by Curt Fields
If you like beer—and we mean quality craft beer—then you should visit the new T.Mac in Cary’s Waverly Place shopping center.
Many of the North Carolina beers are familiar to Triangle residents, with representatives such as Star Point’s 24/7 IPA, Lonerider’s Shotgun Betty and Fortnight’s ESB. But you’ll also discover finds such as The Unknown Tele-Porter, an easy-drinking porter, and the Triple C Space Cadet Black IPA, which may be my new favorite beer, both from Charlotte-area breweries.
And, as part of its devotion to craft beer exploration, the restaurant also hosts “Beers of the Month” events. Lonerider is October’s featured brewer. The first such event takes place today (Thursday, Oct.9) when they tap a keg of Coconut Sweet Josie at 5 p.m. (They tap Spiced Rum Pecan Betty on Oct. 16, Jalapeno Peacemaker on Oct. 23, and Willamette Dry Hopped Eve on Oct. 30.)
Also encouraging exploration is the Brewniversity program. It’s T.Mac’s version of a loyalty program where you get points for trying different beers. As you accumulate points you receive rewards ranging from T-shirts and other merchandise to, if you advance far enough, lifetime discounts. Eventually there’s a level where you gain access to a special room that has its own separate menu and serves only one-off beers, but only to those with enough points to get in. I generally find such programs a little gimmicky and not worth joining, but I confess I happily became the first Brewniversity sign-up at the Cary location.
Jason Causey is the T.Mac person making sure you have excellent beer in a variety of styles with which to earn those points. The name on the tap handle interests him less than the taste in the glass. He speaks enthusiastically about working his way through the countless craft brews out there to select the ones the restaurant will serve. Beer lovers wish they had his job, but an hour of sampling the available beers confirms he does it well enough that you should take your resume elsewhere.
If you’re from the Atlanta area, you may already be familiar with T.Mac. There are a couple of dozen T.Mac locations scattered around Atlanta, which is where the restaurant got its start. There are three in Charlotte and also one in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s a quick primer:
This is NOT a post-NBA restaurant venture for Tracy McGrady, the basketball player who goes by T-Mac and who immediately came to mind when I first heard about the restaurant. T.Mac derives from Taco Mac, but it’s not a taco joint (although there are a few on the menu). The restaurant started when two guys from New York decided to open a place in Atlanta to serve wings. They found a building but their budget forced them to choose between renovating the kitchen and changing the sign from the previous occupant, Taco Mac. They chose redoing the kitchen. Eventually the name evolved into T.Mac, but to this day you will also come across references to Taco Mac.
Even if you are familiar with Atlanta’s incarnations of T.Mac this one will strike you as a bit different. The Cary location has a more adult feel to its décor with less neon, more wood. The floor plan is open—you can see the whole room from virtually any seat in the house. Sports fans will think they’re in Heaven because there are almost as many televisions as craft beers (about 80 TVs), including full-size screens above each booth. You can ask your server to tune to whatever game you want (or to Disney XD or Nick Jr. if you have kids in tow who need to be entertained).
There is also what is either the most genius idea in restaurant décor or the riskiest. Two circular booths sit at one end of the room and the seating rotates. If you’re sandwiched in the back of the booth with friends on either side of you, there’s no need to make everyone scoot, scoot, scoot and stand up to let you out for a trip to the bathroom or to grab a smoke outside. Instead, just have everyone push and the seat rotates until you’re sitting at the booth’s entrance. It’s a great concept in theory, but I’m anticipating hanging out and observing those rotating booths in action near the end of an evening. The entertainment potential of tipsy patrons trying to operate those spinning seats seems limitless. I just hope the restaurant’s liability premiums are paid in full.
There is more than draft beer on the menu, of course. There is an ample selection of bottled beer plus a hefty complement of wines and spirits. The food menu is fairly typical but I’ve sampled the wings (nicely done) and a couple of the flat breads (the Italian tomato and cheese variety is particularly good). They also have an assortment of burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas and the like.
As you’ve no doubt surmised, T.Mac aims to be the comfortable place you hang out, watch the game and have a few beers—while learning about some new ones if you’re interested. Once past the inevitable just-opened bumps that all restaurants encounter, it seems a safe bet to hit that mark.