I used to frequent a fantastic little French bistro on New York's Upper East Side, but I would have eaten there even more often if the name weren't so ridiculous. You try inviting a date to a place called Voulez Vous. Remember "Voulez vous couchez avec moi ces soir?" Ugh. I decided that corner eatery would go down as the most unfortunately named restaurant I ever loved.
That was until I moved back here to my hometown and discovered the outstanding tapas and paella at Macarena. (I'll save those details for another review.) Let me just say that when it comes to dumb names I can be optimistic. Nonetheless I was wary when I heard about the Titanic Brewing Company, which opened while the movie's painfully sappy theme song was still screeching out of every radio station in town. Yet I was also curious. After all this isn't Seattle, where finding a brew pub is as easy as stepping on a slug.
I knew the spot; it was formerly LB's Eatery and for a short stint Olivetto's. After much legal wrangling with the city of Coral Gables, owner Kevin Rusk, one of the founding partners of Tobacco Road and the brains behind the successful Fishbone Grilles, managed to open Titanic on April Fool's Day. The long hallway of a space has been thoroughly redesigned to accommodate all the gleaming copper tanks, plumbing, and heavy vats necessary for the business of beer-making. The lemon-color walls are dotted with black-and-white photos of the restaurant's namesake. The other furnishings -- the clunky oak tables, diner-style booths, and stark hanging lamps -- contribute to the aura of dining below deck. The place is perfectly suited to beer-drinking. Truthfully I'm not a huge fan of the stuff, but I do appreciate a good brew with a juicy burger, which is just the kind of thing to go for on this slightly fancified pub menu with hints of Mediterranean, Cajun, and Cuban fare.
Titanic Brewing Company
5813 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Coral Gables; 305 667-2537. Open daily 11:30 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. (2:00 a.m. on weekends).
Fried calamari $5.95
Smoked fish dip $5.95
The essential burger $5.95
Gangplank salmon $14.95
Chocolate pecan pie $3.50
We were pleased to find the menu offered something called the Porthole Sampler, a tray of five-ounce glasses of each of the house brews. Unfortunately our waiter didn't tell us all the choices weren't available on the night we were there until he brought our tray minus the two I especially wanted to try. "It takes two or three weeks to make each one, so we run out of them a lot," he said and then explained that he had just doubled two of the other choices to make up for it. The darkest, Shipbuilder's Oatmeal Stout, was so strong I think even Leonardo DiCaprio might sprout chest hair if he were to drink one. As black as a cup of Starbucks and as thick as cream, the bitter brew could have been a meal by itself. Our favorite of the four we sampled that night was the Triple Screw Light Ale. With a clean, herbally hop flavor and no bitter edge, this German-style ale was dangerously drinkable. Even better for those who like a bit of malt and a lot of hops is the White Star India Pale, which we tried on a subsequent trip. A few sips, however, could seriously impair your ability to do anything but drink more.
It was perfect (in moderation) with any of the fried appetizers, which were mostly very good. Calamari were dredged in a not-too-heavy beer batter and fried just to a golden brown. The large ringlets were tender and tasty and benefited from the mild rémoulade sauce. Slabs of fried mozzarella received a similar batter-and-fry treatment, though not with as successful a result. They came out looking like triangles of French toast and were accompanied by a tasty and tangy marinara as well as an oddly oily pesto dipping sauce. Because the blocks of cheese were so big, some bites were nicely melted inside while others were chewy and cold. Chicken wings were not nearly as hot as the menu made them out to be, but they were good and meaty and served with a stand-up Gorgonzola cheese dipping sauce and the requisite celery sticks.
As good as any of the fried offerings was a plate of steamed mussels in a simple white-wine broth. Had the baguette served with it been crustier, the dish would have been superb. As it was the delicious broth left in the bowl went to waste with no decent bread to soak it up. The outstanding smoked fish dip, however, consoled us. It comes from the locally renowned smokehouse on Virginia Key, Jimbo's bait and tackle shop, and is served with tortilla chips and some good hot sauces.
As with the appetizers, the least ambitious main courses were best. Options like jambalaya or pasta primavera simply didn't float. The so-called Maiden Voyage Chicken consisted of a large boneless breast stuffed with a blend of shrimp and crawfish, but it was so dry that even with the mustardy tomato sauce it was hard to choke down. The grilled salmon with a citrusy sweet glaze was much better. It, like most entrées, was served with a small salad, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables. Although it sounded promising, the po'boy was simply weird. Oysters were paired with shrimp, sautéed instead of deep-fried like the authentic version, and then topped with bean sprouts and red peppers, of all things. It wouldn't have been too bad had it not been served in the same anemic rolls that troubled us earlier.
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A better sandwich option was the burger. I had mine with cheddar cheese and grilled onions. As if to make myself feel better about how many fat calories I was consuming, I opted for a side of caesar salad instead of French fries. But I found the lettuce so drenched in heavy white sludge that I wondered if I wouldn't have been better off with a pile of fries. So on my next visit I tried them. They were outstanding, especially with the juicy, perfectly seared burger served on an onion kaiser roll with a generous supply of garnishes.
None of the servings was too large, a blessing when it comes time to order dessert. Although most were ordinary and all are made elsewhere, the chocolate pecan pie was divine. It was like eating a chocolatey, maple-syrupy, nutty Hershey bar. Outrageous.
Like any decent college hangout, prices are reasonable. Two hungry coeds can easily escape for less than $40. As added incentive there's a happy hour every evening between 4:00 and 8:00 p.m., when all beers are discounted one dollar. So a sixteen-ounce draft costs only $2.50 or $3.50, depending on which you choose. Be careful though. The menu lists the alcohol content of the drafts as anywhere from four to six-plus percent. But based on the buzz a few sips produced, I'd bet some are nearly double that.
The youthful atmosphere can be a plus or a minus depending on your outlook. On a recent Saturday night, some friends and I walked in and back out within minutes when we heard a mediocre garage band hammering out cover tunes. The place was already noisy from the din of young revelers, but as the music started we realized that talking would be out of the question. I've heard that acoustic equipment will soon be installed to muffle the grating noise level. Until then I'd avoid the Titanic on weekend nights. Come instead for happy hour and indulge in beers and appetizers. No need to name it: Just tell your friends to meet you at the new brewery.