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.
The dinner rush rolled in as we ate, filling the restaurant with young couples enjoying a romantic evening and small parties raising glasses and sharing bites. Having finished our meals, we set to downing a great many pints of super-hopped Red Seal Pale Ale and tangy Hofbrau Hefeweizen ($7 and $8, two of the four rotating draft selections at the moment). Rounds begat more rounds, until, having lost track of time, we realized all the diners had shuffled out. There are no posted closing times — the pub just seems to shutter up whenever the last of the punters leave. For us it was around 1 a.m., when beers began to spill and conversation became hazy.
I returned a couple of days later with my girlfriend for an early dinner and found the place full of regulars discussing things like fermentation practices and appropriate serving temperature for beer. This time I had a special of pounded sirloin steak slathered in chimichurri ($16) and sided with a mound of creamy mash. The steak had it all: the earthy lick of the grilled, the heat of cracked black pepper, the sweet crunch of grilled onion, the grassy bite of fresh parsley. My girlfriend raved about her "friar's supper" ($13), an inch-thick quesadilla gushing with Bulgarian feta, mozzarella, cheddar, sour cream, and snappy artichoke hearts. She lapped up every bit of the hummus and salsa it came with, the latter a near-perfect blend of finely minced tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos; I'd have eaten it with a spoon if only she'd have spared more.
We left the way the regulars do: Since the parking is in back, the staff ushers diners out through the workman-like kitchen. I almost wanted to stop and give thanks, as if the room doubled as an altar. But like those dedicated, drunken monks who savor the wonders of fermentation and know the joy of good food, I knew there'd be another time. God willing, we'll all have plenty of it.