Steve Martorano's Italian Kitchen at the Seminole Hard Rock: Believe the Hype

 To see more photos from Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen, click here.

We had just been seated at a small, white-clothed table at Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen. The four of us — starving thanks to our late-night reservation and screaming over the blasting sound system — couldn't help but laugh at the title of owner Steve Martorano's new book, which was proudly being hawked via a laminated card set on every table alongside the silverware. The biography, Yo Cuz — It Ain't Sauce, It's Gravy: The Steve Martorano Story, features an image of the tattooed chef wearing a neckful of bling and looking every bit like Mickey Rourke, South Philly version. The book, due this fall, covers Martorano's rags-to-riches story, explains why you better not dare call his sumptuous tomato gravy mere "marinara sauce," and features some of the famous recipes he inherited from his mama. The advertisement for it recalled the equally amusing 15-foot-tall image of Martorano looking down across Hard Rock Seminole Paradise from the side of his palatial new restaurant. The level of ego and over-the-top Italian pride was just too ridiculous not to crack wise at.

The food at Martorano's sure satisfies.
C. Stiles
The food at Martorano's sure satisfies.

Location Info

Map

Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen

5751 Seminole Way
Hollywood, FL 33314

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Davie/West Hollywood

Details

Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen, 5751 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Open for dinner 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-584-4450, or click here.

"He looks like the white Mr. T," my friend Fenton mused. "Only, instead of asking kids to drink milk, it's gravy."

Of course, we laughed only about as long as it took to get the food at Martorano's. Because once it arrived, our mouths were too full of house-made mozzarella, tender meatballs, and some of the best pasta in South Florida to even think about making fun. And when we weren't praising the pasta, we were equally busy obsessing over the real-life celebrity the place attracts — on that night, Washington Redskins players Clinton Portis and DeAngelo Hall. We had walked in with some pretty hefty preconceived notions, but by the end of our meal, we were drinking Steve Martorano's gravy-flavored Kool-Aid.

For Martorano, that's nothing new. For 17 years, the pumped-up bad boy has performed that same magic trick at his Fort Lauderdale restaurant, Café Martorano, a place so regularly studded with celebrities that it's like an Oscar wrap party transported to Philly's south side. Martorano himself is there nightly, cooking pasta and spinning records from his custom-made, kitchen-side DJ booth. His food is regularly touted as some of the best around — the best in the world, for that matter, as Gourmet magazine once famously described his meatballs. Yet for a guy who regularly cavorts with Shaquille O'Neal, Jamie Foxx, and practically every Italian-American actor to walk the planet, he's disarmingly gracious. "I've never called myself a chef," he tells me over the phone. "I'm just a cook and a neighborhood guy who's gotten lucky."

Luck has little to do with the opening of this, Martorano's third restaurant. Unless, of course, you count the fact that the palatial digs are set in South Florida's busiest hotel and casino. Martorano had already turned himself into a brand with the opening of his Las Vegas restaurant in the Rio Hotel in 2007. With that spot and with the Hard Rock location, Martorano is turning his vision into reality. He partnered with Buddy Morton, owner of Passion Nightclub, and set out to make the place as clubby and fun as possible. On the whole, it works: The place is so full of energy and glitz that it practically sparkles. It's as if every flat surface is covered in sequins and flashbulbs. A massive white marble bar sits just inside the front door and glows with blue backlighting. Not far down the black-tiled room sits a raised DJ booth, and from that vantage point, club music is pumped constantly across some 7,400 square feet of space. Furthering the clubby illusion are partiers nestled into corners enjoying VIP bottle service, a bathroom attendant dishing out towels in the men's room, and the booming voice of the DJ reminding everyone to "please tip your waiters and bartenders." It's so much like a strip club, it's surreal.

It's easy to be taken aback at first by the impressive size and volume of the place. But make no mistake; that impression is deliberate. Martorano says he wasn't sold on the idea of opening a restaurant at the Hard Rock — until blackjack arrived. Once it did, he wanted to build something fine-tuned for the hopped-up gambling crowd. He designed the place in the image of his original restaurant but made some key changes in the kitchen. Namely, his 48-burner stove manned by a trio of chefs, whom he refers to as "Chef Walter, Chef David, and Chef Fernando." They turn out a menu that's smaller than the one you'll find just 20 minutes down the road. The reasoning, he says, has to do with pulling in three times the covers per night while still cooking to order. "It's not easy to maintain that quality," he says. "But I'm there every day making sure I do."

For me, the downsizing works. The menu here is just as focused as at his flagship restaurant and every bit as enticing. Back are Cafe Martorano mainstays like fried galamod (that's calamari) served two ways and pig's feet braised in thick, red gravy. Then there's a home-style cheese steak made with caramelized onions and truffle fries (try getting that at Geno's or Pat's) and shrimp scampi served over Italian bread with peas and bread crumbs. The mozzarella, made to order in-house, runs $16 to $18 and comes as a fresh ball topped with olive oil or prosciutto San Danielle cut from an antique $10,000 machine. Or it's coated in bread crumbs and fried, then napped with spicy-tart tomato sauce or a sauté of anchovies and capers. As good as that fresh mozz is, a few dabs of the same milky cheese atop a classic margherita pizza ($16) is even better. The Parmigiano and slightly sweet sauce practically melted into one concise layer. The only complaint we could muster was against the thin crust: We found it slightly too dense, as if overworked.

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19 comments
anthony
anthony

I was treated to dinner at this restaurant so I don't even know how much the bill was.  I can say that the music was so loud that it made talking with others at the table impossible.  Actually the muisic was so loud that it was uncomfortable.  This is definately a place where disco freaks and college kids will feel at home but from what I've heard the cost would be prohibitive.  The food was ok.  Best in the world?  I don't think so.  I am full blooded Italian and this was not the real deal.  What I would like to know is where does that wonderful ricotta cheese come from?

John
John

The place is total garbage. After a $350 tab, the waiter tried to cheat on the tip and added an extra 5% - caught it and asked to speak to the manager - he cursed me out and told me "pay your bill and get the f$&k out". Really classy for a crappy tasting $69 chop. This place needs to go out of business and I will do my best to help it along. Have eaten all over the world and never had anyone speak to me like this after multiple restaurant errors and then still think that I am going to pay - what guts.

Trkdlr1
Trkdlr1

How much were you "GREASED" for this critique??

Jeannie
Jeannie

If i never go back to this place it will be too soon! Waaaaay overated! We attended a party there the other nite. Its like one big Italian disco. If SCARFACE or GODFATHER is loudly playing on the 100 plasmas while you eat or try to talk the DJ is blasting the $200,000 sound system! Wine was warm (not chilled correctly) food was brought out not hot. Food overall tasted good and service was good i will say but not a memorable dining experience.

Drew5
Drew5

"If anything is the star at Martorano's, though, it's the gravy. A boatload of rigatoni ($34) splashed around a pool of the stuff so intensely porky, I wanted to name it and show it off at the state fair. Mike, our resident gravy aficionado, practically fell over himself with one taste of the stuff. Since that night, he has text-messaged me constantly to extoll the intensely tender pork, the sunny sauce, and smooth dab of ricotta cheese floating atop it all like an island. He went on so long, I thought he was going to write a book about it."

- Is this actually a restaurant review? Sounds more like a fluff piece that belongs in the "special advertising section" of a newspaper, or in one of those gushing, biased tourist-targeted brochures. Note to John Linn: Keep your eulogizing to a minimum to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Max
Max

No problem. I didn't realize that New Times was such a low budget operation. I'm sure your readers will appreciate the clarification so it doesn't ruin their evening when they see the menu.

John L.
John L.

Ah, yes. Thank you for informing the rest of us peons what "real people" do.

Max
Max

No need. Real people don't share one cheese plate and a meatball between 4 people. Zagat has it listed at $68pp which is still a bit low, but they do have more of a beer crowd voting there.

Oh, and someone told me they were quoted $70 for a veal chop on last visit. They probably charge more on weekends.

John L.
John L.

We had four entrees, two appetizers, dessert, and three drinks for $200 on the button. We had enough left overs for three of us to take home and have full meals for the next day. Would you like me to scan the receipt for you?

Walt F
Walt F

Our experience was not as glowing. Ordered bottled water,when poured, my wife realized the glass the water was being poured into had huge crack. Server replaced glass, but did not offer to replace the water! Service was not what I would call attentive. "World Class" Meatball was dry, almost sawdusty. I would not call the "gravy" anything exceptional, to "acidic" would be accurate. Ordering wine, produced a bottle that was not the vintage printed on the list. With the high priced wines on the list the customer is entitled to the correct vintage.Overall the value of the restaurant with the high prices and average food and spotty service, I would not return.

Jaila
Jaila

Martarano does everything he can to make you WANT to dislike his places. Then you eat, and you forget what you were talking about. You remember a little when the bill comes, but forget again when you eat the leftovers for two days.

And for the record, Mike doesn't write books about gravy. He writes books about Vanilla Ice and greyhounds. And maybe hookers.

Max
Max

Great chefs don't rip off their customers. Jeans-George charges $46 for a veal chop at perhaps the best restaurant in New York. Anyone who thinks that Martorano's, who charges 50% more, is in that class really doesn't know anything about good food.

Hype is exactly what it is. As they say, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And Steve is King of South Florida.

dennis
dennis

drat, I left off dessert. So add another $50 to the bill.....$500 for 4 people.

food luver
food luver

Totally agree, John. This place is world class. We don't mind paying extra for the truly best available ingredients Steve M. uses. It blows any other restaurant away, period. His portions are huge too. I have to make an extreme mental effort not to overeat and to remind ourselves to take home leftovers. If not, we polish our plates and then leave way too full...but it happens. I was amazed to discover that his desserts were also at the same quality level as the rest of his food...we love his red velvet cupcakes a la mode (with a little cannoli cream base beneath the ice cream), his cannolis of course, and his waffle ice cream sandwich!! He even butters and maple syrups the waffles :) Amazing. No detail spared. Everything is simply too good not to be expensive.

Dennis
Dennis

I beg to beg to differ. Its $39 for a glass of wine with a meatball salad with 1 meatball. So if you got all of that for $50 per person you know someone I don't, or you're drinking iced tea.

Meatball Salad $20Rigatoni $342 glasses of wine @$19per $38 (Peppoli, $24 per bottle at Total Wine)

Thats $92 pp before tip.

Now paying $50 for a big prime steak is one thing. You don't feel like you've been robbed by that because it would cost you $30 for the meat in a supermarket. But paying $110pp with tip for something that costs about $15 is another matter.

So if dinner for 4 as I've described came out to $450 and you got to take home a tub of rigatoni; its difficult to feel like you've gotten your money's worth. They get $65 for a veal chop, which is about $20 more than any other place in Fort Lauderdale.

John L.
John L.

I beg to disagree. Maybe if you just eat fish sandwiches at hotel restaurants or stump for brunch at Steak 954 you're not used to spending money on food. But $200 for four people with drinks, appetizers, dessert, and enough leftovers for everyone to take some home is hardly thievery.

Dennis
Dennis

I don't think that you can accurately describe the experience without making the reader understand that no matter how much you enjoy the food, you WILL feel like someone stole your wallet at the end of the evening.

John L.
John L.

I made reference to the rather expensive prices on more than one occasion - perhaps it needed to be drilled in again and again in every graf? Yes, it's expensive. It's also very good food. Your mileage may vary.

Dennis
Dennis

Spoken like someone paying with someone else's money....

I didn't think his sauce is a great sauce. The food is very good, and the place is definitely a spectacle, but the concept that the food is so good that it will make you forget how much is costs is absurd.

 
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