With 300 beers on its binder-size drinks menu, Taps Restaurant Bar and Lounge very much specializes in booze. But what sets it apart from most spots on Southwest Second Street is a commitment to a modicum of healthfulness.
"Our food is a little step above most bar food," general manager Lee Evans says. "Our food is smart food. It's made with fresh ingredients. It's made with very little sodium and very little butter. We don't have a fryer in the building."
Buffalo chicken ($11) is on the menu, for instance, but not as wings out of the fryer. Instead, strips of chicken breast are tossed with wing sauce and sliced celery and served with romaine leaves for guests to make their own lettuce wraps. There's even a little ramekin of crumbled blue cheese. You almost don't miss the greasy wing. Almost.
Air-popped, blue-kernel popcorn ($5) is served in a white paper cone dusted with Asiago cheese and a bit of truffle oil. It goes perfectly with a glass of Bell's Oberon pale wheat ale ($5), or any kind of beer for that matter.
There are 18 so-called American tapas, including spicy barbecue chicken cashew skewers ($12), which were a bit overcooked, but nicely coated with a sweet and slightly spicy sticky sauce. The bean dip trio ($10) features hummus, white bean and spiced black bean dips. While the hummus tastes as though it was made without tahini or garlic, the white and black bean dips are quite good. The dips are served with grilled pita, but we took the menu's suggestion and substituted fresh carrots and celery ($3). Baked meatballs ($15) are dramatically presented on a long, white serving tray topped with tomato sauce, dollops of ricotta, fresh basil and garlic crostini. The meatballs are tender and generously seasoned with garlic and Italian seasoning.
During the 4-6 p.m. daily happy hour, four appetizers — bacon-wrapped jalapenos, baked meatball salad, gyro and hot pretzel — cost just $5 each. Taps take $1 off draft beer, and single-liquor cocktails and house wines cost $5.
The 10 bruschetta preparations ($9-$11) are hard to ignore, so we settled on an interesting topping combination of balsamic roasted mushrooms, basil pesto and goat cheese ($9). There's no mistaking this for anything other than something to nosh on while drinking beer, but the ratio of balsamic to pesto to cheese is just about right. The other bruschetta offerings include brie with honey ($9), meatball with ricotta ($9) and smoked salmon with red onion and lemon-basil aioli ($12).
It would be easy to make a meal of those American tapas, which we did during one lunchtime visit. But one early evening, we took at look at salads and sandwiches. A Northern Italian sausage hero ($11) starts with a grilled Italian sausage. It's served on a baguette topped with white-bean spread, arugula, roasted balsamic portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers. It delivers.
Lighter eaters — I'm thinking of anyone on their way to a show at the Broward Center — will like the Greek salad with chicken ($12), a fairly typical mixture of romaine, feta, olives, onion, artichokes, fennel and cucumber. The dressing is a simple red-wine vinaigrette that, thankfully, you don't need to order on the side, because it's so wonderfully lightly dressed. Other salad selections include a bacon turkey salad ($12) and chicken paillard ($14) with asparagus, portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, oven-roasted tomato, artichoke hearts, arugula and a goat-cheese croquette.
Heavy eaters will want to end with a brick-size piece of warm apricot bread pudding ($9), served with vanilla ice cream, caramel and sliced almonds. There's enough here for four.
Taps seats about 100 people, mostly at high-top tables. While there are TVs everywhere, one side of the restaurant is more sports bar than restaurant. If you're eating here, try for a seat in the north side of the building.
The eager, polo-shirted wait staff wear a No. 4 patch on their arms. This is the fourth Taps location after Tampa, Orlando and Naples. Tampa will soon get a second location. Folks obviously like what Taps does.
While it won't necessarily win any culinary contests, Taps is one more Southwest Second Street option.
330 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: For parties of 10 or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Loud when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Boosters, kid-friendly menu items
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Street, garage