For all its uninterrupted miles of oceanfront shore and cozy Intracoastal coastline, Florida never seems to have quite enough waterfront restaurants.
You can never have too many, be they divey holes in the wall like Le Tub serving greasy, sea-inspired bar food, or a bevy of pricey, upmarket spots with all the pomp and circumstance of a Michelin-starred rating.
But not every waterside restaurant has a story like GG's Waterfront Bar and Grill, a Hollywood steak and seafood restaurant off A1A.
For a considerable span of time -- starting around the late 1940s and through the next several decades, until it changed hands in 1994 -- GG's was known as Joe Sonken's Gold Coast Restaurant. The waterside eatery, originally built in 1935, was a well-known Mob hangout, often frequented by many of New York's most famous factions.
Many years later, the restaurant morphed into a Greek tavern named Georgio's Grill, which opened to instant success in the fall of 1997, joining a string of new establishments during a short revival that saw a number of new cafés, galleries, theaters, and nightclubs. When its owners, Giorgio Bakatsias and Peter Tsialiamanis, moved on to focus on their Taverna Opa concept, Georgio's fell by the wayside.
In 2010, longtime restaurateurs Dan and Lise-Anne Serafini purchased Georgio's, what had become a tired, dark space filled with faux Roman columns, stone lion-head fountains, and heavy blue-velvet curtains covering floor-to-ceiling windows, blotting out the light and view.
"Knowing what the restaurant did in its prime and knowing its past, it was hard to pass up," says Dan. "We knew what we wanted to do and what this place could be."
See also: GG's Waterfront Bar and Grill (Photos)
Today, GG's -- an abbreviation of its former name -- has evolved into the type of place you go for fresh seafood and alfresco dining, enjoyed with cocktail in hand on a mild South Florida evening.
The once-shrouded dining room is 10,000 square feet of sprawling, open space that has made it a popular setting for special events. In a room decorated in a sophisticated palette of blue and tan, every seat in the house offers views of both the water and the open kitchen, while an expanded outdoor patio has a second bar, casual high-top seating, and TVs.
The best seat in the house is on the water, of course; perhaps one of the tables lining the narrow, dock-like strip running alongside the restaurant's wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Each has an uninterrupted view of the Intracoastal Waterway where you can watch as shiny, sleek yachts glide past. Or, if you time it right, you can catch the sun setting over the North Lake, a rare expanse of open water in these parts.
An army of servers -- 20 to 60, depending on season -- maintains the spotless dining room with its attention to detail, from the silverware presented in proper etiquette to the tablecloths cleared of debris using steel blades. A young woman takes our order with a smile and a bow and ferries out drinks and food without missing a beat. During our visit, several more servers stop as they pass, checking to make sure our water is filled and our needs have been met.
"The direction we took was simple: good service, beautiful setting, and Florida fresh," says Serafini. "We try to encompass it all, from locally caught fish from the Keys and Gulf to the seasonal stone crab."
In the kitchen, executive chef Chris Smith delivers a classic pairing of steak and seafood, with a decided Italian touch. Diners can start the feast at the raw bar -- oysters, Alaskan king crab legs, giant seafood tours, and Florida stone crabs (during season).
Starters are similarly seafood-centric: roasted oysters Rockefeller, plump diver scallops, crispy pow-pow shrimp, and Cajun-flavored crab cakes. A novelty pick comes in the form of fire-grilled artichokes that arrive tender and doused in a citrus aioli, char-grilled leaves curling at the edges.
You can also head straight to the main course: a whole fish baked -- or fried -- at market price; Florida snapper paired with lump crab meat and an avocado vinaigrette; or pan-seared sea bass with a coconut mango curry sauce.
If you consider yourself a discerning carnivore, you'll want to order steak. With such a large space to cover and so many mouths to feed, food goes fast. That means meat and fish are delivered whole to keep up with the demand, so the filets are fresh-cut and the meat butchered daily.
A 15-ounce, bone-in rib eye has all the tang, depth, and juice you'd expect from a $36 cut of meat. Grill marks are seared into a griddle pattern that, once cut, gives way to a rush of juice and a blood-red interior -- for us, the perfect shade of rare.
It's hard to argue against the cioppino despite its $34 price tag, especially when it comes as a caldron-sized bowl of seafood that includes a half Maine lobster, calamari, clams, scallops, salmon, mussels, and shrimp. The ocean-sized portion of fish is hidden beneath a flavor-laced tomato soup.
Serafini recently hired Christina Pietrantonio to take the role of dedicated pastry chef. Hailing from San Francisco's Hakkasan, Pietrantonio has taken the dessert menu up a notch, delivering hand-made pastries, including a Cuban-American-inspired guava cheesecake. Delicate mascarpone gives the cheesecake a velvety consistency, balanced on one side with a gelatinous layer of gummy-sweet guava and cradled in a crispy, butter-rich crust.
From a seedy past, to a bottomed-out slump, to a chic and modern seaside eatery, GG's has been through decades of change. And although much of this ocean-side Hollywood strip can feel rundown and forgotten, there's a new buzz of excitement hanging in the air. The nearby Margaritaville Resort is coming, and with it what the Serafinis hope to be a renaissance of sorts.
"It's what the city has been asking for," says Serafini. "Hollywood needs that shot in the arm. It will change everything here. Our goal with GG's was similar -- to bring new energy and to attract a younger demographic. The past four years have been better than we ever expected, and I have to say I'm extremely proud of this restaurant. We have nothing but high hopes for the future."
GG's Waterfront Bar and Grill is located at 606 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood. Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. Call 954-929-7030, or visit ggswaterfront.com.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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