Sip Trips #164: European Escape (Part 1)

The Sip Family has wrapped our seemingly annual trek to Europe and have a few days to recover and repack for our next adventure aboard an Alaskan cruise. With so little time at hand, let’s get right to the wrap-up of our most recent crossing of the pond. Part one, will look at our stops in London and Sicily:

Our group of three couples, three babies and two grandmas began our travels in London. On our first evening, weary from the journey, we ventured to The Spencer Pub, located near our Airbnb. Despite the rest of the group each ordering Fish & Chips, I was craving a beef burger. It was delicious and a good choice, although no one was complaining about their meal. To pair with the dinner, I ordered a pint of Watney’s Sarcasm Citrus Pale Ale, which was tasty.

proper pub

After a night’s rest, we visited Windsor Castle. Following a self-guided tour of the grounds, we popped into the Tower Tea Room at the Harte and Garter Hotel & Spa, as the ladies wanted to enjoy an afternoon tea. Being the only guy in the group, I didn’t have much choice, but made the best of the situation, ordering a bottle of Windsor & Eton Guardsman Best Bitter.

With all our group finally amassed, including friends living in London, our next endeavour took us to Hampton Court. The day began with a meal at The Bishop Pub, where I enjoyed a Buttermilk Chicken Burger and pint of Meantime London Pale Ale. I always marvel at how low the alcohol percentage is on beers in London with it being rare to see something surpass 5%. Certainly not what I’m used to at home.

With babies in tow and the girls wanting to see a theatre production, the guys spent a night in on the Saturday, while we would get our turn out on Sunday (on Mother’s Day of all days). We took full advantage of our evening though, stocking up on beers to be enjoyed. My brews included Camden Hells Lager, Gipsy Hill & Yeastie Boys Bogan Bogan Double IPA, Drygate Disco Fork Lift Truck Mango Pale Ale, Drygate Gladeye IPA and Vocation Pride & Joy Pale Ale.

babysitting.jpg

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we convened at Ting in the infamous Shard building for their Shangri-La Royal High Tea. To start, Mrs. Sip and I ordered one of each of their cocktails, which included the Little Miss Royal (vodka, ratafia, isake classic and egg white) and The Little Prince (gin, blue curacao, pineapple, lemon and pastis glacial mint). These drinks were very boozy, which turned some of our group off, but that’s just the way I like my libations.

Then, it was time for the guys to take off and watch the end of the English Premier League season. My two comrades are Liverpool supporters and picked The Comedy Pub to watch the games amongst fellow fans. There, we drank quite a bit, remaining at the bar well after the crowds cleared. Over the session, I tried pints of the Camden Pale Ale and Doombar Amber Ale.

Our next stop was Waxy O’Connors, which is a very cool place with multiple levels and nooks buried underneath the city. After a few more rounds, we decided some food was in order and stopped at the nearest Pizza Hut (cause we’re classy like that) for a couple pies and, you guessed it, even more beers!

pizza hut

The next day, we were off to Sicily, Italy for the second leg of our journey. After a day of travel and some settling in to our place, we went for a late dinner at Ristorante Borgo dell’Etna. There, I enjoyed a serving of their Pasta al Ragu, while a few of us split an 8-Euro litre of house white wine. Gotta love Italian vino pricing!

On day two, we visited the city of Taormina. Unfortunately, it rained pretty heavily that day (as it did nearly every day of our Italy stay, despite our friend’s guidebook saying it rarely rained in Sicily), so we took refuge at La Cisterna del Moro. With a great view, I dined on a scrumptious Calzone Saporito (tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichoke), paired with a half-litre Moretti Rossa beer.

Day three in Sicily finally brought mostly good weather, so we partook in wine tastings at both Firriato Winery and Gambino Vini. Both places had their own charms and we very much enjoyed this day, which offered some easier road circumstances for us drivers. Baby Sip also liked running around the ground, collecting corks and pinecones.

wine more room.jpg

On our final day in Sicily, we booked a Godfather Tour, as a number of scenes from the trilogy were filmed around the island. Getting off to a rough start, due to more inclement weather and traffic gridlock, a portion of our tour was altered from an outdoor wine tasting to a meal at Il Padrino Restaurant. There, we were served about 15 different seafood dishes, with my favourites being shrimp in thousand island dressing and breaded mussels. The desserts were also nice, accompanied by homemade Limoncello, Grappa and Amaro, which you could pour as much as you wanted for yourself. The tour wrapped with a stop in the village of Savoca, where we enjoyed a couple beers to end the day.

Taking advantage of our beautiful Airbnb property, we did a few meals in, enjoying a number of Italian beers and wines to unwind after each busy day of sightseeing. My selection included: Cavaliers Birra Speciale Rossa Artigianale; Arcana Golden Ale, Red Ale and White Ale; Patronus Weissbier; Birotti Weissbier; and Briere De Haute Fermentation La Blonde De Ch’nord, which was my favourite of the bunch.

Upon leaving Italy for Malta (part two of this Sip Trips review), I bought a bottle of Fuoco dell’Etna at the airport, lured in by the bottle’s design which looks like a volcano has erupted (complete with a rocky texture), as well as the liqueur’s 50% alcohol percentage. The booze is supposed to include flavours such as strawberry, citrus and Sicilian herbs, so I’m looking forward to experimenting.

Italy – Sunday Confession

Goodfellas

The term “mafia” comes from Sicily, Italy, and let’s be honest, the most famous of mobsters all hail from the Italian line of organized crime, also known as Cosa Nostra, which translated means “Our Thing.” And, it certainly is THEIR thing. While the term ‘Omertà’ governs the mafia with a code of silence, the Sip Advisor is breaking all the rules with our own ‘Most Wanted’ list of infamous Italian gangsters:

Vito Cascioferro

Thought of as the ‘Boss of Bosses’ during his reign at the top, Cascioferro was arrested approximately 69 times during his career, but always acquitted. His luck ran out in June 1930, when Cascioferro was tried for numerous offences, including murder, attempted murder, robbery, extortion, and other offences. He was convicted and given a life sentence. He died in prison somewhere between 1943-45, with many inmates considering it an honour to now fill the same jail cell.

Mafia Cats

Calogero Vizzini

Dubbed the ‘King of the Black Market,’ Vizzini was even made mayor of Villalba, Italy (where his crime family was based), following World War II. Vizzini’s death was big news, even reported by the New York Times. Thousands turned out for the leader’s funeral, including other bosses, politicians, and priests. Vizzini predicted that the mafia would die with him and the old-school version did slowly dissolve, but was replaced by a more modern mob that we recognize today.

Michele Navarra

The boss of the famed Corleone family (also used for the Godfather movies) from 1944-58, Navarra was also a trained physician and perhaps this is why he was more likely to delegate murders than commit them himself. Navarra was killed on August 2, 1958 after feuding with former associate Luciano Leggio, whom Navarra tried to have ambushed by 15 gunmen, yet somehow Leggio survived with only minor injuries. I’d question his leadership, too!

Luciano Leggio

Speaking of Leggio, he became the Corleone boss following Navarra’s death and is credited with starting the Second Mafia War. After a string of acquittals on various charges, Leggio finally found himself sentenced to life imprisonment for Navarra’s slaying, but disappeared, running a successful kidnapping ring while on the run. He was finally caught in 1974, but continued to have influence over the syndicate from behind bars. He died in prison, of a heart attack in 1993.

Mafia Comic

Salvatore Riina

After Leggio was arrested in the 1970’s, Riina eventually took over control of the Corleone family, which was ironic because he was one of the suspects in the assassination of Navarra. Riina was considered the ‘Boss of Bosses’ following the Second Mafia War. Nicknamed ‘The Beast,’ by fellow mobsters, this 5’2” leader used a campaign of violence to achieve power, killing rivals, as well as prosecutors and other government officials. Riina was arrested in 1993, after 23 years as a fugitive.

Bernardo Provenzano

One of the most powerful Sicilian bosses of all-time, Provenzano followed Riina as leader of the Corleone family. Once at the helm, Provenzano worked to change the perception of the mafia to being less violent, more diplomatic and willing to work with established institutions. Under the new guidelines, violence was only to be used if absolutely necessary. Despite all that, Provenzano spent more than 40 years evading police capture, before authorities finally arrested him in April 2006.

Italy: Sunday Confession

Sunday Confession Cocktail

  • 1 oz Limoncello
  • 1 oz Tequila
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Top with Ginger Ale
  • Garnish with a Cherry

This all has me wanting to go back and watch some of the best mafia media. Take your pick, but my favourites include The Godfather franchise, Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and Donnie Brasco. Perhaps I’ll have to do a future article on fictional mobsters… so long as they make me an offer I can’t refuse!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
This cocktail has a perfect name for a mafia-related article, although confession would certainly go against the Omertà code of silence. I used Cranberry Ginger Ale instead of the recommended Ginger Beer because it seemed like a good idea and it worked out really well. Limoncello and Tequila was a decent mix, too.

Italy – The Winkle

Sicilian Slice

The modern pizza was invented in Naples, Italy and god bless them for doing so. Throughout the Sip Advisor’s life, pizza has always remained at or near the top of my favourite foods list. I don’t care that it’s not exactly a healthy choice and often falls under the junk food category… it’s god damn delicious!

The term ‘pizza’ can be traced all the way back to the year 997 AD in the city of Gaeta, Italy. Before that, flat breads called foccasia were garnished with a variety of toppings, but were usually sweet dishes, rather than savoury. In the 18th century, the people of Naples began adding tomatoes to the mix and thus the modern pizza was born, before spreading around the world thanks to Italian immigrants.

Pizza Gross

The thing I love about pizza is its versatility. It’s great upon first serving and a rare food item that can be better reheated later or even scarfed down cold, straight out of the fridge. It’s the perfect breakfast – especially after a night of hard drinking – as it doesn’t take much effort to prepare while you’re still a little fuzzy. Apparently, I’m not alone, as 36% of Americans think it makes the perfect morning meal.

As of 2012, there were 11,139 Pizza Hut outlets across 94 countries. Pizza Hut’s largest competitor, Domino’s Pizza, has more than 10,000 stores and is the world leader in delivery services. Along with these two giants are so many other companies hawking bread, cheese, sauce, and toppings, totaling more than five billion pizzas sold every year, with more than half of those sales occurring in the United States.

The largest pizza ever made weighed 12.9 tons and was created at the Norwood Pick ‘n Pay in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1990. The pie had a diameter of 37.4 meters (122 feet, 8 inches) and used 500kg of flour, 800kg of cheese, and 900kg of tomato sauce.

Pizza Win

The most expensive pizza ever made included ingredients such as sunblush-tomato sauce, Scottish smoked salmon, venison medallions, lobster marinated in gognac, champagne-soaked caviar, and even edible gold. Made by restaurant owner Domenico Crolla, the pizza was auctioned for charity and raised 2,150 pounds. The most expensive regularly sold pizza can be found at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Maze, in London. Each serving will set you back 100 pounds, not to mention the weight that will be added to your waistline.

If you’re having a massive party, you could consider hitting up Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizzeria in California, where you can purchase a pizza that measures 4’6” x 4’6” and serves anywhere from 50-100 people. Just make sure that competitive food eater Joey Chestnut isn’t on the guest list, as the dude set the world record for most pizza slices eaten in 10 minutes when he polished off 40 ½ slices.

Brooklyn, New York’s Scott Wiener (heh, wiener!) owns the world’s largest pizza box collection. As of late 2013, he has amassed 595 pizza boxes from 45 different countries. He only began collecting in 2008 after grabbing some ‘za in Israel and admiring the box there. Wiener’s favourite piece in his collection is a box from the Netherlands which features characters similar to Homer and Bart Simpson. Not content to just receive a certificate from the Guinness Records folks, Wiener has even released a book, Viva La Pizza, chronicling some of the world’s most artistic pizza boxes.

Pizza Simpsons

Pepperoni is the most popular topping worldwide, but so many specialty pizzas have popped up over the years thanks to this wonderful gastronomic invention. Let’s take a look at some of these “gourmet” options from around the globe:

Africa: The Africana pizza includes meat (ham/beef/chicken), peanuts, banana, pineapple, onion, and curry powder. I can’t say I’ve ever had a pizza with peanuts or banana, but it has me thinking about some of the combos the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came up with back in the day.

Australia: Known as The Aussie, Australian, or Australiana, this pizza takes your traditional base of marinara sauce and cheese, but then puts bacon and eggs on top. That sounds like a hell of a way to get your breakfast in at all times of the day!

Canada: The Canadian pizza isn’t very elaborate, combining bacon, pepperoni, and mushrooms. I think if our country had a do-over, we’d come up with something involving poutine, maple syrup, and hockey tape to hold it all together!

Pizza Turtles

Caribbean: I’m not sure which exact country you can attach this recipe to, but mixing barbeque sauce, chicken, pineapple, onion, and green peppers sounds like something I’d want to lay claim to if I belonged to any of these island nations.

France: The French pizza has seemingly normal toppings (chicken, mushrooms, peppers, olives) until you get to its sauce: Dijon mustard. While this would be something I’d try, Mrs. Sip would not be happy to find the yellow stuff on her meal.

Greece: The Greek pizza usually features olives, feta cheese, green peppers, and tomatoes… all the ingredients that make up a Greek salad. In the best scenarios chicken souvlaki is also thrown into the mix and if the Sip Advisor was running the show, he’d drizzle some tzatziki sauce all over that bad boy!

Indonesia: The Balinese pizza comes with shredded pork, roasted red peppers, and garlic. At least they’re not using the monkeys found all over the island for toppings… those little buggers may have attacked Mrs. Sip and I, but I still love them.

Pizza Dogs

Jamaican: Jerk Chicken is at the heart of this pizza, which frankly is Jamaican me hungry!

Mexico: The Mexican or Mexicana pizza usually involves ingredients one would find on tacos and other Americanized fare from the country. This includes ground beef, jalapenos, onions, tomatoes, chili, avocado, peppers, etc. The cheese on the Mexican pizza is sometimes modified to be of the pepper jack variety to help add another dash of spice to the recipe.

Portugal: Portuguese pizzas include Portuguese sausage, onions, and bell peppers. This pie may not be for the weak of heart.

Pizza Cat

Thailand: Thai pizzas are highlighted by Thai chicken and also include peanut sauce, bean sprouts, and shaved carrots. Pizzas may not be the healthiest of food, but that mix doesn’t sound as artery clogging as others.

United States: The Hawaiian is probably the U.S.’s most recognized pizza, combining ham and pineapple, but there are other options, including Santa Fe, with spiced chicken and the Californian, featuring club sandwich ingredients, such as avocado and bacon. The U.S. is also famous for all the different style of pizza, such as Chicago deep dish, Detroit twice-baked, New York thin crust, St. Louis rectangle slices, and New Haven no cheese.

Italy: The Winkle

The Winkle Martini

  • Muddle Raspberries and Sage
  • 1.5 oz Gin
  • 1 oz Limoncello
  • Splash of Lime Juice
  • Dash of Simple Syrup
  • Garnish with a Sage Sprig

Pizza should be celebrated, so why not observe National Pizza Month, which occurs every October in the U.S. You could also attend the annual International Pizza Expo, which takes place in Las Vegas every March. Either way, make sure to enjoy as much pizza pie goodness as you can and thank those crazy Italians for coming up with this culinary gem!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
I absolutely loved this martini, although everyone I told to try a sip wasn’t in agreement with ol’ Mr. Sip. The Sage was a unique ingredient that I’ve never used before this. The Gin and Limoncello worked together in perfect harmony… kind of like cheese, bread, and tomato sauce!