Wine de Vine

On the 15th anniversary, Flor puts the divine in Wine de Vine

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The newly expanded Wine de Vine interior, the day before the 15th anniversary party.

If you only think of Wine de Vine as just this very nice place to pick up a really good bottle of wine for dinner, well, you’re really missing the big picture.

It is so much more than that.

Although, if it is only wine you want, you would be well-served. Read the rest of this entry »

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I mean, who gets a whole private island for their birthday? (Hint: You’re looking at him)

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Walking around Blackadore Caye on my birthday, enjoying the splendor of a deserted island -- with 20 of my best friends!
Walking around Blackadore Caye on my birthday, enjoying the splendor of a deserted island — with 20 of my best friends!

Your first thought when you step off the boat and on to Blackadore Caye is “This can not be real.”

It is like a Hollywood movie set for a tropical island adventure film.

The coconut trees seem too perfectly spaced to be real. The ground beneath them too perfectly swept clean. The sand too white. The water on either side of this long, narrow caye shimmers in variants of teal, turquoise and aquamarine. The dry, cool wind sweeps so sweetly upon the skin, not a drop of perspiration survives. The cloud-dappled sky is a dreamy blue — azure color #007FFF, if you are into replicating sky colors from an RGB color wheel. Read the rest of this entry »

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 3: Where’s the beef

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Toward the end of a very busy Friday at the Texas BBQ and Steakhouse on Seagrape Drive, in San Pedro.
Toward the end of a very busy Friday at the Texas BBQ and Steakhouse on Seagrape Drive, in San Pedro.

Friday nights at Wine de Vine are something of a tradition in San Pedro.

That’s the place where newly landed ex-pats and seasoned veterans mingle with locals and visitors for a few hours over reasonably priced glasses of wine and artfully composed trays of cheeses, fruits and crackers.

Yes, Flo and her staff compose a thoughtful list of reds and whites for the night, usually priced around $6-11 per glass.

We have tried some excellent wines there and, more important, made even better friendships over time.

Friday night at Wine de Vine is also where you find out who is coming to the island, who is leaving, who is celebrating a birthday or anniversary, who is not doing well, who needs help and who is on top of the world. You can get the latest news and gossip on crime, restaurants, weather, street repairs, shopping, government and local celebrations.  You can get great advice on almost any island issue along with your Chardonnay.

I have come to the conclusion that people who move to tropical islands tend to have very interesting stories about the lives they have lived. Sometimes they are bigger than life but often they are about people who simply took control of their lives, decided they’d had enough of conventional American or European civilization and moved on.

There are great stories inside every person hoisting a glass on a Friday night inside the tightly packed but air-conditioned environs of Wine de Vine. Most important, we have the time and the inclination to listen to each other’s stories.

The truth is, I don’t like wine nearly as much as I like the people who gather to drink it.

Rose, on the other hand, a long-time Napa resident with a rolling front yard filled with vineyards, finds equal pleasures in good wine and good people.

Since arriving on Ambergris Caye our Friday nights have always ended the same. After several glasses of wine and much camaraderie, we say good night to all get on our bicycles and wobble across San Pedro Town in the dark toward home. There, Rose puts the finishing touches to a deliciously pre-prepared dinner and we call it a night.

Except this past Friday.

As we were leaving, a co-conspirator on many an adventure here, Stephen Thompson, invited us to join a few people at a new restaurant that has gained buzz all over the map, Texas BBQ and Steakhouse, on the same Seagrape Drive intersection as Pedro’s Hotel.

After a day of yoga, stand-up paddling, several glasses of wine and the prospect of cycling home in the dark — the idea of a late-night dinner out was doubtful. Even though we’ve been dying to try this place which boasts the meat-forward slogan “Fresh, never frozen.” (OK, that slogan carries a lot more weight on a refrigeration-disabled tropical island than in Midtown Manhattan.)

Stephen upped the ante: “We’re all heading home in the same direction. We’ll just toss your bikes in the back of the golf cart.”

Ok. We’re in.

And what a good call. This was about as close to live theater as we are going to get.

Barely open two weeks, by a West Texas man who professes to have zero knowledge about running a restaurant, Texas BBQ on a Friday night was a sublime study in applied Chaos Theory. There was no one entry point at the counter to place an order. Orders were written on the first available page of a waiters tablet then lost or forgotten. Everyone behind the counter seemed to be responsible for doing everyone else’s job. One guy walked out in complete exasperation.  Meals kind of sat there on plates, half fulfilled.

Somewhere, I thought, the hidden cameras of  “Hell’s Kitchen” must be recording all this for a spin-off. Just imagine Gordon Ramsay with a Texas drawl.

I ordered a pulled pork plate with corn on the cob and baked beans, only to find out much later that they were out of pulled pork, corn on the cob and baked beans.

To be fair, we were there at the end of an extremely busy Friday when concentration, stamina, tempers and reason had all boiled over into absurdity. Those guys were operating on fumes.

And in this mix, the owner Chris Burke is running around trying to tie up the loose ends on failed orders, maybe a bit too gruffly.

I don’t revel in other people’s pain but I had to stare with the fascination of a pedestrian witnessing a car wreck.

Here’s the thing: Everyone’s meal arrived, more on time than not. (I was able to substitute a very tasty beef brisket.) And the food was delicious. Stephen pronounced his steak the best he’d had in 20 years of living in Belize. Rose had a decent hamburger. Other folks were equally as pleased.

And Chris, frazzled but still Texas-big, turned out to be a pretty congenial guy who may be learning the restaurant ropes in real time but, man, does he know his meats and how to cook them.

He even brought out a huge slab of raw prime, safely sealed in plastic, to show us how really fresh his beef is. Straight from the mainland Mennonite farm to our dinner table.

Exhibit A: Chris Burke hauls a slab of fresh prime beef to our table to show that it comes straight from a Mennonite Farm to his restaurant. He's so in love with their beef, he's thinking of converting.
Exhibit A: Chris Burke hauls a slab of fresh prime beef to our table to show that it comes straight from a Mennonite Farm to his restaurant. He’s so in love with their beef, he’s thinking of converting.

Others we have spoken to since say the key to great service is to get to Texas BBQ during the off hours, like 2 to 4 p.m. when nobody else is thinking lunch or dinner.

Chris has as many dreams for the future as he has cuts of meat stashed inside the 14-hour smoker. He wants to expand the seating – there is one large table right next to the meat smoker. He plans an incredible breakfast menu. I honestly couldn’t keep up with his dream stream of consciousness.

But, damn, I wish him well.

How do you spot a cyclist in San Pedro during the wet season? Two ways: Speckled legs (above)  and a skunk strip on the back, from shirt top to butt.
How do you spot a cyclist in San Pedro during the wet season? Two ways: Speckled legs (above) and a skunk strip on the back, from shirt top to butt.

After dinner Stephen and our newest friends, from Nashville, whose names I lost in all the beef and wine (Sorry!), did indeed port us and our bicycles home.

That’s oddly a mixed blessing for me. I enjoyed hitching a ride home but I dread getting used to or becoming dependent on a golf cart — mine or someone else’s. I like cycling but the rains are coming and as Rose teaches more and more, she’ll need better transportation.

Against my own faulty judgment we may soon be in the hunt for a golf cart, electric or gas I don’t know.

But the real lesson for me this night was to consider the answer “Yes” more often when someone suggests an adventure.

That lesson was applied the next day over a late breakfast at Estel’s — last of the season for us before they closed their doors — when our friend Ed Butterick suggested we all go on our first poker run that night. But first we’ll need to smell the coffee roasting. …

 

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 1: Solo snorkel

Doing stuff we haven’t done before, Part 2: What’s SUP!

 Next up on Doing stuff we haven’t done before: Smell the coffee roasting

What you need to know about Belize in 33 insightful minutes

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A little San Pedroean watches a parade pass by her home on Pescador (Middle) Street.
A little San Pedroan watches a parade pass by her home on Pescador (Middle) Street.

Thinking about moving to Belize? You’ve got a friend in Ann Kuffner.

Well, we have a friend in Ann — and her husband, Mike. But you should get to know them, too.

Blogger’s note: The status of the video referred to in this post has since been changed to private. My apologies. You can still find Ann Kuffner’s writings on the International Living website and in their magazine. Some of her other videos on Belize are available by searching YouTube.

Read the rest of this entry »

San Pedro Saturday night: A magical tour through tapas and wines

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Flor from Wine De Vine previews the next wines that will be poured and how it fits in with the next course to be served at Casa Picasso during a special dinner Saturday night for about 120 guests.
Flor from Wine de Vine previews the next wines that will be poured and how it fits in with the next course to be served at Casa Picasso during a special dinner Saturday night for about 120 guests.

Quiz time, my little Luminosity-loving friends! Very simple and no time limit.

Match the Casa Picasso food serving in Column A with the appropriate Wine de Vine wine pairing in Column B:

Course                                                                                      Wine

1. Sashimi Styled Snook                                                       A. Protos Gran Reserva, Spain

2. Savory Cheese Custard/Heirloom Tomatoes         B. Bujanda Finca Antigua, Garnacha, Spain

3. Butternut Squash & Ricotta Gnochi                            C. Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, U.S.

4. Chocolate & Vanilla Pork Short Ribs                          D. Villa Antinori Toscano Bianco, Italy

5. “Cookies and Milk” Pie                                                       E. Qunita Do Noval, 2003 Port

Aw, I’m just messing with you. You don’t have to take the quiz because it has already been done for you. Here’s the menu from which the quiz was cribbed. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating Sleep-in Sunday on Ambergris Caye

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This is the view from the Ak'bol resort's restaurant, where we had breakfast last Sunday. The palapa at the end of the pier is used for yoga. A great thing to watch as you eat coconut French toast.
This is the view from the Ak’bol resort’s restaurant, where we had breakfast last Sunday. The palapa at the end of the pier is used for yoga. A great thing to watch as you eat coconut French toast.

Welcome to Sleep-In Sunday!

It is nearly 10 a.m. and I am drinking only my first cup of coffee for the day.

Sleep-In Sunday is a variation on Exploration Sunday, during which Rose and I get on our bikes and discover new places and spaces here on Ambergris Caye.

There are mainly two options for exploration: Read the rest of this entry »

In Belize, ‘What do you recommend?’ opens doors

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Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine
Rose and Monkey Bob enjoy some sauvignon blanc from Sonoma, of all places at Wine de Vine

Can I get a recommendation?

On Ambergris Caye you only have to ask and people come forth with all kinds of great stuff.

The other day over breakfast with English expats John and Rose East, we learned that Friday night’s must-eat dinner is the Mayan buffet at Elvi’s Kitchen. And, holy cow, was that a great recommendation. Later this morning we’ll line up for the soup at Briana’s on Back Street, a Saturday-only experience that lasts only as long as the soup. And according to John and Rose, you get there early or you don’t get any at all.

Part of the buffet table at Elvi's Kitchen.
Part of the buffet table at Elvi’s Kitchen.

Over breakfast yesterday at the Melt Cafe, owners Mark and Michelle tipped us off to what sounds like a pretty good rental — two bedrooms fully furnished on the ocean in one of the nicer condo complexes south of town. We’re going to grab a golf cart or bikes and check it out later this morning, after Rose is done with yoga.

A glimpse of the interior of Elvi's Kitchen
A glimpse of the interior of Elvi’s Kitchen.

Yesterday afternoon we grabbed a light lunch at the Ambergris Brewing Co., which as yet does not brew any beer. But they do offer good sandwiches at a cheap price and they are right next door to out Blue Tang Inn. The owner, Don, stopped to chat after picking up his son at school. When he learned of our intent to move to Belize, possibly San Pedro, he immediately recommended talking to Bob Hamilton, a former Canadian, now Belize citizen, who owns Coral Beach Real Estate.

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Dinner at Elvi's
Dinner at Elvi’s

Another great call. Bob — or Barefoot Bob, as he’s beginning to be called — turns out to be an incredible resource. Even though we just sort of popped into his office yesterday he gave us as much time as we wanted to talk real estate, local gossip, the trials and tribulations to migrating to Belize — he knew it all. And he hardly cared if we were interested in buying property.

He calls it good karma. When we’re ready, he said, he’ll be here. Meanwhile Bob recommended a couple of property management companies that could set us up in a long-term rental while we decide the next big step.

After leaving Barefoot Bob’s — he does work barefoot and in shorts, with a graying ponytail, we headed for the social hour at Wine de Vine, a high end wine, meats and cheese bar. That was another recommendation, from Rose’s yoga instructor. Lots of expats flock to the wine bar on Fridays.

Wine, by the way, is a bit of a luxury here — very expensive by US standards. After a couple of glasses of chardonnay from Chile and sauvignon blanc  from back home in Sonoma we felt it was time to get back into island life and head for the Mayan buffet.

Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie's (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.
Good citizens: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill (to the left) gave up part of its parking lot for a detour around a road construction project.

But first we had to check out another recommendation: Carlo & Earnie’s Runway Bar and Grill, an open air bar right next to the airport landing strip. John East had noted that it was one of three very inexpensive bars worth visiting.

We thought it was pretty decent of Carlo and Earnie to donate a big portion of their parking lot for a detour around the town’s one major street rehabilitation project. Otherwise traffic would have been routed around the far side of the airport, a major inconvenience to all.

And what do you know? We ran into John there, picking up fish and chips for him and Rose, who’d taken a bad fall at their home construction site yesterday. She was home recuperating as he ran errands. (We send our thoughts and well wishes to Rose, a lovely woman, our first friends on the island.)

The Mayan buffet was every bit as good as John and Rose said it would be. Starting with a shrimp bisque, the fare was familiar — rice, chicken, pulled port, tortillas, refried beans and more — all with unique twists to flavoring and preparation. Desserts included a very dark papaya, chocolate bread pudding and strong Mayan coffee.

Elvi’s Kitchen is a cavernous space with a packed sand floor and a huge tree decked in twinkling lights. Great atmosphere.

For the moment we’ve run out of recommendations but I’m pretty confident that as soon as we strike up a conversation with the next local we’ll be off on our way to the next great discovery.