With so many restaurants in South Florida and more opening all the time, just picking where to go for dinner on a Saturday night or lunch on a Wednesday can be an overwhelming task. Sometimes, you just need a reason. This ongoing list of the favorite dishes from food writers who know the local scene will help you discover new restaurants, cafés, and eateries and maybe even a new favorite dish of your own.
Polenta fries are a thing at the new Pizzacraft in Fort Lauderdale. In a land awash with Latin concepts that churn out fried yucca, plantain, and cassava, it's nice to see an Italian riff on a classic American fast-food favorite.
Pizzacraft executive chef Bret Hauser thanks his Italian grandmother for teaching him how to make the best polenta fries around. The former private chef recalls many of her traditional family-style meals, especially the one where she would swipe fresh, creamy polenta across a wooden board and top it with a simple tomato sauce and meat. Any leftovers, he says, would be scooped into a bowl, formed into four-inch-long cubes, and fried.
A Florida native and North Miami Beach High school graduate, Hauser later attended the Florida Culinary Institute and has since built an impressive résumé, working first with Tuscan Grille off Las Olas before moving on to celebrity chef Todd English's Da Campo Osteria and Max's Social House in Delray Beach. He also cooked under the watchful eye of Gordon Ramsay on season 14 of Fox's Hell's
But it was Hauser's time spent with Da Campo Osteria, the now-closed elevated Italian concept at Fort Lauderdale's Il Lugano Hotel, where he was able to unleash his creativity and debut a similar version of the polenta fries he now makes for Pizzacraft.
For some, polenta — cornmeal boiled into a thick, solidified porridge — is often criticized as tasteless and soupy, with a texture similar to wet sand. For those who love it, however, it can make for a delicate, creamy base of almost any dish. So lovers like Hauser do what any good chef is prepared to do: create food that can make the haters concede.
To do so, Hauser proves that mashed-up cornmeal isn't just a substitute for potatoes or rice, making some killer fries in the process. At Pizzacraft, they're fried up fresh to order and prepared as one of the artisan pizzeria's shareable appetizers. The dish brings back childhood memories for Hauser, while also touching on his own promise of delivering the six critical components for a successful dish: salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy, hot and cold.
Stacked in a criss-crossing pattern, the fries are topped with a dash of grated cheese and chopped parsley and alongside a bowl of Hauser's stellar marinara and a creamy homemade garlic aioli for dipping. It's all there: a crispy, crunchy shell that gives way to a creamy, cheesy polenta center and plated with hot and cold dipping sauces far better than any boring old ketchup and mayo combo.
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"This dish has a little bit of everything," says Hauser. "It's one of my personal favorites."
Grandma would be proud.
Pizzacraft is located at 330 Himmarshee St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-616-8028, or visit jeygroup.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.