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Fodder & Shine: Cocktails become high art at creative restaurant

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When you order a daiquiri in most bars, you get a brightly colored frozen concoction that possibly contains a rainforest and half a pineapple sticking out of the top.

You could probably get one of those at Fodder & Shine in Seminole Heights, but you’d probably also get laughed at.

This isn’t a beach bar. It’s a hipster’s paradise of old Florida Cracker cuisine including fried chicken, frog legs and actual whole pigs — and these folks take booze seriously.

A daiquiri in Fodder & Shine is all-original. Rum, sugar and lime. That’s it. And. It. Is. Delicious. It’s the kind of daiquiri that pairs well with even the most hesitant of rum drinkers. The crisp of the rum is offset by the sweet of the sugar and the tart of the lime. It’s simple. It’s refreshing and it lacks the sugary guilt of any frozen daiquiri served poolside by a cabana boy.

This is one of four drinks chosen by head bartender Kamran Mir for a cocktail class. Mir was charged with serving up four unique rum-based cocktails — two of them classic, two his own originals.

As you walk up to Fodder & Shine, you’re greeted immediately by a sense of uniqueness. It’s on Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights tucked into an area burgeoning with independent progress, but still neighboring some of Tampa’s roughest ‘hoods.

A large patio is illuminated by lights and the tables are all welcoming even in the April Florida heat — perhaps especially in the April Florida heat.

Inside at the hostess stand, patrons are greeted by an array of old Florida-style windows hanging from the ceiling. They both frame and separate the main dining room from the large open entry.

To the right are old school arcade games, including none other than Mrs. PacMan.

The bar is to the left and lines the side of nearly the entire restaurant. It’s interrupted only by a small room in the back with a pool table. Music plays loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to drown out casual conversation. And it’s not the Backstreet Boys or any other more modern version of pop culture single hits.

Kam, that’s what everyone calls him, commands the bar with a sort of cool, come-talk-to-me sort of presence. His gruff beard is both intimidating and welcoming all at the same time.

He doesn’t necessarily look like a man who can whip up some mean cocktails, but he is.

He pours the original daiquiris into chilled glasses with a slice of lime. He does this all while explaining why usual rum naysayers don’t taste too much of a bite in this cocktail.

Kam’s second original rum drink is another cocktail — Hemingway’s cocktail. He explains that Ernest Hemingway was rumored to drink gallons of this stuff in Key West.

He uses a white rum and mixes it with lime, grapefruit juice and maraschino liquor.

This one finishes with a bit more bite. That’s the liquor, Kam says. It’s refreshing and boozy, but it’s only the opening act. The best is yet to come.

Fodder & Shine prides itself on a unique, Florida-centric drink menu. There’s the Fountain of Youth made from white rum, Coconut Mint Syrupus and lime; the I-75 with St. Augustine Gin, Orange Blossom Syrupus, lemon and sparkling wine; and the Son of the War Eagle with Angels Envy Bourbon, Smoked Syrupus and Old Sour.

The list of cocktails is free anything even resembling nightclub names like Sex on the Beach or Buttery Nipples. It’s classy booze.

So Kam’s concoctions could be anything. The group watches him spread out another row of glasses and takes guesses at what’s to come. It’s Kam’s take on a Dark and Stormy — a Dark and Stormy Old Fashioned he calls it.

He uses Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum because, according to Kam, Black Seal will send you a cease-and-desist if you make a Dark and Stormy using any other rum. But instead of using the regular ginger beer as a mixer, Kam pulls out a nearly empty bottle of the ginger beer with a yellowish sludge at the bottom.

That sludge is the result of an hour and a half of boiling and simmering two full bottles of ginger beer. He’s reduced it down to a highly concentrated and gingery potent goo.

With each drink mixed, Kam dips a clean straw into his masterpiece and slurps just a taste to make sure it’s just right. It’s not just the taste he’s looking for either, it’s the temperature.

Kam earned a Bachelor of Arts in studio art from USF, but decided when tending bar a popular Tampa night club that “bartending, at its most basic level, is chemistry.”

The goo in Kam’s ginger beer reduction is amazing, if you’re into ginger, and the drink is to die for.

His last concoction is an LGA to KIN — LaGuardia to Kingston. It’s what Kam described as some kind of bartender mind game and a play on a rum version of a Manhattan.

I think it tastes like nail polish remover, but others in the crowd — ones with more refined appreciation for rum — ooh and aah over its smoothness and sipability.

The cocktail classes are becoming something of a thing for Kam. He’s held a couple so far, the inaugural so well-attended they had to move it away from the bar and out to the outdoor seating area. That one was called, “you only think you don’t like gin — a challenge for vodka drinkers.”

On April 21, Kam will stir up some vermouth-inspired cocktails in his “backup singer of cocktails” camp. Then on Cinco De Mayo it’s “James Bond is a Wuss” night where Kam goes with “stirred, not shaken, please.”

Then on May 19, it’s “don’t be so old fashioned” where Kam will teach “new takes on the oldest drink.”

Each of the camps is $15 and includes a tasting of the cocktails. More are available a la carte afterward.

The bar and restaurant is still in its relative infancy. They’re still building a repertoire of live music and drumming up support for the unique cocktails.

The food menu is just as original as the bar. The menu rotates based on seasonably available vegetables, but includes Southern fare like fried livers, smoked mullet spread, grilled quail and rabbit.

Fodder & Shine is the brainchild of award-winning chef Greg Baker. He originally launched the Refinery in Seminole Heights after working in an upscale French restaurant and deciding, “Good food is wasted on people who can afford it.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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