Restaurant Reviews

Flagler Village's Brass Tap Breaks the Franchise Mold

In our modern age of food snobbery — one bombarded by foodie Instagrammers and Yelp Elites — it's becoming increasingly difficult to convince people that a franchise restaurant can offer good food for a good price. The men behind Flagler Village's Brass Tap Beer Bar are looking to change that.

"People, especially here in South Florida, have an almost allergic reaction to chain restaurants," says Brass Tap franchise owner Matthew Baum. "But I think that when people come into our place and feel the vibe and see the menu, they'll see we're not just another franchise."

The secret, ironically, seems to be to break out of the franchise's mold — to a certain extent.

"When people come into our place and feel the vibe and see the menu, they'll see we're not just another franchise."

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"I've always been a craft beer fan," says Baum. "I really liked [the Brass Tap] concept, but what ultimately attracted me was Brass Tap's willingness to let me do my own thing. I'm not one to follow rules, and they were very much open to letting us operate almost autonomously under the name Brass Tap with all the benefits that come along with being part of a franchise."

In 2013, when Baum opened his first restaurant in Pembroke Pines, he did something no one else had thought to do: He asked for permission to brew his own beer on premise. In 2015, Baum opened a second location in Naples and then acquired the Boynton Beach location — originally established in 2014 by another franchisee — a few months later.

For his latest spot in the heart of booming Flagler Village, he pushed even further. The idea was to introduce a new type of Brass Tap, one that not only offered an amazing selection of craft beer — much of it brewed onsite on the second floor in Flagler Village Brewery — but also a new menu of chef-inspired dishes.

To execute his plan, Baum brought on executive chef Jonathan Garr who, by the age of 24, already had "sous-chef" inscribed on his Soyka Miami chef's coat. From there, Garr went on to become the assistant banquet chef at Pier 66 and, most recently, executive sous-chef at Surfcomber in South Beach.

"It was a bit of a leap of faith to decide to go work with a franchise," admits Garr. "But, especially in this business, if you don't take risks and break some rules, you're not going to get anywhere."

Baum had a vision, and Garr was eager to bring it to life. Together, they traveled to Brass Tap's corporate headquarters in Tampa to see if they could not simply alter but upgrade the traditional Brass Tap franchise menu. Today, Flagler Village stands as the only franchise location out of 35 restaurants from California to New York to have both an in-house brewing facility and full-service kitchen manned by a dedicated executive chef.

That means an open flame grill to cook burgers, a sauté station to make sauces in-house, six gas burners for made-to-order dishes, and a full-service convection baking oven to bake breads onsite. It also affords Garr the creative freedom to construct specials and make regular menu changes, differences that mean at least 40 percent of the Flagler Village revenue comes from food compared to 25 percent at other locations.

"People come here to eat just as much as they do to drink beer," says Garr. "I take the same approach to my food as the brewer does to his beer. Everything I can do in house, I will."

That includes the Sunday biscuits for brunch, made from scratch and prepped every Friday. They sit overnight to set, and come Saturday they're rolled in brown butter and cinnamon. Sunday morning, after two days of tender loving care, they're cut and baked. They're better than anything you could make for yourself at home or get at McDonald's, and that, according to Garr, is the point of all that work.

The regular menu has some surprises too. Shareables include chicken wings, spicy tuna lettuce wraps, and Florida sweet corn fritters. Try the Super Salad, honey-citrus-dressed ribbons of kale mixed with quinoa, dried cranberries, sliced pecan, diced mango, sweet piquanté peppers, and crumbled feta cheese.

A list of hot and cold sandwiches includes Garr's Korean barbecue pork, a recipe he crafted especially for this menu. Oven-roasted for over three hours in a special mojo seasoning, the pork is cooked until it's so moist and juicy that the entire cut can be picked apart by hand. From there, a portion is seared on the flat top in a puddle of homemade barbecue sauce, the sugars caramelizing the edges so the meat curls up into flavorful, fried tendrils. It's served with slivers of homemade pickles on a toasted, buttered brioche bun.

Baum had his own suggestions for the menu too, and they included a good burger. Instead of just one, Garr made ten, a series of food-truck-fantastical creations that get more exotic the further down the list you go. Each begins with Flagler Village's proprietary blend of Angus short rib and brisket but can be topped with anything from duck bacon and fried green tomatoes to peanut butter and jelly.

The BrassTapper, however, is Garr's signature, a beast of a burger constructed with thick slices of Applewood bacon, a heaping pile of caramelized onion, sautéed baby bella mushrooms, and sweet piquanté peppers. The chefs don't do a very good job of fitting all that food under the soft pretzel bun in an eye-pleasing manner, various components falling left and right or dredged from the top in the river of housemade beer cheese bistro sauce and burger fat grease that oozes from all sides. After a few bites, it's safe to say this is the messiest burger I've ever laid hands on — but it's not the best dish here.

For the best, you'll want to order Garr's Pepper Jack Mac-N-Cheese. Of all the variations I've sampled touting fancy ingredients and special cheese blends, this is closest to perfection, a recipe that takes the best pasta Alfredo you've ever had and transforms it into the ultimate mac-n-cheese.

Garr's homemade version starts with a savory roux of butter, pepper jack, Alfredo, and heavy cream. For flavor, the chef adds his own secret weapon: pickled jalapeños, onion, garlic — and just a touch of freshly grated Parmesan for an extra cheese kick.

Each heaping portion of springy spiral noodles is tossed in the gooey rich cheese sauce before it's transferred to a cast-iron pan, smothered in still more sauce, and baked with a crust of Japanese bread crumbs.

But the real treat might be the Sunday brunch special, the Hangover Mac-N-Cheese. Like most dishes with a name like "Hangover," this pasta was created to cure an actual hangover, made extra creamy with the house beer cheese sauce in place of Garr's Alfredo pepper jack. It's mixed with a generous helping of bacon and caramelized onions, then topped with fried hash browns, a runny egg, and a few dashes of tangy sriracha. If that doesn't keep you from regretting last night, nothing will.

Baum, with Garr's help, has taken the framework of the Brass Tap franchise and created something familiar yet unique, approachable yet foodie approved. Both Instagrammers and the casual hungry alike will find a meal and a beer to enjoy here. And thought their concept is unique, according to Garr, it doesn't have to be.

"Even though some of the other Brass Taps don't have the facility we do, there's no reason they can't use better ingredients," says Garr. "I stand behind real cooking — making things with your hands. You can always find a way to do things better than how you're doing them now."

The Brass Tap
551 N. Federal Hwy. #600, Fort Lauderdale. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. Call 754-200-8648, or visit

  • The Super Salad, $11
  • The BrassTapper, $14
  • Korean BBQ pork sandwich, $10
  • Pepper Jack Mac-N-Cheese, $10
  • The Hangover Mac-N-Cheese, $14

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna