At the west end of Himmarshee Street, just across from Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House, the interior of Taps is worlds apart from the rest of downtown Fort Lauderdale.
To the left, a tufted charcoal bench runs the length of the room beneath a solid wood wall of crisscrossing panels. A modern steel-orb light fixture hangs across from it, and a larger-than-life Picasso print hangs on the exterior wall. While stark, the masculine space has more modern steak-house vibe than downtown pub.
The other half of the space has more of a contemporary-sports-bar feel. Both walls are lined with long benches that sit behind pub high wooden tables. High-def TVs hang above. Although it offers guests more of a bar scene, the décor is still minimalist, more Las Olas chic than Himmarshee casual.
It feels like a mix of high-end eatery and neighborhood bar, and that's exactly what founder James DeVito was going for when he opened the first location in Tampa six years ago.
"At that time, I was 37, married, and had a kid at home," says DeVito. "My wife and I eat out a lot; the only place to go were steak houses or Blue Martini. I wanted a place I could walk in with my wife or a buddy and relax."
Dubbed as "smart food," the mostly tapas-style menu (aside from some sandwiches and salads) eschews the typical fried food and fats found at most downtown bars.
The tuna crudo incorporates avocado, shaved fennel, red onion, sun-dried tomato, and chili oil with a side of crispy wontons. Rather than fry the wontons, Taps brushes them with olive oil and bakes them in the oven.
Butter is present only in the buffalo chicken lettuce wraps. Grilled chicken is coated in the spicy sauce and served on crisp romaine with Gorgonzola and celery.
Even with the lack of fryer foods and saturated fats, DeVito asserts, "it's not 'diet'; it's just smart."
Plenty of gluten, meats, and other specialty-diet no-nos are present.
An entire section of the menu is dedicated to bruschetta, with toppings like Brie with honey and fresh ricotta, parmigiana reggiano, and white truffle oil.
Baked meatballs are a rendition of DeVito's grandmother's recipe. To put them together, garlic and parsley are hand-chopped and mixed with Parmesan that has been pulsed to small chunks in the food processor. It's then hand-mixed with ground beef for a rustic version of the dish.
"I like home-cooked meals," says DeVito. "I feel like our food tastes like that. You can really taste the ingredients in my meatballs, as opposed to just one flavor."
The beef gyro tzatziki is one of the most popular sandwich options. A warm pita is filled with thinly sliced beef, feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, onion, mint, and a house-made tzatziki. The entrée portion is served with a side of Greek salad.
From 4 to 6 p.m. every day, a happy-hour version, minus the side, is offered for five bucks.
The buffalo chicken wraps are featured as well, along with select bruschettas, a baked meatball salad, and the popular bacon-wrapped jalapeños. Filled with cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and served with a sriracha aioli, they're an ideal bar snack for those who like a nice kick of spice with their happy-hour brews.
And the list of beers is impressive, with more than 350 selections of craft, import, and commercial brew and 30 beers on draft.
The menu and drinks programs have been well-thought-out to cater to the modern professional or anyone looking for a bite to eat and a drink without the rowdy college crowds or high Las Olas price points.
DeVito, a New York native and former Wall Street financial guy, opened his first location in downtown Tampa with that idea in mind. At the time, the area would completely clear out when office workers would head home. Even so, DeVito decided to take a chance.
"Being a New Yorker, the only thing I understood was a city," says DeVito. "I knew there were 400 people above me who would need to eat and drink."
Turns out they did. His first location was wildly successful, which prompted him to further the brand, opening storefronts in Orlando and Naples. A former Fort Lauderdale resident (DeVito attended culinary school at the Art Institute after leaving Wall Street), he's been eyeing the city for a while.
"I tried to do Las Olas," says DeVito. "But I was concerned with the summers. Then this became available. I think this area is in for a bit of a transformation. When O.B. [Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House] opened up, that was shocking. Who knew that putting a breakfast place would work here? I'm excited to see more come this way."
Taps is hosting a grand opening party on June 28.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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