Take a Trip to Titusville

Friday, May 20th, 2011 at 8:16 AM
Take a Trip to Titusville by Tim Schnars II
Contributed photo

Cabin Fever. No, I’m not referring to the cheesy horror film. I mean that sense of being cooped up for too long in one place. It’s a familiar malady that can easily be cured by another pair of words: Road Trip.

That’s exactly how I found myself in Titusville. Titusville is historically known as the birthplace of the oil industry, when Colonel Edwin L. Drake drilled America’s first viable well. But I didn’t go down there searching for “Texas Tea”. I went down there to find a canoe, that is, a Blue Canoe.

On the corner of South Franklin and West Spring streets you’ll find the Blue Canoe, Titusville’s sole brewery. Taking residence where the now defunct Four Sons brewery once was, the Blue Canoe stands resolute as not only the perfect place to enjoy a home grown beer, but as an exceptional dining experience as well. Owner Bill Zimmer has breathed new life into the brewpub space that closed as the Four Sons in 2007. Such care extended to reviving pub favorites like Heavy Kevy and Dead Tony’s, a Belgian style tripel named after a plumber who passed away while fixing some piping there.  

Approaching the southern exterior wall you’ll discover a fantastic mural displaying a microcosm of Titusville’s oil history and its rich natural surroundings. My companions and I entered the pub and found ourselves surrounded by rich textures of stone, brick, and wood. The bar has river rapids painted on it as well as a continuous refrigerated strip to place your resting glass on. In the center of the bar is a stone edifice giving rise to the tap handles and an overhead hollowed-out canoe with blackboard serving as a menu for house brews.

While we waited for a table, I ordered a Serial Keller pilsner. Crisp and clean, with moderate noble hop flavor and aroma, it left me curious to discover what else brewer Justin Dudek had in store for us. Glancing over at the brewhouse visible from the dining room, I could see tanks and hoses, bags of pilsner malt, and a byzantine assortment of valves that I imagine provide quite a show when in action.

As we were seated on the dining room side of the pub—a glass divider separates it from the bar—we could notice flags of many nations draped from the ceiling and cloth malt bags hanging against the brick walls. My friends and I each ordered a beer as we perused the menu, mine being a Heavy Kevy. It was dark amber with ruby tints as it hit the light. The flavor was reminiscent of crisp toffee and nutty flavors, and though 6.8 percent alcohol by volume, it seemed quite sessionable.

One look at the menu can leave you feeling quite overwhelmed, with the variety and seeming complexity of choices available. I took a moment to express my gratitude to Chef Jeremy Pataki for my gastronomical indecision. In addition to exquisite dishes, The Blue Canoe has the usual pub fair, including pizzas and sandwiches, but with an artistic flair that you might find in an upscale bistro. There are vegetarian options available as well as entrees so enticing that I found myself wanting to return before I left.

I decided on the PA ‘shrooms as an appetizer. Stuffed mushrooms filled with sweet sausage, crawfish tails, green onions, and cream cheese delivering a creamy, spicy, and savory deliciousness. I ordered a Class 5 APA (American pale ale) to pair it with. Its name unmistakably referring to its tempestuous hop profile, consisting of high myrcene oil hops, possibly cascades. Its pleasant bitterness accentuated the mild spiciness of the ‘shrooms quite well.

My buddies chose the Bloody Mary mussels and bruschetta. The bruschetta was topped with tomato, Gouda, and Asiago cheeses, caramelized onions, and a balsamic sauce that when combined with the onions created fruity, candy notes. My friend had been sipping on Travesty, a Belgian-style ale blended with red wine from nearby Angeli winery in between bites. During this musician Ernie Barker was playing laidback classic rock on the bar side, as we each picked at the plate of mussels. The Bloody Mary sauce was spot-on and soon was just a plate of shells.

For our entrees, we ordered grilled pork shanks, vegetarian raviolis, and shepherds pie. Expecting a robust savory flavor profile from the shanks, I ordered the Colonel’s Cocoa Crude Chocolate Stout. The stout, being served on nitrogen, was creamy smooth and midnight black. It had such a cocoa finish it reminded me of chocolate milk. The pork shanks had a choice of sauces, a Mediterranean style and an Angeli red wine chipotle sauce. The Mediterranean sauce had a slightly sweet fruitiness with cinnamon accents that complemented the pork perfectly as it melted off the bone. It was sided with lumpy mashed potatoes—just like mom used to make—and julienne style onions, cucumbers, and peppers. The plate also had sauce accents, making me wonder if indeed I had stumbled into a fine dining restaurant. I asked my friend what he thought of his shepherd’s pie and he replied, “It’s the ultimate comfort food. If a cow dies, it hopefully could be in this dish.”

As we relaxed after our meal, I decided to have a Titusville Lager. It was exactly what a North American lager should taste like. Crisp, clean with just a subtle hint of cereal grains. The Blue Canoe even makes a light beer, Flashlite lager, for those looking to take it easy.

Contemplating our ride home, I wished I could stay just a little longer as the atmosphere transformed from the dining crowd into something more intimate. I began to wonder: Why is this canoe so blue? Delicious handcrafted beer, a wonderful combination of pub food and fine dining at reasonable prices, and courteous wait staff made it seem as though its trip down the river was a sweet and serene perfection. I turned toward the portrait on the wall depicting a rope bridge extending across a river gorge to a misty jungle in the background. I realized that this place is an adventure, an experience that disallows itself from becoming stale. Beyond our road trip, this place was a journey in itself, and one worth trekking many times over. Could it be that this canoe is blue because it reflects the water and the sky that it calls home, representations of the excellence it provides?

I have a feeling I’ll be making this trip again very soon, as there is so much to take in—I don’t want to miss anything. Why not plan your own expedition, and experience a voyage at the Blue Canoe?

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