Creating such an eatery requires a little more: perfect timing, patience, belief in a higher power, and a few hundred thousand dollars.
So a tip of the hat to four-month-old Colors Urban Bar, working hard to become what owners Kirk Nicklas and Rory Kelly call an "urban gathering spot." To think of Fort Lauderdale as "urban" requires imagination. Yet, by and large, these two New York transplants have pulled more than one bunny from their bonnets in introducing to the furniture-store wasteland of Federal Highway a 40-seat bistro that's as engaging as Audrey Hepburn in a picture hat.
They've exploded the staid old interior with mosaic-tiled tabletops of hues bolder than Lil' Kim's wardrobe, peppered the walls with brightly hand-painted mirrors, chosen dishes that top the tiles in vividness, and finished off the small room with Moroccan pillows on the L-shaped banquette. The music can veer from Madonna to Harry Connick, and the knows-no-boundaries clientele can put the Coral Ridge crowd right next to some Wilton Manors rowdies. But the atmosphere is so cozy and inviting everyone comes out smiling.
Once a Manhattan headhunter, Nicklas says the flamboyant restaurant Trixie's of early-'90s New York is an inspiration for Colors. I remember Trixie's, too, as something like your sixth grade birthday party restaged with beer and no parents. (Nowhere else but Trixie's would I put up with some blonde in stonewashed denim squirting me with a water gun, but at no other place would the busboy slip me some ice cubes to put down her back.)
With its tasteful décor and where's-that? location at the end of a mini-mall, Colors may never be as riotous or edgy as Trixie's. But Nicklas has the right degree of boundless enthusiasm. He also has a keen desire to put on his version of Trixie's hell-bent Amateur Nights: make-up and grooming demonstrations, mosaic tile workshops, and game nights. (If these plans seem a little tame, send Nicklas a wilder suggestion at [email protected])
Oh, and the restaurant serves food, from a menu too many might describe as "eclectic" or "fusion" and too few would describe as smartly self-aware. No cuisine is off-limits. A bacon-wrapped scallop fondue ($13) snuggles up to a quesadilla ($10). A lobster ravioli ($15) shakes hands with a hearty island stew ($15). A Thai lettuce roll-up falls into place beside an Around the World Cheese Platter ($11). Geography class was never this much fun.
I've heard good things about brunches here ($13.95; kid's version, $7.95), where a basket of fresh bread and a choice of beverage is added to such possibilities as pizzas, crepes, pancakes, club sandwiches, or smoked salmon and cream cheese. And the wine bar is always open, offering limited selections of imported and domestic beers ($4 to $5) and wines ($5 for a five-ounce glass up to $10.25 for an eight-ounce glass of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc). Dessert wines are $5 to $7, creative champagne cocktails $5. Pitcher drinks like sangria and daiquiris for $18 (large) and $25 (extra large) can also help you get into the mood.
But I wanted to let the kitchen show off at dinner. So I took along a small group of fairly edgy guests, parked in the restaurant's small lot, was greeted by a bubbly, helpful man who turned out to be Nicklas, and set out on a worthy meal that was eminently shareable.
Everything's homemade, so no need to worry about hot plates or steam ovens. You've got your choice of selections from the grill ($10 to $12) or kitchen ($12 to $15). Interested in a special starter? Try the pear salad with gorgonzola and walnuts on baby greens. It's built with authority and dressed with style, the slices of fresh Bartlett pears arranged in pretty triplicates around the edges of the plate.
Suggestions: a choose-your-own-filling classic crepe ($10), a fresh seafood crepe ($15 for generous portions of salmon, cod, and shrimp in a successful béchamel sauce), and a plump ravioli oozing fresh lobster meat and Parmesan and Romano cheeses, topped with a light homemade tomato sauce ($15 with side salad).
Among desserts, the mediocre black raspberry crumble ($6) won't make you long for Dickensian kitchens, but the pumpkin fondue ($6) will remind you of just how good Grandma's Thanksgiving pie was when she stayed off the cooking sherry. Served with a warming candle and surrounded by a pile of whipped cream and shortbread dipping sticks, this creamy sauce was simple but never ordinary.
Ditto for Colors. After dinner, Nicklas confessed that he would love to franchise the restaurant's concept, but "then it would lose the feeling."
Not to mention that elusive but within-reach edge.