Dinner Theater and Burgers Dominated 2011, So What's Coming for 2012?
Philippe Chow's velvet chicken.

I think I have a problem," said chef Roy Villacrusis of Kapow! Noodle Bar, the subject of last week's Dish review. "I don't care what people think."

He's not just talking about the menu at the Mizner Park noodle house where he's the chef. It's his attitude about cooking these days. "People here like what they like," he said. "My menu and what people like don't always match."

Villacrusis' observation speaks to the tension in the dining landscape in South Florida. Here's the conflict: A great swath of retirees and tourists appreciate dining the way it has been, while younger diners are enthralled by dining as it's developing in major metropolitan areas. In South Florida, this translates to the decline of mom-and-pop restaurants and sit-down chains that have spewed out crab cakes and lasagnas and mozzarella sticks in mass quantities. What dominated the past year, and likely will in 2012 as well, are the boutique concepts, the restaurants that make eating there a dining adventure.

3030 Ocean's grilled octopus with arugula salad.
3030 Ocean's grilled octopus with arugula salad.

Location Info

Map

Kapow! Noodle Bar

431 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Boca Raton

Longboards

519 Clematis St.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: West Palm Beach

Charm City Burgers

1136 E. Hillsboro Blvd.
Deerfield Beach, FL 33441

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Deerfield Beach

Dapur

1620 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Fort Lauderdale

DIG Restaurant

777 E. Atlantic Ave.
Delray Beach, FL 33483

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Delray Beach

Max's Harvest

169 NE Second Ave.
Delray Beach, FL 33444

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Delray Beach

Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House

333 Himmarshee St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

3030 Ocean Restaurant

3030 Holiday Drive
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Spoon Fed

217 E. Atlantic Ave.
Delray Beach, FL 33444

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Delray Beach

The Manor Complex

2345 Wilton Drive
Wilton Manors, FL 33305

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Wilton Manors

Sublime

1431 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Related Stories

More About

One example of dinner as theater can be found at Longboards in West Palm Beach, where wall-sized screens display surfers in action, paired with servers decked in beach attire. The performance element is strong enough that lifeguards and beach bums hang out there as extras. On one visit, I ended up getting drunk with a crew of them. Turns out, they're not only in bathing-suit shape but damn, they can drink.

A few towns away, at Philippe Chow in Boca Raton, a chef stages a nightly hand-pulled noodle show in the dining room, with applause and anticipation for a second act. Nearby, Dapur's dining room evokes a model shoot, complete with wind machines, spotlights, sexy servers, and a requisite soundtrack (though for dinner, that's not always ideal if you're hoping to actually talk to your dining companions).

Some of these theatrical endeavors are tinny. Market 17's "dining in the dark" followed a trendy concept of putting customers in a pitch-black room and serving them food that generally ended up in their laps. It's tough already finding time to get together with friends, so it's best while sharing dinner with them that you can actually see one another.

One restaurant that shuttered without protest is chef Glen Manfra's the Pop-Up, a kitschy-themed comfort-food restaurant that lost its luster. A disco ball isn't a draw if it's served with wood-fired pizza.

Single-concept restaurants also led diners on a journey of sorts this year. By going deep with one dish, we learned about ingredients, toppings, condiments, and regional variations. Chefs such as Jo-Jo Parsons of Jo-Jo's Tacos showed us how to get really high-end when it comes to hot sauce.

"Smell that perfume," says Parsons from behind the line, taking a whiff of dried bhut jolokias he uses to make his hottest condiment. A couple of dozen "ghost chilies," each about the size of a thumb, offer a seductive earthiness — yet hit more than a million on the Scoville heat scale.

We learned the difference between Angus and Waygu beef at the dozens of burger restaurants that opened this year. If meat mausoleums continue at this pace, by this time in 2012, we'll expect McDonald's to grind its own beef in-house. What's missing? Inexpensive, quality burgers or burger deals at $10 or below.

Except when it comes to Charm City. The single concept has been mastered by Mike Saperstein and Evan David, who have opened two restaurants within a year that undercut their competitors' prices while sourcing high-quality and often local ingredients. Even after a recent redesign to the original location, Charm City still lacks in ambiance, feeling like a cross between a fast-food restaurant and lunch counter. With beer.

Which brings us to the most controversial trend: local sourcing. Restaurants such as DIG, Max's Harvest, Old Fort Lauderdale Breakfast House, and 3030 Ocean have embraced the farm-to-table mantra and don't let diners forget it. "I spend hours on the phone with each of my purveyors — individual farmers — every day," said Joey Giannuzzi when he was affiliated with DIG, the Delray Beach restaurant that opened this past spring.

Sourcing is a pain in the ass, so we're told, especially in a region like South Florida, where the movement is still a fledgling, which leads most savvy diners to question the ubiquity of it. Why is it that the big dogs who pioneered the movement, such as Dean Max of 3030 Ocean, still cite how difficult it is? And why is it that most of our farmers' markets don't supply produce from local farms? Let's hope 2012 is the year of weeding out the bluffs. Many restaurants still half-ass it or have little incentive to make sure everything they put on a plate actually comes from local producers. These restaurants are like vegetarians who eat bacon and sneak burgers.

Despite these changes in the suburban dining scene, some familiar themes remain, especially when it comes to comfort food. In the year's reviews, we celebrated Betty's Soul Food that's been a Fort Lauderdale mainstay for decades. We ushered in Sea and Spoonfed, new restaurants with food that evokes an idealized past, with homemade soups, mac and cheese, and gourmet meatballs. However, with a little extra padding at the end of 2012, here's hoping meals are little less comfortable and a bit more daring. I need to cut back on cheese.

We've also been protective of neighborhood joints, whether it's stalwarts like Calypso, the busy enclave at Flavors of Peru, or the Manor in Wilton Manors, which was met with scores of defiant comments when this paper wrote an ambivalent review. Sometimes, we want to dine where everybody knows our name, regardless of what's on the plate.

There are also a few things on the wish list for 2012. I wish fruits and vegetables would steal the show from meatcentric menus. I long for a craft cocktail speakeasy. Last, I hope for better training for the front of the house, especially when it comes to lunch service or when bartenders seem oblivious to the field of empties cradled by frustrated, would-be drunks resigned to absentee service.

A few things we can surely expect. More single concepts are on the docket: small, inexpensive sandwiches from 100 Montaditos, an oyster emporium next door to Coconuts at B&G Oyster Bar, and a Bourbon mecca at the Rebel House. More restaurant gardens too: A few in Boca have plots at the town's new community garden. Sublime built one on the roof.

This past year, a little tension has served us well. From Miami to Palm Beach, it has become an interesting time to dine in South Florida. Here's hoping that chefs like Villacrusis are encouraged to indulge their culinary passion and that 2012 will nurture a dynamic dining scene.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
8 comments
Joey "Merlin" Giannuzzi
Joey "Merlin" Giannuzzi

You hit some nerves Melissa in a good way...I'm going into my third season at The Green Gourmet and it is still difficult sourcing my food and products...I am so tired of hearing we are out of stock on that item only to find out I'm the only one using it... In Florida!!! Please keep writing articles to encourage other Chefs and Restaurant owners to do the right thing!

Joey Giannuzzi

Mikoe Wozz
Mikoe Wozz

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends. 

Frank
Frank

nice article.

what happened to the chef at Market17 and when? Any update on a replacement?

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

I'm still circling. Just called this morning to try and get something for that restaurant changes/opening blog post. I'll let you know asap.

Frank
Frank

ok, thanks Melissa. One of my faves, if not my fave in FL, but too pricey to go there too often, and too big a space to have a good atmosphere on quieter nights. If the chef has changed and the quality of the food coming out has gone down they could be in serious trouble.

Frank
Frank

That was me over on Miami. 

Although Miami is certainly improving, SoFlo as a whole is not great, and Fort Lauderdale has a dearth of good restaurants. Atlanta is way ahead.

Melissamccart
Melissamccart

Frank, I just got it and can write about it next week. BTW, is that you over on Miami NT writing about Atlanta and Houston? I agree, when it comes to Atlanta, anyway. There just aren't the handfuls of ethnic neighborhoods from every continent in Miami the way there is in Atlanta.

Frank
Frank

by FL, I mean Ft Lauderdale.

 
Loading...