Restaurant Reviews

Riverside Market South, Just as Good — and as Hidden — as the Original

It's only fitting that 1-month-old Riverside Market South isn't easy to find. Even owners Julian and Lisa Siegel recall getting lost when attempting to pinpoint 3218 SE Sixth Ave. in Fort Lauderdale for the first time.

"I gave my wife the address, and she got lost," says Julian. "The first thing out of her mouth once she found it was that it was just like Riverside."

"It was Old Florida pedigree at its best, with bars on the windows and a real funky vibe."

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Funny that, just one year later, the couple would find themselves purchasing the former Keg on Sixth building to open a sister location to their popular beer bar and restaurant, Riverside Market. The plan, they say, is to expand the concept across South Florida.

"We knew we wanted to open a second location in Fort Lauderdale for some time," says Julian. "We'd been looking for the right spot for a few years, but it just never happened. When we heard the Keg was for sale, we came back to check it out, and after looking around, I thought to myself, Gosh, all it needs is a soul."

With the new Riverside Market South located just north of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, liken the search for it to your maiden voyage to the original, what is now considered one of Broward's best hidden gems and entails passage over a narrow swing bridge, down a series of one-way dirt roads, and through a sleepy residential neighborhood.

This smaller sister establishment has its own set of landmarks as you roll down SE Sixth Avenue — past Vacation Inn, Fox Rent A Car, and Tropic Supply — before arriving at your destination, a nondescript square building formerly home to one of the city's many beer bars. When the owners decided to call it quits several months ago, the Siegels stepped in, taking what they say is the first step to expanding the Riverside Market concept across South Florida.

Today, the original Riverside Market, deep in Sailboat Bend, is one of the area's most beloved beer bars, a place where you can self-serve craft beer from a wall of glass-front coolers displaying more than 500 bottles. When it opened in 2009, it was one of the few places offering such a selection.

But the Florida couple say the idea for Riverside actually began taking shape several years earlier, when they purchased Bayside Market in 2002, a neighborhood convenience store off SW 12th Avenue, just west of Riverside Park. Julian had planned to turn the property into apartments, but when the real estate market bottomed, he switched focus, catering to his fellow neighbors in the Sailboat Bend community with a selection of more than 200 craft beers. Today, it's known as the Craft Beer Cartel, the Siegel's home brew supply store and meeting place, of sorts, for like minded beer fanatics.

Six years later, Lisa and Julian sold the convenience store and began developing a more recent purchase, a 1940s building just down the road that was once home to a family business known as Rehards, what was at the time a rundown mom and pop.

"It was Old Florida pedigree at its best, with bars on the windows and a real funky vibe," says Julian. "At the time, we envisioned Riverside Market as a neighborhood co-op. But when Marando Farms opened later that year, we explored some different ideas. Over the years, the foundation has stayed the same, but — like everything around us — Riverside evolved."

The real draw, of course, was the beer — what grew from 250 at Bayside Market to more than 500 at Riverside proper, rows of bottles sourced from across the country and arranged according to price and style. For years, the market remained a locals' spot, Riverside Park's own hidden gem and a favorite hangout for local residents and those in the know.

Like its sister establishment, Riverside Market South continues the original location's nautical-boatyard-meets-hip-beer-den charm. Where the original Riverside has no wait to be seated or formal sit-down service, Riverside South is much the same, a family-friendly place that remains largely self-serve, although staff is on hand to whisk away plates and offer pairing suggestions.

The walls, once covered in colorful graffiti art, have been properly Siegel­ized with vintage photographs of vessels sailing down the New River, a colorful assortment of yacht club burgees, and even a few outriggers from a sport fishing boat. Much of the nautical bric-a-brac has been donated by patrons eager to put their stamp on the new Riverside South.

Like its predecessor, the bar offers a wall of 28 drafts but also 300 bottles in coolers. It's a selection that changes from week to week, Julian working with several distributors to take in three separate deliveries two times each week for both locations.

And what of the food? If elaborate menus immobilize you, this is the place to find refuge. Lunch and dinner are served with a few Riverside proper stalwarts, including the return of Julian's famous smoked fish dip, a traditional menu staple born from his annual Keys fishing trip. There's nothing to be done with 100 pounds of fresh-caught kingfish but smoke it in the backyard. Though the fish used here won't be caught by Julian himself, the recipe and process will be the same, he says.

There's the grilled cheese, the Italian combo, the It's Your World, and, of course, the North Fork sandwich, considered the original house favorite. What you'll get: a hoagie roll with house-roasted pastrami, turkey, and roast beef with lettuce, tomato, onion, and sweet, mild, and hot peppers. The meat, sliced wafer-thin, is delicately folded alongside homegrown veggies into the customary wedge of pillow-soft white bread, greased with a generous spread of the house garlic mayo, olive oil, and vinegar. It hits all the elements — sweet, salty, umami, sour, and bitter — in a single bite.

Regulars, be warned: There aren't any pizzas available yet. Fear not, however. Although Riverside Market is best-known for its flatbread-style pizzas fashioned on house-made dough prepared from scratch with Shipyard stout and honey, Riverside Market South may soon be known for its burgers. No longer restricted to working with just a small fryer, two burner electric cooktop, and a convection oven, Julian is happy to expand the options to heartier fare.

Familiar favorites aside, the new South signature menu items are creative and approachable. Take the Baby Cakes, Julian's crafty invention of homemade crab cakes in tater-tot form, a half-dozen bite-sized fritters served with a remoulade dipping sauce. Or try the new charcuterie board, three seasonal cheeses and two cured meats served with toasted crostini, a homemade chutney, and a chipotle aioli.

A pair of turkey meatball sliders hits a home run, what Julian calls a happy mistake. Each three-ounce patty is flecked with herbs and spices, pan-seared, and braised in a red wine sauce before being fitted between a toasted egg bun. Topped with a dollop of pesto, red sauce, and melted mozzarella, they're a welcome departure from the standard meatball grinder, with just enough Riverside-style pizzazz to make them worth an order or two.

No dessert here, of course — just those served by the bottle, a high alcohol by volume brew perhaps as intoxicating as a rich slice of chocolate cake. The Siegels are still betting you're the sort to prefer a Wells Banana Bread beer over the real thing anyway.

"Like the original, Riverside South is still evolving," says Julian. "We love food, and we love experimenting with different things. That's how we've come up with the ideas for each menu item so far — all good food at an affordable price. That will never change."

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna