One of Miami's most creative chefs has returned to the South Florida food scene with a food truck at the Wharf Fort Lauderdale.
Timon Balloo, who enchanted Miami with his menu at Balloo downtown before the pandemic forced him to close the dining room, is preparing to open Mrs. Balloo, a food truck that will serve Asian street food. The truck is set to make its debut at the Wharf this weekend, though an exact date has not been set.
Balloo is perhaps best known for the talent he plied at Sugarcane and, before that, his work for the likes of Michelle Bernstein and Allen Susser.
The chef says Mrs. Balloo will be an extension of Balloo, a 31-seat jewel of a restaurant in the Ingraham Building that was lauded for its intimacy of space, flavors, and stories after it opened in late November of 2019.
While Balloo focused on Timon's West Indian and Chinese heritage, Mrs. Balloo will delve into the Thai roots of his wife and partner, Marissa. "This is a little more focused on Asian flavors. We're also not taking ourselves too seriously."
The name is also a nod to the Balloo household, which the chef shares with wife, Marissa, and daughters 12-year-old Kirin and Sophie, who's four. "It's a houseful of females and Mrs. Balloo represents all of them, especially the great woman who has been beside me for 25 years."
To reflect the feminine side of his family, the truck's décor will be homey and "magical," according to Balloo. The setting at the Wharf Fort Lauderdale, he says, is a key reason he wanted to open there. "I've always wanted to do a restaurant with a garden, and the Wharf is this beautiful outdoor space. In the current climate, we believe in the outdoors."
The menu is a straightforward array of Asian street food. "It's a bunch of dumplings, spring rolls, pupu-platter wings, bao buns, some sashimi bowls, and that's it."
The menu may sound straightforward, but it's made with the same care and ingredients that earned Balloo a nod as a James Beard semifinalist last year for his work at Balloo.
Balloo says the food truck is a way to get himself and others working, but it's not the only burner he's cooking on.
His plans also include resurrecting Balloo at some point.
"Technically, I like to say we're moving Balloo. It's not just looking for a space, it's more about how can I re-create this activation. There are certain things that you can almost never re-create."
The chef explains that he calls Balloo an "activation" rather than a restaurant because of the all-encompassing experience it offered.
"It was always meant as a strategic, theatrical activation," he elaborates. "It's the storyline of a chef inviting you into his home and that journey."
That, Balloo says, is the main reason he chose to close the restaurant rather than move to takeout when the pandemic descended.
"I can't make that cozy restaurant scenario comfortable for our current climate — nor do I want to. I am concerned about keeping myself, my family, my employees, and my guests safe."
For now, Mrs. Balloo will allow the chef to showcase the Asian flavors in his repertoire, even as he plots the return of his beloved "activation." The food truck's opening is a small victory for both the Balloo family — and for South Floridians who once again will get to learn a family's story via its food.
"That's what I need to do," Balloo says. "I need to remind people of who we are and what we have to say."
Mrs. Balloo. At the Wharf Fort Lauderdale. 20 W. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-372-76064; wharfftl.com. Thursday and Friday 4 p.m. until late, Saturday and Sunday noon until late. Mrs. Balloo opens this weekend (exact date TBD).