At Pair O'Dice Brewing Company's grand opening in January, they tapped a fresh batch of their Strawberry Blonde Ale at 5 p.m. It was gone by 5:45. Equally popular was a Strawberry Cream carbonated with CO2 and nitrogen. For the next two weeks, curious beer nerds kept calling the microbrewery, asking when they planned to brew another batch. The secret? Fresh Plant City strawberries. "We like using local fruit, local citrus," said Pair O'Dice co-owner Ken Rosenthal, who has been homebrewing the Strawberry Blonde since 2009. "We know that the Strawberry Festival was really big, so we decided we were going to try a strawberry beer, so I came up with a recipe." His wife and Pair O'Dice co-owner Julia drives east to pick up 24 pounds of strawberries per 31-gallon batch. Half are added near the end of the initial boil, the other half once fermentation is complete, about 7 to 10 days later. The Blonde has a dry palate and isn't too sweet, but still manages to impart that strawberry aroma. The cream has a foamier head and a creamier mouthfeel, "and it's got a little more of the berry's natural flavor," Rosenthal said. For more, see pairodicebrewing.com.
On any given morning during strawberry season, you're likely to walk into Fred's Market Restaurant in Plant City and find owner Fred Johnson's mother, Evelyn, 86, and her sister Charlotte Britt, 84, stemming 10 flats of fresh strawberries for the day's shortcakes and salads. Fred's family — including brother Hillsborough County pol Buddy — comes from strawberry stock, so it stands to reason that Fred's Market, a healthier evolution of the family's network of restaurants, would serve local strawberries. You might expect the buffet-line shortcake, of course. But the PC Strawberry Salad is not to be missed: A bed of greens with chicken breast, giant strawberries, pecans, mango salsa, blue cheese crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette. Southern cookin'? Maybe not. But it's intensely fresh and flavorful, and so massive two could split it with leftovers. The best part is, you know just where the berries came from — and who stemmed them. For more, see fredsmarket.com.
It's not out of the ordinary to find fresh muddled strawberries year-round in your finer cocktail bars. National chains can't always offer that level of mixological detail, so Smokey Bones is taking a different route. The barbecue chain based in Orlando is showing its Florida roots this spring by partnering with the Florida Strawberry Growers Association for a new cocktail called the Strawberry Blonde: Three Olives Marilyn Monroe Strawberry vodka, pomegranate liqueur, Sprite and a sugar rim, garnished with a Sunshine State berry. Make no mistake, it's incredibly sweet, although the pomegranate does help bring it back to earth. It's only available for a limited time, but there are other strawberry libations on Smokey Bones' menu, including Blushing Strawberry Sangria, bottles of Redd's Strawberry Ale and non-alcoholic strawberry lemonade. For more, see smokeybones.com.