Miami Vice 

The Florida Room Makes You a Fiend for Mojitos

It's rare that an establishment with an "exotic" concept actually works. There are a few; Salvador Molly's being one extreme and the Alibi being the other. Located in a newly renovated space on Killingsworth that includes a spacious 10-table patio, the Florida Room is every bit the '50s dive bar in the Florida Keys that owners Suzy Day, Patti Earley, and Mike Hanson (Team Evil, Inc.) intended it to be—only cleaner and with much better food.

The cheesy horseradishy Pirate Dip is a zinger of an appetizer. Accompanied by crudités and good old-fashioned Ritz crackers, it's simultaneously bold and light.

I had the beer-battered catfish (both tender and fresh) accompanied by classic tater tots. All fried, to be sure—but not too greasy and impossible to ignore with hints of cayenne. My friend tried the Ybor City Press, a sandwich named after a locality in Florida. The Ybor features tender, roasted pork with Swiss cheese and pickles on a toasted French roll. It comes with a respectable salad of mixed greens, for which he selected one of the house-made dressings, the bacon Brie.

Other menu standouts include Jamaican wings made with rum, lime, and jerk sauce, and the chicken or veggie skewers served over fluffy citrus rice. A number of "novelty" items also appear, seemingly crafted for eat-while-you-drink mode. Among them, half a dozen deviled eggs and deep-fried avocado served with house-made chips and salsa. Simply put, the magic of the menu's concept is being realized by smartly pairing south Florida's retirement/swamp rat fare with the fresh ingredients you'd expect from a contemporary Portland restaurant.

The cocktails at the Florida Room are supreme, crafted by bar owners who are still bartenders. Named after the guy who hung the sign out front, the Wilson's Compromise is a no-nonsense citrusy bourbon drink that still tastes like bourbon. I tried the Caladesi, a cooler-type concoction made with lemongrass tea, muddled sage, and passion fruit juice. It tasted foreign to me, but with a little tinkering (sugar?) and 20 more degrees on the thermometer, I probably would have come around.

Additionally, they have a slushy machine, and they put it to wise use. The blended Hurricane is a tall and passion fruity knockout that really delivers, and—literally putting your money where your mouth is—a quarter from every round of this drink is donated to disaster relief. In a tie with the Hurricane for best in show is the blended Key Largo mojito, whose minty citrus hoodoo puts you in the driver's seat of a Key West speedboat.

On Saturdays and Sundays, the Florida Room hosts the Church of the Bloody Mary, boasting eight different variations on the drink, such as the Mary Mother of God (extra spicy, all garnishes; brunch in a glass) and my personal favorite, the Mary Queen of Scotch (a shot of well Scotch with a red beer back). The brunch menu also has intriguing items, like the bourbon-built "Boozecakes" and a full range of Voodoo Doughnuts.

When asked by a South Florida hottie in this summer's blockbuster, Miami Vice, what he likes to drink, Colin Ferrell's Crockett utters the questionable line, "I'm a fiend for mojitos." Thankfully, the Florida Room is here to elevate the now infamous line to personal prophesy for some time to come.

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