By Teege Braune
Most of the Orlando residents I know avoid International Drive. Bumper to bumper traffic; mediocre, chain restaurants; and dead-eyed, potentially cannibalistic vacationers are among the various annoyances and dangers one may find in Orlando’s worst tourist trap outside of the Disney complex. If there is one reason to brave the fourteen and a half mile stretch of kitschy wasteland, it’s the tapas-style eatery Tu Tu Tango. Though their reasonably priced, small plate menu and solid craft beer selection are available every evening, their NFL inspired beer dinner Wednesday night sent my friend John and I down I-4, straight into the heart of darkness.
Now football, beer, and artery-clogging, American grub have a long history together. For those of us like John and me who aren’t exactly super fans, sports merely provide an excuse to eat food we might otherwise be forced to avoid. My girlfriend’s a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian, but I do enjoy the taste of a potential heart attack. So I guess the idea was that Tu Tu Tango’s managers all picked a beer that came from the same region of the country as their favorite NFL team, and then those beers were paired with gourmet dishes inspired by typical sports bar fare. Other than the jerseys worn by some of the servers, that seemed to be as far as the football theme was explored, but that didn’t bother John or me because we were more interested in craft beer and Chef Tiffany’s heart stopping creations.
While the parking lot was pretty packed, I found Tu Tu Tango much less crowded than I had in the past. I don’t know if it was the new design that does much to open up the interior of the restaurant without sacrificing the vibrant, artistic atmosphere, or they were just slow for a weekday night, but John and I were seated right away and our first round of beer was brought out immediately. We began our libations with Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, which was intended to be paired with the first course, but despite the fact that the hops were beginning to get a little tired as though the restaurant or perhaps the distributor had been sitting on the beer too long, John and I were feeling particularly thirsty and finished our glasses off before the food arrived. I’m glad we did because our server quickly brought us out another round. Fortunately, it tasted much fresher than the latter. With that little glitch out of the way, the rest of the night proved to be a great success.
Less formal than some other beer dinners I’ve attended, courses were delivered efficiently though ample time was provided for us to savor each dish. While it’s fun to hear from brewers and reps, this dinner wasn’t set up that way, so John and I amused ourselves gossiping like a couple of teenage girls about friends and acquaintances as food and drink was continually laid before us. Each course delighted us as much as the last, so we slowly filled our bellies and blood streams with a meal too good to be healthy and a hell of a deal at thirty dollars a person.
What football themed night would be complete without wings, even if they’re legs? Our first dish was chicken wings, smoked, citrus seared, and marinated in an excellent soy-mirin barbecue sauce. They paired nicely with the aforementioned Headwaters Pale Ale, the refreshing, subdued hoppiness of which complimented but did not overpower the mild but tasty wings that were actually legs.
Though slightly phallic in appearance, the combination of succulent sausage, caramelized onions and peppers, and light flaky phylo made for a delightful second course. The intense bitter hoppiness of Highland’s Kashmir IPA was a perfect pairing to the spicy house-made sausage and smoked grain mustard.
John and I both agreed that this was our favorite course of the night. Slices of apple and melt-in-your-mouth hunks of pulled pork stewed together was an unexpected but fantastic combination. I even ate my entire sourdough bread bowl as it had soaked up the delicious broth. While Shipyard’s Old Thumper has never been my favorite beer, its mild maltiness proved refreshing enough to wash down a dish that didn’t require any help in enhancing its flavor.
Each slider was an unique experience all its own. The sloppy joe was a satisfying if familiar version of the American classic. The mint yogurt sauce and Chinese steamed bun of the Chicken Tikka brought the light but flavorful sandwich to life. I saved the totally decadent pork belly for last,
wisely guessing that it would be the most exciting of the three. Long a fan of that fattiest of cuts, slapping the pork belly on a pretzel bun was a wonderful choice and a new experience for me. The sandwiches were probably too diverse to pick a single beer to pair with each, but when in doubt, it is hard to fail with Cigar City Brewing. Located in Tampa Bay, CCB is hands down the most exciting brewery in Florida and in the running for one of the best breweries in the nation. Their lightly roasty Maduro Brown Ale goes with just about anything, so why not serve it with three tasty, little sandwiches.
Dessert, as is often the case at these things, did not blow me away. While I’ll never complain about a tiny ice cream cone, the dry graham cracker was not balanced properly with the chocolate and marshmallow. Nevertheless, it satisfied my sweet tooth after an otherwise fantastic meal and paired well with the equally sweet and rich Oskar Blues Old Chub, America’s standard example of the traditional Scottish style.
Both the manager Troy and Tu Tu Tango’s head chef Tiffany were nice enough to come by our table to say hello and chat about beer and food with us for a few minutes. Already experiencing that warm feeling that comes from drinking excellent craft beer, John and I were too full to stay out late and continue imbibing as we had originally planned, so we made our way back to our
respective houses in the part of Orlando we think of as “real” and“tolerable.” All facetiousness aside, it was fun to step outside of familiar territory and play the tourist if only for the evening. If it means eating as well as John and I did on Wednesday night, we might start doing it more often.
Orlando Beer Blog
Our goal is to provide you with the latest on where to enjoy craft beer in Orlando.