Fort Lauderdale's Jungle Queen: Once Upon a River

Tourista dinners are not my forte, regardless of what's

served, who's on the trip, or where it's headed. As I braced for The Jungle Queen I attempted to put aside my

biases, to embrace the trip with an open mind. And to be

honest, I learned more about locals and Fort Lauderdale than I have in

any dining scenario I've experienced yet.

As I worked on the

piece, I was struck by

what a gentleman owner Jerome Faber was when I

interviewed him. He was readily accessible and

took my call each time (which is actually pretty unusual for someone to pick up the phone on a first try.) He answered questions he was comfortable with

and graciously deflected those he felt were none of my business. He spoke with pride about his work and was sincere in his affection for this city he calls


I was moved by the employees working the dinner. Ulysses, the bartender in the story, sang praises about how much he

liked the job and pointed out half a dozen people who have worked for

the company for more than a year. He wished aloud to me that he could

lasso a job there for a friend who was out of work.

I met one

woman who has worked for the Jungle Queen since 1998 and her son who's

been serving food there for four years. What's it like to work for a

business with a parent- since 2008, the year the economy tanked? The guy

was downright grateful.

So many people were loyal to a restaurant as

an employer: striking, since it's nortoriously tough to cull loyalty in the hospitality

industry. More than one staffer said how much the job

rescued him financially and offered a familial work environment.


as far as the landscape of Lauderdale from the New River: When I took

the ride on Labor Day weekend, the 9/11 anniversary was around the

corner and loomed large in my mind. I had lived in New York at the time

and have been hyper cognizant of its affects in my personal and

professional life since.

I was reminded of it yet again while perusing

the Doppler effect of how the tragedy and the nation's subsequent

financial crisis obliterated some and missed others all the way down here. Behemoth skeletons

of abandoned homes gaped open next to mansions that were bustling and

alive. Sleek yachts mowed past neglected ones in boat jail. Many, many

stories from the MC focused on the reign of yesteryear rather than


Despite the MC's stories, it was clear plenty of folks I saw on the trip have edited their expectations down to smaller

houses, smaller boats, or simpler pleasures: much like people aboard The Jungle Queen, who harbored no grand pretense of what it had to

offer and looked forward to the evening nonetheless.

Read my review on the experience here.

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart