A little over 20 years ago, Steve Martorano -- number seven on our Tastemaker countdown -- was on his way back up north. His dreams of opening a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale didn't work out and the cook (he doesn't like the word chef) was at the airport, waiting for a flight to Philadelphia. Then, as if in the movies, a call to a friend turned his fate around.
A small storefront in a shopping center in a slightly-seedy section of the beach was for sale. "I drove my car, I got out, I looked in the window. This is for me. If I didn't make that call, my entire life would be different," Martorano told Clean Plate Charlie.
From that point on, things started looking up for the muscular restaurateur with a positive attitude toward life and an old-school way of cooking. On a Saturday night, expect to wait hours for a table at his flagship, Cafe Martorano. His other restaurants, at the Seminole Hard Rock and the Rio in Las Vegas, are equally busy. What's the secret? People flock as much to meet Martorano as to dine on his famous meatballs. And he doesn't disappoint -- stepping away from the burners to schmooze or to spin tunes (he acts as his own DJ when the mood strikes).
With all that, Martorano still finds time to volunteer with endangered youth and has a jewelry line with proceeds donated to charity. And to think that Fort Lauderdale would have missed out on all this if Martorano boarded a plane. Philly's loss is our gain, cuz!
The most influential person in my career has been...
My mother. Because she taught me values. She taught me how to live with and without. And she taught me the simplicity of cooking; she taught me not to reinvent the wheel.
When I'm alone and in need of comfort (and no one is there to watch or judge), the one food or drink I turn to is...
Macaroni. Pastina with butter and Parmesan cheese.
What does the Broward/Palm Beach food scene need more of?
Cafe Martorano's! What I mean is that there are lots of sushi and steak spots, lots of Latin food - but not really very many great Italian American places. We need more.
You get to vote one food or beverage trend off the island forever -- what is it?
Chichi Italian food or food that tries too hard -- like molecular gastronomy and science fiction food. Let the ingredients - especially - work on their own. The more out of this world it is, the more people will buy it. But, it's not necessarily the flavor that's out of this world.
You have unlimited funds to open a restaurant or bar -- what's the name, and what do you serve?
The Meatball Bar. It brings me back to the days when I was selling sandwiches out of my basement in South Philly...Italian-American comfort sandwiches. Maybe open a whole bunch of them. They'd be small in size with a great juke box, great bar, and the best sandwiches - from hot dogs to veal Parm and potato and egg sandwiches.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In Los Angeles, opening The Meatball Bar.
Dream dinner party for six: Who (living or dead) are you inviting? Joseph Bonanno, Anthony Quinn, my mother, my father, Martin Scorsese, and Mark Wahlberg.
New Times' Best Of Broward-Palm Beach 2013 issue arrives June 13. To celebrate, Clean Plate Charlie is serving up 30 of our favorite tastemakers -- restaurateurs, chefs, bartenders, and other foodies who make the South Florida food scene what it is. We'll start with number 30 and lead up to South Florida's number one. All previous 2013 Tastemakers are listed below.
22. Vaughan Lazar of Kapow!