Best Soul Food 2006 | Jesse's Place | Food & Drink | South Florida
Jesse's bills itself as "a fine soul food restaurant." No argument here. This spacious strip-mall café cooks up soul food with a twist of Caribbean and a dash of Haitian. There are, of course, the hardcore dishes: fried chicken livers and gizzards with fries for $4.99 and side dishes, such as collards, speckled butter beans, and okra/tomato, for $1.50 each. Breakfast includes the usual fare along with the soul standards of catfish, grits, and pork chops. Weekday lunch specials cost $4.99, with a revolving menu of catfish, meatloaf, turkey wings, and stewed chicken, along with two sides. You can get the works for dinner with $10.99 Jesse's Plates, which come with a choice of smothered or fried pork chops or fried chicken, along with five sides. But it's the dinners of oxtail stew, curried chicken or goat, and jerk pork that really prove Jesse's is a step above the average soul food eatery. And those dinners come in two sizes at nice prices: small for $7.59 and large for $8.99.
Tabatha Mudra
Truly transcendent deli, the ultimate comfort food, is all about trust. Some will quibble over details -- the altitude of the sandwich, the sourness of the pickle, the correct brand of house mustard. Those elements are important; at the deli altar of Pomperdale, they're implicit. Step inside the Lauderdale landmark and take a look at the grinning, crinkled mugs working the counter, and you simply trust the 60-something grandpa with your corned beef on rye. He's made it a thousand times before today, and, God willing, will make it a thousand times after. Blessedly nonkosher, Pomperdale will gladly slap a slab of Swiss on top of your house-cured pastrami, but they also excel in the more esoteric selections of Jewish culinary tradition: the sublime knish, the curative chicken soup, and the enigmatic kugel. Their smoked fish selection swims with the stuff bubbeh adores, nova and lox and whitefish and even pickled herring. Owned by Larry and Joyce Vogel for more than 25 years, Pomperdale has the kind of relaxed, homey atmosphere perfect for a leisurely Sunday brunch (including free refills of homemade iced tea), which of course is the best possible prelude to the inevitable Sunday nap. Trust us on that.
Ben's has seven locations, and six of them are in an area bounded by Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. The seventh has trailed a flock of hungry, kvetching snowbirds down to Boca Raton and set up a palace big enough to hold anybody who happens to be looking for whole rotisserie-roasted empire kosher chickens, beef-tongue Polonaise with raisin gravy, homemade stuffed derma, noodle pudding, kasha varnishkas, spinach logs, potato knishes, braised beef brisket, chicken in a pot, or Hungarian goulash. As it happens, quite a few people are looking for all of the above. Those same folks are also mighty happy to find homemade pickles and cole slaw to pile on top of their house-pickled corned beef sandwiches on dense, chewy rye; or tongue, salami, and pastrami sandwiches slathered with Russian dressing. Not to forget the chopped liver and gefilte fish platters. The Ben's "hush puppie" (no relation at all to the Southern version) rolls a Hebrew National frank inside a potato knish and then rolls that inside an egg-roll wrapper. Like the sign on the wall says, "Eat, Eat. You need your strength to worry."
If we're going to sin, let's sin extravagantly. By all means, let's precede the sin with a boat trip down the New River past the glittering manses of even fatter and richer sinners. Let's indulge our sin -- an "All You Wish to Eat" barbecue of ribs, chicken, and shrimp ($32.95 per person!) including piles of potatoes, cole slaw, bread, and chocolate cake -- on a "private tropical island" with a 360-degree view of the water. And could we just follow up our sin with an All New Hilarious Variety Revue, including some magic tricks, perhaps? If we're going to be sentenced to an eternity of eating rats, snakes, and toads, we'd like to condemn ourselves during four hours afloat with a bit of "humorous commentary" from the captain, and, of course, a pleasantly plump tropical moon rising in the background.
Used to be there were three, not two, certainties in life. There was death. There were taxes. And there was Sunday sauce. If you were Italian and it was Sunday, your mother would most definitely be up to her elbows in breadcrumbs, raw egg, and pounded meat, putting together the veal or pork meatballs, rolling up the braciole, separating the spareribs, divvying up the hot sausage, and slow-cooking the whole caboodle in her secret tomato gravy recipe. If you were not Italian, you had wisely cultivated many friends who were, and you had secured invitations for dinner -- preferably into infinity. Sadly, the Sunday-sauce-cooking mama is as rare now as the speckled booby. Restaurants have been forced to assume the necessary burden of our desires. Some do it well, some passably, but none with the panache or generosity of Ruggero's, where the resident myth goes that no customer has yet been able to finish a plate of "Mama's Everyday Gravy." That gravy is indeed served daily at Ruggero's. Spongy meatballs, chunks of pork, sweet sausage in a tart sauce laden with onions and tomato chunks, al dente rigatoni, and a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan -- it's enough to make every day a holy day.
It's not like you need a reason to visit happenin' Hollywood these days, but Spice Resto-Lounge makes a hell of a good one. You can park your fanny at a table at 8 p.m. for dinner (with a reservation, friend!) and not have to worry about going anywhere for another eight hours or so -- except up to the dance floor once in a while to salsa off the filet mignon and potatoes and the latest round of designer martinis. It's a rare thing to find a club that serves terrific food or a restaurant that can handle the mayhem, nakedness, glad-handing, and bootyshaking that goes on between tables here. But the help remains sunny, unflustered, and indescribably gorgeous, bearing trays loaded down with coxinhas, tilapia, caesar salads, empanadas one moment -- and whipping up to the raised dance platforms to perform a merengue the next. In between, a bossa nova singer croons and a house band tunes up, and the total effect is a party as effervescent and coolly addictive as a well-blended mojito.
You won't find greasy-spoon fare at this charming bistro, whose calm, Old Country interior seems a world away from the snarling street outside. One particular item on the petit dejéuner menu has been dubbed "rustic," but the breakfast campagnard is fit more for a prince than a farmer. The meal comes with scrambled eggs, bacon, sautéed potatoes, and a fresh-baked croissant for $6.75. If you want to get down to the real basics, go with two eggs and a half baguette for $3.30. More likely, however, you'll lay out the $7.50 for the egg forestiere, which is a poached egg dipped in wild mushroom sauce, or perhaps the salmon platter, served with toast, tomato, red onions, capers, and sauce vierge. Espresso drinks are available, and breakfast is served from 7 to 11:30 a.m.
Forget Sbarro's, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry's. Every food court in every two-bit mall in the nation holds out those same few fast-food chains to their captive audiences of weary shoppers. Only in the chaotic, Third World atmosphere of the Swap Shop do the conformist food pods give way to something different. The main food court floor in the center of the sprawling flea market empire is given over entirely to homegrown chrome-and-neon-plated eateries with unfamiliar and slightly suspect names like "Grecian Delight" and "Fish 'n' Things." At the beat-up tables that line the floor, you can munch on a conch fritter and nurse a Bud while ogling owner Preston Henn's exotic cars on display in the center of the court. Down the hallway, you can pick up an ice cream cone and a Coke from freezers while browsing for just the right black-market cologne. And outside, you can chase down your empanada with some farm-fresh produce -- or bring it all right back up on one of the carnival rides. And the only place to get Starbucks coffee is from a van near the entrance that also sells snow-globes and Hebrew National hot dogs. That's how it was meant to be.
Surrounded by the hubbub of Himmarshee Street saloons and Las Olas Riverfront tourist traps, Brew is an oasis of calm and caffeine. Its Seattle-style ambiance and fastidiously prepared drinks have won over the following of a large group of regulars who chat together in half-moon booths, lofty tables, and plush chairs. It's wi-fi friendly for the bring-your-own types, but several laptops are available for online access for a small fee. Brew's outstanding drinks, however, are what turn a first-timer into a regular. Coffee this good doesn't need the assistance of milk or sugar, so you can't go wrong with the double-shot espresso for $2. Lattes run from $2.95 for a small to $4.45 for large drinks such as a mocha or an Electric Shock, a latte made with espresso, natural vanilla, cinnamon, and caramel glaze. Open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from
8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Shore scores points for getting a very basic premise of dessert: If ever a course deserved the full dog-and-pony show, it's not the apps and the entrées. When it comes to those early dishes, we're still ravenous; we couldn't care less if our escargots are wearing rolled-basil-leaf hats or if the waitron wants to turn our steak poivre into a major conflagration -- we just want to eat, man. But by the time we've made it to the sweets, let's have a little showmanship, a touch of the bump and grind, maybe a laugh or two, thank you very much! That plain knob of vanilla ice cream just doesn't cut it. So you have to appreciate Shore's panache: You don't so much eat dessert at Shore as marvel at it, giggle over it, trade pieces of it across the table like edible marbles or party favors. A "Three Ring Circus" ($9) of electric-blue cotton candy, a caramel apple, and a bag of homemade donut holes is a corny carnival; "banana cheesecake lollipops" ($9) arrive swinging like burlesque dancers from a tree decorated with cotton candy fluffs; the "Shake and Cake" ($8) turns that drab old diner pairing into an exotic joke with Tahitian vanilla and a racy Kahlua cupcake. These are desserts to rev your engines. The night is young. And so, for the moment, are you.

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