By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
Nashville may have a monopoly on country music and dry-rub ribs, but Orlando has a big slice of Southern Americana now in the form of Tin Roof, ‘a live music joint’, just opened at the big I-Drive 360 complex on International Drive, with the massive Orlando Eye as its backdrop.
Tennessee import Tin Roof began as a single restaurant near Nashville’s famous Music Row, and the newest venue on I-Drive is the company’s 14th, bringing not only the tastes of the South to Orlando, but also the sounds. A fabulous burger and rib joint by day—with some massive departures from the expected bar grub—Tin Roof transitions into Party Central once the theme parks close, featuring live country music, killer cocktails and a funky garage-chic vibe.
But first, the food.
Our media preview last week featured tastes of the restaurant’s best-sellers, including Chicken and Waffle Nuggets (savoury fried chicken bites on a mini waffle, with a bacon-maple syrup drizzle), Creamy Shrimp and Grits, O-Eye Mac and Cheese (a real departure from the norm, with maple smoked white cheddar and the merest hint of cinnamon), Hot Chicken Torta (a glorious spicy fried chicken sandwich topped with potato salad and pickle), and, of course, those ridiculously delicious Baby Back Ribs.
How does Tin Roof recreate Nashville’s world-famous flavours? Executive chef Ryan Hunt explained: “With our Baby Back Ribs, we rub them down with a Memphis dry rub first and then smoke them for two-and-a-half hours so they are nice and tender. We add a bit more spice and finish them off in the oven. The rub we use includes a little cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, salt and celery seed, but is a unique mixture and we like to think it adds the depth of the flavour.”
“Our overall style is Ten-Mex, a mix of our home-town Nashville, Tennessee, style and a hint of Mexican, so it’s pretty original, and our aim here in Orlando was to kick it up a notch with some local ingredients, hence we have more seafood options and some real Floridian touches, notably with the citrus.
“We do have some of the obvious menu items like chicken wings and burgers, but then we add some original items that we don’t do anywhere else, like our Da Lox salmon burger dish. We cure our own salmon with citrus, then add a little orange touch to make it stand out. It’s the kind of thing you won’t find on many bar menus.”
The menu is definitely customised for local tastes, with the likes of mussels, scallops and grouper, while they also feature traditional Southern favourites such as collard greens, grits, hoecakes (cornbread pancakes) and an immensely appealing Calamari dish with jicama, cucumber, green papaya, mint, cilantro, carrot, green onion and a sugarcane vinaigrette.
Assistant manager Will Hodges told us some more of the Tin Roof Orlando story. “We are a live music joint, and we LOVE live music. We like to showcase local people who have taken years to perfect their craft but might not be well known yet. We want to make them as much a part of things as the food and drink.
“And here, the party never stops. The music will be non-stop once we get going each evening, with four-hour sets so you don’t get that ‘down’ feeling when the band takes a break. We aim to be fun and lively all evening.”
We’re big fans of Tin Roof’s support of local and regional talent, which is a huge ‘plus’ for Orlando’s diverse entertainers, and nightly live music includes the likes of David Oliver Willis, Bryan Malpass, Hayfire, and David and Whitney. All bands play covers, so you’re sure to know the tunes.
The local musician playing during our media preview of Tin Roof was Bryan Malpass, originally from North Carolina but now based in Orlando. Bryan also plays at Downtown Disney and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Universal’s CityWalk, and, while we don’t normally seek out country music, we could certainly appreciate his immense talent, and were surprised at how closely his renditions matched the originals. After hearing him play, it’s possible we could become converts.
But it’s not all country music. Rock, soul, Americana and pop help fill each of the four-hour sets. Yes, that’s four straight hours of non-stop music, a perk we’re not aware of at any other Central Florida venue.
What sort of concoctions come out of Tin Roof’s focal-point bar? Hodges told us: “For our drinks, we like to showcase the local side of things as well, so you’ll find various local brews on the beer menu. Whenever I go anywhere, I want to know what is unique about their drinks scene and what the signature elements are. In Florida, we have some great breweries, and we’re keen to be able to show them off.
“Even our signature cocktail, the Orange Blossom Special, features a touch of the Orange Blossom Pilsner from the Orange Blossom Brewing Company here in Orlando. We want people to be excited by the drinks choice here.”
There are 16 beers on tap, including a regular special, and 20 more in bottles, while the nine signature cocktails include the El Burro (Mezcal, lime juice and ginger beer) named for “a mule that knows how to kick your ass.” And the Orange Blossom Special is a mix of whisky, dry curacao, lemon, orange marmalade and the signature orange blossom pilsner. Truly delicious but without blowing your head off!
Tin Roof does not take reservations and we think it’s going to draw a crowd, so plan accordingly. With seating for 210 (155 inside, 55 outside) it’s not the largest venue on I-Drive—which is part of its charm—so it’s worth arriving before you’re ravenous and having a drink from the bar if there’s a wait for a table. If you’re interested in good conversation with your meal, be sure to arrive before the music starts as early as 9pm (usually 10pm). On Fridays, their ‘Live after Five’ session starts from 5pm.
If you’re looking for the party atmosphere, plan for 10pm and after. While admission is generally free, there are times when a cover charge will apply.
It’s good to see the I-Drive 360 complex really coming alive and, with its food and live music, Tin Roof is definitely somewhere we’ll be keen to re-visit.