Tap 42 Bar and Kitchen is serious about beer. So serious that when one of its craft-beer taps runs out, the first thing the venue does is update its Facebook page. Inside the restaurant, it's not uncommon to see the beer menu reprinted twice per day. The menu also tempts customers to return with a section called "Coming Soon," a list of beers Tap 42 will start pouring in the next week.
You'd be wrong if you thought all this obsessing over beer meant the food, service or design got short shrift. In fact, Tap 42 serves some of the best tavern food in South Florida.
It's housed on the same spot of the Brownies, once the oldest bar in Fort Lauderdale. But brothers Sean and Blaise McMackin built Tap 42 from the ground up and turned it into one of the most-stylish restaurants in the city.
From the outside, the cool, steel-gray building could be an interior design studio. Even in the summer heat, you'll want to sit on the smartly designed, 120-seat patio. Too often, outdoor seating gets overlooked. Not here. The horizontal slats of the fence act as screens through which the breeze can blow. I once sat at a long bar-height table with a group at lunch. Inside, the bar tops are made of cement. The draft taps are housed on a back splash made from 15,000 pennies. You won't find tacky beer banners pinned on the reclaimed barn wood walls. There's room for 160 people inside.
I've had several meals at Tap 42 since it opened this past November. The menu has changed several times. The skirt steak salad I had in February seems to have been replaced by a grilled filet and romaine-heart salad ($14). The pierogi appetizer is gone. Just recently, new chef David Peck was brought on, and his menu changes will be introduced soon. Perhaps most important, the McMackins now have a third partner. He's general manager Andy Yeager, who worked at Houston's for a decade. He also owns Mister Collins, the Bal Harbour restaurant that features "made-from-scratch American cuisine."
Yeager seems to have professionalized the staff. Service is beyond efficient, even when the place is hopping — as it often is. They'll even help you choose what kind of beer to drink based on what you already like. Am I allowed to say that they also could have been hired because of their good looks?
We started a recent meal with several bar snacks. Berkshire crispy pork belly ($13) is indeed crispy (unlike so many versions) with just the right ratio of fat to lean. It's served with farro, huckleberry jam and a watercress salad lightly dressed in sherry vinaigrette — all nice foils to the richness of the pork. I liked the Florida rock shrimp mac and cheese ($10), made with Irish white cheddar and bacon, but the folks at my table felt the shrimp was unnecessary. One menu item that I do believe is unnecessary is a weird creation called salami breadsticks ($10). They taste like something made out of desperation with what was left in the fridge: soft breadsticks covered in goat cheese, spinach, arugula and salami. You dip them into cherry mustard. I don't get them.
Chicken wings ($9.50) can be had in five styles: Buffalo, barbecue bourbon, Jamaican jerk, death sauce or white-boy Asian, as we had them. They're oversize and crispy, and the Asian-style wings are not too salty despite their soy base.
From the soup and salad section of the menu, kale Caesar ($9) with focaccia croutons was a bit overdressed with a classic Caesar dressing. We added grilled chicken ($5) for someone eating light. Beer-cheese soup ($6) was a superb mess of soppressata, cheddar, provolone, Swiss and amber ale.
Burgers are among the biggest stars here. One bite into the Prohibition ($12), and you'll understand that this has much to do with the blend of ground brisket, short rib and chuck. Burgers are presented almost elegantly, with a wooden pick holding the brioche bun on the patty. Great thought was put into everything, from the pickle to the metal basket in which the fries are served. The veggie burger ($12.50) was less successful, because the black-bean-based patty was bland, even with the barbecue glaze and mustard. If you're a fan of fish and chips, you won't go wrong with Tap 42's Guinness fish and chips ($16.50), crispy, perfectly battered black cod served with coleslaw and tartar sauce.
After beer and burgers, the last thing you'll want is dessert, but Tap 42 doesn't disappoint with s'mores ($7.50), which get a grown-up espresso ganache or bread pudding ($6) made with white-chocolate hazelnut, Knob Creek cream anglaise and dried cherries.
1411 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday and Sunday, bar open late
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Can get noisy
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot or $3 valet