Florida means different things to different people. You have Walt Disney World, sunshine, alligators, the Everglades, and miles of wide-open beaches — to name just a few. And then there's Florida's Gulf Coast, offering endless stretches of powder white sand despite the ravages of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill several years ago. Clearwater Beach sits right in the middle and is studded with a wide variety of beachfront lodgings, ranging from charming mom and pop motels to grand luxury hotels, and just so happens to be the home of the Clearwater Beach Uncorked food and wine adventure (which celebrated its third year last month).
Wine Tastings & Chef Cooking Demonstrations
Uncorked not only gives you an excuse to party, but it also gives you a chance to get inspired by new recipes and ways of preparing dishes that fit into your everyday routine. Instead of watching top tier celebrity chefs prepare mostly inaccessible dishes, like soufflés or those requiring exotic ingredients, Uncorked gives hope to those of us stuck in a cookbook-centric rut.
As one of the sponsors, Publix offered a line-up of chefs from their Aprons Cooking School, leading numerous demonstrations providing actionable ways to improve the quality of your diet by exploring new flavor combinations and utilizing fresh local ingredients. One demonstration challenged preconceived notions about what pairs best with chocolate by giving the audience a chance to discover how kumquats, sweet potato chips, and beef tips dipped in melted Lindt chocolate differ in flavor profile.
Wine is of course a major part of Uncorked, but to be honest, I didn't spend much time examining wine labels here. A regional stand out was Florida Orange Groves Winery, offering a wide array of tropical fruit wines like key lime, mango, and guava. Jamieson Ranch and Dreaming Tree Wines were also offering some impressive selections. Navigating the tasting tent required developing a strategy for when and where to score samples as crowds ebbed and flowed alongside many of the tables. Grabbing small plates of the seemingly endless seafood paella and Birds Eye stir-fry, paired up with available reds or whites, worked perfectly well for me.
Small Batch Liquors
This section of the festivities was a hidden gem in an outdoor alcove underneath the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, another sponsor of the event. Imagine a college party getting started, but without Bud Light kegs and Jell-O shots. There were plenty of opportunities for sampling small batch liquor producers like Deep Eddy, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Fish Hawk Spirits, Templeton Rye and the biggest palate tempter for me, Midnight Moon's Apple Pie moonshine. I'm thinking an apropos cocktail recipe for this one would be a Baked Apple: cinnamon and raisin liquors mixed with this specialty moonshine topped with a spritz of caramel syrup.
Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach
Speaking of the Hyatt Regency, do yourself a favor and reserve a room there for next year's Uncorked. You'll be right on-site so you can saunter down onto the beach just as the line is forming at the entrance. And when you need a break, take the quick walk back to your room, which is outfitted with a full kitchen. There's also the Sandava Spa on the seventh floor, where you will find a menu full of organic treatments to get your body rejuvenated for another day exploring the food festival.
Plus, the hotel is right on the city's Beach Walk (which recently underwent $30 million in renovations), so you're right next to a plethora of shops and the town pier. Did I mention you are right across the street from Clearwater Marina and a 15 minute walk away from the aquarium, home of Winter, the famous tail-less dolphin who starred in the film Dolphin Tale?
If you missed this year's Uncorked, you better start planning for next year's event, because you're certainly not going to want to miss it!