Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tiki Joe's

In a perfect world, every place using that overused term "Tiki Bar" would have beautiful women in sarongs bringing you exotic food and bizarre umbrella drinks, with an enormous stone Tiki head overseeing it all. And of course, a healthy mix of exotica, lounge, space-age-pop and uncategorizable retro ephemera on the sound system. But I'm not a Tiki Bar snob, dear reader, I'm really not.

To me, a Tiki Bar must, at the very least, though, offer some classic Tiki Culture beverages, even if they didn't go all-out on the trappings and the decor. There's a point I've often belabored in print, and bear with me now because I'm going to belabor it again:

This may seem overly harsh, but here's my position: any upscale bar that claims to be a true "full bar" and doesn't have a specialty cocktail list is immediately suspect, and to be avoided.

I've never met a bartender yet who says "we can make you anything" who really could. And that's where the specialty-cocktail drink list comes in - even if I don't order anything off it, I want to see it be there. Because it proves to me that these people are really bartenders and not just randomly-assigned pourers of liquid. Having house-specialty mixed drinks shows me that, at least, someone was enough of an artisan to come up with these ideas. It also shows me that there are drinks that even a novice bartender there might have fixed often enough to be familiar with. Feel me? If you don't make Mojitos very often, I don't want you fixing my Mojito, capish?

And so my face fell just a little when my entourage and I stumbled into Tiki Joe's in Sarasota recently and it not only didn't really look very much like a Tiki Bar, they were playing modern rap music in the restaurant. Then I asked the million-dollar question, "can I see the specialty drink list?" and received the million-dollar wrongest of all wrong answers: "we don't have one, but I can make you anything."

All eyes at the table looked at me, and one friend, well aware of my Walkout King ways, hadn't even let go of her purse. But this time, I stuck it out - mainly because it was a Groupon deal, heh.

And I'm glad I did.

As I turned out, the meal was among the best I've had in Florida, no lie. The angus burger was 100 percent real, homestyle, patted out. The cheese fries were hand-cut from actual potatoes - you know, like they used to do in prehistoric times? I haven't had fries so friendly since the late lamented Taylor's Billiards in Richmond, Kentucky, what seems like another life now. The guy who waited on us turned out to be Tiki Joe himself, a real nice guy and he did indeed fix a heck of a frozen pina colada.

Tiki Joe's is hidden way, way out in the suburbs of northeast Sarasota - 5802 Longwood Run Blvd, to be precise - but I tell you what and I kid you not, it's worth the drive.

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