Chuckwagon Roundup-Fun Dining Experiences

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Chug a Love:
Breweries Plus Food Equals Fun

Article and photos by Kathleen Walls

In Ireland, the savvy traveler knows the best places to eat are the pubs. Here in America' our own version of the pub is emerging. Local breweries which have become popular for their own special designer beers often combine the drafts with the dinner. Here are some I have visited and loved.

The entrance of Cannon Brew sets the tone

Cannon Brew Pub –Columbus GA

When I first visited the Cannon Brew Pub it still had an aura of newness about it. It had not yet reached its second year of business. I had come to cover the opening of Columbus's new Civil War Naval Museum. Driving up from Florida, I came down with the flu. Had I been a sensible average person, I would have turned around and gone home and went to bed. Well, I'm a travel writer, enough said. Naturally I continued on and covered the story.

Afterwards, my hosts, Shelby and Becky. from the CVB invited me to enjoy  a pizza at the Cannon Brew Pub. I was feeling pretty bad but agreed. They suggested one of the handcrafted beers that might make me feel better but I am not a beer drinker. Instead I choose a creamy frozen concoction which disguised the alcohol taste and gave the impression of a chocolate shake. It made my throat feel so much better so I had another and I think another. Things were kind of foggy there. The flu of course.

Thise tanks are huge
What I do remember with crystal clarity was the fun atmosphere and the great pizza. The twenty foot vats that form the  central feature of the Brewpub are not easily forgotten. They dominate  the rear of the building, soaring from below floor level to the ceiling. Directly in front of them is the  copper-topped bar, where patrons can watch their favorite beer being brewed.

The menu is all over the board, not just pizza and calzone. You can choose almost anything from fried pickles to wild Alaska salmon, steak to burgers.

The Cannon Brewpub is the brainchild of two men; Jim Newman and William Gantt. Columbus had not had a brewery since long before prohibition. It was a welcome addition to Columbus's food and drink scene.  Since then, the brewpub had been remolded but they kept to their original purpose. Jim Newman summed it up  when he said, "The Cannon Brewpub is going to be a local brewery, done by local people for the local residents. All our beers are going to reflect Columbus."

Brewers Pizza is mighty tasty

Brewer's Pizza and Pinglehead Brewery, Orange Park, FL

Brewer's Pizza is a family-friendly treasure, tucked away just off I-10 in Orange Park.  They are the only brew pub in Clay County, Florida.

Food shares equal billing with the brew here. Their specialty is the Florida Smacker, a unique beer batter dough,   8-inch square, deep-dish pizza . It's delicious and quite filling. The inside is light and airy while the crust is browned and  crispy. They offer every normal topping and a few that are off the board like gyro meat, meatball, chicken, ricotta, Romano, feta and cheddar. Guido Spoonpipe's wings are another great choice. They are available in plain, BBQ, sweet BBQ, mild and hot and  are baked in their pizza convection oven, instead of fried.  You will find lots of other food choices ranging from soups to burgers.

The two managers, Troy Maas and Steve Halford work to make the brewery and the pizzeria mesh seamlessly. They opened in  2010 as just a pizza restaurant and quickly expanded to include the brewery.

Aaron is justly proud of his beer
Aaron the brewer, takes pride in his work and turns out some unique beers. They have produced as many as 26 different choices but lately have cut back to around a dozen to be able to meet exterior demand. Their brews are sold throughout almost all of Florida. The quality is proven by the awards racked up in such a relatively short time They won gold medals for Mind Drive Imperial Porter,  Dreamcatcher Imperial IPA and Black Hops India Black Ale and silver for their Pinglehead Red and Xibalba India Black Ale at the Best Florida Beer Championship in Tampa.  You will find a lot of fruit flavored brews here but Imperial Red is their flagship beer.

The Wurlitzer Jukebox  is a thing of beauty as well as utility. It is filled with mostly old time rock and roll and your choices are free. Whether you are looking for a place to hang out with friends or a lunch change from the fast food routine, Brewer's Pizza and Pinglehead Brewery is a number one choice.

Big River's outdoor tables stay busy

Big River Grille & Brewing Works –Chattanooga, TN

Beer lover or not, you won't want to miss the Big River Brewing Company. Here the food and drink is on a very macho level and filling. Go hungry. You will leave full and happy. Their original location in Chattanooga, Tennessee is located in an antique trolley barn near Ross's Landing on the Tennessee River. It is the heritage of that river and the steamboats  that plied its waters in the 19th century that Big River strives to capture. The steamboats brought the freshest foods and ingredients  into Chattanooga from all over. River City honors that tradition today by using only the freshest ingredients in their dishes.

Their pride and joy are the award winning brews made on site. Their brews have won numerous awards including  a gold medal for Sweet Magnolia, 1998; Iron Horse Stout, 2002; and silver and bronze for several of their other beers.

Nothing like a game of billards
with a cold one
If you don't drink alcoholic beverages you can try their homemade ginger ale, root beer or cream soda. They are way out ahead of the factory-made products.

They're equally proud of their innovative menu. It is huge and contains many unusual items. For starters you might try the Jalapeno Spinach Cheese Dip. Follow that with a Thai Chicken Pizza, or, if you're really hungry, The Low Country Shrimp ‘n Grits. The Chocolate Raspberry Passion is guaranteed to finish your meal in a grand manner. In order to take advantage of what is freshest at that time, the menu changes often.

Grafton Winery and Brewhaus, Grafton, IL

Grafton Winery aand Brewery
If you think this view is good you should
see it looking out from those windows

This place combines it all when it comes to dining pleasure. Wine connoisseurs will be extremely happy with the award winning vintages created in the winery like their award winning Summer Peach or Apple Crisp wines. Beer drinkers get hand crafted brews made onsite. You can ask for a tour of the brewery or sit back and enjoy the view of the  Great Rivers Scenic Byway at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers while you dine on special dishes, many of which Head Chef Chris Leith prepares by incorporating their wines and beers into them. For example, the  chicken salad has the chardonnay and the bbq sauce uses the bock dark beer. Next year they plan on doing special dinners every month with wine and beer pairings. Their glass walls facing the Mighty Mississippi offer eagle viewing in winter, fall foliage and spectacular sunsets on the river.

Grafton Brewery 
Lots of good choices at the bar
Owners, Mike  and Lori Nikonovich, and their son Mike, Jr.  are very proud of the winery and brewhouse. It's the only licensed Illinois Micro Brewery in the greater St. Louis Metropolitan Area.

If the food and drink aren't enough–and they are a big draw--you will find top-drawer entertainment here. Local bands perform every weekend and murder mystery dinner theater is a fairly regular treat.  Various other parties and events make this a top destination as well as a fine eatery. The brewery is open Friday through Sunday and the restaurant and winery is open seven day a week.

If you have a yen to make your own home brew, get a kit. Beer Making Kits - A Great Gift America's #1 home brewing systems! As Low As $39.95! 

And here are some recipies for great beer
 A Year of Beer:  Seasonal Homebrew Recipes

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