New venue ups the ante for fun in the South Cape

RSWLiving - - News - BY GINA BIRCH

New venue ups the ante for fun in the South Cape

Bye-bye bingo, hello Big Blue Brew­ing. Tak­ing over what used to be a huge bingo hall in the heart of down­town Cape Coral, Big Blue of­fers more than just cold brew. It adds an­other layer to the South Cape’s grow­ing food and en­ter­tain­ment scene. An­other in­no­va­tion of JoAnn Elardo, founder of Wicked Dol­phin Rum Dis­tillery in the Cape, Big Blue opened its doors Oct. 1 and has been pack­ing peo­ple in ever since.

Elardo’s love of home brew­ing is what in­spired her ul­tra­suc­cess­ful, award-win­ning rum dis­tillery. Home brew­ing is also some­thing her neph­ews and em­ploy­ees at Wicked Dol­phin had been ex­per­i­ment­ing with.

She says, “I tasted a cou­ple and said, ‘Hmmm, I think y ou’ve got some­thing here.’ ”

When the bingo hall off of South­east 47th Ter­race was put up for sale, she pur­chased it with­out an im­me­di­ate plan for devel­op­ment. Even though the space is quite large, it was still too small for a Wicked Dol­phin ex­pan­sion. It was per­fect, how­ever, for con­vert­ing a beer hobby into an­other boom­ing busi­ness.

Big Blue makes what it calls its “core four” of craft brews: Golden Ale (light but com­plex), Am­ber Ale (more cit­rus notes), In­dia Pale Ale (a hoppy, bit­ter best-seller) and Honey Brown (malty, hints of cof­fee).

Head brewer James Ret­zler says, “We want to build on those gate­way beers, add some sea­sonal spe­cials and sup­port other lo­cal brew­eries by ro­tat­ing kegs in and out.”

Of its 24 taps, four are the Big Blue stan­dards with room for its sea­sonal and spe­cial brews. The rest are ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing other craft brew­eries in South­west Florida, as well as across the state.

Vis­i­tors get a bird’s-eye view of the fer­men­ta­tion tanks and work­ing brew­ery through a huge pic­ture win­dow at the build­ing’s en­trance. You can also book a tour, some­thing Elardo has per­fected at Wicked Dol­phin with some 24,000 peo­ple com­ing through an­nu­ally. She’s hop­ing to bring that same kind of traf­fic to down­town Cape Coral.

The en­tre­pre­neur could have kept her op­er­a­tion a rel­a­tively sim­ple one, but she went for broke by in­clud­ing a full-ser­vice restau­rant and an en­ter­tain­ment space. “I had to look at what was miss­ing in Cape Coral, what would be good for Cape Coral and help it grow. It’s what the area needed,” Elardo says. She also wanted “to have roots down­town.”

To off­set the waste­land of stucco sur­round­ing it, Big Blue’s façade was aug­mented with bricks to give it what Elardo

Sourc­ing qual­ity, lo­cal in­gre­di­ents is at the core of Elardo’s busi­ness model, along with be­ing kind to the en­vi­ron­ment.

calls “that old-time look.” The mas­sive out­door pa­tio in­cludes a fire pit, a bar and seat­ing for 125. Garage doors roll up when the weather is nice, in­te­grat­ing the in­door space, which seats an­other 75plus peo­ple.

The din­ing area is dec­o­rated with bot­tle chan­de­liers, a bar­rel wall and lo­cal art. Pa­trons ap­pre­ci­ate ex­tra touches like purse hooks and phone-charg­ing out­lets un­der the bars. The ceil­ing has ex­posed beams and spe­cial sound-ab­sorb­ing con­struc­tion to make the acous­tics sur­pris­ingly good for live mu­sic Thurs­day through Satur­day.

As for the food, it’s not typ­i­cal pub fare, but more gas­tro-pub, led by chef Bran­don DeMarco, a grad­u­ate of John­son and Wales Uni­ver­sity in Mi­ami. “I want to pro­vide some­thing new for the com­mu­nity to try, whether it’s a dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ent or tech­nique so that even though it’s all

fa­mil­iar food they’ll rec­og­nize a dif­fer­ence,” he says.

Some of the most pop­u­lar items in­clude the Con­fit BBQ Slider Flight, Spicy Beer Cheese topped with toasted malt and hops, and the Pork Belly Bao, in­spired by Korean street food, with a steam bun filled with pork belly, hoisin, jalapeño, sweet pep­per and cilantro.

The fish is wild, line caught and thought­fully sourced. Also look for the Big Blue Test Kitchen Menu—it changes of­ten—and a Sun­day brunch with a bloody Mary bar and bot­tom­less mi­mosas.

While the beer is the bomb, Big Blue’s craft cock­tails are mak­ing a mark on the down­town scene, with se­lec­tions such as the Co­quito Mo­jito, Cu­cum­ber Or­tiz and Smokey Prickly Pear Mar­garita. These cre­ative con­coc­tions all fea­ture small batch and craft spir­its sim­i­lar to and in­clud­ing Wicked Dol­phin.

Sourc­ing qual­ity, lo­cal in­gre­di­ents is at the core of Elardo’s busi­ness model, along with be­ing kind to the en­vi­ron­ment. You’ll find no plas­tic here; the straws are made from corn. “They cost more but we don’t care,” says the en­tre­pre­neur. “We’ll lose a lit­tle bit to gain a lit­tle for the en­vi­ron­ment.” Even the left­over grains from the brew­ery don’t get dumped but rather do­nated to a lo­cal farmer for feed.

Elardo shrugs, say­ing, “I’m 50-some­thing years old, so my thought is this: Do it right if you’re gonna do it, don’t take any short­cuts. You’re not gonna pay $8 for a ham­burger; you’re gonna pay $11, but you’ll know you’re eat­ing some­thing good and health­ful, and that is re­ally im­por­tant.”

The $9 beer flights are per­fect for try­ing the “core four” at Big Blue Brew­ing.

Brew­ing takes two weeks from start to fin­ish, a process head brewer James Ret­zler closely mon­i­tors. Right, Co­quito Mo­jito and Cu­cum­ber Or­tiz (right) are two of Big Blue's pop­u­lar craft cock­tails. The Con­fit BBQ Slider Flight (be­low) is a menu fa­vorite.

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