Fort Lauderdale's dining scene has evolved quite a bit over the past decade or so. It was not all that long ago that the majority of restaurants included sports bars and pubs with a few fine dining establishments littered amongst the chicken wings and loaded nachos.
Luckily, we've come quite a long way with beautiful farm-to-table spots, lots of high-end Italian, and multiple casual bistros serving up great food in friendly environments.
However, we want more. We would like to see our fare city rival dining destinations across the world -- and yes, our glitzy neighbor Miami is included in that reference. Unfortunately, we have a ways to go to get there.
We came up with a list of five things we feel are missing in Fort Lauderdale.
5. Ethnic Restaurants
We are well aware that there is a long corridor of exotic cuisine running down along US 441, but it's a bit of a hike, not actually in Fort Lauderdale, and sometimes we don't want to drive that far. Yes, we might be whinging right now, but we and most of the chefs in our Tastemakers series agree, we need more ethnic cuisine in Fort Lauderdale and overall Broward and Palm Beach Counties. We want to see more Vietnamese, more Korean, authentic Japanese, Ethiopian, Lebanese, and, heck, more Cuban, for that matter.
4. Vegetable-Centric Restaurants
This month Bon Appétit ran a feature titled "America's Vegetable Revolution." It sounds awesome, but around here we wouldn't know, as it hasn't really hit Fort Lauderdale. Granted, we do have a number of vegan restaurants and more seem to be sprouting up, but that's not what we're talking about. We're not saying we want restaurants that forego meat completely -- we like a nice dose of pork fat in our produce. We're talking about leading chefs celebrating vegetables the way they would foie gras, Copper River salmon, or hereford pork. World-famous chefs like René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen or Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in New York City are changing veggies from side dishes into the star of the meal -- even if that means adding a bit of butter or bacon to spice things up. We want it too.
3. Nose-to-Tail Concepts
Residing at the opposite end of the food spectrum from plant-based, nose-to-tail eating consists of, you guessed it, eating the entire animal -- all parts included. While the waste not, want not approach has been popular throughout the country for years it has yet to reach Fort Lauderdale. Restaurants, like Incanto in San Francisco, have been serving off cuts and innards for ages. Michael's Genuine and Tongue & Cheek in Miami feature dishes, such as pig ears and chicharrones. In Fort Lauderdale, we're resigned to short ribs and pork belly on every menu, which wouldn't be a problem if there was more diversity -- and sustainability. Maybe the general population doesn't want to nosh on stuffed pigs bladder, but we do, and we want someone to get on it.
2. Better Mixology Programs
Broward and Palm Beach counties might be known for our booming craft beer scene, but when it comes to mixology we're desperately lagging behind Miami -- and every other foodie town for that matter. Yes, we have bars with inventive cocktail lists and some very talented mixologists behind them; however, it's not a big part of the culture. For the most part, we have cocktail lists littered with the same fruity vodka drinks and the same cucumber martinis (not that we dislike them, but it's generally the only gin drink on the menu). We want to see creativity, like the Broken Shaker's Tommy's Smoky Margarita with charcoal smoked agave, fresh lime juice and El Jimador Tequila with a mezcal rinse or Husk's (in Charleston, SC) Barrel-Aged Manhattan. We would like to see different, whether it's more gin, mezcal, pisco, or whatever else, in a creative or very traditional form. Basically, we want our cocktails to be taken seriously: as they are almost everywhere else.
1. Chef-Driven Concepts
What it all comes down to is we want the creators directing the show. We want mixologists behind the bar mixing up drinks and we want chefs in the kitchen concocting new and innovative dishes, whether it be vegetal or carnivorous. Fort Lauderdale is lucky to have some amazing chefs manning the kitchens at spots like d.b.a./cafe, Valentino Cucina Italiana, and Market 17. However, we want more. We deserve more. We would like to see less atmosphere and more technique. We want small scale spots where the chefs run the show -- that's when we'll get our out-of-this world veggie mains and leg of beast.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.