If you like tater tots, you'd be missing out if you didn't try the ones served at Bar Red Beard in Fort Lauderdale.
They aren't your average thimble-size, deep-fried, hashed potatoes. These are as close to from-scratch tots as you'll ever get, each one a mashed potato sphere the size of a golf ball, a hefty serving of creamy, smooth-whipped potato encased in a thin shell of golden-fried crust.
They're so good you might even consider forgoing the sweet-and-spicy homemade rémoulade on the side for dipping. And there you have it: The average tot is forever ruined.
Served as an appetizer or side dish for Bar Red Beard's steak burger, these house-made tots are just one of several concoctions co-owner Michael Marchetti has dreamed up for the menu at the 3-month-old craft beer bar and restaurant he opened with his son Mike Junior in May.
Originally from Cleveland, Marchetti says he grew up learning to cook for his father and six siblings alongside his mother and grandmother. The kitchen has always been a comfortable place for him, even during a decades-long career working for the Broward County School Board.
South Floridians might know Marchetti as the whistleblower who uncovered a rigged bidding scam while serving as the special assistant to superintendent Robert Runcie. Today, Marchetti is a new business owner and, for the most part, chef.
Now, just a few months into his retirement, he's learning the ropes at his first establishment, a father-and-son team effort where each has combined his talents for the greater good. While Dad designs the menu and does the daily prep, Mike Jr. is behind the bar, busy sourcing a wide variety of the best in seasonal beer selections.
Marchetti originally planned to relocate to Gainesville after retiring. But Mike Jr., a former general manager for Tijuana Flats and most recently Funky Buddha Brewery, had other plans — mainly hoping to capitalize on the relationships he had built locally to help turn Bar Red Beard into his own iteration of the South Florida craft beer bar.
The name itself is a reference to Mike Jr., the same stout young man you might remember manning the taps at Funky Buddha in Oakland Park. Now you'll find him — sporting a long, well-kept eponymous red beard — behind his own bar.
Bar Red Beard occupies a corner space in the Fort Lauderdale business district known as Galt Ocean Mile, a quaint collection of shops, bars, and restaurants perched on the eastern shore of the Intracoastal. The space feels like Bar Red Beard has been there all along, complete with a smattering of locals parked at the bar, beer in hand.
But they aren't here just for the suds, Marchetti says.
"They're coming here for the beer, but they're coming back for the food," he says. "And that's what we set out for — a bar with a warm, small-town feel. We want people to come here and feel at home, like they're at the neighborhood bar."
Although the menu has already seen some changes in the first couple of months — inevitable restaurant growing pains, perhaps — several of the dozen or so dishes have made the final cut in the most recent overhaul. The most popular — those tots, pizza by the slice, and a house-made veggie burger — offer a taste of several of the family's signature recipes. It's bar food, but it's the homemade touch that gives it a certain appeal.
Order Geraldine's pizza by the slice. The pan pie is Marchetti's mom's specialty, a dish he's been making since he was old enough to man the oven alone. It's not the best pizza you'll ever have, but it's good in that mom-made-it sort of way.
The secret, Marchetti says, is the alternating layers of sauce, cheese, and toppings. Every order — be it the veggie, sausage, or pepperoni — arrives looking like a plain slice, with sauce and toppings buried under a thick layer of melted cheese. There's a method to the madness: It keeps each slice sandwiched together so that when you take a bite, there's no greasy mess or tumbling toppings.
Another family favorite, Mariano's meatballs, taste like a meal at the Marchettis' dinner table. The pork and beef meatballs were the Marchetti patriarch's favorite dish, prepared at Bar Red Beard the same way Marchetti's mother made them. Hand-mixed and rolled each day, they bake in the oven for a half-hour before simmering in a spicy, thick tomato sauce for several hours. Served three at a time, they're fall-apart tender, with a tuft of fresh, creamy ricotta cheese the final touch.
But Marchetti's best hits aren't from his old repertoire. Instead, the veggie burger and chicken salad are recent additions, recipes he whipped up in the past several months.
That includes his handmade "Bearded" veggie burger, a combination of quinoa, black beans, pecans, and cranberries served on a beer-infused bun. The flavor comes from the grill — each hand-formed burger is rolled in breadcrumbs before it's seared on both sides to lock in the flavor. The sweet and spicy chicken salad sandwich is equally flavorful; slow-cooked chicken is pulled into tender, bite-size chunks and rolled in Marchetti's spice-flecked, pink-tinged rémoulade.
For best results, pair any of those with one of Mike Jr.'s handpicked artisanal brews, be it a fruit-accented sour or a bold stout. There are 15 taps, each just a short pull from the keg, meaning every pour is a good pour.
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Dozens of others are offered by the bottle, with styles ranging from light to dark and rotating seasonally. Three nitro taps pour still more picks, including a homemade cold-brewed coffee that pours a golden caramel, light enough that you won't find any palate-wrenching acidity, and sweetened with just a touch of brown sugar.
"This is the very definition of a family business," Marchetti says. "It's something my son and I always dreamed of doing together, and we've been blessed to receive a warm welcome from this community. Our hope is to grow along with the neighborhood and be the corner bar where everyone comes to hang out and just enjoy."
Bar Red Beard
3301 NE 33rd St., Fort Lauderdale; 754-223-4665; facebook.com/barredbeard. Open Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Red Beard tots $4 to $7
Geraldine's pizza by the slice $4
Mariano's meatballs $13
Big Mickey steak burger $12
Bearded veggie burger $10
Chicken salad sandwich $11