Best Of :: Food & Drink
Just having the word pizzeria in the name should be enough to get any pizza lover worth his or her pepperoni through the door. Sounds authentic. Italian. But it's not -- exactly. Downtown Pizzeria owners Chris and Gus Kapakos have more Greek ancestry than Italian, but their restaurant background and pizza-making pedigree come from authentic sources. Their father was a restaurateur who owned and operated the Horizon Diner and the Key West Seafood House locally during the mid-'70s and early '80s. (He still has restaurants in Orlando.) The brothers grew up working at dad's places and then went into business for themselves with Lazy A Farms, a produce company they ran until the building that housed it burned nine years ago. As luck would have it, one of Lazy A's clients was Dino's Pizzeria, and when owner Dino Chilini heard about the closure, he offered Chris a job delivering pizzas for extra cash. Soon enough Chris was elbow-deep in dough, working inside the kitchen at Dino's, where he began perfecting his dough-tossing technique. With Dino's blessing, Chris chose a location in Fort Lauderdale, and he and Gus opened their first pizzeria on Seventh Street. They built a reputation and a clientele with a full menu of Italian dinners, subs, and salads. And awesome pie. The thin-crust, New York-style slices are big enough to choke a hippo and dripping with just the right amount of cheese grease floating above the zesty red sauce below. The makings for the sauce, Gus' concoction, are secret, but Chris lets on that they use whole-milk mozzarella ("It's a little more fatty, but it's got the taste," explains Chris), fresh herbs instead of dried flakes (except oregano), and only the freshest produce, no canned stuff. What else would you expect from a couple former vegetable peddlers? And they've done so well, a second Downtown Pizzeria was opened in Oakland Park in January. Both locations are open until 4 a.m. and offer free delivery till 5 p.m., though you can grab a pie hot out of the oven and eat it on site at the small counter.
Come for lunch, stay for dinner, and don't stop eating until your belly's busting at this friendly Brazilian spot run by a Turk. First you head to the buffet table, where the beef stew, salads, soup, rice and beans, and vegetables are more than enough for the average diner. Then waiters bring long skewers of grilled chicken, sausage, and tender sirloin to the table and fill your plate as often as you want, in a style called rodizio. The buffet with chicken and sausage costs only $3.95; adding sirloin raises it to a whopping $7.95. At dinner during the week, $9.95 gets you unlimited servings from the buffet and five kinds of grilled meats. On weekends, when reservations are required, you get the rodizio feast plus a live floor show, followed by dancing to a samba band -- all for $29.95. Middle Eastern food is served in the adjoining dining room. It's an awesome deal, even if you can't match the local attorney who comes here twice a week and eats three whole skewers of meat, washed down by three pitchers of iced tea.
You want the spice? You can't handle the spice! That's how most Thai chefs feel about Americans in their restaurants. Order chili-laden fare medium strength, the food comes out mild. Ask for it extra hot, it just might verge on medium, if you're lucky. That's not enough for even the lamest endorphin rush. Well, gringos with iron palates who are tired of being the objects of discrimination can relax. Siam Gourmet makes no distinction among its customers. So if you order your tom yam kai soup -- a hot 'n' sour broth blended with lemongrass and chicken -- medium, it'll be positively murky with spices. Beef massaman curry is so powerful even the potatoes in the stew can't dumb down the blast. And zesty yam pla meuk, more commonly known as "jumping squid," is aptly named. But it's the customer who'll be doing the jumping -- through hoops, if necessary -- for a soothing, creamy Thai iced tea.
Your first indication that this will be a steep evening comes when the gargantuan doorman directs you (or, better yet, your boss) to the desk "where you can take care of the entertainment fee," which starts the evening off with a $10 per-person charge. The handsome maitre d' with the vaguely foreign accent gives you the once-over and places your party in the back row near the window while saying, "Nice sight from here, no?" Yes, this is a genuine supper club, complete with pricey food (osetra caviar: $45, linguine with clam sauce: $23) and expensive drinks ordered before and during the show. Look beyond the food to the performance, for it's the real justification to spend this kind of dough. Ms. Bishop is a talent worthy of the classic supper clubs of New York City with her incredible vocal range and spot-on delivery. This café chanteuse can also be as funny as her mood dictates, like when she made fun of the ancient retirees from Pembroke Pines in their matching powder-blue suits. But then Bishop made it all right by dedicating to them a heartfelt version of "The Man I Love." Your boss won't love the check, but it is, after all, the least he can do.
It's tough rolling out of bed in the morning, but if you can make it to your car, a piping-hot (or ice-cold) cup of coffee or espresso is within arm's reach once you pull up to the small white building that houses Expresso -- The Gourmet Drive-Thru Coffee Shop. Groggy drivers are greeted by the bracing aroma of fresh-ground, whole-bean coffee being turned into espresso and the gurgle of frothing milk. Those two main ingredients can be combined into a basic cappuccino or latte or spiced up for specialty drinks such as the cinnamon-infused Snickerdoodle or the Dizzy Mocha Delight, a combo of espresso, steamed milk, and dark chocolate. And the drinks can be ordered over ice for a cooler caffeine jolt. Freshly brewed coffee is also available, from French roast to flavored varieties tinged with vanilla, hazelnut, and numerous other enhancements. Carafes of java can be ordered to take into the office, and if you combine a pot of joe with a selection of fresh bagels, pastries, cakes, and fruit, you'll be hailed as a hero when you get to work.
The turn-of-the-century mansion and gardens, which recently underwent a dazzling renovation, set the mood before you even walk in. Once inside, you pass through a cathedral-ceilinged bar before encountering a series of lovely dining rooms, which meld seamlessly with the tropical gardens spread over three acres. The south room is the best -- intimately lit, painted with birds and foliage, one wall open to the pond below. Outside, widely spaced tables are perched on gazebos above cascading pools. The contemporary Florida cooking and the smooth, knowledgeable waitstaff live up to the setting. The reasonably priced menu, which changes weekly, includes appetizers like hearts of palm salad with jicama and passion fruit vinaigrette, and barbecued center-cut pork chop with sun-dried cherry salsa as an entrée. The wine list is excellent, the dessert selection fine. But the burbling waters and dense foliage are what help put you in the mood. And the moonlight helps, of course. Arrive early to avoid a lengthy wait, and ask for the very private two-top next to the firecracker bush. You can even spend the night in one of the cozy villas at the edge of the gardens. If this place doesn't do the trick, find yourself another mate.