Talking with Ben Porter about Copper Tap House

June 7, 2014 talks with Ben Porter, Owner of Jacksonville restaurant Copper Tap House.

52,000 pennies in the bar top. Can you spot the tails?

6. And all the pennies are facing up?

Well, most of them. We placed them all by hand. So far we’ve found about 7 that are facing down.

7. What appealed to you about the location of Copper?

Being a beach guy, I was somewhat familiar with the location. But it really comes down to traffic count. I understand there have been other restaurants in this location that haven’t made it but the traffic is here and the restaurant has great visibility from Hodges. It also had the right square footage that wasn’t too big for our initial restaurant.

Copper - outside of restaurant

8. How would you describe the food at Copper?

We call what we do craft food.

9. What do you mean by craft food?

For us, we think about craft beer, craft food, or any craft item as bringing a special perspective to its creation. It involves taking a little more care and pride in what you’re doing. If you think about the people who make craft beers they usually start small and they’re constantly throwing together ingredients and trying a lot of different things. And they put a lot of passion into their effort. If you talk to anybody who makes craft beer, whether they’re making it in their garage or whether it’s the guys from Intuition Ale Works, they all love what they do. They love every aspect of it. We wanted to do them justice by making sure that everything that comes out of the kitchen here is at the quality level of their beers. I didn’t want to slap them in the face and put their great beers out here with some subpar food. So we take the same care and pride they bring to their beers and apply it to our food.

Pollo Diablo Slider. “Devil Chicken” tossed in Diablo sauce and topped with pepper jack cheese

10. What would you recommend to someone who wants to try out the food at Copper?

You can’t come into Copper and not get one of our sliders. They’re our main thing - and they’re not just regular sliders. We like to say that we’re re-defining the slider. They’re not just burgers anymore.  Our sliders are both substantial in size and unique in the combinations we’ve put together. We have 18 sliders here on the menu that we categorize into six different regions across the country. You can order sliders a la carte or by one of the 6 regions. The Island region is our most popular slider region. It features a Hawaiian Beef Slider with Pineapple, a Kalua Pig Slider and a Scallop Burger with Cilantro-Lime Mayo.

Scallop Slider with Cilantro-Lime Mayo

11. Why do you think the Island region is the most popular?

I think it’s because it’s so different. Where else are you going to get a Scallop Burger?

12. Why did you choose a regional approach to Copper?

It helps to simplify things. Sometimes you go to a tap house and you see a wall of beers or a long menu of unfamiliar options. Often there may not be an order to it and it can be confusing. We wanted to simplify things. The regions can bring you back to something you’re familiar with. You may have taken a trip to New York or to the West Coast and tried a beer there that we’re featuring.

Fried Grouper Slider, panko-breaded and drizzed with Atlantic Beach Aoili

13. Why did you choose to focus on sliders?

I wanted to do something that no one else is doing. I may be crazy in doing that, but I truly believe there is some genius in there.

14. Besides the sliders, are your other menu items regionally based?

They are. We try to give descriptions on the menu of where a certain dish comes from. Take our She Crab Soup for example. It’s a Charleston, SC staple that was born in the 1700’s. We prepare it in the authentic way it’s done in Charleston. The name refers to the use of roe, which are the eggs from a female crab. We make our soup in a 5-gallon batch and use one pound of crab roe and about 4 pounds of crab per batch. The dish is very delicate and the roe gives it a wonderful, distinct flavor. When you cook the roe it has a cheesy texture that makes it seem like there’s cheese in the soup, but there’s not. For people who haven’t had She Crab Soup before, they’re often surprised that when it’s served it’s not really hot. But because of the roe it can’t be heated too much without destroying the flavor. That’s what I mean by the soup being delicate. Flying in the roe and being true to the recipe is what gives our soup its regional authenticity.

She-Crab Soup

We take a similar approach with our other items as well. Our Fresh Avocado Salad is drawn from the Escondido California area. It’s made with a lot of avocado, red onions, and cilantro on a bed of organic spring mix. We add our house made Basil-Aioli sauce and a little coarse black pepper and kosher salt. It can be a meal by itself but it’s healthy and light tasting. So, it’s not just sliders, but our full menu that is based on regional influences.

Fresh Avocado Salad

15. What’s your favorite slider?

My favorite has to be the Wasabi Duck Slider. It’s fantastic.

16. Is there anywhere you’d suggest someone new to Copper start in terms of the sliders?

I’d start with the Wasabi Duck or Scallop Burger. They’re delicious, they’re unique, and they show off what our food is all about.

If that’s too out there for someone then I’d say that even on the basic level our Buffalo Chicken is phenomenal. We make everything from scratch, including the sauce that goes on the chicken.

Our slider buns are not your typical dinner roll either. We bake everything in house every day. Any buns left over at the end of the day go to the Mission House in Jacksonville Beach. Being absolutely fresh is a big part of our focus and what sets us apart.

17. Do most people order a la carte or by region?

By region. You get a wide range of options within a region and it gives people a good chance to try something a little different along with something more familiar.

18. What would you suggest people try after the sliders?

Our entrées are the more substantial side of our menu. You will not leave Copper hungry. For something different that shows off our craft food approach, I’d recommend the Loco Moco. It’s the national dish of Hawaii. It starts with a bed of Hawaiian rice. On top of the rice are two ground beef patties topped with eggs and our in-house demi-glace. The Loco Moco is a huge favorite. It’s big and impressive.

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