A Tin Roof Review: Finger-Lickin’ Food and Digital Karaoke

The Tin Roof in downtown Delray Beach opened nearly 10 months ago in the transformed former Smoke BBQ space, and it’s taken me this long, at the tail end of the (relative) summer slowdown, to check it out.

Why the delay? For one, the Tin Roof became an instantaneously popular spot for live music, with more demand than square footage: It seemed that every time I passed it by, there were Studio 54-style queues of partiers waiting to get in, indicating that the place had already reached its max capacity of 231. I’ll be 40 before I know it, and throngs of cramped and sweaty revelers isn’t exactly my thing—nor my wife’s, whose idea of nightlife involves backgammon, podcasts and pretentious coffee beverages.

But we do enjoy a good karaoke night, and this week, equipped with our usual repertory of ‘90s alt-rock bangers, we finally made it out to Tin Roof’s “Drunk Karaoke,” hosted every Tuesday. Arriving early for a 7 p.m. dinner, we found a Tin Roof in repose: The patrons could be counted on one hand, far outnumbered by the eager staff. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” complete with its music video, blasted from four televisions, and we could actually hear every energizing word. We had our pick of tables near the stage. Clearly, nightlife here begins well after dark.

The atmosphere inside is more youthful than your average sports bar: Only one of the venue’s TVs was tuned to ESPN; two broadcast MTV, and the others played a loop of eclectic music videos. Christmas lights wrapped around the bar, a delightfully gauche touch in August, near the wooden sign requiring “No Bitchin or Whinin Beyond this Point.” The indoor stage could easily accommodate small bands or, in tonight’s case, karaoke; the patio stage is larger, and is likely where the bigger acts play.

And large acts do perform, at one of downtown’s most diverse entertainment lineups, as evidenced by the posters lining the wall to the bathroom. They advertised a drag show (which had just passed, Aug. 25) a comedy night (Sept. 2), a Motown show (Sept. 4), a ticketed concert from national country band Parmalee (Sept. 19) and a No Doubt tribute act (Oct. 11).

The cuisine at Tin Roof slants toward a fusion of southern and Mexican, and despite being generally meat-averse, we found plenty of palate pleasers on its menu. Spiced by perfectly balanced jalapenos chopped into the mix, its “World Famous Queso” dip lives up to that self-appointed praised; its addictive kick will leave you tempted for a second helping. The fried green tomatoes, served atop a pimento cheese spread, with shaved cabbage and sesame seeds on top, were everything you want from this southern staple and more.

From the section called “Comforts,” we tried the Candy Pig Mac and Cheese, with its cheddar-smothered elbow pasta spiked with brown sugar bacon and herb bread scallions for an unusually complex mélange of flavor. It came with two sides, and we picked a side Caesar salad (serviceable, with those annoyingly small croutons) and the excellent street corn “esquites,” with its charred corn fresh off the cob.

Surprisingly for a nightlife destination, the drinks proved more lackluster than the flavor-forward food. In my mojito, served apparently without sugar cane juice, I mostly tasted the club soda—making for a bitter cocktail lacking its much-needed sweet finish. The white sangria just tasted like white wine with citrus accompaniment, but the red sangria finally got the fruit and wine mixture just right.

As for the announced 8 p.m. karaoke, it started 45 minutes late, which the regulars must have come to expect: By 8:30, the crowd at both the indoor dining area and the patio had just begun to balloon with singers and spectators. The song-request process was unlike any I’d ever encountered: The days of writing your selections on paper slips and handing them to the KJ host are fast becoming a relic of the pre-digital age, so at Drunk Karaoke you visit a website, register your name, and search for and select your song; just like that, you’re in, in the order your song was received. It’s a novel but imperfect approach; unlike every other karaoke event I’ve attended, there’s no “rotation” ensuring equitable time for all singers: The same person could perform, say, eight times an hour, if he or she enters a lot of selections in a short period of time.

My wife’s Radiohead and my Green Day performances went over well, but by 9:45 the place started to teem with impractically dressed young people performing unfamiliar hip-hop, and it was time to head back to our dogs, our backgammon, our podcasts. I came, I saw, I didn’t conquer, but that’s OK: The Tin Roof is a fun place with far better food than it needs to provide. And with so much time and variety put into its entertainment, those overflow crowds are likely to continue to increase.

The Tin Roof is at 8 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. For information, call 561/265-5310 or visit tinroofdelraybeach.com.