By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Three of us were several pints deep on a Friday night at Brother Tuckers in Pompano Beach when Brandon brought up a theological discussion. We were in a bit of a beer haze at the time, but I remember it went something like: "Is indoctrinating your children into religion from an early and therefore unthinking age a form of child abuse?"
Brandon is an ardent atheist and practicing skeptic. My buddy Fenton, on the other hand, was reared in a God-fearing, Christian home under the direction of a doting Italian mother. They came home from church on Sundays to slow-simmered sauce thick with sausage and meatballs — as much a part of the holy day as the sermon.
"You don't need to be religious to screw up your kids," Fenton replied matter-of-factly. Force-feeding religion to a child can equal one maladjusted adult, he conceded. "But kids pick up on all sorts of beliefs from their parents."
True enough. After all, Brandon's Portuguese upbringing obviously helped instill in him a deep love for food and, more importantly, beer. Finally, a form of worship we could all agree on.
The practice of beer worship is, in fact, a very real thing. And Brother Tuckers, a 30-seat bar and restaurant near the east end of Atlantic Boulevard, is its church. The monastery-themed gastropub serves about 50 different brews, and though that number is far from spectacular nowadays, what makes it special is the deep selection of Old World European beers and potent Belgian-style ales. On top of the studious beer selection, Brother Tuckers' kitchen deploys a small but equally impressive menu of dressed-up pub fare, from salads with cranberries and grilled chicken, to pizza layered with fresh clams, oregano, and garlic.
Though Tuckers has been around since 2005, the combination of beer and food has taken off in South Florida in recent months. Diners are congregating at places like Lola's on Harrison for beer pairings, discussing aroma and mouth-feel the way they used to talk about nose and bouquet. Other joints such as Tryst in Delray and The Lodge in Boca are not only specializing in a wide array of craft beers, they're also recognizing that people don't want to eat deep-fried wings and chicken strips alongside their $8 pints of Baltic porter.
We walked up to the brick facade crowned with the bar's Old English logo and stepped inside. A specials board propped up in front of the door was scrawled with inviting words: lump crabmeat-stuffed portabella mushroom cap with arugula salad; Cajun chicken gumbo with okra; house-made meatloaf sandwich stuffed with bacon and fresh mozzarella and topped with caramelized onions. The air was thick with the smell of sautéing vegetables and grilled meat. Red brick and wooden paneling lined the dining room, its far end framed by a short bar top guarding a wine rack full of multicolored beer bottles. It was small and cozy, with a steady conversational buzz; a place you could sink into.
A forward inside the photocopied paper menus explained that all the foodstuffs are brought in fresh daily and cooked fresh to order. It also warned that they sometimes run out of things. Within moments our waiter — a broad-shouldered guy who doubled as barkeep — walked over to take our drink order. Tuckers separates all its beers by category, so even Fenton, a relative beer newbie, could quickly scout out a variety that suited his taste. I chose a bottle of Duvel ($8), a yeasty, golden Belgian ale with a serious kick. Fenton opted for a light and refreshing Steelhead Extra Pale Ale from California ($4.75), while Brandon settled into a Delirium Tremens ($8.50), another strong Belgian suitably named after the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Each beer you order at Brother Tuckers is delivered in its own appropriate piece of glassware. Duvel, for example, is served with a branded tulip glass perfect for savoring the lacy head of white foam. The Tremens is paired with a bulbous snifter, ideal for taking in the beer's aroma. A sip of the Belgian ale reveals it's fruity and crisp, with a slight citrusy tang.
Nearby, a couple at one of the tables, covered in blue plastic, had ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom and the meatloaf sandwich. They were quietly cooing as they traded bites. The meatloaf sported a well-charred patty that looked almost like a burger, studded with thick bits of bacon and melted cheese. "This is great," the guy spilled out between mouthfuls. Waiter, I'll have what he's having.
My sandwich ($12) arrived on one of the metal cafeteria trays Tuckers uses, along with Fenton's "burg-a-tory" ($12, cutesy name included), a hulking cheeseburger topped with salsa, slivers of jalapeno, and melted pepper jack cheese. Brandon had decided on "holy smokes" ($13), a sort of antipasti plate with thick-cut smoked salmon and capers, slices of chicken apple sausage grilled to a crisp, and two sizable hunks of goat cheese. The meatloaf sandwich came with summery tricolor pasta salad with olives and a light vinaigrette, and Fenton received a salad of romaine, baby spinach, and radicchio with hunks of feta cheese and carrots.
A leaf of pristine-looking Boston lettuce lined the doughy, sweet bread below my meatloaf patty, smartly protecting it from over-saturation. The meaty hunk was salty-sweet from the bacon and cheese and tasted even better slathered with garlicky Thousand Island dressing with chunks of shallot. I bartered for a bit of Fenton's burger before it disappeared; despite having eaten a full dinner nearly an hour earlier, he polished off the thick wedge of beef between his very audible sounds of pleasure. Meanwhile, Brandon dressed pieces of "daily bread" with salmon, roasted red peppers, and a smear of goat cheese. "My God, that's excellent," he extolled, to, presumably, no God in particular.