I was in the middle of yet another week long trip around the country and had considered myself to be winding things up in Tampa when the call came from boss-lady. I was "invited" to stay on in Florida for another six days and pay visits to our operations centers in Melbourne and Jacksonville. The company was picking up the tab, I'd never been to either place and it would be a chance to see both sides of Florida in the same trip.
Well, I apparently didn't miss much in the translation between eastern and western Florida and the drive between the two was decidedly one of the most un-scenic I'd ever experienced in a state world famous for exactly that - its beaches and scenery! I call the area of central Florida (outside of Disneyworld, of course) marshlands trying to be forest but not quite making it because the trees weren't really tall enough. Sort of like a bald-headed man who wasn't really bald but whose hair wasn't long or thick enough to qualify for any other description.
But I digress. I'm from Texas and we love good barbecue. Driving south along Babcock Road I noticed "Memaw's" Barbecue. I didn't stop but when I got to the office I enquired about the place with building security and was advised that it was merely "ok." Better was available according to the guard in his neck of the woods but that was 20 miles farther north. One of the administrators overheard our conversation and all but ordered me to dine at The Broken Barrel Tavern instead only a few miles to the south in Palm Bay.
Was it ever worth it! Melbourne isn't the biggest truck stop on the highway and if you stayed on either US-1 or I-95 on your way somewhere else you'd miss it entirely. It looks and feels as if it were built to serve a wide variety of purposes, from banquet hall to big-screen sports bar with tables and chairs thrown in beside a room for darts and several pool tables in the back. Center stage to all of this is a massive serving bar that boasts over 340 types of beer in bottles and on tap from 15 countries throughout Australia, Europe (seemingly more from Belgium than anywhere else), North America and Asia. Prices by the glass ranged from suburban swill to hops haute cuisine for anything from Singha to Schlitz and Samuel Adams to Sapporo, Becks and back. One that caught my eye was a concoction called "Youngs Double Chocolate Stout?!" I'm just glad I don't drink!
No one working seemed over the age of 25 or particularly concerned about their appearance but the service was quick and the recommendations right on target. Who'da thunk to actually smoke chicken wings but theirs is done in a dry rub typically reserved for Memphis-style ribs with equally scintillating effect. My waiter admitted to never eating a fried wing again once he'd tried the house specialty and I couldn't disagree. Choose from one of four unique barbecue or hot sauces served on the side to dip ("Cuz ya won't really need it!") and this non-descript hole in the wall beside the Goodwill Store truly serves up Solomon's gold.
Melbourne in November is a ghost town compared to the volumes it must receive in the high season. I even asked what anyone would visit Melbourne for that couldn't be found in Daytona, Palm Beach or Miami. It is the closest major town to Cape Canaveral but that didn't convince me since it is possible to day-trip there from Orlando. What none of the other towns have, though, is the Broken Barrel: smoked wings (plus 340 types of beer) that should NOT be the best kept secret in town!