With so many restaurants in South Florida and more opening all the time, just picking where to go for dinner on a Saturday night or lunch on a Wednesday can be an overwhelming task. Sometimes, you just need a reason. This ongoing list of the favorite dishes from food writers who know the local scene will help you discover new restaurants, cafés, and eateries and maybe even a new favorite dish of your own.
Joel Ramos and Samuel Infantas quietly opened J72 Chef’s Café on June first of this year. The co-owners met while opening Trina (now Beauty and the Feast) in Fort Lauderdale’s Atlantic Hotel 12 years ago. By then, Ramos had already begun a 15-year hiatus from the kitchen to work the front of the house, which finally ended when J72’s doors opened. (And for that, Chef Ramos, we thank you.) The new business venture—a small bistro in a quaint strip mall in Davie—is much more than the sum of its parts, like its namesake burger.
The J72 burger is made of ground meat and gets served on a bun. That’s where the similarity between this burger, and any other, end. Ramos uses 3:2 ratio of kobe beef and lamb, forms it into a thick patty and sears in a cast-iron pan to lock in the juices. All of the magic happens in this one generously-sized cast-iron pan. The burger sizzles away next to a couple of thick strips of pancetta (Italian “bacon” that’s cured but not smoked), flavoring it with salty goodness and adding more delicious fat to the to the already-succulent patty. Onions and mushrooms are nestled in the pan as well, benefiting from the delicious drippings. Ramos further adds a bit of fresh, crunchy fennel and torn mint leaves to the mixture to bring out the flavor of the lamb. After cooking the burger to your desired temperature (medium-rare or medium recommended), it all comes together on a toasted bun oozing with dill Havarti cheese and topped with arugula that Ramos dresses like a mini salad. Each step of the way, Ramos is careful to season everything properly—right down to the perfect slice of heirloom tomato. This attention to detail sets his burger apart from the rest.
Teardrop-shaped ceramic cups hold two house-made sauces: white truffle aïoli and mango-chile ketchup. The aioli, flavored with roasted garlic and white truffle oil, is velvety-smooth, creamy and rich. The ketchup is a little bit each of sweet, smoky and spicy. Balanced. With each dip, you’ll try to discern the many flavors it’s got going on.
Either sauce is equally as delicious for dipping the accompanying artisan fries. Instead of a pile of generic, previously-frozen fries (some limp and some dagger-sharp and burnt at the ends in every batch, without fail), you get a few big, perfect steak frites. The amazing part about these fries is that they’re made to order. Yep, Ramos starts off with raw slices of potato and sweet potato, dredges them in some seasoned flour, and fries them just for you. They’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, like a steak fry should be. By what alchemy this is possible, we don’t yet know.
J72 Chef’s Café is located at 3712 Davie Rd. in Davie. Call 954-908-5608 or visit www.j72cafe.com.