Best Of :: Food & Drink
Chef/owner Philip Darmon is an Australian native who spent the past decade traveling the globe, cooking for the rich and famous aboard luxury motor yachts. With a pedigree such as that, one would assume he'd be dishing out expensive but minuscule portions of caviar and foie gras to businessmen and local TV stars. Not so. During the day, he's plating up Nueske bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwiches with fresh hand-cut fries ($11) for the populace, like you (although we wouldn't be surprised to hear he has some high-end clients visiting often). Tucked just off Andrews Avenue on a side street in Fort Lauderdale, this neighborhood restaurant offers world-class fare in a friendly and casual environment. Many of his dishes on the weekly changing menu have a strong Southeast Asian or Mediterranean influence. From Thai duck salad with soba noodles, cilantro, sesame, and soy ($13) to crisp-skinned salmon over sunchoke purée, chive oil, and salmon roe ($24), each dish here feels just as special as dining on a yacht — even if you can't afford to even step onboard one. And the wine list, curated with help from celebrity chef Angelo Elia, is just as exceptional.
The terms "deco glam" and "chill" sound like night and day; however, at this place, the contradictions seem to work. The window-encased space is filled with modern retro furniture, chrome accents, trendy lighting fixtures, and stunning terrazzo floors, all of which are illuminated by a soft purple glow at night. It's trendy and inviting at the same time. While the décor is definitely notable, the wine and location are the real draws here. Located next to the Classic Gateway Theater, it's the ideal solution to any date night. Indoor and outdoor tables offer a prime view for people-watching couples heading to dinner and theater-going types on the way to catch an indie flick. With more than 50 wines available by the tasting, glass, or bottle, it's the perfect place to catch a buzz before heading into your movie or to wind down at the end of the night.
Size does matter — in the wine department. When it comes to securing the perfect vino to pair with that steak, one page is just not going to cut the muster. Sorry. While most dining establishments offer page after page of the same mass-produced vino, there are restaurants that really do pump up their wine lists. Hollywood Prime has one of the biggest. The AAA Four Diamond-rated steak house was awarded the Wine Spectator 2013 Best of Award of Excellence. (Only a few thousand restaurants receive such a designation by the esteemed publication.) Sommelier Laura Romano has compiled a selection of more than 600 vinos from around the world. Although the choices are extensive, the magazine hails the restaurant's strengths as moderately priced bottles from California and Bordeaux. It has bottles ranging from a $39 2010 Hess Select Chardonnay from Monterey to a $3,000 1999 Château Lafite Rothschild shipped over from Pauillac. With an inventory of more than 6,000 bottles, the offerings spread across 17 pages. If you're looking to geek out over some nice wines, try this place on for size.
Fort Lauderdalians have been slowly sprawling away from tourist-ridden strips of bars and eateries and making their way to residential and industrial parts of town. Hey, nothing against spring breakers and flocks of lobsteresque Midwestern tourists — they contribute heavily to the local economy. It's just it's nice to have a secret every now and then, a place that lies way off the beaten track, a spot that caters to locals, a hangout with a cool vibe and good eats. Set among the warehouses and lumberyards south of State Road 84, the Keg on Sixth is hard to find, unless you know where you're going. But it's well worth the search on the GPS. With an urban industrial vibe complete with graffiti murals by local artists, the spot is like a cool underground escape from the pomp and pretension of much of South Florida — and the fist-pumping, beer-pong crowds that like to overtake our town from time to time. The bar offers a wide selection of craft and commercial beer as well as wine on draft. The kitchen churns out a creative array of affordable global comfort fare all day long. For breakfast, you can grab a sausage sandwich ($6) or pork belly biscuits and gravy ($5) with coffee for less than ten bucks. Lunch and dinner includes divergent options. Fritto misto ($12) with shrimp cauliflower, pickles, and shallots with mustard vinegar are on the lighter spectrum. The old reliables are found with creative takes; the Keg Burger ($11) is glazed with stout and topped with Muenster, roasted tomato, and bacon pepper jam. What more could you want from an escape? It's totally comfortable and completely out of the way.
For years, Bistro Mezzaluna sat in a small shopping center, quietly wowing customers with its Italian-American classics. After moving from its long-term locale to a space four times its size just a couple of years back, the place has increased its romance potential tenfold. A palatial piano bar is the perfect place to prep for the impending amore over a martini (or three). Two dining rooms boast pristinely set tables. Its outdoor patio offers a mood-setting cascading water fountain. With 14,000 square feet total, this place does love in epic proportions. However, even with the massive space, a meal here is an intimate experience. The secluded tables and booths are ideal for indulging in simple yet spectacular fare like shrimp and scallop ravioli ($27), 20-ounce bone-in rib eye ($48), and Maryland crab cakes ($29). Throw in a list of 300 wines and you and your sweetie are going to have one heck of an amorous night. Just hope it continues.
The 500 block of Clematis Street is paradise. Rodney Mayo has done his due diligence in transforming the tiny piece of downtown into an indie oasis, with his restaurants and bars over the years having included Respectable Street, the Lounge, Lost Weekend, and Hullabaloo (to say nothing of his establishments like Howley's diner and Dada in other hoods). It's a stretch of street for those unwilling to accept dress codes but in need of a guaranteed good time. There are good eats aplenty on the 500 block, but one rises to the top. LongBoards is the physical embodiment of South Florida in restaurant form. The vibe is straight chill, with surf videos running constantly. A giant bar looks like one big surfboard. Heck, there are even surfboard chairs. The choices measure up to the ambiance with a small, rotating beer tap, a worthy bottle selection, and a tropical cocktail menu. But it's the happy hour that takes the cake... crab cake, that is. Five-dollar food bits include crab cakes, clams, a special tropical twist on chicken wings, and more goodies like $1 Gulf oysters and half off anything in your wildest imagination from behind the bar. These three hours of escape take place every day from 4 to 7 p.m., but if you don't make it, you can still score a solid fish dinner or slick lobster Benedict at brunch. It's the go-to spot that hits the spot. Take everyone you know.