In the heart of downtown Lakeland off of Tennessee Avenue, sits a building that has had many lives over the years, now revived as MOJO Federal Swine & Spirits. The BBQ and Southern Food restaurant fits in perfectly with Lakeland’s classic charm and modern flair. Walking up the steps of the Federal Building through the white columns, MOJO Federal guests are greeted through the door by a spacious foyer with tall ceilings and a grand chandelier. The original exposed brick throughout the building, unique artwork on the walls, polished and stained floor, and original terrazzo in the center of the restaurant have made it quick to grow in popularity as a local hang out hub.
General Manager of MOJO Federal Swine & Spirits, Mark Burton discussed the space’s history, “The building is over 100 years old. From what I understand, it used to be a post office, it was the IRS, it’s been a bank and either a congressman or a senator had their office here at one point too.” He continued, “It is beautiful, it’s unique. It’s kind of nice to be inside the building, giving it some business again.”
Mark has been in the restaurant business for a long time, working for Carrabba’s Italian Grill for 23 years. According to him, the owners of MOJO Holdings LLC, Todd Lineberry and Todd Ward started the process to bring the restaurant to Lakeland about 2 years ago as the 8th in their line of eatery concepts. In business for over 15 years, MOJO has locations in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Ocala, St. Augustine, and now Lakeland.
According to Burton, most of their restaurants are a combination of the MOJO name and a characteristic of the community the restaurant is in. “Gainesville was a big pig farm so they call it Hogtown, Brick City is downtown with all brick buildings,” explained Mark about where the name for MOJO Federal originated from.
As for the atmosphere, “We just try to keep it alive and friendly,” remarked Burton, continuing, “The ambiance of the building has its own character. The arches, the brick, tons of windows, beautiful lighting, it kind of sets that atmosphere for us.”
What is MOJO Federal’s most popular dish? “Hands down, the Burnt Ends,” says the General Manager. “We actually call that meat candy. Once you try them, you’ll be back for them again.”
Burnt Ends are the deckle muscle off of the brisket. They season it, cook it to perfection for 16-20 hours, and cube it. He says that the dish is so popular that on average they go through 10-15 25lb cases each week.
A selection of 5 sauces rests on each table, ready to be mixed and matched with whatever smoky treat you decide on. The sauces: Mojo–an original BBQ, Sweet, Chipotle–a spicier sauce, Vinegar–a Carolina vinegar they put on their pulled pork when they chop it, and Mustard, are all made in-house. Another popular sauce that is served with the chicken is a mayonnaise-based sauce called Alabama White.
I got to try some of the Burnt Ends during my visit to MOJO Federal. The outside has a smoked flavor encased in a crispy char with a soft pink center that just falls apart when cut into. The flavor was outstanding on its own, sweet and smoky, but paired with the chipotle and sweet sauces mixed together (a tip from my friend and fellow MOJO-lover, Amy), it was hard to put the fork down.
Their other food is traditional Southern fare from North Carolina pork, beef brisket, pit-smoked chicken, and the like. MOJO also has all of your grandmama’s favorite sides like collard greens, mac & cheese, dirty rice, and garlic cheddar grits.
Their selection of spirits including vodka, bourbon, tequila, rum, gin, scotch, wine, and beer are so vast they have their own sizeable menu. They offer whiskeys from all over the globe. They also have Absinthe & Chartreuse, not commonly seen at bars in Polk County.
For a noteworthy night on the town or a lunch date in their singularly charming atmosphere, stop in for a bite of BBQ goodness at MOJO Federal Swine & Spirits.
Mojo Federal Swine & Spirits
130 S Tennessee Ave, Lakeland, FL 33801