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.
Spice Resto-Lounge
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.
Brew Urban Cafe
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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