About five years ago, Merv Jonota and Elliot Wolf took over Coconuts on the Intracoastal Waterway next to the Swimming Hall of Fame, just across from the main drag of Fort Lauderdale Beach. The revamped spot soon became something of a hidden gem because of its waterside location, friendly service (the company motto is "Be nice"), and uncomplicated menu. Unexpected dishes such as pigeon peas and rice are offered as sides; "scoobies" — sautéed blue crab pincers — are just one memorable item on an ever-changing list of specials; and on certain nights, a giant pan of paella is cooked outdoors on the deck. A well-curated beer and wine list, full of interesting yet affordable drinks, is an important part of the draw.
Early this year, Jonota and Wolf set out to replicate their success with a sister restaurant, G&B Oyster Bar, next door, with more emphasis on seafood: clams casino, oysters Rockefeller, alligator ribs, and snapper.
On a roll, the team departed from the water and targeted downtown, opening the Foxy Brown this past March on a corner better known for its traffic light than its restaurant scene — just east of the major intersection at Broward Boulevard and U.S. 1, near a hair salon, gym, and bank.
They hired chef Christian Clausen, previously of Mark's Las Olas and YOLO, to helm the kitchen, and stacked the menu with a mix of classic American comfort fare (mac and cheese, milkshakes, chicken wings) and pub-inspired plates (bangers and smash, fish and chips). Weekend brunch was announced, with white-chocolate-chip French toast and short-ribs Benedict on the menu, plus bloody marys made with sake and bacon. Soon enough, the cool crowd was packing the tables.
The dimly lit space is small but sleek, with orange and gray walls, a brown tiled floor, and large windows covered by white blinds. The half-moon wooden bar takes up almost half the single room. Orange-lacquered tables are packed tightly together. A huge painted mural of a fox anchors the entrance (though Wolf has said he named the space after a friend's dog), and the words be nice are sprinkled on the wall, the menu, and even on the wait staff's shirts. The waiters follow these instructions most righteously, which is good, because the service makes up for a few blunders in the cuisine.
"Clams, brats & beer" is one of the six appetizers listed under the menu category "Snacks." Scattered bratwurst balls and littleneck clams swam in a deep, hot bowl of caramel-colored beer broth. Two pieces of grilled (though excessively buttered) toast reclined on the side, awaiting a dunk in the rich pool.
But then I took a bite of a clam.
Ten seconds of chewing later — with little progress on the tough, rubbery mollusk — and I began to feel self-conscious among the other diners at the cramped tables. I spotted my exit strategy in my wine glass. With a huge gulp of Trivento Reserve Malbec, I finally swallowed the clam.
Like its sister restaurants, the Foxy Brown boasts about 20 beers, many from craft breweries such as Tampa's Cigar City Brewing, and about 50 bottles of moderately priced wine. The restaurant also features half-priced bottles of wine all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Jamaican ginger ale and craft sodas are a fun touch for teetotalers and kids.
The libations came in handy to wash down a buttered-up patty melt — a tasty but overwhelmingly greasy sandwich of marbled rye bread, caramelized onion, melted cheese, and a too-small-for-the-bread beef patty with a side of crinkle-cut garlic-and-Parmesan fries. The drinks also compensated for a lackluster spice-rubbed, sliced hanger steak, accompanied by a plain salad of arugula and tomato. Though the menu advertised the addition of "maitre d' butter" — the parsley-lemon compound once synonymous with fancy steak houses — the meat arrived unadorned.
The meal had begun well enough, not counting the clams. Green fries — a pile of battered, fried green beans served with a spicy aioli dip — popped with every bite. Pretzel bread was sprinkled with salt and accompanied by whole-grain mustard, cornichons, and two heaping spreads — one made with house-smoked deviled ham and the other composed of sharp cheddar cheese spiked with a stout beer from Bell's, a Michigan craft brewery.
Some lighter plates are available, but the caesar, niçoise, and house salads (even when garnished with palm hearts and country bread and dressed in a champagne-and-shallot vinaigrette) can't compete with the more creative — but heavy — dishes that make up the bulk of the items: lollipop chicken wings, deviled eggs, and "three lil' cochons" — breaded pork loins with shrimp stuffing and a tasso cream sauce.
High points included fish en papillote, a corvina fillet that arrived carefully packaged in parchment paper along with butter, sliced fingerling potatoes, onions, and a hint of thyme and basil. A chicken-and-porcini-mushroom meatball grinder, smothered in a thick tomato gravy, came topped with a slick portion of melted provolone cheese. Beef-a-roni, however, underwhelmed. Short-cut pasta is laced with a bland short-rib ragout and topped with a dollop of lemon-scented local ricotta cheese.
Like the rest of the menu, desserts were mixed. Bell's Stout makes another appearance in the aromatic chocolate pudding, evoking a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. The chocolate milkshake stayed nostalgically cool in a metal cup, with a black straw and a long, narrow spoon. Flecks of vanilla bean swam in the thick, rich treat.
Then our last dessert arrived: strawberry shortcake drizzled with a balsamic reduction and topped with macerated strawberries and a rounded ball of vanilla bean ice cream. I carefully gathered a perfect bite: one spoonful with precise amounts of berry, ice cream, and biscuit. But the biscuit — a burnt, black-bottomed puck — was impossible to flake apart.
I wiped off my greasy fingers, slugged the last sip of my drink, and tottered to my car, mostly alone with my nitpicks. The cool crowd paid me no mind, dug into their plates, and undoubtedly returned for those sake bloody marys at brunch.