Founded in London in 1971 by Americans Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, the Hard Rock Cafe brand will be celebrating its 43rd year of operation this weekend with a three-day birthday bash showcasing their love for music and food. Owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida since 2007, Hard Rock continues to focus its legacy through music and memorabilia, operating 175 locations in 53 countries, with the newest addition opening next week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Four decades in the business do not come without hardships and Hard Rock has managed its viability by adapting through the years without going the radical route of other companies or following culinary trends. Through the great American export of rock and roll, the brand has always maintained an association with "Americana" and as such, big, bold flavors pair with comfort in a setting worthy of inducing Fred Flintstone into one of his legendary brontosaurus rib comas.
Ahead of their celebratory weekend, Chef and General Manager Scott Jacobs made a majority of his new menu available for sampling and it was hard not to fall under the hypnotic joviality of his excitement for the product. A twenty-one year veteran of Hard Rock, Chef Jacobs is a tall man with an easy smile that is backed by the wonderment of culinary possibility usually seen in newbies joining their first kitchen line.
Here are some highlights of the tasting dinner.
There's no better way to get started than with alcohol. The Air Mexico sampler of three miniature margaritas is accompanied by chips and salsa and imbibers can choose from wild berry, pomegranate, watermelon, mango, cucumber and blue curaçao built with Avión Silver Tequila and Cointreau for a balanced hit of fruit that does not delve fully into cloying sweetness.
The Watermelon Cooler is another refreshing starter though it suffers from the foils of masking the alcohol a little too well, which could be problematic to fast drinkers. Limit yourself to one then. The strawberry mojito suffers a similar fate but errs more on the side of sweet than minty fresh.
The appetizer menu retains its familiarity but where the song could've remained the same, the kitchen team has kicked it up a notch by revitalizing the back end notes of traditional fare like the Tupelo chicken tenders, a fine homage to Elvis that does not involve peanut butter and/or bananas. The breading is light and rife with old world spices and it crisps well while retaining that little greasy juiciness that feels right. The Spinach Artichoke Dip is fairly standard though it benefits from a healthy helping of Romano cheese that pairs well with the Parmesan flatbread.
The revelation of the appetizer round was the Bruschetta; the traditional mix of basil, Roma tomatoes and shaved Parmesan get a flavor augmenting kick with basil oil and a tangy herb cream cheese. The chicken wings have also benefitted from a reworking of their prep. Three sauces compliment them but in all honesty, they are quite good on their own for the almost floral hint it imparts.
The salads are fairly standard, balanced in ingredients and massive in portion, well worth their values in the twelve to fourteen dollar range. But the best salads are undoubtedly those that are wedged between two buttery slices of grilled sourdough bread that you can pick up with your hands. The veggie sandwich is a delightful and stacked amalgam of marinated and grilled Portobello, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus and red bell peppers. Topped with Monterey Jack cheese and a balsamic glaze it is "meaty" enough in that way vegetarians go on and on about to satisfy any palate in the spectrum.
The burgers are large though not obnoxious and feature a blend of brisket, chuck and strip that make for a juicy and messy burger that is grilled and by kitchen mandate never pressed in the line so it retains all its ooziness by arrival tableside. The Tango burger is easily the most napkin-heavy on the menu and though a bit on the sweet side, the two four ounce patties are complimented with two cheeses, Sloppy-Joe, a barbecue sauce and horseradish mayo. The toasted brioche made a nice attempt at holding itself together but in the end, weight and sheer messiness prevailed.
The Fiesta burger is a little more manageable and with a healthy dollop of chunky guacamole, sure to ingratiate itself to those seeking the nutritional merits of avocado. Hard Rock usually caters to their communities with a burger that is symbolic of them and in South Florida that would be the Cuban burger's mojo pork, plantains, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle.
One push that Hard Rock is making is to identify itself as a food destination. Their kitchen is available for private engagements as well as event catering. They've also entered the realm of competition. On the barbecue end of things, they are particularly proud of their smokehouse and the ribs, briskets and chickens that get a healthy smoking in it. The brisket had a nice touch of smokiness to it and was room temperature butter soft. The ribs were fantastic; a solid bark and nary an atom left on the bone as the meat pulled off with ease. The chicken, though cooked through and moist could do with a little less time in the brine and less sauce served on top as it was considerably sweet.
A small but varied wine list covers the range of popular varietals with some featured bottles like Train's Drops of Jupiter Red Blend and Dave Matthews' Dreaming Tree wines. Beers remain about the same but with intentions of rotating some crafts into the mix from time to time.
The desserts certainly fall into the realms of decadence and potential hyperglycemia and are in our humble opinion a little too large. The Oreo cookie cheesecake and the chocolate molten cake would be the obvious choices for chocoholics but the apple cobbler is the best ending offered. The right amount of spices are steeped into the apples and the payoff is a satisfying meal closer that gives a perfect hint of sweet without damaging the savory achievements of the main course.
Billed as "adult shakes" for those who prefer to drink their desserts, the Twist and Shout Shake, though incredibly sweet, is a fine concoction of whipped cream, caramel, chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream and bacon shards helmed by the alcoholic marriage of Bacardi spiced rum, Guinness and Crème de Cacao. The Chocolate Cherry Soda is a little less sweet and makes perfect use of Jim Beam's Red Stag in a flurry of chocolate ice cream, Pepsi and spiced brown sugar.
Considering the ebb and flow of culinary trends and what people are swayed to believe by cooking shows, the Hard Rock has maintained competitive by never straying too far from their original vision. They certainly retain a wide-eyed ideal of their product while respecting particular needs. Chef Jacobs was quick to point out that any guest requiring special attention regarding nut or gluten allergies would be accommodated by the staff.
By holding to their own standards and corporate vision, the Hard Rock revamps itself a little with successful choices for their menu. Retaining their sense of American fare, they amplify the flavors in a bold way that does not buckle to trends though it might make you feel the pinch of yours.
All images compliments of the Hard Rock.
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