November 28, 2014

Florida Life - Dining

Just What the Doc Ordered — Rum!

Chris Sherman | 6/1/2010
Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille in Fort Myers Beach was one of the first bars to specialize in rums.

El Dorado:  - Doc Ford's Favorite Rum
Doc’s favorite rum, El Dorado from Guyana
Two things set Doc Ford’s apart from the scores of places selling snapper, grouper and shrimp along the Mangrove Coast.

The first is Randy Wayne White’s best-selling novels featuring Marion “Doc” Ford and his sidekick, a mystic sailor named Tomlinson. White’s fictional duo have become the most popular sailboat heroes since Travis McGee. A spinning bookrack is loaded with most of White’s 17 Doc Ford titles, in paperback and hard cover. A cubby holds bright T-shirts of every cover and the latest best-seller list with “Deep Shadow” highlighted.

Nearby, over in a corner, sits the author himself. He’s been a local fixture for 30 some years, first as a Fort Myers columnist and fishing guide before turning novelist.

Doc Ford’s has styled itself as a Rum Bar & Grille since its founding seven years ago. That’s its other distinction: The Sanibel bar was one of the first places to specialize in rums, the favorite drink of Doc, Tomlinson — and White. Recently, White and his restauranting friends opened a second Doc Ford’s under the bridge to Fort Myers Beach. It’s still a working fishing port where you’d expect to find Doc, Tomlinson and assorted wharf rats.?

Cuba Libre
Doc’s favorite rum, El Dorado from Guyana
Rum —?liquor’s new fashion leader — is an appropriate favorite in Florida, the nation’s most Caribbean state.

Rum has made grand cocktails since the first planter’s punch and shrub. Then came Cuba Libre with Coke, daiquiris, paper parasol drinks and the modern craze for minty mojitos, all of them inspiring party bars with themes. Yet the latest incarnation celebrates and respects rum as a grown-up liquor, the rum of cigars, old Havana and the admiralty; it can be as aged and handcrafted as fine Cognac — and as pricey.

Ask Elizabeth Harris, manager at Doc Ford’s, how she drinks her rum, and the answer is immediate: “Straight. Neat.” No ice, and why should she? A $10 taste of rum deserves a snifter and slow sipper, not pineapple juice.

I chose Depaz from Martinique, a rhum agricole made from blue cane juice instead of molasses. It’s mild and sweet like the smell of fresh pastries. Ford’s other choices run from Ron Abuelo, the luscious rum of Panama, to Doc’s and White’s favorite, El Dorado from Guyana, a super-premium rum made from Demerara sugar, the cabernet of cane.

Such rums, aged 15 years or more and priced from $35 to $150 a bottle, have their own cults of connoisseurs. “We’re very proud that we have a following that knows rums and comes regularly’’ — maybe once a week — to see what’s new, Harris says.

Rum “is the hottest category in liquor today,’’ says Dave Novak at Rumba Island Bar & Grill in Clearwater, which has assembled more than 100 labels on its rum list since opening four years ago. Atop the list may be Rhum Clement XO, an ultrapremium from Martinique. Novak’s own favorite is Ron Zacapa 23, a fine old rum drawn sherry-like from aged Demerara rums in Guyana.

Trader Vic's mai tai
Trader Vic's mai tai
Rum bars aren’t numerous, but they’re growing, and they vary from beach bars to the plantation drawing room Rumbar, which opened last year at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne with 50 rums, piscos and cachacas and some overstuffed chairs that would put Sydney Greenstreet at ease. Barefoot drinkers can gather around the fire pits on the beach at Panama Hattie’s at the rum bar in North Palm Beach. Cruzan, the booming distillery from the U.S. Virgin Islands, has a branded rum bar at Caribee Key on Neptune Beach.

The rum bar has also become a sophisticated restaurant concept called Cuba Libre, which started in Philadelphia and Atlantic City and now has a location on Orlando’s International Drive. And Trader Vic’s, a rum shrine since 1936 and the home of the orange/almond/rum mai tai, has just opened Trader Vic’s Island Grill in Sarasota.

Tags: Dining & Travel

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