By Nicole Danna
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Puck was the first to popularize thin-crusted, wood-fired, trendily adorned pizzas. When you see a pie with unusual ingredients like duck sausage, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, and sage, you have Wolfgang to thank -- or blame, depending on your perspective on such matters. What we can all agree on is that no human being has ever gotten so far on an ability to make a good pizza pie as Mr. Puck. The toppings at the café are similar to those you'd find on the menu at Spago, where for $14.50 you can get a pie peppered with Louisiana shrimp, plum tomatoes, leeks, and basil. Here, for $8.95, the spicy shrimp pizza comes with red and yellow peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, leeks, and basil. (And think of what you save on airfare!) Our pizza with spinach, mushrooms, blue cheese, pesto, oregano, and thyme was, as our waiter would say, "not too bad," though in truth I've had better wood-oven crusts elsewhere.
Pastas come with many of the same Mediterranean ingredients as the pizzas, though in different configurations. The pappardelle was as satisfying as that served by any local Italian trattoria: wide strips of homemade pasta tossed with soft, high-quality Laura Chenel goat cheese, arugula, basil, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, and slivers of garlic, double-blanched to soften the potent bulb's punch.
Another praiseworthy entrée was the peppered rare-charred tuna, six disks of sushi-fresh fish in a pungent mustard-brandy sauce. Mashed potatoes, assertively dashed with horseradish, came on the side, along with an unfortunate foursome of crunchily undercooked baby carrots. The "Adventures in the Kitchen" meat loaf, named after one of Wolfgang's cookbooks, is made with lamb, veal, and pork but tasted just like beef. Caramelized bacon wrapped around the edge of the slice was a nice touch; the dried sheen of port-wine glaze stretched across the top was not. More mashed potatoes, these weakly infused with garlic, came heaped aside the loaf, sopping up whatever little port-wine sauce remained on the plate. Two hot and crispy onion rings were fastened atop the mash by a flag-at-Iwo-Jima-angled rosemary sprig.
2610 Sawgrass Mills Circle
Sunrise, FL 33323
The Grand Cafe offers an extensive selection of food. Besides the appetizers, pastas, pizzas, and main courses, there's a separate sushi menu offered, as well as three variations of pad Thai, two dishes called "Wolfgang's Favorites" (Wiener schnitzel and Zwiebelrostbraten from his native Austria), and numerous salads (like Cobb, caesar, and "new style" Niçoise). Three of the most popular lunchtime sandwiches are a shrimp-BLT club on grilled sourdough bread, a half-pound Angus beef "PuckBurger," and a rotisserie lamb sandwich with goat cheese, ratatouille, and rosemary jus on focaccia. Half of a very large chicken also comes from the rotisserie, basted with rosemary and garlic or barbecue sauce. We chose the former treatment for our bird, which was tasty and tender but seemingly oven-cooked and suspiciously lacking in the unique flavor that only rotation on a spit can spin into food.
A warm oatmeal-crumble apple pie topped with Häagen-Dazs ice cream is tough to beat for a homey, autumnal ending to a meal, though little tastings of vanilla, dark-chocolate-espresso, and Grand Marnier crème brûlées were likewise heartwarming. The Maida Heatter-inspired bull's-eye cheesecake, with vanilla and espresso flavors swirled together, was fine, too, though I had a nagging suspicion that I could have done better across the street. It is their specialty, no? Just the same, if I had to choose between the Cheesecake and Wolfgang factories for the rest of my meal, it wouldn't be the Puck that I'd pass.