What sort of attributes does a restaurant need to turn everyday patrons into regulars? A welcoming, communal feel with fair prices and a unique menu? That’s a good start. I think it’s almost as crucial for both new restaurants and seasoned ones to have a face to identify with the business. If you see an owner day in day out, toiling away, shaking hands, walking the room and tending to the kitchen when needed, you’re probably in the right place. You want someone to care about the aesthetics wholly. Someone who isn’t too quick to soak in all the praise that comes with the good, and still is worried sick at the thought of not giving each customer their money’s worth. You want to be able to see that emotion expressed on their facial sphere.
I’ve observed Dustin and Heather exhibiting these traits WAY before the doors even opened at Fat Maggie’s down in the dixieland borough of Lakeland, FL. You see, I work in the same area as the restaurant that bears the name of their family dog. I’ve seen them hard at work trying to get things in order far in advance of any thought of candied bacon being cooked up. Their time, money, perspiration and plasma all went into this new venture. We waited and waited impatiently for everything to be accomplished on terms they could agree to. Current patrons and early adopters all immediately cashed in on their concept of not just BBQ, not just a burger/sandwich bar, not just a neighborhood “meet up” spot, not just a craft beer watering hole, but a great mashup with all of the above considered and executed masterfully. Think of mixing Daft punk, Jay-Z, Alan Jackson and Kenneth Gorelick. That is the kind of greatness we’re dealing with here folks.
There are roughly 7 billion combinations that you can make into a meal at Fat Maggie’s. They’ve kept the menu relatively restrained in size while still giving you options galore in the shape of a make your own burger/sandwich board. You’ll find the typical staples that BBQ sandwiches entail, mingled together with fun toppings like the aforementioned candied bacon.
*Pro tip: Order a plate of candied bacon as an amuse bouche. I’ve seen it done before. They wont turn on you or give any scathing looks.
If you have a mom that loves you, it is certain you’ve had broccoli casserole once or twice in your life. Be quick about ordering theirs, because it doesn’t last long in my experience.
They don’t have the largest beer menu in town. However, what they do have, is a program that respects the love of craft brewers, always changing things up and looking for new treasures. Such as one of my personal favorites at the moment, Six Point Resin. Which leads me to a very special night I was privileged to attend along with my good friend Ryan (an aspiring photographer at the helm of The Ride), in a collaboration between the Fat Maggie’s, lakelandlovesbeer.com, and Six Point Brewery based in Brooklyn, NY.
“Juxtaposing”, as Dustin says, “beer into the food and making it more harmonious than a beer tasting is the goal.”
First stanza. Onion rings battered with sweet action. The bitter hoppy brew came through with the right amount citron as the remoulade went out with a full forced head of steam. Steam cleaning what was a sinus infection with red chile sauce and horseradish paired with the cooling power of ranch. The innards of the onion still had a semblance of texture, as it can, at times, be straight baby food when it emerges out of the oil.
The beer complementing the salad which was next, took the place of crouton as it was bready on the nose. Tones of more nice lemon zest were displayed prominently in the vinaigrette. The nicely cooked sea scallop, had a gorgeous sweet saltiness of the sea, was cut in half with an acid hit of the dressing, much that of like wise King Solomon.
Marinated weiss jerk chicken wings were presented in the next wave. The aroma of clove, tamarind, and banana came sneaking out of the kitchen as if I were docking at the port in Tortola. Such an amazing display of Caribbean inspiration made me yearn for subtropical climates. Hot and sweet full of off-centered spice just like the beer it was inspired by. I love when I get a brown sugar packed punch of sweetness, then when it dissipates, the heat lingers for days. If it’s done right.
Al pastor style “nachos” were a great transition as pineapple marinated pork found itself being seared to a medium doneness on the plancha. To add an appropriate Scoville softener, the homemade flour tortilla chips, something you don’t find anywhere else but Fat Maggie’s, gave a final calming stroke to soothe you for the last two courses.
Short ribs cut along the bone lengthwise then braised using a heavy A.B.V. I.P.A with an A.P.B on a P.Y.T was rich and buttery, a bushel sized amount of hop resonating deep, even into the mash that bedded the beef. A belly filling and sinful finale to the savory portion of the meal.
Dolce. My neighbor, who was a stranger before the meal, was served first. Hopefully I wasn’t getting into the creeper zone by studying her delightfully filled bowl. I smelled sweet cocoa nibbed cake, emanating with vanilla and coffee stout. It smelled like a barista was on staff in the back, brewing strong cuban coffee for my nasal enjoyment. The cake was dense. It was rich and brash. The Sir Richard Branson of confections. If such a thing as cocoa sticky pudding were a known commodity, this would be the definitive representation.
I’m always looking for the good in everything. Some people don’t see things exactly the same way, trying to spot the potential mistakes first. One thing is for certain. I found generous helpings of greatness at Fat Maggie’s. These themed dinners are probably the best way to experience the triumphs of a cook swinging for the fences. I would implore anyone that likes trying new things to give an intimate night at Lakeland’s best little secret a turn.
Again, major thanks to Ryan for sharing his photos taken during the beer pairing evening. You can find more of his fantastic work at The Ride
Also, check out all the latest of Lakeland craft brewer news at www.lakelandlovesbeer.com