A call to come to Tampa Bay to judge rums is not a call to be ignored, and so yesterday morning I boarded a southbound flight that brought me, after a lengthy wait at Budget Rent-a-Car and a 90 or so minute drive, to Sarasota. The rum could wait until the morrow; last night was for beer!
More specifically, it was for beer at the six week old Stairway to Belgium bar and restaurant in downtown Sarasota. Opened by Philadelphia lawyer turned Sarasota restaurateur Jim Keaveney, Stairway is an obvious labor of love with a mission of bringing quality beer to an area not necessarily known for it. (I was told that I missed the main thrust of Spring Break by a week, but its memory remains.) And here’s the good news: it’s a mission that largely works!
According to Jim, getting the region’s beer distributors on board has not been a uniformly easy task, but he’s been successful enough that the beer list will not disappoint any devotee. Neither will the menu, I might add, with its excellent waterzooi, delicious rabbit stew and flavourful but a bit too stew-like carbonade. (I had a sampler of the three, organized for me by Jim but I strongly suspect about to join the regular menu.) Washed down with a selection of beers ranging from St. Somewhere’s rather unconventional “saison,” Lectio Divina, to good old reliable St. Bernardus Abt 12, it was indeed aa very pleasant way to spend the night, an opinion obviously shared by the dozens of people who flooded the place round about 10:00.
Maybe not quite Belgium, but as close as you’re going to get to it on the Florida panhandle.