Only in South Florida could an iconic chocolate shop give birth to a Caribbean-inspired tapas restaurant.
In 1946, Jimmie Vonglis and his family escaped war-torn Europe for a new life in the States. A year later, he opened the doors to Jimmie's Chocolates in Dania Beach.
Vonglis is long gone, and the shop has changed hands several times since then, but his legacy lives on at his original storefront, which is hailed as the longest-running chocolate shop in the state.
Owners Rodney Harrison and Ken Smith took over the property in the late '90s. While the pair were originally interested only in the real estate, when they approached the former owner, he implored them to carry on the legacy of the historic business.
Call it faith, stupidity, or just a spark of intuition; the two businessmen decided to take a chance and revive the chocolate shop.
A few years later, Harrison and Smith brought in Rob Granado as a consultant (he later signed on as executive chef and managing partner) and expanded the concept to include a restaurant, Jimmie's Cafe.
"The whole thing is experimental," says Granado. "It started as a patisserie café eight years ago, but we've closed twice to revamp."
Today, serving an array of Caribbean-inspired tapas, the eatery is in the midst of another change; it's further separating itself from the chocolate shop with a change of name, to Jimmie's Cafe 47. Additionally, the renamed café will now be open on Tuesdays as well as for weekend brunch service starting in October.
With a focus on regional flavors, the menu changes four times per year; however, some mainstays are always available.
Pernil (slow-roasted pork shoulder) drizzled in au jus is served on a bed of sautéed apples, onions, and bell peppers. As is the case with the other dinner entrées, it's offered with two sides, ranging from arroz con gandules (Caribbean-style pigeon peas with lime- and cilantro-infused white rice) to maduros (sweet plantains) with chayote, red cabbage, and blue-cheese slaw.
Although it changes based on what is locally available, there is always a fresh catch. Yellowtail, mahi-mahi, or pompano are served on Caribbean-style rice topped with fresh avocado, tomato, and red-onion relish with a house-made ground caper tartar sauce. Though it changes frequently, the selection is guaranteed to be local and sustainably caught.
"Hook and line is important to me," says Granado. "I don't claim to be an environmentalist, but some things seem right and wrong."
For tapas, try the empanada tart; filled with empanada-styled beef and served atop tropical fruit salsa with crème fraîche, it's an interesting take on the traditional pastry.
Granado, a Puerto Rican descendant who learned to cook with his grandmother and mother at the age of 11, uses the café to showcase the diverse array of fare found in his family's homeland.
"Somewhere along the line, Latin food became very Mexican-inspired or palomilla, with black beans and rice," he says. "We're distinct island nations. I grew up eating chicken, different kinds of fowl, and tons of fresh seafood. This is very fresh food."
The focus may be on island flavors, but the very American burger of the day is a centerpiece of the menu. Ground daily on the premises, it's composed of a house-blend of filet mignon and sirloin, offered on a salad or between a kaiser roll. Every week, the café offers a different combination of creative toppings, such as feta with basil or manchego, crumbled bacon, and sliced pickles.
"We decided to do a signature burger, because we didn't want to be a build-your-own burger joint," says Granado.
To him, it's all about distinguishing the eatery from others with a unique sense of perspective. Everything on the premises is homemade, and much of the produce is sourced directly from Harrison's family farm in Davie. The fare follows in the footsteps of the distinct chocolates that were originally conceived by Vonglis back in the day.
But never forget that this café grew out of a chocolate shop, so save room for dessert.
Each of the daily selections incorporates the shop's chocolates in one way or another. You never know what you're going to get, but selections include dishes like flourless chocolate tort with dulce de leche, coffee parfait with homemade cannoli cream and shaved chocolate, New York-style cheesecake with chocolate ganache, and coconut- and cocoa-infused flan in a chocolate shell. For those really looking to dig in, the spot offers a three-course chocolate and wine pairing for $39 per person.
With a comfortable, intimate atmosphere, creative fare, and a nice selection of craft beer and wine, the homey restaurant offers a winning combination, worthy of a drive to Dania Beach.
"We're really chocolatiers who just happen to own the coolest restaurant in Broward County," says Granado.
Jimmie's Cafe 47 is located at 148 N. Federal Highway, Dania Beach. Call 954-921-0688, or visit jimmieschocolates.com.
Fresh catch market price
Empanada tart $8.50
Burger of the day $12.50
Chocolate and wine pairing $39
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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