The CL Intern Issue: Education takes wing(s) at Copper Top

The summer interns join our restaurant critic at a traditional USF hangout.

click to enlarge SMOKIN': Copper Top's signature wings are slow-cooked and baked, not fried. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
SMOKIN': Copper Top's signature wings are slow-cooked and baked, not fried.

For the second year in a row, CL invited a few of our interns to join in the food tasting experience as part of a wholesale takeover of the paper this week, which is the culmination of their summer. I’m lucky enough to host them as we share wings, along with celery and carrot sticks, plus enough bleu cheese dip to make things interesting. I must admit it’s refreshing to spend an evening with college students whose minds are sharp and whose optimistic spirits have yet to be crushed in their desire to be writers. We talk of life goals between bites of bar food and sips of beer.

I’m glad that I brought my own food posse to this USF campus hangout celebrating 40 years, as the web buzz points out that “many trashy older guys” go to the Copper Top “looking to creep on young college girls,” and to the casual observer, that’s exactly what I would seem about to do.

The Copper Top has long been a favorite amongst the USF crowd. It’s a no-frills bar and pub with three pool tables, arcade games, six flat-screen televisions and its famous namesake copper-topped bar. The Copper Top caters “to the college crowd and sports fans, and makes for a hangout spot with buddies for a game or two of pool or downing a few beers.”

Amy Daire, who’ll be finishing her senior year at FSU, notes her surprise “at their craft beer selection. It’s common to find crafts in bottle but to have so many unique ones (like creme brulee and pineapple) on tap is impressive.” She finds “the food on par with typical bar food” and concludes that, for her, the “chili is decent but seems to be masked with so much heat and spice that I can’t really taste anything but that. Given, I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy” food. My spin is a bit more positive; I like the heat and feel there’s plenty of flavor. Chili, after all, is named after a hot pepper and the spice gives you an excuse to drink more beer. So, at least you know what to expect and, if you share Amy’s heat aversion, to steer clear.

Amy notes, and the carnivores at the table agree, that the famous wings are probably “the best choice on the menu.” The young organic bird limbs are slow-smoked and then baked to order until the tender meat falls off the bone. You may choose from mild to extra hot or veer off into teriyaki, barbecue, honey, sweet and sour, garlic or lemon pepper. Amy “really enjoys the parmesan ones. You can taste the smokiness, and I actually prefer [the baked variety] to typical fried [wings].” 

click to enlarge A suitable reminder for patrons at this no-frills pub. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
A suitable reminder for patrons at this no-frills pub.

Mario Baez, our lone male and rising junior at USF St. Pete, loves Copper Top’s appropriation of the Godfather movie logo and the fact that there are 30 beers on tap and 150 craft bottles. Wise beyond his years, he appreciates that most of us have “had ‘one of those nights’ and that this pub delivers tasty chicken smoked with a mixture of flavors encouraging you to take down that blood alcohol level.” Smart advice indeed. Mario’s main tasting assignment is the Jack Daniels pulled pork sandwich and it is “not disappointing; the sandwich takes up a good portion of the plate with its huge bun, and plenty of smoky flavors fondling the taste buds.” A young man of obvious discernment, Mario notes that “billiards can never get old, darts are noteworthy, but the video games are definite classics, nothing as interactive as the billiards.” Still, “it’s a good spot to hang out and take your mind off life for a bit.”

Jackie Braje, who’ll be a senior at UT and who harbors a desire to follow in the footsteps of CL’s music guru, Leilani Polk, is our lone vegetarian. She’s “grown to expect the bare minimum when going out to restaurants. It’s always the same options: veggie burgers, salads or some form of fried cheese.” But the Copper Top surprises her with its “veggie plate” option. “In my head, I expect a plate of steamed broccoli, carrots or maybe some peppers — you know, some overzealous vision of a veg head’s paradise.” When the veggie plate [quickly] arrives, we spend some time debating whether or not it is, in fact, THE veggie plate. “Maybe it’s just an appetizer, like a substitute for a bread basket,” Amy says. There is a plate, yes, and there are definitely some veggies on it, but I’d hardly accredit some baby carrots, celery sticks and bleu cheese dressing as being a legitimate dish. At least it’s an unpredictable dining experience this time around.

Despite her culinary disappointment, Jackie notes that she appreciates “the funny little scribblings all over the wall like, ‘Don’t call me Shirley,’ or ‘Squeeze it like you own it.’ It’s a college-kid kind of place.”

The rest of the fare is typical: nachos, tater tots, corn dogs, Philly cheesesteak, popcorn shrimp, etc. It’s fine, but go for the wings and lose your mind in the microbrews.