Wilton Manors might be a small town, but there are plenty of options to drink and dine. You can belly up to chowhoundish places like Rosie's, stop in swank sushi spots like Gaysha Sushi and Tee-Jay Thai, or grab a cocktail at the cornerstone of it all, neighborhood watering hole Georgie's Alibi.
But what this area really needed, according to restaurateur Bobby Del Campo, was a contemporary concept serving more elevated fare -- but without the wince-worthy price tag.
That's the ideal Del Campo was aiming for when he opened Mind Your Manors six months ago, a small eatery with the lofty goal of lifting American comfort food to a new high with a menu that spotlights, of all things, sandwiches.
"When I first told people about the concept, they heard 'sandwiches' and thought I was doing a deli," says the South Florida native. "But I pictured them being some of the best around. I wanted to really knock it out of the park."
True to Del Campo's vision, the menu -- executed by good friend and executive chef Josh Marlowe -- delivers what the duo defines as hand-held, American-style eats. All of it's paired with a decent-sized offering of microbrews, an innovative selection of craft cocktails, and a well-priced wine list.
At Mind Your Manors, each dish is an ode to American homestyle fare, arranged into short lists of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and entrées. The idea here is to think outside the box, to take something familiar and give it a novel twist. Each choice offers a different way to do things, like hummus made with black beans instead of garbanzo; bruschetta with smoked salmon, capers, sun-dried tomato, and lemon feta dressing; or oversized tater tots in place of ordinary fries.
Del Campo says he took inspiration from his past professional experiences in the restaurant industry, garnering ideas for each menu item along the way. Before setting up on his own, he wore many hats. During college, he learned the ropes at the Melting Pot, established a chocolate shop with his brother, and later opened several GrillSmith locations in the Tampa area.
In 2009, he returned to South Florida and began tending bar at Fort Lauderdale's Ritz-Carlton. Through it all, Del Campo says he envisioned operating his own establishment; he was simply waiting for the right opportunity. That came by way of the former Pinche Taqueria space at 2045 Wilton Drive, vacant for close to a year.
"Really, I always pictured being downtown, somewhere in Fort Lauderdale," says Del Campo. "But when a friend told me this place was available and I came to see it, the whole thing just felt right."
Originally his father suggested naming the restaurant Bobby D's, but Del Campo later chose a name with a double-entendre: It's a clever play on words but also a nod to the city where he found a second home.
On a weekday evening, Wilton Drive is alive and buzzing, and the crowd at Mind Your Manors forms early. At 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, the mahogany wood bar that winds from the exposed seats at the restaurant's entrance and inside along the east wall is packed with clusters of happy-hour patrons. They're ordering specialty cocktails from a short menu created by Del Campo's friend and former Setai bartender, Philip Khandehrish.
Nearby, a troupe of diners mingles under the exposed dining room's shallow overhang, watching as couples stroll past and servers scuttle in and out of the industrial-modern, yet cozy, dining room through giant garage doors.
To begin, we choose the smoked salmon bruschetta appetizer, each bite tossed in a lemon feta dressing mixed with capers, thin-sliced red onion, sun-dried tomato, and basil. The flavors works well together, but it's delivered on soggy toast points that knock the dish down a notch.
The soft-shell-crab sandwich features two crabs enveloped in a thin shellacking of fried buttermilk and flour, presented between pillowy tufts of ciabatta bread and melded together with a dab of Marlowe's house-made Old Bay remoulade. The brine-and-cream combination is a trip to the Maryland shore and memories of Del Campo's childhood summers spent in his grandparents' restaurant.
"I'm a soft-shell-crab guy," says Del Campo. "I grew up on them, and no one else has one on their menu like we do."
Your server will tell you the Wilton Cheesesteak is the house favorite, but you will appreciate the prime rib better when it's sliced thin and served with a side of au jus, as it is with the prime rib sandwich. Cooked in-house with the kitchen's pricey, custom slow cooker, the meat lives up to the hype, oozing juice and stacked between two slices of thick-cut Tuscano bread, a tub of fresh horseradish sauce beside it.
While side dishes aren't always memorable, here they can be a sideshow all their own, offering a taste of something outside the humdrum culinary box. Hand-cut sweet-potato fries come with a gooey buttermilk marshmallow dipping sauce, for example, good enough to conjure memories of favorite Thanksgiving casseroles. Go for the $1 upgrade and try the house-specialty tater bombs, shredded potato lumped into hefty hash torpedoes and fried to form supersized tater tots.
If brunching is more your thing, a Sunday menu made its debut in early December. If you're hungover, it might be the perfect excuse for nursing one of the spirulina-infused bloody marys. For a few dollars more, it's made with a heaping dose of the potent superfood -- frozen instead of dehydrated -- which turns the drink from blood red to mossy green (but without the grassy aftertaste).
Here, eggs are the main attraction, cooked Benedict-style and highlighting the menu's best meats, from crab and pulled pork to the smoked salmon and a spiffy Philly take with prime rib, bacon, crispy fried onions, and a horseradish hollandaise.
At this high-gloss approach to creative comfort fare off Wilton Drive, sandwiches might dominate the menu, but this is no neighborhood deli. Del Campo has created an eclectic space with a concept that speaks to the casual diner, sophisticated luncher, and power bruncher.
Mind Your Manors is located at 2045 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors. Hours are noon to 10 p.m Sunday through Thursday, noon to midnight Friday and Saturday. Call 754-223-2172.
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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