoyable to converse with during my time there. One couple professed to be regulars, while the other couple were certainly no strangers to the place. Their glowing remarks along with my own experience made it easy to see why this could become a regular Happy Hour spot for me. Simply put, you rarely find bad people at good happy hours or vice versa.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

With 15 locations along the East Coast, Burtons may be a chain, but it’s atypical. It sets an upscale standard without being stuffy or over impressed with itself, as evidenced by the friendly attitude of the servers, bartenders and patrons. That in and of itself is worthy of my ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***rating. At the same time, the seasonal drink specials and food options set a very high standard for enjoyable quality and value!

Check out their menus, hours and more at burtonsgrill.com.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

Burtons’ White Cosmo Inspired
A Clearly Different Dark Diva Martini –
The Twisted Cosmo Blanco

It’s Maggie McFly’s Mexican Cosmo meets Burtons White Cosmo with a Dark Diva twist in The Twisted Cosmo Blanco! Party all night long, whether you should or not, with this irresistible concoction!

In a glass with ice, combine:
• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Blue Agave Silver Tequila
• 0.5 oz. Patrón Citron Extra Fine Lime Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Patrón Citron Extra Fine Orange Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. Ocean Spray® White Cranberry Juice
Stir, pour into a chilled martini glass, and toast a total loss of inhibitions!!!! Cheers!

Queen Cayenne Will Light You Up
And Burn You Down –
Welcome To Queen Cayenne’s Red-Hot Gator Club

As a tribute to #Tabasco and #NCISNOLA, 2 of my faves, my alter ego came up with this hot, not for the faint, concoction — Queen Cayenne’s Avery Island “Fire-tini” AKA A Twisted TabascoⓇ‘Tini! Nobody brings the heat like Queen Cayenne!

In a glass with ice, combine:
1.5 oz. Sazerac® Rye Straight Rye Whiskey
0.5 oz. Chartreuse Liqueur
0.5 oz. Mathilde Pêche (Peach) Liqueur
4 dashes Tabasco® Pepper Sauce

Stir, pour into a chilled martini glass, and toast the fire within! Cheers!

Hope you enjoyed this edition of Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog.
Thanks fore checking it out.
Please let us know what you think!

 

 

If the World Is My Oyster, Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford Just Might Be The Pearl!

August 13. 2018

Hot and wet is the basic story of summer in Connecticut this year. Lately, rain has been a constant feature in our weather. Fortunately, I found a break in the weather pattern Friday afternoon and ventured down to West Hartford to visit the Happy Hour at Max’s Oyster Bar. (As an aside, I hate I-84 so I took the supposedly longer way through Windsor and Bloomfield and avoided some nasty traffic.)

Max’s Oyster Bar is located at 964 Farmington Ave. West in West Hartford Center, which means parking can be a challenge. I followed recommendations and parked in the Brace Road public parking lot. It cost me $2.25 for a little less than 1.5 hours. It was also easy get in and out without traffic issues.

The fourth restaurant opened by Richard Rosenthal’s Max Restaurant Group. Max’s Oyster Bar launched in 1999 and has apparently never looked back. Having had friends go there and rave about it, I decided it was time for The Dark Diva to do a bar review, especially since I love shellfish. For a variety of reasons, I opted to evaluate the Friday Happy Hour, since it both marks the end of the week for many folks and sets the tone for their weekend. By that standard, ending your week at Max’s Oyster Bar should assure a stellar weekend.

The Simple Things Make The Biggest Difference

I arrived a few minutes early and found a seat at the bar, which was still fairly full, apparently from a late lunch crowd. Alysa, who would be my bartender, brought me a Happy Hour menu and explained that Happy Hour would be starting in just a few minutes, so I informed her I would wait. In reviewing any bar, the bartender really sets the entire mood for your visit, good or bad. Fortunately, Alysa was spot on in making sure that I was served efficiently without long waits and always with a smile. (It was an important reason for the rating I gave Max’s Oyster Bar — you would be surprised at how often those simple keys are totally missed by some supposedly high-end bars.)

A Menu Made To Order

Cool, refreshing and pleasantly different, the $5 Happy Hour Pom Margarita was a nice choice to start my Happy Hour!

While perhaps not overly large, the Happy Hour menu is easy to navigate and offers a number of appealing options at the prevalent $5 price-point with a few exceptions, like 3 oysters on the half-shell for $4, buck a shuck clams and a $4 oyster shooter. It includes mixed drinks, beer and wine plus selections from the raw bar, oyster bar classics, snacks and street tacos. As a mixologist, I naturally gravitated to the $5 mixed drink selections, choosing a Pom Margarita (El Jimador tequila, lime juice and pomegranate juice). It was quite tasty, albeit maybe a bit sweet (as to be expected with pomegranate juice), but still a very enjoyable way to start my weekend.

I had been too busy eating my oysters (they were very good and I was hungry), so that I had to hurry up and grab this shot right before the plate got replaced by the calamari (which is why it’s bit blurred).

For my first course, I chose the 3 for $4 oysters which arrived with horseradish sauce and disappeared in a blur (I love oysters and I was quite hungry). The oysters were of decent size and appealing quality. I followed up with an order of Point Judith calamari, which was lightly fried with hot peppers and served with both a red sauce and a white sauce. Being something of a calamari connoisseur (I love calamari and have tried it all throughout New England as well as outside the region), I found this version to be delicious. In fact, the calamari disappeared almost as fast as the oysters. (Sadly, neither Happy Hour dish was around long enough for me to take a decent picture. Haha!)

The Max Manhattan was a good choice with a nice smoothness as the sweet vermouth and orange bitters perfectly mellowed the taste of the whiskey.

Upon finishing the Pom Margarita, I opted to try a Max Manhattan (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Dolin sweet vermouth and orange bitters). Part of my rationale for selecting this particular drink was that I had never tried a Manhattan before. This was an excellent introduction with just the right amount of sweetness to temper the whiskey.

The Best Ambiance Includes Smiles and Conversation

Even though I was at the very end of a long, busy bar, there were enough bartenders so that Alysa could give those of us at my end the attention we deserved. She never gave the impression of being harried, overwhelmed or anything except a readiness to take care of our needs with a smile.

Speaking of smiling, I also judge a Happy Hour (and bars in general) on the friendliness of their customers. If people are willing to say hello and maybe strike up some basic conversation, I consider that a tribute to the type of people the bar/Happy Hour attracts. And I wound up talking to a number of folks at my end of the bar.

Over a little less than 1.5 hours, I had a very pleasant Happy Hour experience while enjoying two not-so-common mixed drinks, fresh oysters on the half-shell, some excellent calamari and some good conversation at a total cost before tip of $20.20. Not bad at all.

***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED***

Max’s Oyster Bar Happy Hour earns my highest rating as being ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** for its excellent service, delicious Happy Hour menu with good value and overall ambiance. It’s definitely worth a trip to West Hartford to check it out. Their Happy Hours are 4-6pm Monday-Saturday and 3-6pm Sunday. You can find their menus, directions and more on their web site at maxrestaurantgroup.com/oyster.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

An Inspired Dark Diva Is A Dangerous Thing

It’s not often that I find myself truly inspired by somebody else’s drink recipe. While I have developed a number of popular pomegranate martini recipes on my own, none of them had started with tequila.

Meet the Dark Diva Twisted POM-arita-tini! It was inspired by the Pom Margarita I had at Max’s Oyster Bar during my visit on Friday, naturally with a few lethal Dark Diva twists! In a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

After mixing, strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy (carefully). Cheers!

Want to live over the edge? Hide your keys and get ready to tango with the dark side with The Twisted Tango POM-arita-tini AKA The Aztec Death Wish! First, make out a will and leave any valuables to me. (Hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying.) Next, in a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

As you may have noticed, I don’t just push the envelope. Oh, hell no, I like to shred it!

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.5 oz. Patrón Citrónge® Extra Fine Mango Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

Strain into a chilled martini glass, arrange pillows on floor to cushion your fall and enjoy! Cheers!

Here’s to Your Health:
How The Gin & Tonic Helped Fight Malaria

Say what? That’s right, back in the 1800’s when the British Empire stretch practically around the world, lending credence to the term “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” malaria was the scourge of the British military and civilians in the more tropical regions. While quinine had been discovered to be an excellent preventative as well as a cure, it was extremely bitter. Though it was mixed with tonic water, people hated the taste so much they’d rather take their chances with malaria.

Based on a very simple recipe, the gin and tonic is a classic drink, especially for summer. At the same time, I like to try it with different gins, and add liqueurs like Wild Moon(R) Cucumber for something uniquely refreshing.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Since gin was extremely popular with the British, someone came up with idea of mixing it with the heavily quinine-laced tonic water to produce a much more palatable means of getting people to take their quinine. The addition of the lime comes from the Royal Navy which always carried limes to help fight scurvy among its sailors (which accounts for how “limey” became a slang term for a British sailor and later the British in general). The Royal Navy had discovered earlier that lime helped improve the taste of the quinine tonic water, so it was natural to keep it when they added the gin. And this is how the gin and tonic we know today was created. (Today, however, there is virtually no quinine in tonic water.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my medicine! Cheers!

NOTE: I had originally planned to talk about Chartreuse Liqueur in this post, but I have some more things to check out first. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

Thanks for reading Miss Bri’s Fresh & Twisted Blog. Please let us know what you think about our posts, ask questions or suggest places you’d like us to review. And please share the link with your friends!