In the cutthroat business of running a restaurant, you generally start with one of two broad strategies for success.
You can go the specialist route. You pigeonhole yourself into just one type of cuisine and execute it brilliantly. You can even whittle it down further and serve one particular dish to the exclusion of all others, like tacos or burgers. You practice and perfect your craft until no one else in a 50-mile radius can serve a hot dog or a crepe or a pastelito as well as you.
The other strategy is to reach wide and be a generalist — offer a little bit of everything, ubiquitous standards that are comfortably familiar to the average American palate.
But what about a restaurant that doesn't fit neatly into either box — like a place that specializes in pizza and sushi? Now that's a breed of establishment altogether different, and the basis for such a pairing is so glaringly simple, it hurts.
"Let's face it," says Rice & Dough owner Goran Perovic. "Ninety percent of the time, women are usually the ones making the decision on where to go out [to eat]. And more often than not, they want something light and healthy. So we knew we wanted sushi."
The next obvious contender: pizza.
Generalizations aside, before Perovic and his wife, Amy, opened Rice & Dough in 2012, they had one goal: to create a different type of establishment, one where club music pumps up the energy while the wine bar and lounge-style seating offers a comfortable space to enjoy two of America's most popular dine-out staples: pies and rolls.
It's not a fusion of the two foods, says Perovic, but a marrying of various concepts: an American-style establishment featuring the stalwarts of Italian and Japanese cuisine.
Rice & Dough is located just west of Himmarshee's downtown district and a few blocks south of Broward Boulevard, situated on a quiet corner in the lower level of the Camden Las Olas Apartments off NE Second Street. Here, the husband-and-wife team fell in love with the off-the-beaten-path area, revamping a tired French bakery into an edgy, modern space where patrons can kick back and relax in bold white-and-black-print armchairs.
A native of Croatia, Perovic immigrated to the United States in 1993 after studying hotel management and hospitality, wending his way from New York to South Florida via a number of high-end steak houses as both a manager and a consultant. Along the way, he says, he learned the importance of staying true to the customer.
Today, what Perovic's menu lacks in concept coherence, he makes up for with creativity, a confident palate, and a heaping dose of positive energy.
"My biggest fear was that people wouldn't get what I was doing here," says Perovic. "But [after the] last two years, those fears are gone. This generation belongs to the millennials, and for them, eating sushi and pizza in one place feels completely normal."
Rice & Dough is open for lunch and dinner, and much of the menu lends itself to lighter fare: salads, soups, and panini-style sandwiches. A cheese and charcuterie section is good for almost any time of day, adds Perovic, especially those patrons who take a seat at the wine bar.
Come dinner, you'll find most of the menu is prepared in the large deck oven visible from the main dining room through a glass wall. It's nothing like the wood-burning pizza stove Perovic envisioned for the space, so he improvised, placing a small can filled with applewood smoking chips at the bottom of the oven.
Despite the basic equipment, the pizza is — in truth — excellent, especially if you're the type to prefer thin crust, a snappy sauce, and odd-ball ingredients (like a whole egg) cooked into your pie. For the most part, the crust bakes up doughy and full of flavor, gaining character from the smoking chips.
A large pie will allow you to try two pizzas for the price of one. We opt to split ours between the Four Seasons and Perovic's signature, a classic Margherita. In Italy, a Four Season is often split into four quadrants, each featuring a different ingredient representing spring, summer, fall, and winter fare; at Rice & Dough, the toppings are piled together on each slice, mounds of salty prosciutto, thick-sliced Italian ham, and a spicy Croatian pork sausage known as kulen paired with spongy crescents of crimini mushrooms and whole artichoke hearts. The Margherita side is less busy but flavorful in its own way, dotted with large clots of creamy buffalo mozzarella and fragrant sprigs of fresh basil. Both sides share only one topping: a thick slick of homemade Marzano tomato sauce, prepared simply with nothing but salt, pepper, and a touch of olive oil.
Collaborating with his wife, the couple also have a knack for combining the unlikely when it comes to the sushi side of things, creating rolls with unexpected pairings of color, flavor, and texture. The Erica Vegan roll is a rainbow of avocado, cucumber, carrots, and asparagus. Theresa's Havana roll marries chicken, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado, and lettuce for a sort of sandwich with rice, while the Gil Lobster roll — lobster meat, asparagus, avocado, and a cucumber wasabi mayo wrapped in soy paper — makes quite the entrance in the center of a bright-red plate. And the Patron roll allows you to make your own creation, a rare find at any sushi bar.
Dig a little deeper into the menu and you'll find that yet another cuisine makes its way onto the entrées, but with a quieter entrance. Balkan fare — just a few dishes listed under house specialities — represent some of Perovic's best dishes, as well as his heritage. Should you have the inclination to step away from the rice and dough, it's worth the gamble, this being one of the few places in South Florida you'll find such.
There's the Balkan BBQ, or cevapi, a classic entrée also considered a national dish in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, but also common in Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Order it and you'll get the Balkan equivalent of a kebab, herb-flecked ground beef formed in eight finger-shaped tubes seared until the edges turn black. They're served on a large dish atop a fat hunk of ciabatta bread with a few slices of mild, feta-like cheese, tomatoes, and diced raw white onion. The meat pairs well with the dish's traditional condiments, two small lumps of kayak (a light, sweet dairy product similar to clotted cream) and ajvar (a pleasantly creamy relish of red pepper, chili pepper, and eggplant).
For the Croatian version of an empanada try the börek, a cheese- and meat-stuffed baked pastry made using phyllo dough. In the oven, the dough's thin, flaky edges char into a thick crispy shell, while minced meat and crumbles of salted curd cheese render the inner layers soft and pliant. The server will ask if you'd like the accompanying jogurt — a tart, drinkable yogurt that is to the börek as milk is to the Oreo.
These dishes are regulars' favorites, Perovic says, dishes they love as much as the quiet street corner restaurant they frequent, removed from the downtown area's bustling nightlife crowds. Today, he wonders how much better Rice & Dough would do with a more visible presence. For that reason, he's considering a second location — perhaps in Miami.
"If this place continues to be successful, I'd like to open more," says Perovic. "It's very unique, and I think that's what people like about it."