4We’ve gotten that first nip in the air! And it’s all we can do to get out of our air-conditioned caves. With all those September rains and warm October days, the flowers and greenery abound. The hues of nature make an eclectic backdrop for entertaining in our backyards.

Most of us have odd-shaped backyards thanks to the diversity of the neighborhood. And if you have a small backyard to boot, count your blessings. It’s less work in the summer and creates a better sense of intimacy with your guests. So those of you sandwiched between a back alley and your neighbor’s garage really have the best location.

Just like you would clean your house for indoor entertaining, you should mow and clean your yard for outdoor entertaining. Grab a card table and throw a tablecloth over it. Make sure the table is sturdy and won’t topple over when guests pull up a chair.

4-1Place a few candles along the outline of your outdoor space. If you have a bush or a small tree, throw a string of Christmas lights on it. Scatter chairs around the table and in set-apart seating areas.
Make sure you’ve got your music powered up. Old technology is sometimes the best technology, so pop a CD of classical music in your old boom box and set it to auto-repeat. The music should be discreet so that it doesn’t overwhelm the conversation, but it should also be audible so your guests won’t strain trying to figure out if it’s Mozart or Mambozart.

One normally plans a party by putting the menu together first. Even though we’ve worked backwards, the importance of what is served should not be diminished. Make it simple by offering finger-foods that are self-serve and don’t need silverware or even plates. Makes for easier after-party cleaning.
Start with a big chopping block filled with a variety of cheeses, charcuterie, and a Cointreau Rickey cocktail. Make a stop at Mazzaro’s for the imported cheeses and charcuterie (that’s fancy-talk for cured, smoked, or otherwise preserved meats).

Next, plan on serving a variety of crowd-pleasing pizzas. Whether plain cheese or loaded with the kitchen sink, Gigi’s on 4th Street can set you up. Says manager Tim Gallivan, “It’s a pleasure to see our motto of ‘where friends meet to eat’ extended to our customers’ homes.”

Neighbors enjoying a backyard gathering

Neighbors enjoying a backyard gathering

With a variety of pizzas comes a variety of drink options. Serve cheese pizza, with a hoppy IPA which can stand up to the flavors and act as a palate cleanser to the distinct cheese flavors and earthiness of the sauce and herbs. The great thing about living in Northeast St. Pete is that we’re so close to any number of craft breweries. Pick up a couple of growlers from Green Bench, 3 Daughters or Cycle Brewing.

We’ll go with a wine next – one that will suit both carnivores and herbivores. The Scalabrone Bolgheri Rosato DOC is a well-balanced wine strong enough to counterbalance the meaty flavors pepperoni and sausage infuse to the cheese. But, it’s soft enough not to overpower the fresh basil or artichoke hearts of a veggie pizza.

Wrap up the evening with the Chateau Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé sparkling wine and Oreo cookies! Oreos will keep your outdoor gathering fun and will be the delight of your guests. It’s not often that Oreos become the dessert of choice at a party.

As you can see, backyard entertaining is not difficult. Nature offers the backdrop and you add the rest.

The Northeast Lifestyle section would like to highlight the great kitchens of NE St. Pete. We are looking for four kitchen styles: open concept, closed concept, modern, and retro 1950s or older. The first kitchen to sign up in each category will be highlighted (it’s not a contest). Your kitchen will need to be photographed for the article. Interested? Contact cecelia@uncorkedwines.com.

Cecelia Messina is a Certified Sommelier and writer focusing on lifestyle topics. Through her travels she has experienced the wonders of food and wine and how these bring people together. Cecelia left Tampa for Old NE St. Pete when she got married and has never regretted it. Even with a well-worn passport, she knows there’s no place like St. Pete.