Tropical Acres: A Steak House Time Machine

As plates were cleared from our table, sitcom-style hilarity popped up in a steak house that has long been popular among snowbirds and grandpas.

"In honor of your birthday, how's about we go home and fool around?" a man asked of a woman who announced she was celebrating her 70th.

"70? That's young," a hunched-over woman chimed in from another table.

Tropical Acres has reopened after a fire in 2011 forced it to close for six months.
Tropical Acres has reopened after a fire in 2011 forced it to close for six months.

Location Info

Map

Tropical Acres Steakhouse

2500 Griffin Road
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Details

Tropical Acres Steakhouse, 2500 Griffin Road, Fort Lauderdale; 954-989-2500; tropicalacres.com. Open Monday to Saturday 4:30 to 10 p.m. and Sunday 3 to 9 p.m.

French onion soup $5.95

Shrimp cocktail $7.50

Cowboy rib eye $26.95

Mahi-mahi fillet $19.95

Ten-ounce New York strip steak $24.90

Cherry cheesecake $5.95

"I've been divorced ten years and have gone on four dates," we heard from a neighboring table. "It's hard to find a gentleman."

Tropical Acres Steakhouse, now more than 60 years old, remains rooted in post-World War II America. Men still wear jackets and slacks to dinner. A tuxedoed pianist plays a jazz mix along with the occasional "Happy Birthday."

This place is not, and should never become, the kind of trendy steak house that offers Kobe-style beef, dry aged for a month, for more than $50. Instead, it offers a value — and a special experience — far beyond what you'll find at a Hillstone or an Outback. Elbows off the table. Napkin in your lap. Don't talk with your mouth full.

Nearly four generations of the Studiale family have run the restaurant since 1949 and steered it through a few disasters. A cousin, Gene Harvey, opened it. Sam and Celia Studiale took over in 1964, the year three-quarters of the place burned to the ground in a fire. Later, Jack Studiale, who became the public face of the restaurant, and his sister Carolyn Greenlaw grabbed the reins. Today the restaurant is run by Michael Greenlaw and Joe Studiale, who it seems are being groomed for ownership once Jack and Carolyn step aside.

"A lot of people that are longtime guests know my grandparents," Michael Greenlaw said. "I'm the grandson."

The much-loved restaurant caught fire in the middle of the night in August 2011, the blaze spreading from the laundry area to the kitchen. It was forced to close for six months and nearly $1.8 million of repairs.

"We're still kind of dealing with some of the insurance fallout," Greenlaw said. "A big issue with us was what's called law ordinance or code upgrade. Our kitchen, a lot of it, was built in the 1970s; the main area that was damaged was built in 1974. When [insurance] paid to replace it, it wasn't up to code."

Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident, and in some ways, the Studiale family used the fire to its advantage, revamping the kitchen, installing a sprinkler system to douse any flames, and replacing the dining room's geriatric, floral-and-beige banquettes with more-modern, inviting, quilted red seating to match the warm room.

The stretching, single-floor, country-club-style building is built from pale-yellow bricks and accented with green shutters. The entrance is adjacent to a driveway with a valet stand that was unattended both nights we visited. A ramp and a small set of stairs led us through double wood doors into a lobby with mismatched living-room furniture from across the decades that looks like it might have come from your great-aunt's house. A white couch, the kind you were never allowed to sit on, rests against a wall that displays copies of the restaurant's menu dating back to its opening in 1949.

We found the place humming on a recent weeknight, when we arrived to a 20-minute wait. Undeterred, we walked into the bar — draped in dark wood and dimly lit by emerald-green hanging lamps — to have a drink and order a bite. What we got was a curt, short-on-manners middle-aged bartender who looked frustrated when asked to recite the beer list and wouldn't take an appetizer order because he was "making drinks for the whole restaurant."

In the early days, a T-bone steak went for $2.50 and appetizers were limited to tomato juice, a half grapefruit, and a fresh fruit cup. The menu has since expanded, but growth has been limited to steak-house classics. Fried zucchini slices, fried mushrooms, and escargots broiled in butter were among the appetizer choices. An "Italian" section with chicken parmigiana and linguine with meatballs was added to the menu, as was a seafood section with salmon, shrimp, scallops, and lobster.

One of our two meals at Tropical Acres began with the obligatory Shrimp Cocktail Supreme ($7.50). Five shelled crustaceans were served steamed and chilled in a glass cup that could have doubled as a vessel for a small ice cream sundae. The shrimp were sweet, generously sized, and a fine way to start a meal. Classics.

Yet a French onion soup ($5.95) revealed the pitfalls of churning out the same dishes night after night. A small pewter bowl arrived sealed with a cap of melted, browned cheese. Underneath lay an underseasoned, bland broth. The soup-soaked square of bread inside seemed as if it had been left sitting for too long and was almost disintegrated. The bubbling cheese, usually the highlight of the dish, was weak and lacked the salty, nutty punch that comes with the traditional melted Gruyère; it was a Parmesan/mozzarella mix.

Aside from being what the crazy kids of today would describe as "shot down" at the bar, service was attentive and formal. Waiters, in white buttoned-up shirts, black vests, and aprons that hung to their ankles, checked in multiple times during each course, and an assistant kept drinks full.

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