If one could take away the raw chicken sandwich, my summation of Bottoms Up Gastropub in Coral Springs would have gone like this: It is an inviting and attractive, modern American watering hole and eatery that features a gimmicky yet effective new tap system that fills pints from the bottom up and food that veers from very good (fish and chips, burger with bacon jam) to off-the-rails extreme (peanut-butter-and-jelly pork-belly hunks with popsicle sticks stuck in them; a thick, weird soup with lobster, red pepper and Gouda cheese).
Unfortunately, I did take away the raw chicken sandwich. Well, almost raw. Turns out it was deep-fried for 30 seconds, which gave the outer panko-and-crushed-corn-flake coating the appearance of being cooked. This is not what you want from chicken, which can be dangerous if consumed raw. Fortunately, I cut into the sandwich before eating it, discovering its sashimi-like state. I had taken the sandwich to go after eating at Bottoms Up, part of an order that included an array of dishes to give me a greater sense of the menu after a dinner for two. The fallout led to the firing of two kitchen employees. I felt bad about that. I likely would have felt worse if I — or friends at a party where I had brought the Bottoms Up food — had eaten the raw bird.
Other chefs and restaurateurs chirped in when I posted a photo on Instagram (without identifying where the item had come from). “Did you order a salmonella sandwich?” one asked. “You’re not a seared chicken kinda guy?” cracked another. “That’s not safe at all,” another said.
Bottoms Up chef-owner Michael Jay was mortified and in disbelief when he heard about what happened. He was working the front of the house on the night I dined, and later went to the restaurant’s internal camera system to see how it happened. Jay explains that the kitchen butter-bathes burgers, chicken and fish in sous-vide cookers before finishing them in fryers or on the charbroil grill. He has three sous-vide cookers — warm-water heating systems — that cook proteins to medium-rare, medium or medium-well. The chicken sandwich is supposed to be sous-vided for 45 minutes in a plastic pouch of Tuscan butter and then battered with a mix of panko, Italian breadcrumbs and crushed corn flakes, stored in a walk-in cooler, and then finished in a fryer for 30 seconds when ordered. The final frying gives crispness to the coating and warms the already cooked internal meat.
At least, that’s the way it is supposed to work. Upon reviewing the video footage, Jay discovered that one line cook never sous-vided a batch of six chicken breasts and another coated the raw pieces and placed them in the cooler. I received the first one, which had been fried for 30 seconds. Jay says the other five never sold, a quirk of fate in that nobody among more than 200 customers the following day ordered a chicken sandwich. After discovering the lapse, Jay says he fired the two employees. He also says the chicken sandwich ($11) is no longer on the menu, replaced by grilled blackened chicken tacos.
“I have never, ever had a problem like this,” says Jay, who has operated South Florida food trucks and once owned a restaurant in Colorado. “This is going to sound strange, but in a way I’m thankful that this happened to you, because you cut the sandwich and you knew enough to see that something was wrong and not eat it.”
I appreciate the way Jay took ownership of the mistake and took swift, corrective action, but the episode leaves me with a critic’s conundrum. If I had not ordered the chicken sandwich, I would have given Bottoms Up a satisfactory-to-good review and recommended that diners experience it for themselves.
The restaurant opened in November 2017 in the corner of a shopping plaza on State Road 7 near the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek. Jay and co-owner Gabriel Grana stayed under the radar for the first few months, spending virtually no money on marketing or advertising while they trained staff and worked out kinks. Jay, a former fire-rescue paramedic, developed the menu with many Latin and Cuban influences, and hired chef Jason Pasycal, formerly of Yolo in Fort Lauderdale, to run the kitchen. Service is friendly but could be sharper and more attentive.
I found the best items to be the simplest, such as braised oxtail ($18) with a pleasant scorch from a few peppers and lime-cilantro rice. The fish and chips ($17) were terrific, with fresh and buttery cod that was sous-vided properly before being flash-fried with a beer and panko, Italian breadcrumb and corn-flake batter. The cod came with seasoned fresh-cut fries, sharp and garlicky coleslaw and good housemade aioli. The burgers, a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib, are also sous-vided in butter, and mine came out perfectly to the ordered medium-rare, finished on a charbroiler. The bacon-jam topping with mushrooms, onions and goat cheese ($12) was a bit salty, but that’s why the good lord invented crisp and hoppy IPAs such as the Hops 4 Teacher from J. Wakefield Brewery of Miami ($8).
Fried calamari with sweet chili sauce ($10) is another item that has been selling, Jay says, but I did not try it. The calamari is fresh, as the restaurant eschews frozen products, Jay says, which increases prep and labor costs. Much of the menu, however, is not my style, with busy, heavy and gargantuan concoctions that the younger crowd seems to like. There are many pile-it-on and pack-it-in items such as a skillet meatloaf ($15) stuffed with chive cream cheese, grilled ham and bacon and topped with fried eggs and mozzarella cheese, or the Texas burger ($14), a half-pound patty topped with brisket, pork belly, pepper Jack cheese, onion rings and barbecue sauce. I did not have the stomach for either of those items, not after the tasty but caulklike beer cheese ($9), served in a skillet with bacon and chewy pizza dough knots. And not after the PB&J pork-belly lollipops ($10), three smoked chunks of jelly-topped pork served on a cutting board smeared with peanut butter, which were not as bad as I thought they would be.
The craft beers were good, including special house brews made for the restaurant by breweries in Doral and Jupiter. The novel tap system, which fills beers from below by lifting movable magnets at the bottom of glasses, is readily Instagram-able and provides clean-tasting beer with frothy heads that do not spill. Jay says Bottoms Up is the first restaurant in South Florida with the system. (Someone I know says they have seen a similar setup at a sports stadium bar.)
Some food infractions were misdemeanors. The brisket sliders ($11) were too sweet, drowned in a sauce billed as bourbon blue cheese that tasted like sugary barbecue sauce. Tortellini stuffed with pear, prosciutto and ricotta ($16) came in a creamy white-wine sauce that also was a bit sweet. The amaretto cheesecake ($9) was way too sweet (and wet), but a cinnamon roll ($9) with bacon and maple butter made up for it.
Serving raw chicken, however, is a serious culinary crime, and I’m obligated to tell readers about it and to subtract rating stars as a result. My advice: If you want to try Bottoms Up, cut and view your food before eating it. It probably could not hurt to wash it down with a few strong beers.
Bottoms Up Gastropub and Tap House
4320 N. State Road 7, Coral Springs
954-507-1237 or BottomsUpTapHouse.com
Cuisine: American comfort food with Cuban influences
Cost: Moderate. Appetizers cost $7 to $13, burgers and sandwiches $11-$17, mains $15-$25, desserts $8 to $10
Hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Craft beers and limited wine selection
Noise level: Lively bar atmosphere with TVs overhead
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot