Best Gluten-Free Eats 2014 | Fresh First | Food & Drink | South Florida
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Gluten seems to be in just about everything these days: beer, whiskey, processed food, soy sauce, sausages, deli meat, tea, freaking envelopes... the list goes on. Going gluten-free while eating out is even harder — if you don't stick to plain, undressed salad, you have no idea what you're getting. But here, not one single morsel of gluten is allowed to enter (employees are not even allowed to bring packed lunches for fear of contamination). This is the first place in Fort Lauderdale to earn the recognition of "Great Kitchen" by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and it caters to dietary ailments and restrictions of all kinds; peanuts, corn, and GMOs are also prohibited from entering the premises. Vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians (those who still eat some animal proteins) are all welcome. The mostly organic fare is just as delicious as it is healthy. From raw, vegan zucchini puttanesca ($13.95) to a grilled chicken sandwich ($13.95) to quinoa cupcakes with seasonal fruit jam and goat cheese frosting ($5.25), this gluten-free place is sure to satiate your cravings and keep you safe. Suck it, gluten!

The real test of a vegetarian restaurant is not how many plant-based-dieters it can get through the door; it's about bringing in the carnivores. If a vegan spot can get your average meat and potato lovers coming back for more, you know it's worth your while. This vegan/gluten-free hot spot fills with people from all walks of life, from Lululemon-suited local yoga instructors to salty-dog yacht captains — and that's exactly the goal. Owners and life partners Elena Pezzo and Charles Grippo aim to serve nutritious fare to the masses; it's not about preaching to the healthy choir. Dishes like the Buffalo tempeh sandwich ($8) and the GBK burger ($10) were developed to please even the most veggie-averse. At the same time, "crunchier" options are just as pleasant. The kale salad ($7.99 to $13.99) with cubed tofu, bell pepper, cabbage, carrot, sprouts, and sesame is tossed in a firecracker dressing that is like fireworks in your mouth; even the most die-hard roughage resistors can't help but love it. Judging by the diverse patrons — and the lines to the door — we'd say they're succeeding in expanding the vegan repertoire of Fort Lauderdalians, one animal-free meal at a time.

Let's face it. Your son's little league team sucks. The outfield won't stop picking their butts long enough to catch a pop fly, and your pitcher throws like a tired vegetarian. It's OK. Not everyone is meant to be an athlete. But just because they can't win like champions doesn't mean they can't eat like them. Every kid deserves a hamburger after a baseball game, even if that kid spent the entire game befriending ants at shortstop. And there's no better place to eat away the sorrows of loss than Jack's Old Fashion Hamburger House. Since 1972, Jack's has been providing milk shakes to the athletically challenged and turning their heads when frustrated coaches slip a little vodka into their own shakes. And at $5.65 for a half-pound burger, you'll still have money left over for the end-of-season pity trophies. You know, those really generic ones that say things like "Best Use of Lungs" and "Most Enthusiastic"? And, like all good "sad food," it's delicious and greasy. Just about good enough to make you forget that your son is never going to be Derek Jeter.

First, being comfortable eating alone in a public space should be on everyone's personal to-do list. Second, we're not saying you can't take a friend or two along to Ninja Spinning Sushi; we're just saying that if you really want to get the most out of the experience, you should try it alone. Also, if you're not eating alone by choice, Ninja — run by the same group that owns Yakitori Sake House in Royal Palm Place — is the perfect spot, because there's none of that dead, stare-off-into-space or pretend-to-play-with-my-phone-so-I'm-not-awkwardly-sitting-here-alone time. That's because, at a spinning sushi bar, your participation is required. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, "kaiten zushi" is a revolving sushi bar where different-colored small plates run past you on a conveyor belt or — as in the case of Ninja in Boca Raton — on little boats in a stream. The different colors of the plates indicate the cost of the item you are grabbing. Each plate is like Japanese tapas, containing a few pieces of sashimi or a roll or a little pile of seaweed or squid salad. At the end of the meal, your stack of empty plates is tallied up and you pay your bill. Since this requires some attention and a lot of facing forward at a bar, you can see why it would lend itself to solo dining. And since you're dining alone anyway, might as well stuff your face by taking advantage of the nightly happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and after 10 when select drinks are priced two-for-one and all the plates cost $3.

In 1956, things were different. You could smoke in hospitals, seat belts were merely a suggestion, and the world was always just minutes from nuclear annihilation. I said "different," not "better." But you could also always count on service. It meant something back then. Food came out in eight minutes, your coffee stayed full the entire meal (without any sneaky up-charge), and your servers didn't work for you; they worked with you. You and your server were a team. Something else happened in 1956. Egg N' You opened on the corner of North Federal Highway and NE 26th Street. And for the past 58 years, the team here has been upholding the standard of old-school service. Even on Sunday mornings, when the postchurch crowd comes rushing in with the holy spirit in their stomachs, you won't wait more than ten minutes for a table. Your waitress has the menu memorized like the pledge of allegiance and won't ever let you see the bottom of your coffee mug. The food comes out quickly and hot, and each table is equipped with its own castle of jellies to choose from. 1956 still exists at Egg N' You. Minus all the terrible stuff.

Don't get us wrong: We're all about burgers and chicken wings. But sometimes the same old thing gets kind of, well, old. When we're sucking down Randall-infused craft brew and Hendrix cantaloupe, dragon fruit, raspberry, and black pepper martinis, we'd prefer dishes equally inventive to soak it all up. How about lamb gyro croquettes ($7)? Lobster BLT tacos ($15)? Or Peking-style duck wings ($14)? If you're looking for fare that creative, you need to be a bit more selective in which bars you want to frequent. Head to the Tipsy Boar. The Hollywood gastropub offers a selection of bar bites, appetizers, pizzas, burgers, salads, and large plate options, all with an original twist. Look, if you've managed to move from commercial to craft beers, don't you think your food should also get an upgrade?

When it comes to beachfront dining, a few aspects are key: a stunning view, great food, and refreshingly potent drinks. This place takes care of all three. Owned by the Restaurant People, the group responsible for YOLO, Tarpon Bend, and Vibe, this Atlantic-side spot is its most food-driven concept to date. Executive chef Chris Miracolo has compiled a menu of global eclectic fare ranging from smoked Gouda and prosciutto mac 'n' cheese ($10) to chard-wrapped Scottish salmon ($26) to goat cheese croquettes ($7) to sushi to everything in between. While the ambiance is somewhat reminiscent of its predecessor YOLO, it offers more of a Southeast Asian resort-like theme — the perfect backdrop for watching the bold and the beautiful do their thing. Much of the crowd is into the whole see-and-be-seen scene, with many of them proudly displaying expensive-car keys tableside while fishing for hot dates. Whether you're looking to eat well, enjoy the ocean breeze, or pick up an eligible (i.e., loaded or supersexy) date, this is the prime option on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

Of all the restaurant concepts, Italian can, surprisingly, be one of the hardest to execute. With fare so simple and straightforward, excellence depends on the freshness of the ingredients and details in the sauces, meats, cheeses, and pastas. Luckily, the new Jové Kitchen & Bar at the Four Seasons Palm Beach offers one of South Florida's best takes on Italian, prepared to exacting standards. The dinner-only restaurant takes its name from the god of the sky in Roman mythology. Here, patrons will certainly find heavenly fare from Italian-born executive chef Mauro Zanusso, who delivers classic Italian cooking with a panache deserving of Palm Beach. The selections begin with the cicchetti menu: raw-bar items like oysters, stone crab, and caviar. A truly stellar dish can be found with any of the risottos, accented by royal trumpet mushrooms or butter-poached Maine lobster. For main plates, handmade pastas include fresh gnocchi with figs and herbs and bone-marrow ravioli with short rib. The bar is stacked with an impressive collection of eclectic premium Italian vermouths, grappas, and artisan liqueurs. Choose a wine from the list of more than 100. All this can be enjoyed whether dining alfresco on the outdoor terrace or amid the soft music playing in the restaurant's elegant, luxe interior. Feeling extra fancy? Opt for the private cabana dining with views of the oceanfront pool. But perfection doesn't come cheap: A typical dinner costs $150 to $225 per person.

Chef-owner Matthew Byrne and his wife, Aliza, seem to abide by two rules: Buy nothing but the highest-quality, freshest ingredients, and do as little to them as possible. Byrne and his wife are on-hand at their contemporary American brasserie every night. A Philadelphia native, Byrne has been cooking since he was 12 years old, and with some of the area's top chefs. Years later, he took a job as the private chef to Tiger Woods, cooking for him at his Jupiter estate. Despite the glamorous position, Byrne desired his own restaurant, a place that would be an extension of his own family kitchen. Today, he and Aliza are close enough to walk to work — and often do. She will greet you at the door and seat you, while her husband cooks the line each night, just two sous chefs by his side. To keep the neighborhood-bistro vibe strong, they transformed the former Vagabond's space into a living room of sorts, just ten tables inside (and six outside) with a separate chef's room for private events. Dishes reflect years of cooking for people who have sophisticated palates and the money to spend on high-quality ingredients. That means daily deliveries of everything from seafood and meat to produce and seasonal flavors. There are a few staples Byrne will never lose, including his personal favorite dish: chicken schnitzel.

Chelsea Scholler

Eastern-dwelling South Floridian hate driving west of I-95. But if celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein — a vocal fan of this place — is willing to make the trek to Lauderhill from Miami, you should be able to head 20 minutes west. Besides, you might get the chance to bump into the amicable chef and her husband while grilling galbi gui ($24.95), a dish of succulent marinated short rib, over an open charcoal pit. It's one of the few Korean barbecue places that allows guests to cook over flaming embers; others use gas or electric stoves, and the effect is nowhere near as flavorful, or entertaining. Dishes are served with an array of white bowls filled with diverse "banchan" (side dishes): spicy kimchee cabbage and zucchini, fish cakes, marinated seaweed, pickled veggies (some mild, others freaking hot). If cooking for yourself isn't your thing, the prepared options are just as divine. Dolsot bibimbap ($12.95), white rice, carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, nori, egg, and chili paste are served in a heated pot; the effect creates the perfect char on the rice lining the bowl. Hot pots ($11.95 to $14.95) brimming with spicy liquid, protein, and veggies burst with intricate spice and varying levels of heat. No matter what you choose, you're in for a treat; everything is piquant, even the dishes that aren't overly peppery. Just one trip to this bustling little spot will have you commuting back-and-forth for regular dinners in no time.

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