Restaurant Reviews

Café Martorano, Broward's Most Successful Restaurant, Goes Global

Page 7 of 7

A couple of nights later, I show up at the restaurant and sample that fried rice while I'm waiting at the bar for a table. It's an almost-perfect fusion of Chinese and Italian — a creamy risotto-like texture in the jasmine rice, fragrant with celery, carrots, bean sprouts, olive oil, garlic, Italian peppers, touches of oyster sauce, and a spicy red chili oil, made in house, drizzled on top. I can't get enough of it. Or enough of another free tasting plate: cheese ravioli from Mimi's Ravioli in Hollywood. They're cooked with such finesse that they're like a how-it's-done demo: al dente pasta zipped around hot, smooth creamy ricotta and ladled with marinara sauce. A friend visiting from Manhattan is so hooked at this point, before we've even sat down, that he's already planning to come back; four nights later, he makes the 50-minute drive for a second meal at Martorano's, alone and in the rain.

"I've seen people drive all the way up from Miami to eat at Martorano's," Tom Angelo says. "Miami, where there are thousands of restaurants. Think about it: Fort Lauderdale is not a movie-star mecca, but Ludacris drives up, the basketball players. Peyton Manning, last time he was here, he drove up from Miami twice."

One Wednesday morning, I meet Martorano at the Zoo Gym across from Lauderdale Beach. Martorano is already on his back, getting ready to lift a bar with weights the size of truck wheels. His trainer, Angel, a diminutive Cuban who looks two decades younger than his 65 years, stands by, patient while Martorano pontificates.

Martorano bench-presses three sets of 300 pounds and is barely breathing hard.

"Growing up in South Philadelphia, there was jealousy everywhere," he says. "People were like, 'You got. He got. Why I don't got?' When I opened Martorano's, everybody said, 'You can't do this. It won't work. It's too expensive. You won't last six months.' "

"Your muscles are gonna get cold," Angel says gently.

"Hey, Angel, who's singing right now?"

We all pause to listen to the sound system. Angel has no idea.

"That's B.J. Thomas," Martorano says. "From what movie?"

Angel has no idea.

"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Martorano moves to another bench while Angel sets up his weights. "My Uncle Ray had a story, about the scorpion and the — what was it? — the turtle."

"No, it was a frog," Angel says.

"Frog, turtle, whatever. They need to cross the river, and the scorpion says, hey, will you take me over on your back? The turtle or the frog says, 'No, man; you'll sting me.' 'No, I won't sting you,' says the scorpion. 'I won't because if I sting you, we'll both drown.' 'Yeah, I guess you're right,' says the frog. So the scorpion hops on his back, and they're halfway across, and the scorpion stings the frog. 'Hey! I thought you said you wouldn't do that,' the frog says, and he's drowning. 'I'm a scorpion,' the scorpion says. 'What the fuck did you think was gonna happen?'

"You are who you are. You can't ever escape that, no matter what you do." Martorano takes a deep breath and pushes up the bar.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd