There's something about Brimstone Woodfire Grill on the westernmost stretch of Pines Boulevard that screams "chain restaurant." Perhaps it's the giant, glowing red logo stamped across the top of the establishment's enormous stacked stone façade? The sprawling 200-seat dining room? The familiar Americanized menu with its mix of seafood, steaks, and flatbreads? Or the fact that it's anchored at the corner of a large, open-air shopping mall?
Whatever it is, it's too bad. The thing is, Brimstone Woodfire Grill is not a chain. Rather, it's the first in a family of three concepts owned and operated by Brimstone WFG Holding Co., part of Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc., a family-owned real estate development company based in Cincinnati. Its sister establishments are Piñon Grill in Boca Raton and Grill 401 off Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
According to the company's vice president of development, J.R. Anderson, the company created Brimstone Woodfire Grill in its quest to offer an upmarket concept at the Shops at Pembroke Gardens shopping plaza, which is owned by the real estate company.
"We are developers at heart, but food is something we are very passionate about," says Anderson. "We recognized a void in the market for fresh, quality dining that focused not only on quality but high service standards. At the time, we had one remaining freestanding restaurant [at the Shops]."
After considering several chains, the group decided to create its own concept. The original goal wasn't to open multiple locations, but after success with Brimstone, the creative team was hooked. Today, the group is looking to expand with more new concepts throughout Broward and Dade counties.
Brimstone opened seven years ago, 11 miles west of Interstate 95; as one of the only upscale dining options in Pembroke Pines, it quickly became a popular spot for casual fine dining, catering to the county's legions of weekend warriors eager to enjoy the restaurant's sprawling outdoor patio — outfitted with comfy couches, dozens of tables, a large island bar, and live music — and drink away a sunny afternoon.
Under the shade of a newly constructed patio awning, a roaming area cooled by dozens of fans, you can enjoy a craft cocktail, beer, or glass of wine. The best choice: the margarita flight created by beverage manager Jodi Patten, several four-ounce drinks that include a pineapple mango, strawberry, blood orange, and classic margarita made with Casamigos tequila.
Executive chef Julio Martinez joined the restaurant in 2010, using his experience from the Yardhouse restaurant chain — as well as high-end service at the Hotel Melia in Puerto Rico — to breathe new life into Brimstone's offerings.
No matter how "big box" this restaurant appears from the outside, the menu prices speak otherwise. Despite some relatively affordable dishes, the majority is made up of pricey entrées, many $25 or more — a high-end hit to the wallet for this western-suburbia neighborhood.
If you're looking to keep lunch affordable, stick to the starters. Martinez gives the ubiquitous tuna tartare appetizer a small twist, assembling the trilayer tower with a healthy dose of crispy wonton chips sandwiched between a heaping pile of chilled cubes of raw tuna and a thick slab of mashed avocado. It is served in a shallow bowl filled with sweet ponzu sauce that serves as a tasty dressing once the tubular stack devolves into a messy pile.
Additional starter items include flatbreads, everything from a classic Margherita with shreds of basil and slivers of tomato to a barbecue chicken pie with Gruyère, cilantro, and red onion, each made with a thin and crispy crust. We opt for the steak tenderloin and mushroom, topped with savory mushrooms, sliced roasted red peppers, and juicy cuts of — yes — filet mignon.
Meat is at the heart of the restaurant's menu — hearty cuts of grass-fed, 35-day wet-aged Angus beef — from the 16-ounce New York strip to a 20-ounce porterhouse. Each is finished in the kitchen's 1,600-degree broiler, and while some will swear a steak is only as good as its seasoning, meat lovers may want to ask the chef to lighten up on the house-blend spices, which can deliver an overly salty crust to an otherwise beautiful cut. Our thick-cut, bone-in rib eye arrives with such a finish, despite being cooked to the desired doneness and bleeding a bounty of succulent juices.
It's hard to swallow the $34 price tag on the Asian sea bass, but we're pleasantly surprised not only with the quality of the cut of fish but also with each of the sides: the sweet pile of mint-scented sticky rice that soaks up the soy-based sauce like a sponge and the mound of perfectly cooked spinach that manages to retain its bright, vegetal crunch.
We're told the restaurant's sweet endings are made in-house, and from scratch, by Martinez. They aren't listed on the menu but include five staples (Key lime pie, bread pudding, carrot cake, chocolate cake, and a brownie sundae) in addition to several weekly specials. Going the straight and narrow, the brownie is our first choice. It would not have been wow-inducing if it weren't for the viscid pool of champagne cream custard it was sitting on, which we mopped up with forkfuls of the gooey-soft chocolate.
Make no mistake, at the end of the meal, Brimstone Woodfire Grill still feels like a chain, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself otherwise. Yet this is likely the very reason it's so popular, because most people like the reliable, comfortable, and efficient experience they get at a chain restaurant. That drink flight, for one, is worth the visit. The patio really is the perfect spot to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon, host a business luncheon, or celebrate a special occasion with a dinner party. And for the casual diner, Brimstone offers a solid — if a tad expensive — night on the town.