Restaurant Reviews

Thirteen Restaurant & Bar Wants to Lead the Charge for Change in Wilton Manors

Everyone knows the number 13 is synonymous with bad luck. Many buildings don't list a 13th floor, skipping from room 12 to 14, and you'll rarely see someone get married — or celebrate any other important life milestone — on the day marked by this number.

But for Wilton Manors restaurateur Carol Moran and her partner Nancy Goldwin, the number 13 has brought nothing but good luck. It was the date they first met (a Friday too, if you can believe that), closed on their house, and signed the restaurant lease for their first joint venture, 13 Even.

For the past 18 years, Moran has owned and operated one kind of establishment or another off Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors. It began in 1998 with Kicks Sports Bar and continued in 2005 with New Moon, what became a popular nightlife staple for the area's lesbian community. Every establishment was sold before Moran moved on to her next venture.

"Shut the door it's so good. Delicious and definitely backed by the American Heart Association."

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In 2013, she and Goldwin decided to go a different route and opened 13 Even, a restaurant specializing in small plates, craft beer, and "good juju," Moran says.

"It was all about offering something new to the community, not just another bar. We wanted to distinguish ourselves, to be different," she says. They sold the restaurant after three years in business. "And today we're keeping that same philosophy going with Thirteen."

But Moran wants more than good juju; she wants to see some change.

Just more than a year old, Thirteen Restaurant & Bar is located in the heart of Wilton Manors, a South Florida city that ranks second in the nation for its percentage of gay residents, according to the 2010 Census. Like neighboring Oakland Park, the city is home to a sizable LGBT population, as well as seasonal vacationers who frequent its many gay-owned-and-operated businesses along the main street, Wilton Drive.

In the past two years, the downtown business community has seen a lot of change. A number of new establishments are making their way to the area, diversifying the downtown strip once dominated by bars and late-night haunts. It began with places like Mind Your Manors, owner Bobby Del Campo's restaurant serving elevated American fare; Wilton Creamery, where proprietor DJ Colby creates crave-worthy handcrafted ice creams; and 1-year-old Novel Tea, a high-end tea and coffee shop owned by Todd Bowe and his partner Rey Delgado.

Already, whispers are that two new establishments touting big names in the restaurant industry are coming to the area, creating an air of impatient excitement among local business owners. Could it bring some change to the dining demographic? Moran hopes so.

"The business owners want everyone to come and eat here — tall or short, skinny or fat, gay or straight," she says. "Wilton Manors needs more diversification. Gay people leave the neighborhood to eat all the time, but straight people aren't coming in to do the same thing."

A more spacious, sophisticated version of 13 Even — just a few blocks south of the former location, at 2390 Wilton Dr. — Thirteen is the type of place that could help Moran achieve her goal.

With a large covered patio, roomy indoor/outdoor bar, and seating for up to 90, it brings together the best of what Moran has accomplished in her career: a bar for imbibing and mingling, and a kitchen that offers decidedly more than bar food.

Rather than work the kitchen the way she and Goldwin did at 13 Even, the two no longer cook. Instead, the Thirteen kitchen is run by executive chef Heather Waid, formerly of Beauty and the Feast in Fort Lauderdale and Dos Caminos in Hallandale Beach.

Under her lead, a few signature dishes stand out from the menu of modern American cuisine, including a number of seafood and meat-based ones.

Start, however, with Sunday brunch, what has become the event of the week. Even on a hot, steamy summer afternoon, the patio is packed, fans blowing clouds of cool, misty air around tables filled with groups and couples. Fresh-baked scones and biscuits; French toast made using sweet, doughy Hawaiian rolls; and eggs Benedict featuring house-made arepas may be enough to attract anyone looking for home-cooked fare, but something else will catch your eye.

In fact, the dish to indulge in here is worth every calorie-laden bite — the chef's own creation of country fried bacon. Cut by hand into slices so thick they're almost stackable, the bacon is soaked in buttermilk for 24 hours before it's dragged through a spiced breading and deep-fried. But the fat doesn't stop there. Waid takes it one step further with her homemade chorizo sausage gravy, a sunny-side-up egg, and a generous helping of home fries.

"Shut the door it's so good," Moran says. "Delicious and definitely backed by the American Heart Association."

The dinner menu doesn't have any such unique surprises, but the signature dishes are still worth sampling, from the peanut hummus starter to the 12-ounce rib-eye supper.

Begin with Waid's charred Spanish octopus starter, whose tentacles are cooked sous vide for more than four hours until they're rendered soft enough to cut with a butter knife and then charred on a flaming grill. The dish is served with panko-crusted fried feta and a few dots of Mediterranean vinaigrette.

For $12 a pair, the scallops — a long-standing starter here — also make a great introduction to any meal. Sweet and tender, they arrive with a gentle sear on both sides, creating a crisp, golden-brown crust that complements the plump, creamy interior.

Another must-try is a salad filed under "Greens," a pile of springy-fresh arugula beneath a veil of white beans and sliced strawberries. The homemade croutons — cooked polenta cut into cubes and rolled in a garlic confit before they're deep-fried — make the plate more meal than salad. The croutons' edges are crisp and brown, while the center retains just a touch of chew. They're good enough to consider asking for a bowl of them alone.

A no-pasta vegetable lasagna sounds interesting and is worth the gamble. Alternating stacks of roasted vegetables, smothered in a pasty tomato sauce and sliced thick enough to mimic the texture of pasta sheets, make a colorful display. Say yes to the addition of freshly grated Parmesan for a final layer; a dense topping provides the necessary hints of saltiness and creaminess to take this dish from good to great.

For supper, the pork chop might seem boring when listed beside lollipop lamb chops, duck confit, and filet mignon, but it's one of Waid's specialties. Cut specially for her kitchen, the hefty 14-ounce, bone-in center-cut chop is first brined for 48 hours in a salt and brown sugar bath. Next, it's cooked sous vide for six hours, long enough so the meat must surely be holding on to the bone by sheer will before it's pan-seared in a sage brown-butter sauce and delivered to the table.

You could end with dessert, but have a mule cocktail instead. Under "Specialty Concoctions," the drink's menu description reads, "Moscow made them famous, we make them yours." It's a vestige of Moran's bar days, when she often whipped up daily drink specials and specialty recipes on the spot. Now you can try one of her favorite drinks — one of six recipes served in copper mugs — ranging from the Tropical, made with Deep Eddy peach vodka, to the Mexican, prepared with Sauza tequila.

"Wilton Manors has a lot of places, but nothing like this," Moran says. "We walk that line between funky and modern, but at the end of the day, it's just good-ass food. I'm really proud of what we're doing here."

Thirteen Restaurant & Bar
2390 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors; 954-566-5950; Open 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

  • Charred Spanish octopus, $14
  • Scallops, $12
  • Arugula salad, $8.50
  • Vegetarian no-pasta lasagna, $14
  • Pork chop, $21
  • Country fried bacon, $9.50