Underground Restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, Part 2
I didn't take a picture, but SnG's chocoate croissant bread pudding looked something like this.
Yesterday in part 1, we introduced you to SnG, a rogue restaurant operating in Fort Lauderdale. Today we'll finish up our meal and talk about the pros and cons of operating a rogue restaurant.
Dessert isn't always served at SnG. But tonight's meal was a special one. It was supposed to be the rogue restaurant's last.
So after the plates of coq au vin were cleared away -- most of them scraped completely clean of the delicate chicken braised in red wine -- JLo got up and went to the kitchen to serve up a surprise: chocolate croissant bread pudding.
"Does everyone want ice cream?" JLo asked from the nearby kitchen.
The response, of course, was a unanimous "yes."
She returned with bowls of sticky-warm bread pudding speckled with
gobs of melted chocolate. On top of each helping, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, slowly
melting into the bowl.
"Oh my God this is good," said Ashley, a
Fort Lauderdale-based graphic designer who frequently eats at SnG.
Everyone agreed. The buttery croissants had absorbed the custard and
become soft and sweet, while the melted chocolate throughout was
divine. It might have been the best bread pudding I've ever tasted.
"Don't tell me you made the croissants, too," I asked JLo.
"Yep. I put all the black vanilla flecks in the ice cream, too," she joked.
aside, a three-course meal of this quality would cost $40 or more per
person in a conventional restaurant. But SnG charged only $8. "I usually
only ask for a 'suggested donation' of $6," JLo added when I asked
about the price. "And I don't usually serve wine or dessert. But with
the wine used to make the chicken, I had to ask for a little more."
you consider that SnG serves in the range of 8 to 10 people per
session, the place isn't exactly making money. That means the
motivation to run a rogue restaurant has to lie elsewhere. "I dont do
it for the money," JLo told me. "If I can charge just barely more than it
costs me, that's fine. I do it because I enjoy it."
I asked her if she would want to own a fully-licensed restaurant some day . "Absolutely," she said.
If that's JLo's goal, then running a rogue restaurant isn't a bad place to start. In
cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, many chefs make their break operating out of their homes. Portland chef Michael
Hebberoy and his wife Naomi started their restaurant Family Supper
in their rented bungalow in 2001. A year later, Family Supper went
legit. It's a trend that's continued all across the United States. But
in truth, the practice is a throwback to a time when commercial
restaurants weren't always around.
Despite the many positive attributes of the underground restaurant trend,
there are plenty of good reasons why places must be licensed to
operate. For one, each state requires that restaurants be inspected regularly
to make sure they comply with health codes. Of course there's
also the issue of taxing and revenue, as well as public safety concerns and liability. In Florida, the dangers of allowing restaurants to operate without any policing are
very real. As New Times recently reported,
half-a-dozen illegal restaurants -- along with illegal slaughterhouses,
gambling dens, and animal fighting rings -- were shut down earlier this
year in Florida's own Wild Frontier, the C-9 Basin.
from where I was sitting, it's almost impossible to make that connection with SnG. JLo is a wonderful hostess; a
chef with true talent and the personal charm to back it up. Her kitchen
and dining area (yes, her apartment) is spotlessly clean, too. It could
even be argued that the level of transparency at SnG in regards to cleanliness
and preparation is way higher than it is in an ordinary restaurant.
After all, everything is right there in front of you.
all, at rogue restaurants like SnG, you're not just getting a meal, but
good company to go with it. Where else can you share such an intimate
experience with groups of like minded people, i.e. those who are truly
interested in food? To sit and chat, to sip wine and enjoy a family
style meal like this is honestly much more fun than a very structured restaurant
experience. Not to mention the homey quality of it all. As I sat and
ate with JLo and company, I was reminded of what it was like to
sit around the dinner table with my own family, passing plates and
bowls around as we spen time together. (And sometimes even asking for seconds -- which plenty of
us did with that delicious chocolate bread
While I didn't stick around too late into the
evening, the seven of us did sit on JLo's back porch for a good while
afterwords. We talked more and drank more, and listened to a pretty
great mix of indie rock tunes to boot. If the restaurant thing
doesn't work out in the long run, SnG might just have a future as a
nightclub. "It usually turns into a dance party after enough wine," JLo
Remember when I said this was to be SnG's final meal?
Well, JLo has decided to keep the restaurant running on Wednesdays,
doing what she calls "International night." "We do a different theme
each week, like Turkish, Greek, or French," she says, "It allows me to
cook things I never have before, which is really fun."
That is was. I'll definitely be back.
of any other underground restaurants in South Florida? Send me an
e-mail here. I haven't disclosed any pertinent information on SnG, but
if you're interested in attending, leave your e-mail address in the
comments field below.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.