Making a Hard Guy Soft at Café Martorano

It's crazy that I've eaten my way through Fort Lauderdale on dates for nearly a half decade and never tried Café Martorano. That is, until a few weeks ago. But hey -- it's not easy to sucker many guys into shelling out a few pretty pennies for a meal far away from the Atlantic Avenue/Las Olas scene. So when I found my perfect pawn, an Italian boy who had just moved from Chicago and drives a Saab, I knew exactly where we were headed.

But when he realized the resto was located in a strip mall, he almost turned the car around. "I thought you said this was a nice place, Miss Restaurant Critic?" was his response when he caught the first glimpse of the black-scrolled marquee outside, just footsteps away from a convenience store. "Trust me," I replied, putting all my faith in Gail Shepherd and her recent article.

Strangely enough, when we got inside, it was me who became skeptical. The place was wallpapered with large TV screens, riddled with scantily clad chicks, and teeming with the howls of music from my parents' era. I quickly did the math: TVs plus others' big boobs plus loud music equals distractions from my charms.

Not promising.

After waiting an hour at the bar for a table (oh, did I mention they

don't serve cocktails?), we were seated in direct view of the space in

the exposed kitchen where it appeared Steve Martorano hovered most

frequently, examining orders and, we were told, DJing and VJing.

My date looked over the menu for a few minutes and tears literally began welling in his sockets. Weird reaction, I thought.

"Pastina? They have pastina?" he asked.

"Uh, I guess so," I replied. "What the heck is that?"


grandmother, may she rest in peace, used to make it for me and my

brother when we was little," he said. I cringed at his grammar usage,

but fawned a bit at the softness that had overtaken his typical

bravado. "It's like tiny bits of pasta. She'd melt butter over it and

make us bowl after bowl."

The waiter arrived and my date

immediately went into a whole soliloquy about his grandma. Somewhat

touched, our server also made note that I wanted the famous meatballs

with Sunday gravy and the gnocchi. Then the needle scraped across the


"Would you ask the chef to please crack an egg over the top of it? That's what grandma would do," my homesick Chicagoan pleaded.

"He won't do it," replied our server.

"Would you just ask for me?"

"No. The chef doesn't do special requests. You still want the pastina?"


the final product was legitimate enough for him to forgive the lack of

accommodation. As my date fed me spoonful after spoonful, I also caught

him texting his Mom and brother to tell them of his good fortune. At

one point, he looked at me with a big, teary smile and I could tell he

was smitten. Wasn't sure if the object of his affection was me or the

pasta, but it didn't matter; I had brought him here. Score one for the


Maybe this one's a keeper.

Café Martarano is located at 3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-561-2554, or click here.

Freelance writer Riki Altman eats everything that won't try and eat her first (with exceptions, of course) and dates younger men, older men, and older men who act like young men, along with locals, tourists, illegal aliens and just plain aliens. Love Bites is a compilation of what happens when her dining and dating ordeals collide. Sometimes, it just ain't pretty.

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Riki Altman