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Friday, December 28, 2012

New Beer Friday - December 28 Edition

Picture of the Year Runner-Up,
The boss and his nephew at Deer Camp
By Chris Siciliano

Call it providence. The last New Beer Friday of the year arrives with only one new beer to introduce to our loyal readers. Some might consider that a shame; here at The Buzz, we consider it an opportunity—an opportunity to revisit a few of our favorite Buzz posts from 2012.

Before we get to all that, here's the description for the one, the only new beer to arrive this week at Siciliano's. Enjoy!

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Frankenmuth 150th Anniversary Dark Lager, $24.19/33oz - "Celebrating 150 years of brewing history, Frankenmuth Brewery this week filled and labeled 1,862 bottles of a limited edition dark lager that includes some of an original batch of Frankenmuth Dark, first brewed in the 1940s. The one-liter bottles of 150th Anniversary Frankenmuth Dark Lager went on sale at the brewery Tuesday and remaining bottles will be sold through select Michigan retailers beginning the week of Dec. 3, brewery officials said. The original Frankenmuth Dark—which was kept under lock and key for an occasion such as this—was blended into the anniversary beer by brewmaster Jeff Coon" (source: The Detroit Free Press).
(Among) The Best of the Buzz, 2012

Please note: With over 200 posts in 2012, it was no easy task picking "The Best of The Buzz." If your personal favorite post didn't make it on the list, by all means, please let us know! 

Picture of the Year

Sam Siciliano, patriarch of the Siciliano family,
makes a grand entrance at his grandson's wedding.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

One More Year: A Christmas Story

By Steve Siciliano

When Michael Adams pulled into the driveway the woman was just starting her fourth attempt at making a pie crust. Before going into the house, Michael picked up a fire truck, a soccer ball and an over-sized plastic bat off the lawn and then did a quick pass with a shovel on the front porch steps. Five minutes later when he walked into the kitchen the woman didn’t look up at him. “He’s in his bedroom,” she told him.

Michael watched the woman’s face while she attacked the flattened disc of dough with a rolling pin. “Any idea what’s wrong?” he asked her.

“He won’t tell me. I hope you remembered the pie filling.”

“I did. It’s right here.” Michael put a paper bag on the table then went to the foyer to hang up his heavy winter jacket and take off his boots. On his way back through the kitchen he spotted two pools of melting snow on the linoleum, glanced at his wife, then wiped them dry with his stocking feet. When he was walking down the hallway he heard something slam hard against the counter top.

“What is it Susan?” he called out.

“You bought the wrong stuff. I specifically told you pumpkin pie filling.”

“Isn’t that what I got?”

“No. You bought plain pumpkin.”

“I’m sorry, Susan,” Michael said. “I’ll go back to the store after I talk to Joey.” He stood for a moment in the hallway and when no other sounds came from the kitchen he tapped on the bedroom door, opened it, and saw his five-year old son lying on the bed staring at the ceiling.

“Hey, buddy,” Michael said. “Is it okay if I come in?”

The boy turned and faced the wall. “I guess.”

Michael closed the door, sat on the bed and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Mom told me there’s something bothering you.”

The boy reached out and followed a line of smiling, drum-playing monkeys on the wallpaper with his fingers.

“Don’t you want to tell me?” Michael asked.

The boy turned on his back and put a pillow over his face.
“What was that?” Michael asked. “You know I can’t hear you when you talk into your pillow.”

“I said you lied to me.”

“I did? When did I lie to you?”

The boy took the pillow off his head and threw it across the room. “Dicky Brown laughed at me when I told him we were putting cookies out tonight for Santa Claus. He said Santa Claus is nothing but a big lie.”

Michael looked at the tears pooling in his son’s eyes and thought about the wooden sled, the Star Wars figures and the big box of Legos that were hidden away in the attic. He thought about how now there would be no wonder in his son’s eyes when he woke to find those things under the tree on Christmas morning. Michael was hoping for at least one more year of vicarious enchantment.

“There’s a difference between a nice story and a big lie, Joey,” Michael told his son. “Sometimes it’s hard when we have to stop believing in things, in wonderful things, but parents tell stories to their children because they want them to be happy, not because they want to hurt them or be dishonest with them. And that’s a big difference. Does that make sense to you?”

Michael Adams wiped the tears that were rolling down his son’s cheeks. “Tell you what, buddy” he said. “Let’s pretend for one more year that Santa is real. I think it would be good for mom if we did. It will be our little secret. Do you think you can do that?”

Later, after going to the store for pumpkin pie filling, Michael and Joey Adams built a snowman, had a snowball fight and made snow angels on the front lawn. Before they went back into the warm house for big mugs of hot chocolate, they ran around the yard with their mouths opened wide and tried to get big, slow-falling flakes of snow to land on their tongues.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Beer Friday | December 21 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

According to some interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar, the world ends today. I don't buy it, personally. But if I'm wrong (I don't think I am), so be it. At least I go out knowing that I had a pretty good time in my 32 years, drank a few good beers, shared a few good meals with some pretty good people, friends and family anybody in their right mind would count lucky to have.

Of course it would be extremely inconvenient if the world did end today, what with a promising new brewery opening up just north of Grand Rapids. That reminds us: Congratulations to the guys at Rockford Brewing Company! The crew at Siciliano's hopes your first weekend in business falls well short of apocalyptic.

Please visit RBC's official Facebook page for hours, directions, special events, and news. For a list of the newest beers to arrive at Siciliano's, just keep reading!

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Lakefront Wheat Monkey, $1.49/12oz - "Wheat Monkey Ale captures the fresh, unfiltered spontaneity of our brewers' creativity. Crisp and refreshing year-round, this American Wheat Ale pours a lazy, hazy golden color. Its large, white, foamy head can be attributed to the generous amount of malted white wheat added to the mash. The aroma is enhanced by our fruity house ale yeast and its fresh baked bread flavors are perfectly balanced with a Cascade hop addition. This easy drinking wheat beer pairs well with a wide range of foods, such as green salads, feta and gouda cheeses, steamed or baked seafood, and grilled chicken" (source).
  • Darkhorse Tres Blueberry Stout, 2.69/12oz - "A full bodied stout made with all malted barley and blueberry. Flavors of chocolate, roast malt and light blueberry make up the palate with lots of fruity blueberry aroma" (source).
  • Epic Elder Brett, $12.09/22oz - "Epic Brewing Company’s latest barrel-aged beer brings something new—wild yeast. This brew is a collaboration ale with Crooked Stave Artisan Brewing of Fort Collins, Colorado. Chad Yakobson, Brewmaster/Owner of Crooked Stave, is well known for his skill and knowledge in the brewing of sour and Brettanomyces driven beers. The beer was brewed at Epic by the two brewers. Kevin Crompton, Epic’s Brewmaster, and Chad spent several weeks working on the recipe and selecting the proper Brett strains and barrels for the beer to morph from a golden Saison into a Saison-Brett Golden Ale" (source).
  • Epic Big Bad Baptist, 12.09/22oz - "It’s Big, it’s Bad, Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, with Coffee and Cocoa Nibs" (source).
  • Epic Blue Law Porter, $7.69/22oz - "This is a medium-bodied porter to which we added blackberry puree at the end of primary fermentation and finished it with spruce tip extract harvested from Blue Spruce trees found on the grounds of Utah’s State Capitol building. It has a roasting profile with a fruity tartness and an aftertaste of resinous spruce" (source).
  • Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12, $7.69/22oz - "Intense cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice with banana esters dominate up front. Hints of citrus arrive mid-palate, while molasses notes persevere in the finish along with a very nice dark-roasted malt dryness" (source).
  • Shorts Woodmaster, 2.19/12oz - "The auspicious blueprint of savory fermented delight extracted by formidable humans of the world" (source).
  • Blue Moon Impulsive, $10.79/22oz - "Wheat ale brewed with the juice of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes" (source).
Picture of the Week

Siciliano's staffer Doug Dorda and customer David Devries,
calm in the face of impending apocalypse.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Beware the "Local" Trap

By Wes Eaton

The buzzword “local” has grown in popularity in recent years. But more than this, notions of “being local” have accompanied an increasing number of projects and enterprises, and this is certainly true for West Michigan. But has “local” lost its bite? Is “local” at risk of being co-opted? If so, where do we draw the line, and who ought to draw it?

For me at least, notions of “local” are symbolically charged with concepts like authenticity, originality, limited availability, craftsmanship, integrity, and honesty. In other words, local products and local practices carry with them the normative assumption that they are better than such goods and services that are not local. What this seems to imply is that local goods are worthy of our trust. We have built up the notion of local to quite a high standard, and if this is indeed the case, my argument is that we need to listen to those who would caution against “the local trap.”

In 2006, two planners, Brandon Born and Mark Purcell, published a provocative paper titled Avoiding the Local Trap: Scale and Food Systems in Planning Research that made some points I’d like to share with my fellow West Michiganers. Before I go on, I want to point out that their agenda is not aligned with global corporations—entities we assume are threatened by our turn toward local economies. Rather, the authors are concerned that all the fanfare about being local has obscured many of the socially positive things “local” is actually taken to mean. In other words, the definition, use, and value of the concept of local is itself at the center of conflicting ideas of social betterment, and those who see local in the way I romanticized above had better take a closer look at how this powerful and meaningful concept is being put into play.

Like good planners, Born and Purcell unpack the notion of locality by pointing out that what this essentially implies is “scale.” They are anxious to point out the ways that scale, in this case, local versus global, has been misconstrued with socially positive concepts such as justice, sustainability, and democratization. In making this conceptual and emotive slip, we fall into the “local trap,” a pitfall that can blind us “to the most effective strategy for achieving desired ends.”

Thinking about this requires us to ask a couple key historical questions. How did we turn toward the local in the first place? And what were we turning from? Globalized food systems have been increasingly decried in the media and well as in everyday culture. If global food system players, such as, say, Anheuser-Busch InBev are the problem, then locally produced beer is the solution. Indeed this has been a rallying cry in our community for years now, especially from folks like me. But the “local trap” points out that there are limitations with this simplistic, black and white way of understanding the world, and understanding food systems in particular.

The point Born and Purcell stress is that we need to distinguish between issues of scale and issues of socially desirable practices and outcomes, whatever they may be in particular contexts. In other words, scale can creep in and supplant these other “desired ends.” Take beer for example: what are our collective “desired ends” for craft beer? Their paper has three specific things to say about distinguishing between “scale” and “desired ends.” First, scales (such as “local food”) are socially constructed, meaning they are contingent on political struggles. Second, scales are never stagnant, but are always in flux. They are a project that people work to achieve, but are continuously contested by other interests. Finally, scales are relational, meaning they only make sense in relation to other scales. Rather than taking scales such as “local” or “global” at face value, they argue, we ought to interrogate how the relationships between scales are fixed and unfixed by people pursuing specific political, social, economic, and ecological goals. We should ask why a particular scale is better than others for achieving specific goals, “and these goals should be distinguished from the scale used to pursue these ends.”

What can we learn from and how can we use these insights? While our answers are likely contingent on our own personal or professional interests, the first advice I might offer is that the ends we are all looking to pursue need to be made more clear, and following Born and Purcell, distinguished from “scale.” We need to ask, is “being local” an end in itself, or is it a means to an end? While Born and Purcell might argue the latter, I would think that others would agree with my pointing out that this does not tell the whole story. In some cases being local is clearly concomitant with socially, ecologically, and economically positive ends. Take the case of restaurants and chefs who seek out locally grown and produced food and beer so as to reduce pollution from transportation, resist the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, and support an up and coming generation of small farmers. This story and others like it certainly resonates in West Michigan. But does local automatically mean these things? Many of you, I’m sure, can think of examples where the notion of “local” has been exploited by people both powerful and less so, instances where the product and service fell far short of the promise that came—and we knowingly or unwittingly attributed—with the glowing badge of “being local.” After all, all places are in effect “local” if we are near them. In this sense then, local is a pretty low standard. My argument, then, is this: we take a lot of pride and have a lot at stake in our local goods and services. Beyond “scale,” let’s emphasize exactly why what we have to contribute is authentic, integral, unique, and substantially important for our economies, communities, and cultures.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Family Tradition and a Tale Well Told

The author's father and niece
By Doug Dorda

When I was a young boy, I would stand just beyond the entrance to the living room and listen intently to the stories my parents and their friends shared among themselves at gatherings or parties. I distinctly remember the majesty of the setting: a warm fireplace bathed the room in a soft amber glow, shadows danced along the walls, and I stood as a silent observer with my head peaked around the corner so as not to interrupt the humorous, often entrancing tales that poured so freely from my family and their company. I imagine it was something akin to those classic Norman Rockwell paintings depicting the centuries-old tradition of stories told by those who love one another to one another so that we may come to know each other better.

I count myself lucky that my personal history is inundated with memories such as these, and I find that in their recollection I can immediately be transported to a place and time within my own past that is as vivid as if I were standing in that hallway right now. One such story has always colored my “holiday spirit” and I would like to recount that for you now.

My mother and father stood to the left of the fireplace, and our friends and neighbors sat amongst the couches and other furniture in the room. The fire was reduced to a mild blaze, and embers glowed deeply. The house was rich with the scents of a holiday feast, and every eye turned toward my father as he stepped forward, signaling that he was about to begin.

“I have met Santa Claus,” my father said with a smile and a deep voice that made me certain he was telling the truth. “A few years ago when my son Brandon was born, I was on the roof of the house putting up Christmas lights. Well, I lost my footing and began to slide toward the edge of the roof. I tried desperately to cling to the shingles, I clung to the string of lights, I splayed my feet out, and still I slid.

"The whole world seemed to spin and I knew the ground was cold and hard under the snow. Well, I thought, looks like I will be spending Christmas in the ER this year. Just as I went over the edge, a hand caught hold of mine and pulled me up onto the roof. I was in shock, as you may imagine, because I knew there was no one on the roof with me. I looked around, and a man with a white beard dressed in red overalls stood on the edge of the roof with his hands on his hips. As he looked up from the ground toward me, he said 'Almost decked your halls there, Wally'. 

"I laughed as he helped me to my feet. I thanked him over and over again before asking him who he was, and how the hell he got on my roof. 'I'm Chris,' he said, “I'm your new neighbor, just moved in a few days ago. I saw you up here with the lights and thought I would introduce myself and offer to lend a hand. Seems like I caught you before you took one last sleigh ride. Oh, and I got up here the same way you did. I used the ladder. I guess you forgot about that seeing how you tried to dismount the roof a minute ago.'

"'Welcome to the neighborhood, you jolly S.O.B', I replied with no small amount of sarcasm. I thanked Chris again, and he made good on helping me with the rest of the lights. After a few more hours work he calmly explained that his 'jingle bells' were freezing off and that he had to get going back to work.

"'Thank you again,' I said, "And hey, a word of advice, lay off the holiday puns.' Chris laughed at me as he descended the ladder and said that it was a side effect of his job. 'What is it you do?' I asked. As he sauntered down the street he called back:

"'I make toys, Wall. Maybe I'll bring some for your little boy.' I shouted a thank you, then quickly realized I had never asked him where he lived, or how to get in touch with him. I gingerly took to the ladder and tried to get down and catch him before he was too far off.

"'Merry Christmas, Walley. I'll see you next year.' Chris' voice came from the roof. Now how the hell did he get back up here, I wondered. I looked up and saw eight reindeer, and that pun-making, red-clad, jab-taking 'good Samaritan' parked in a sleigh on my roof. I thought for a moment that I had actually gone off the roof, and was experiencing some sort of hallucination. Santa, as I now knew he was, laughed at my dumb expression and took off into the sky.

"For a few months after that I was convinced that I was insane. I told no one the story until about the next December, not even my wife. Mary thought that I was spending too much time in the cold, and she insisted on helping me with the lights that year so that I didn’t make an ass of myself again. As we worked into that night I turned my eyes to the sky often, and I sighed. Mary was right, I thought, it must have all been a wonderful dream. When we had finished with the lights, and stood as a family in the yard admiring our work, I heard a hearty laugh that seemed to echo down the street. My eyes snapped back toward the road, and there he came, dressed just like the year prior, flying like a bat out of hell down the block. Presents appeared in every home as he passed, and our eyes met only once. Santa winked at me and said, 'See ya next year, Wall.'

"I know it sounds nuts, but every year I hear that laugh, I see his sleigh damn near breaking the sound barrier, and he says 'see ya next year.' Funny thing is, Mary never hears or sees him, but sure enough there are presents under the tree that I didn’t put there when I come inside. I hear him right now!"

With that my father would run outside and make everyone go with him. My brother and I would go out the back door and peek around corners to try and catch a glimpse of the mystical present man. Little did we know that it was our family's intent for us to do so. They knew well that we listened to the story and would run outside for a look. As soon as we left the house, one friend that was left behind would put presents under the tree so that as my father exclaimed, "Ah, you just missed him! There he goes!" and pointed into the sky we would be sure to find Santa's presents under the tree as we came inside.

Year after year it went on the same way. Sure the story changed a little here and there—the language became a little more colorful as my brother and I grew older and older. But the magic of the story and the sense of connection we all felt to it, never lessened. Eventually my brother and I grew too old to be tricked by the story any longer, and one Christmas Eve we wondered if it would be told ever again. However, our young nieces had never heard the story, as we observed, and so the tale is passed to a new generation.

The collaborative telling of and listening to tales is something that I personally view to be of the utmost importance in society. My father and mother felt the same way. Through the animated telling of tales you truly engage a group of people, you put smiles on their faces, but most important, you foster creative magic in those who can not wait to find their own tales to tell. It is my sincere hope that you all find time to come together with family, friends, or both and simply share your stories with one another. You may just find it to be one of the best presents you receive this holiday season.

From all of us at Siciliano's – Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Morning Musings: On Westy 12

Westvleteran 12*
By Steve Siciliano

Evidently it is not enough to have within our borders a stable of world class breweries, the reigning Beer City, USA, and a population so passionate about craft beer that the outdoor winter beer festival sells out in a matter of hours. Last week, Michigan was inexplicably excluded from a short list of states deemed worthy enough to be included in the first ever distribution to the American market of the highly regarded Belgian Trappist ale, Westvleteren 12.

Considered by some aficionados to be the best beer in the world, Westy 12 has heretofore been available only at the brewery, which means there is always a fair amount of this stuff floating around on the grey market. For whatever reason, Shelton Brothers, the importer and orchestrator of this “one time only” release, chose not to bring the Westy 12 “bricks” into our state. (The bricks include six 33cl bottles and two branded glasses in an attractive, brick wall looking package.) Other beer hot spots like Iowa, Alabama, Louisiana and Nevada were blessed recipients. 

What gives? I don’t know for sure but I have a feeling it probably had something to do with Michigan Liquor Control rules and regulations. Evidently Shelton brothers worked closely with local wholesalers to ensure only select retailers received allotments and this, I’m quite sure, wouldn’t have flown with the MLCC.

Would I have loved to have been able to market some of this heavenly juice? Of course. According to some internet beer sites, Siciliano’s is a “world class” beer store, and what retailer worthy of that virtual moniker wouldn’t? But at the same time I have to admit that I was somewhat relieved that we didn’t have to deal with all the accompanying craziness.

What are your thoughts on the Westy 12? Does its “best beer in the world” sobriquet have anything to do with the fact that it’s so hard to get? Let us know your thoughts by leaving them in the comments section below.

*Photo of Westy 12 by Bernt Rostad. Found by Buzz editors in Flickr Creative Commons. See terms of license here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Beer Friday - December 14 Edition

Customer Jackson Payer poses with
a Duvel holiday gift pack
By Chris Siciliano

Let's cut to the chase. As great as the holidays can be, there is always the added stress of finding the perfect gift for everybody on your list. For those unfortunate souls still struggling to come up with last minute gift ideas, Siciliano's has your answer: booze.

The way we see it, you have three fail-safe options when it comes to gifting booze: (1) give away the beer, wine, or cider you made yourself; (2) browse our extensive selection of professionally crafted alcoholic beverages for the most fitting libation; (3) give your friend or loved one the satisfaction of crafting their own tasty beverages.

Option three might entail purchasing a homebrewing or winemaking equipment kit. If so, rest assured knowing both kits are currently on sale, and that means you'll have more money to put toward stocking your own refrigerator at home. Speaking of beer, here's the list of the latest to arrive at Siciliano's.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Blue Point Toxic Sludge, $2.89/16oz can - "Toxic Sludge is our version of the relatively new Black IPA style. Care should be taken to not spill this heavy ale, as the results could be disastrous, so please consume BP Toxic Sludge responsibly. Hopped at four stages of the brewing process, we combined a hoppy India Pale Ale with a richer, darker malt base for a full bodied beer that’s big on flavor. This limited release, specialty brew was crafted to benefit birds affected by BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill. 100% of the proceeds go to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research for their “Spreading Our Wings” campaign" (source).
  • Blue Point White IPA, $1.69/12oz can - "Remaining at the forefront of experimentation, the brewers at Blue Point have produced a white beer/IPA hybrid that is well on its way to creating a new style for the beer description books. Our White IPA is an unfiltered European-style white ale with a fresh American IPA finish. Brewed with malted and unmalted wheat and just the right amount of west coast hops, it’s fermented with German yeast to give it a perfectly balanced character with less bitterness than traditional IPAs" (source).
  • Dogfish Head Tweason' Ale, $2.59/12oz - "Tweason’ale is a beer we brewed on the cusp of summer. It is a gluten-free sorghum based beer brewed with fresh strawberries from our friends at Fifer Orchards near Dover, Delaware. For the sorghum, we sourced a dark, sweet, syrup with notes of molasses and pit-fruit. We also used a a dark buckwheat honey with a beautiful hay-like, earthy-malty thing that we felt added the final touch to this Tweason’ale recipe" (source).
  • Leinenkugel Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout, $2.99/12oz - "The Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout was brewed at Leinenkugel’s tiny 10th street brewery in Milwaukee. This brew boasts a selection of 11 malts and grains balanced by three different and distinct hops. Dark and complex, with chocolate tones and notes of dark fruits, it is daring yet delicious. Travels well. Ages well" (source).
  • Dark Horse Thirsty Trout Porter, $1.79/12oz - "A richly malty ale, with clear characteristics of dark chocolate and black malt, and hints of black licorice, ale fruitiness, and molasses in the finish" (source).
  • Southern Tier Choklat Stout 2012, 9.29/22oz - "At Southern Tier, we’re not surprised that hieroglyphs of the ancient Maya depict chocolate being poured for rulers and gods. Even through the many voyages of Columbus, the mystical bean remained nothing more than a strange currency of the native peoples. Moving through centuries, the circular journey of cacao has been realized in our brewing house, encompassing the complexity of the darkest, bitter-sweet candy together with the original frothy cold beverage of the ancient Maya to bring to you our Blackwater Series Choklat Stout. We have combined the finest ingredients to tempt your senses & renew the power & interrelation of history in every bottle" (source).
  • New Belgium Lips of Faith Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout, $6.69/22oz - "Serving up cold and jet black, this imperial stout should be taken seriously for about one minute as the dark foam builds. Then, enjoy its velvety chocolate-covered smoothness and delicious aroma of sustainably-grown, locally roasted coffee" (source).
Picture of the Week

The Czech Pils from Big Rock Chop House,
soon-to-be Griffin Claw Brewing


Recipe: John's Cranberry Chestnut Bread

John's Cranberry Chestnut Bread
By John Barecki

Bread is truly a simple process—flour, water, yeast, and salt. All ingredients are capable of producing great elements of flavor on their own, but when combined they form something wonderful for the senses. Add another ingredient or two and the results can be remarkable.

I just put together an easy chestnut and cranberry bread recipe that will go perfect with just about any meal (note: walnuts will work just as well as chestnuts). I begin by mixing up a starter, something called called a biga, which is simply flour, water, and a little yeast mixed together and allowed to ferment for 13 to 16 hours in order to give the finished bread more complexity and flavor. After the biga ferments, I mix it and all remaining ingredients together by hand, let it rise, bake and cool. All in all it takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete this recipe, not counting the fermentation of the biga. See below for a more detailed look at my recipe.

To make a biga

    • 180 grams white bread flour (about 1.5 cups)
    • 107 grams 70-degree water (about 1/4 cup)
    • 1.3 grams instant yeast (about 1/4 teaspoon)
Mix all ingredients together into a shaggy ball and knead until it becomes tight and rubbery. Do not add any additional water. Place ball into a container big enough to allow the dough to double in size and coated with nonstick spray. Allow to rise 1-2 hours. It can be used at this point, but if you lightly push it down and keep it in the refrigerator overnight for 12 hours it will develop more flavor and complexity.

Final Dough Recipe

    • 163 gram Kamut wheat* (about 1.25 cups)
    • 247 grams white flour * (about two cups)
    • 247 grams spring white wheat* (about two cups)
    • 462 grams 95-degree water (about 16 oz)
    • 52 grams maple syrup (about 2 oz)
    • 16 grams salt* (about 1 tablespoon)
    • 2.5 grams instant yeast* (3/4 teaspoon)
    • 2 cups fresh cranberries chopped
    • 3 cups shelled chestnuts (or walnuts) roughly chopped
    • All of the Biga
*Denotes ingredients available at Siciliano's

Mix all ingredients together. Start by adding the biga to the water to warm it up and to make it more pliable. Slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until they are mostly incorporated. Place dough on a stable work surface and knead or mix for 10 minutes. Put dough in a greased container and allow to proof for 45 minute. After that, take the dough and pull it lightly, folding it onto itself once. Then allow one more 45 minute rest.

If you are using a baking stone or a steaming tray place it into the oven set to 450 degrees. Form dough into a round and do a final rest for 1 to 1.5 hours. To see if it is ready, lightly press with your finger and see if the dough springs back. If it does, it's ready. Carefully pour water into your steaming tray, or use a spray bottle and mist a few times after you have placed the dough in the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, put a sheet of aluminum foil on top. Take the bread from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 15 minutes and enjoy!

There are many many possibilities when it comes to bread and we have just about everything, ingredient-wise, to facilitate them. So the next time you're in the store and need something new to try, be sure to check out our bakery corner in the homebrew selection.

Shelling chestnuts

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday Review: Albert Bichot Beaujolais Nouveau & Villages

Albert Bichot Beaujolais
Nouveau & Villages, $9.99/750ml
By John Barecki with Doug Dorda

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! If you were to be in France on the third Thursday in November, you would see banners proclaiming the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. It's a harvest fest, of sorts, for the first wine made with the year's first grape harvest.

Beaujolais Nouveau is as close to a white wine as a red can get. The astringent tannins, common in most reds, are extremely low in these wines, leaving it fruity and almost too easy to drink. The wine is produced from Gamay, a grape that on its own produces a wine with high acidity because of stress on the vines caused by an alkaline rich soil. The carbonic maceration method (fermentation within the skins of whole grapes) combined with a three-week aging process brings out a heightened fruit character, but because of the young age, this wine is one you'll want to drink within a year...with a few exceptions. There are some that can be aged for up to three years. These are called Beaujolais Villages and are made with a slightly higher quality grape produced in only one area of the Beaujolais region.

No matter the level—Nouveau or Villages—these wines are always a treat for the food-heavy holidays. At Siciliano's, we currently have two different versions for you to take home, both are good, both are $9.99/750ml, and both are made by Albert Bichot. 

The Albert Bichot Beaujolais Villages has a deeper vinous character, showing a little more acidity. It's more cherry-like in flavor and has a dryer palate but is still quite easy to drink and will go great with meals.

Now, here's our own Doug Dorda with a review of the Nouveau.

The Beaujolais Nouveau from Albert Bichot should be considered a wonderful addition to any holiday feast. I found this playful wine to pour a brilliant candy red that, when tilted, reminded me of strawberry fields in the height of summer. There is a luminance that shines from within the wine that is simply “golden” and truly sets the stage for autumnal enjoyment.

Aromas of freshly picked fruits positively jump from the glass, and lightly cracked peppercorn mingled with freshly zested orange appear as though hidden, but seeking to be found. (At this point in my tasting I had begun to drool over a cheese plate, you may imagine why.)

The first sip is like gorging on a fruit salad, utterly loaded with all the nuance of mango, vine-ripened grape, cantaloupe, and the soft lingering presence of cherry. A contrast is provided to the wine by a young and perhaps shy note of tannins. However, the tannins play well with the aforementioned flavors, and simply offer themselves up as a balancing act to the bouquet of fruits that predominate the flavor profile.

Some of you may be wondering if I found the wine to be dry or sweet. There is no simple answer to that riddle. Because of the bright fruits, I would regard this wine as lightly sweet. But accounting for the tannins that provide the contrasting finish, the wine may be awarded a semi-sweet designation. I would posit that you should judge for yourself. Bear in mind that I did not find the wine to be dry in the least.

Pairing this wine with foods just may be one of the more simple things you do this holiday season – Eating fish? Beaujolais. Having chocolate cake? Beaujolais. Frozen pizza? Beaujolais. You get the picture. For a wine that costs only $9.99, I personally feel that this wine belongs on every holiday table.

Friday, December 7, 2012

New Beer Friday - December 7 Edition

GRBC, 1 Ionia Ave, GR, MI, USA, NA
By Chris Siciliano

What a thrill it's been these past few months to drive by the building at 1 Ionia knowing it would soon be home to another GR brewery—and not just any brewery, mind you, but one bearing the name of the greatest beer city in the country (world?).

Now that the wait is over, Siciliano's would like to extend a hearty congrats to Michele and Mark Sellers and the whole team down at Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Michigan's newest brewery officially opened for business on Wednesday, December 5, 2012. How fitting they picked this particular date to roll out the barrels—exactly seventy-nine years to the day after the repeal of prohibition, that misguided "noble experiment" which forced the doors closed on the original GRBC.

In another win for anti-prohibitionists, here's the latest beers to arrive at Siciliano's.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Mount Pleasant Freight Train, $3.09/12oz - "Strap yourself in, this is ride is about to get interesting!!! Freight Train Double I.P.A. is a strong, intensely hoppy version of a traditional I.P.A. This brew has a full body and heavy malt backbone that supports the strong hop character and provides a great balance" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza, $14.39/750ml - "Belgian Christmas ale aged in oak barrels" (source).
  • Left Hand Fade to Black Vol 4: Rocky Mt. Black Ale, $2.09/12oz - "That time of year when the light fades away. Brewed for the darkness, Fade to Black speaks in volumes. Welcome to Volume 4, the Beer pours pitch black with an off white head. Citrus (bergamot) and roast dominates the nose. Slight sweet malt gets pushed back by initial citrusy hops followed by powerful Italian Amaro, gentian and hop bitterness. Finishing with a pleasant duality of dry roasted malts and hop bitterness" (source).
  • Left Hand Warrior, $6.69/22oz - "Brewed only once a year with fresh hops hand-picked in Longmont, CO and Warrior hops straight off the vine from Yakima, WA. Warrior is brewed using a unique style called “Wet Hopping,” which requires only hops that are no more than a day from the vine. “Wet Hopping” imparts only a mild aroma, but an exceptionally fresh unfiltered hop flavor" (source).
  • Rogue 19 Original Colonies Mead, $7.39/22oz - "Situated just across from 40 acres of Rogue hops, 19 colonies of bees were carefully kept and fed. Their honey was extracted, filtered and brewed as a jasmin-infused Mead. Brewed with 5 ingredients: Rogue Hopyard Honey, Wild Flower Honey, Jasmin Silver Tip Green Tea Leaves, Champagne Yeast, & Free Range Coastal Water" (source).
  • Courage Russian Imperial Stout, $7.19/9.3oz - "Bottle conditioned. Appeared in the cask at GBBF in 2003 after being brewed in a secret location in Scotland. Last known brewery for the bottled product is John Smith's Tadcaster brewery" (source).
  • Bourgogne de Flanders, $11.99/750ml - "Matured in oak barrels for a sweet-sour taste" (source).
  • Malheur Dark Brut, $28.69/750ml - "A dark brown appearance with brown creamy foam. The bouquet is extremely complex! Sherry, vanilla, wood ... with a coffee flavour as a result of the roasted malt. Its taste is oak dry, so this is a genuine Brut. The ale has been decanted in young American oak that was especially burned for this ale. Its bitterness is nicely balanced with the tannin of the wood and just a sweet zest from the alcohol. It has an unusual cork dry aftertaste. This ale is bottled according to so called “original method”. The yeast is removed from the bottle by turning and disgorging" (source).
  • Einbecker Brauherrn Premium Pils, $2.69/11.2oz - "Einbecker Brauherren Pils is the slightly tangy Premium-Pils-specialty from Einbecker Brauhaus AG, which is highly regarded by both Pils lovers and real connoisseurs. The unique Einbecker-bottle stands out among other beers on the market, especially with over 600 years of Einbecker experience in the art of brewing fine beers behind it" (source).
  • Einbecker Schwarzbier, $2.69/11.2oz - "A bottom-fermented specialty with a mild taste, brewed with aromatic barley malt and mild aroma hops" (source).
  • Morland's Hens Tooth, $4.29/16.9oz - "Pipkin pale malt, Crystal malt and maltose syrup. Challenger and Goldings hops. Morland’s original yeast" (source).
  • Dansk Viking Blood Mead, $30.99/22oz - "Nordic honey wine with hibiscus and hops added. Based on a recipe from about year 1700" (source).
  • Baladin Super, $14.19/750ml - "The masterpiece of the brewery. The beer that mostly encountered the favour among the customers at Le Baladin. Although one wouldn’t believe that, it’s the most alcoholic among all the productions. It originated from an old recipe created toward the end of the ’800 following the style of the belgian abbey beers. Intense aroma of warm flowers, apricot and banana and hints of bitter almond. Agreeable, refreshing and quenching taste of apricot in syrup, almond cake and citrus fruits. Excellent the use of belgian selected hop during the fermentation process. This beer matches perfectly with ripen cheeses, biscuits and almond sweets" (source).
  • Meantime London Porter, $10.79/750ml - "George Washington was a big fan of imported English Porter. By 1769 he'd lost his taste for British beers. After all, it was keeping the Redcoats fighting. Our Porter is based on a recipe from 1750. We bring you the original aromas and flavours of the beer that made London the world's brewing capital, flavours we know Washington would have loved. Time, care and attention have enabled us to produce a blend of beers bringing you the flavour of the 1750's. Share this beer with friends and enjoy with barbeques, fish or shellfish. The ruby colour & bottle conditioning are proof of its heritage and authenticity" (source).
  • J.W. Lees Calvados, $8.99/9.3oz - "Matured in wooden Etienne Dupont Calvados casks from the end of October until mid March. This fully fermented ale has been brewed by JW Lees as a celebration of the brewers' art. Harvest Ale can be enjoyed now or laid down like a fine wine for enjoyment to come" (source).
  • J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, $6.99/9.3oz - "Available filtered and pasteurised in 275ml dark glass bottles. Has appeared occasionally in cask. This fully fermented strong ale has been brewed by J.W. Lees as a celebration of the brewers art since 1985. Harvest Ale can be enjoyed now or laid down like a vintage wine for enjoyment in years to come" (source).
  • Warka Beer, $2.19/16.9oz - "Brewing tradition dates back to the 15th century, when in 1478 Warka brewers received exclusive privilege to supply the golden liquid to the Warsaw royal court. Warka Beer is brewed according to traditional recipes, using only natural ingredients and spring water" (source).
  • Sixpoint Diesel, $2.59/16oz can - "American Stout, full-bodied, roasted, and highly hopped. Each dawn is clear. Cold air bites the throat. Thick frost on the pine bough. Leaps from the tree snapped by the diesel. On the darkest days of the year, light becomes a luxury. Just when you think you cannot penetrate the darkness... SNAP! Light pierces through the roasted pine forest" (source).
  • Sam Adams Merry Mischief Gingerbread Stout, $7.19/20z (1 bottle per person) - "This rich dark brew entices with the aromas of the holidays, hinting at the merriment and spices within. The flavor of gingerbread comes alive beginning with the smooth sweetness and heartiness of dark roasted malts and a touch of wheat. But it’s the intensity and spices of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, & ginger that add a wicked kick for a jolly playful brew full of merry mischief" (source).
  • Short's The Liberator, $2.19/12oz - "Double IPA with Lemon & Orange Zest" (source).
Picture of the Week

Sam Adams Merry Mischief,
Get it while it lasts!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Enchantment of Christmas

By Steve Siciliano

When I was very young I was afraid of the dark. Now, over fifty years later, I must admit that I can’t precisely remember why. Most likely the fear was generated by my unquestioned, irrational belief in an evil, hideously ugly entity called the devil. I had never seen Satan in the bright light of day but I had no doubt, nevertheless, that he was real. Every bit as real as goblins, bogeymen, ghosts and evil witches. 

And so before I developed a rational intellect, I lived in a world inhabited by unseen terrors. But while there were indeed horrible monsters in my five-year old world, there was also a good deal of enchantment and magic. There was a good fairy that slipped coins beneath my pillow while I slept. There were huge, colorful, hidden, candy-filled baskets on Easter mornings that were furtively delivered during the night by a giant rabbit. There were pots of gold at the end of rainbows and the miraculous ability to stop Tinker Bell from dying by affirming my belief in fairies by clapping my hands.  

One Christmas morning, I woke to find an electric train set spread out beneath the tree. Santa Claus had come during the night and somehow he had time to connect the tracks and position the little trees, bushes and buildings. Before leaving, Santa ate a plate of cookies and washed them down with a glass of milk. I wondered how he got in our house since there wasn't a chimney. Later that day I saw the big, empty train-set box in my parents’ bedroom. “Did Santa put it there?” I asked my mother.

“Yes,” she said and smiled.

“How did Santa get in?” I asked her.

“Santa is magical.”

Today I would gladly put up with hideous monsters lurking in the dark if I were somehow able to recapture that lost childlike wonder, and the magic and enchantment of Christmas. 

Interesting Note: The Santa and snowman gourds pictured above were painted by Anita Siciliano, who is also the mother in this story.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Whiskey Tasting at Siciliano's - December 14

By John Barecki

The Buffalo Trace distillery produces some of the best American whiskeys on the shelf at Siciliano's. On Friday, December 14th, from 5 to 7 p.m., our local Buffalo Trace representative will be heading up a whiskey tasting in the store. There will be samples of W.L. Weller Antique 107, Blanton's, and of course, Buffalo Trace, which, in my opinion, is the best bourbon out there for the price. These three whiskeys are top notch and very enjoyable, especially for those that don't want to spend top dollar on a good single-barrel or those who just want something different than your "typical" Jack or Jim.

The flagship Buffalo Trace is a 9-year-old small-batch rye recipe that is exceptionally smooth and full flavored. The W.L. Weller Antique is a bourbon that makes use of wheat as its flavor profile while still using 51% corn in the mash. At 107 proof, it is a delicious deviation from the norm. Last but not least, there is Blanton's, a whiskey that is steeped in the history of the U.S., from prohibition to WWII and beyond, when it went on to be America's first single-barrel whiskey available on the market.

Again, the tasting will be held here at Siciliano's on Friday, December 14th, from 5 to 7 p.m. All you need to participate is your ID. This is a great chance for anyone who wants to try some really great bourbon and to learn a little bit about it as well.

Also, be sure to stop by Siciliano's the day before, December 13th. We will be sampling New Holland's brand new Beer Barrel Bourbon, a whiskey that has been matured in Dragon's Milk barrels.

Friday, November 30, 2012

New Beer Friday - November 30 Edition

Mitten Brewing Co. Pesto Pizza
By Chris Siciliano

Before we get to naming the latest and greatest beers to arrive at Siciliano’s, I want to first express a sincere thank you to Chris Andrus & Max Trierweiler, founders, brewers, and proprietors of the newly opened Mitten Brewing Co.

Last Friday, after my wife and I had a few beers and lunch in their new taproom, Max and Chris treated us to a tour of the small brewing operation, the pizza kitchen, and then the rest of the 100+ year old building.

I’ll save my extended and overall impression of the Leonard Street nano-brewery for a stand-alone Tuesday Review. I will say now that the pizza is excellent, the service is friendly, and, most important, the beers are solid, well on their way to becoming something special.

Speaking of special beer, this Saturday, December 1, representatives from Vivant will be conducting an in-store tasting at Siciliano's from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Stop by and see us!

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Harpoon El Triunfo Coffee Porter, $6.69/22oz - "Caramel and dark chocolate accentuate the bittersweet notes of the locally roasted coffee beans. The end result is a balanced beer with a sweet, smooth body complemented by the delicate flavors and aromas of fair trade Mexican coffee (source).
  • Boulder Beer Co. Killer Penguin Barley Wine, $3.89/12oz, 8.59/22oz bottles - "Traditional winter seasonals are warm and comforting - not this Penguin. Diving in at around 10 percent alcohol by volume, Killer Penguin uses over twice the malt as other winter beers, and is aged for over 6 months to perfect the condition and flavor of this barleywine style ale. This beer doesn't ferment, it hibernates, and wakes up with an attitude" (source).
  • Founders Furniture City, $6.99/22oz - "Furniture City Stock Ale is a malt-forward beer brewed with seven different varieties of malts and grains. Our version of this historic style of beer pours a deep mahogany and is smooth and easy to drink" (source).
  • Bell's This One Goes to 11, $3.09/12oz - "This One Goes to 11 Ale opens with bright, juicy aromas such as tropical fruits & ripe cherries, largely derived from massive kettle & dry-hop additions of Southern Hemisphere hop varieties such as Galaxy, Motueka, and Summer. The citrus & resinous pine notes of the Pacific Northwest hop family are also well represented, making their presence known through Simcoe, Citra, and the newly released Mosaic varietal, just to name a few. A wide range of specialty malts anchor the hops to this IMPERIAL RED ALE, contrasting the assertive bitterness & juicy aromatics with a robust, toasty depth of flavor. Fermented with Bell’s signature house ale yeast, This One Goes to 11 Ale finishes with a lingering warmth" (source).
  • Short's  Cup a Joe, $2.19/12oz - "A brew uniquely different from most coffee stouts, we cram Higher Grounds roasted fair trade espresso beans into every facet of the brewing process. Prominent aromatics of malt, espresso, and cocoa are abundant and create a flavor robust with big malt characters fused with cream and coffee. The perfect morning night capper" (source).
  • Malheur Brut Reserve - $28.69/750ml - "Malheur Brut Reserve is suitable as an aperitif, dessert or digestive: strong but silky-smooth, with a powerful, dry aftertaste, very aromatic, velvety peach and rose, apricot, vanilla, orange, lemon rind, strongly bound and quietly controlled" (source).
  • Dogfish Head Hellhound, $14.39/22oz - "2011 marks the 100th birthday of Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson who, according to legend, sold his soul down at the crossroads in a midnight bargain and changed music forever. Working again with our friends at Sony Legacy (yup, the same folks we did our Miles Davis-inspired Bitches Brew with), Dogfish Head pays tribute to this blues legend by gettin the hellhounds off his trail and into this finely-crafted ale. Hellhound is a super-hoppy ale that hits 100 IBUs in the brewhouse, 10.0 ABV, 10.0 SRM in color, and dry-hopped with 100% centennial hops at a rate of 100 kilos per 100 barrel brew-length. Can you tell we at Dogfish are stoked for this mighty musical centennial? To accentuate and magnify the citrusy notes of the centennial hops (and as a shout out to Robert Johnsons mentor Blind Lemon Jefferson) we add dried lemon peel and flesh to the whirlpool" (source).
  • Point St. Benedicts Winter Ale, $1.19/12oz - "St. Benedict of Nursia lived in the late 5th to early 6th centuries. Legend has it while living in solitude, he was befriended by a raven that later saved his life. He is most remembered for writing the Rule of St. Benedict that, among other virtues, teaches humility. Inspired by this Rule we humbly offer St. Benedict’s Winter Ale, a hand-crafted ale using generous amounts of dark roasted malts and the finest noble hops for a robust warming flavor" (source).
  • New Belgium Biere de Garde collaboration with Vivant,  Price TBA*/22oz - "Famous in Michigan for farmhouse ales, our friends at Brewery Viviant introduced us to their biere de garde ale yeast strain. From there, we imagined a slightly tart, intentionally dry beer with hints of bergamot citrus that pairs perfectly with French cheeses" (source).
Picture of the Week

John's version of the Heisman


*As of early Friday morning, when New Beer Friday went to press, the New Belgium Beire de Garde had not yet been delivered to the store; therefore, no price was available. Please contact Siciliano's for pricing updates.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Doug's Deals 2.0 - Beautiful Deals for the Holiday Season

Doug, dealing
By Doug Dorda

'Tis the season for savings here at Siciliano's, and we are working to provide the best possible deals to those of you looking to scratch beginner wine- and beer-makers off your list.

In the interest of providing you, the shopper, with the quickest means of gathering all equipment necessary for someone looking to make their first batch of beer or wine, we present to you the second round of Doug's Deals. Prices will become effective December 1st.

Beer-Making Equipment Deals – Each of these deals will provide you with one version of our beer-making equipment kits as well as two cases of clear 12-oz amber bottles, a wine thief, and a copy of How to Brew by John Palmer. Aside from the ingredients and, in one case, a brew pot, these deals include just about everything a first-time brewer is going to need.

  • Doug's Deluxe Equipment Kit Deal, $135 – With this package, you get the Brewers Best deluxe equipment kit. You will also receive two cases of 12-oz amber bottles, the wine thief, and a copy of How to Brew by John Palmer. These items, sold separately, are a combined value of $158, a total savings of $23. Please note that the deluxe kit does not contain a brew pot; therefore, this is the deal to consider for those who may already have a 5-gallon kettle.
  • Doug's Beast of A Deal, $165 – With this package, you get the Brewers Beast equipment kit, as well as the two cases of bottles, wine thief and book. This kit contains everything that can be found in the deluxe kit, but also boasts a 5-gallon stainless steel brew pot by Polar Ware, a test tube, and a vial of IO-San sanitizer. For those who need to purchase the complete package, look no further than this deal. Again, the total savings add up to $23, as the separate cost amounts to $188. 
Wine Making Equipment Deal – It is important to note that the wine-making deal varies significantly from the beer-making deal. The least of the reasons behind that being there is no boil necessary for wine making so a pot is of no concern.

  • Doug's Wine-Making Deal – For only $130, you get the Vitners Best Wine-Making equipment kit, two cases of 750-ml green Bordeaux wine bottles, and an auxiliary 6-gallon glass carboy. The total cost for the items purchased separately would be $150; that's a savings of $20!
Kegging Kits – Know a beer maker that is looking forward to getting into kegging? This year we have thrown our beginners kegging kits into the holiday fray. The kit includes one 5-lb CO2 tank, a dual-gauge regulator, a new or reconditioned 5-gallon Cornelius keg, a cobra tap, disconnects, hose clamps, and correct lengths of tubing required for liquid and gas distribution.

  • Kegging Kit Deal – The kit with a used keg will be offered at $199, down from $225. The kit with a new keg will be offered at $235, down from $275. Note that the CO2 tank that comes in the kit is not full – pending availability, you may pay an additional $17 on top of the kit price to include a full CO2 tank.
For those of you that simply can not decide on a gift for that beer or wine lover in your life, we also offer Siciliano's gift cards, which are available in any increment you desire. The cards are good for any of the items that we offer in the store. We wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season.

If you have any questions concerning the deal pricing, or any questions about the equipment itself, please give us a call at 615-453-9674.

*All deals listed above are designed to be comprehensive packages for equipment only; ingredients will be sold separately. All equipment listed is also available for purchase separately. You do not have to purchase a full deal if you do not wish.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Review: Amore Tratorria Italiana

By Steve Siciliano

Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of the times I sat at my grandmother’s kitchen table watching her combine a steaming pile of riced potatoes with raw eggs and flour. She would then knead the doughy mixture on a massive wooden cutting board, hand-roll pieces of the heavy lump into long strips, and then finally cut those into dozens of delicate little potato dumplings called gnocchi. [See video below for correct pronunciation.]

Gnocchi is a rustic and simple Italian dish that is frustratingly difficult to make properly. Add too much flour and you get something more akin to lead ingots than delicate, succulent, potato based pillows. Too little flour and the dumplings transform into a runny mess in the boil. But if the ingredients are combined in just the right proportions the result is exquisite culinary alchemy. Although Grandmother Fulvi never measured ingredients, her gnocchi always turned out perfectly.

Today whenever I see gnocchi listed on an Italian restaurant’s menu I can’t resist choosing it as an entrée. Most times this ends in disappointment. One time I chose the dish at a ubiquitous national chain. “I’ll have the gnocchi,” I told the gum-smacking waitress.

“The what?”

“The gnocchi,” I said again.

“The what?”

I pointed to a spot on the menu.

“Oh,” she said. “The nacky.” I should have known better.

This past Sunday, Barb and I went to Amore Tratorria Italiana, a relatively new restaurant housed in an old building on Alpine Avenue just south of Six Mile Road. “Doesn’t look too promising,” my wife said after we parked and were walking up to the front door.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” I replied.

When inside, we were immediately greeted by a smiling hostess and promptly seated. Seconds later our server appeared with a basket of focaccia bread and a cruet of olive oil. I half listened while she described the specials, choosing instead to focus my attention on the appetizers and the exclusively Italian wine list. Barb suggested we try the cozze, “mussels cooked in white wine with garlic, tomatoes, lemon, parsley and a touch of anisette” ($9.00). I chose a bottle of L’Astore Primitivo ($36.00) to accompany our meal and told our server that we would look at the entrees after the appetizer.

While waiting for the wine and mussels we looked around the room. An eclectic assortment of artwork adorns the rustic-red and gold painted walls. Booths line two of those walls and tables are spaced nicely around the mostly carpeted room that has a wood section in the middle appearing to have once served as a dance floor. On each table and booth was a vase holding a single—and real—red rose.

When our server appeared with our wine she properly presented the bottle, opened it, and then poured the wine through an aerator into a decanter. A nice touch. A heaping bowl of mussels were then delivered to the table. Since the description on the menu indicated that the mussels were prepared in white wine we were surprised when they came out swimming in a red sauce. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The sauce, with its subtle anise flavor, was excellent and we soaked up every drop with the focaccia bread.

While we were finishing the appetizer I turned my attention to the entrees and it was then that I saw that one of the offerings was gnocchi.

“How’s the gnocchi?” I asked the server.

“It’s very good.”

“Is it frozen?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “The kitchen makes it fresh from scratch every day.”

The gnocchi ($10.00) turned out to be very good indeed. Diners have the option of ordering the dish with a four cheese, Bolognese, vodka or pesto cream sauce. I chose the Bolognese. For her entrée Barb chose the involtini, thinly sliced breaded eggplant stuffed with a four cheese blend, baked with tomato sauce and cheese ($15.00). It too was very good.

I give Amore Tratorria Italiana an emphatic thumbs up. The restaurant sources many ingredients locally and it is evident, as stated on the website, that the owners are committed to providing an experience and not simply a meal. Well prepared food, excellent service, good prices and an extensive wine list all combine to create that experience. I have no doubts that we’ll soon be back for another.

Amore Tratorria Italiana is located at 5080 Alpine Avenue, Comstock Park, Michigan, 616-785-5344.