The best thing about this sudsy boom? Restaurateurs finally realized beer isn't just for peanuts. Tryst in Delray Beach, with its hip atmosphere and gorgeous outdoor patio, put beer at the center of its smart menu of upscale small plates and succeeded. Notable chefs like Lola's on Harrison's Michael Wagner aren't just serving quality brew — they're cooking with it too. (Who doesn't want to eat his chocolate stout cake?) But, in truth, the credit for South Florida's beer revolution has to go to the ground team: Adam Fine and the folks at Fresh Beer Inc., Sally Parsons and John Hatadis at BX Beer Depot, and local brewers like Fran Andrewlevich and Matt Cox, who each continue to make sure South Floridians are hearing about and drinking more beer.

Marquee Attraction

Florida continues to be the Promised Land for celebrity names and chain eateries. At price points both high and low, they've appeared — Truluck's, Uncle Julio's, Five Guys, Primanti Brothers, Morton's, Brio, III Forks, Copper Canyon Grill — each shooting a lusty gaze this year at SoFla's coffers.

If New York is where chefs go to make their name, Florida is where they come to collect. Stephen Starr, Masaharu Morimoto, Todd English — the playbill reads like A Food Network Christmas. English in particular has gone gonzo for the potential of the Sunshine State. After debuting his rustic, Italian eatery da Campo Osteria in the lux Il Lugano Hotel late last year, Boston's top toque stuck around to have his chiseled face snapped for gossip columns and gazed over by Florida foodies with a burning in both loins and stomach. With his debut of Figs in West Palm Beach and Wild Olives in the old Opus 5 spot in recent months, we may as well gift English with a complimentary pair of flip-flops and Bermuda shorts. He's ours now.

Joe Rocco

Location Info


Christine's Restaurant

2671 E. Park Oakland Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Wilton Manors

Mugs Bar & Grill

2671 E. Oakland Park Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Da Campo Osteria

3333 NE 32nd St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Beaches

Yolo Restaurant

333 E. Las Olas Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301-2259

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Steak 954

401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Wild Ginger Asian Bistro

632 Hisbiscus St.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: West Palm Beach

Rock 'N' Roll Ribs

4651 State Road 7, Ste. 1
Coral Springs, FL 33076

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Parkland

Closed Location

Speaking of our own, 2009 was a great year to be one of South Florida's homegrown talents. Lirim Jacobi cut his teeth at Taverna Opa, but his partnership with English is sending the restaurateur to the next level. And nothing, apparently, evokes hunger quite like a bald, buff dude in the kitchen — at least if local boys Steve Martorano and Rocco Mangel have anything to say about it. Mangel in particular, who had Kelly Ripa dishing about his tacos on her blog, just debuted his second Rocco's Tacos in Boca's Town Center Commons (he's also a partner in Big Time Restaurant Group's new Reef Rd.).

Ultimately, a big name doesn't mean squadoosh if the experience isn't there. Luckily, South Florida's finest are delivering expertly. Zach Bell of Café Boulud began his turn at the southern branch of Daniel Boulud's vast empire in 2003, and this year he was nominated for his second James Beard award. His seasonal menu of peekytoe crab and steamed snapper en cocotte, of Casco Bay cod and duo of lamb à la grecque is as much a showcase of his exceptional talent as his hosting of diners for Slow Food Glades to Coast exhibits his commitment to local foodways.

Also in Palm Beach, Miami's Michelle Bernstein landed in the exclusive Omphoy Hotel and produced one of South Florida's finest restaurants in both service and cuisine. Through her daily-caught seafood, adherence to tradition, and respect for ingredients, Bernstein has proven that fine dining here can stand up to anywhere in the country.

Onward and Upward

Every food news outlet will tell you what the newest trends for 2010 are, but I know what I'd like to see: simple, ingredient-driven menus. Restaurant openings that are less about hip atmosphere than they are about honest food. A renewed emphasis on ethnic dining. My favorite new eateries of the year almost unanimously met those criteria. Taurus Steakhouse, with its ability to transform inexpensive cuts of meat into superlative steaks, is a fine example of a proud family business facing the economy head-on. In Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Basilic Vietnamese Grill brought a fresh take to DIY Asian cuisine. First-time restaurateurs like Beverly and Donald Jacobs of Bamboo Fire in Delray Beach took an unaffected love for food and let it bloom, while Bravo Peruvian Sandwich Shop in Fort Lauderdale put the flavors of Peru on a sublimely crusty roll and made you fall in love.

And still, there are plenty of interesting restaurants on the way in early 2010. Delray Beach is booming with big returns from Mark Militello (the Office) and Allen Susser (Taste). There's the French Quarter Bar & Grill in Pompano Beach, Andrew Garavuso's second helping of the Sicilian Oven in Coral Springs, and a huge boom of restaurants in Gulfstream Park on the way. It seems like we've emerged from the worst recession in recent memory and come out stronger on the other side. And for that reason, whatever 2010 holds, you've got to agree: The future looks pretty damned bright in the Sunshine State.

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