Even with the economy in the tank for most of last year, restaurateurs still flocked to South Florida for the weather and stayed for the disposable income.
In the past year, we've had celebrity chefs open big-money outposts in Palm Beach County, local toques expand their empires with new concepts, and national chains pour moolah into upstart shopping malls. This strange patch of swamp even saw a heavy-metal drummer open a rib joint in the 'burbs — how crazy is that?
Here are a few of the biggest restaurant splashes over the past year.
4215 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-561-7300, or visit pizzadangelo.com.
The elder statesman of Italian dining in Broward County, Elia Angelo, has opened the doors to a casual eatery in Oakland Park. The menu is full of affordable tapas, ceviches, pizzas, salads, calzones, and other traditional Italian eats — and all appear to be crafted with the same attention to detail that has helped Angelo's fine-dining restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton flourish. More than a dozen varieties of pizza with red or white sauce dominate the menu and arrive perfectly crisp from a wood-fired oven that anchors an open kitchen. "It's supposed to be like you're in Italy," our server told us.
169 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-274-4444, or visit tastegastropub.com.
This small-plates and drink spot from Chef Allen Susser is located in artsy Pineapple Grove, just two blocks off Delray's main strip and, consequently, the city's other gastropub, the Office. Its menu reads like a mishmash of fashionable bar food as envisioned by the sort of folks who read Serious Eats on a daily basis. The bulk of it is made up of small plates, mostly overplayed stuff like house-made charcuterie and bar snacks like olives and dates. Then there are more intricate options like salt-roasted beets and duck confit pot pie, which oddly share space with obligatory sliders and chicken wings. The price of these small plates coupled with their relatively small portions ultimately lowers Taste's value as anything more than a cocktail spot.
201 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-3600, or visit theofficedelray.com.
This Delray Beach gastropub from restaurateur David Manero is all about indulgence but, most pointedly, bacon. A glance down the menu reveals bacon in salad, bacon smothering macaroni and cheese, bacon on burgers, and bacon finishing off a tray of souped-up tater tots. If you count the various forms of pork and ham employed by the kitchen, then there are also Serrano-wrapped scallops, Spanish toast with tomatoes and ham, and a retooling of pork and beans where the pork is, in fact, pork belly (read: bacon). And lest you think the bacon bus stops there, for dessert you can order perhaps the restaurant's greatest triumph: a maple-glazed doughnut topped with — what else? — bacon. It's all consumed in a rollicking 1950s atmosphere that's a cross between a Madison Avenue office building and a Dick Van Dyke-era home study. Cocktails are picture-perfect and delivered by a bow-tied staff, and craft beer flows liberally from the bar. No reservations.
Rock 'N' Roll Ribs
4651 State Road 7, Ste. 1, Coral Springs. Call 954-345-7429, or visit rocknrollribs.com.
This rib joint from Iron Maiden drummer and South Florida resident Nicko McBrain feels just about as close to a backyard barbecue as you can get in a restaurant. The food isn't exactly Memphis-style barbecue; rather, it tastes like what you might whip up with some friends huddled around a Weber grill. Ribs are the fall-off-the-bone variety, wet and sweet with sticky barbecue sauce that will leave your fingers tacking to the sides of your beer bottle. Pork and beef brisket are each smoky and firmer in texture and taste amazing on a sandwich made with Texas toast and slathered with creamy coleslaw. Prices are cheap, service is friendly and pierced, and metal from the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest streams constantly throughout the day.
Martorano's Italian-American Kitchen
5751 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Call 954-585-4450, or visit cafemartorano.com.
Steve Martorano, Fort Lauderdale's favorite Italian-American bad boy, is back with this, his third restaurant, set in Seminole Paradise at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. At his palatial new digs, which is so glitzy that it practically sparkles, the beats are louder and the crowd is rowdier than ever. The 7,400-square-foot restaurant feels like a club, but the food is every bit as good as the stuff that made Café Martorano famous among locals and celebrities. To keep the kitchen flowing properly, Martorano has halved the menu, but mainstays like fried galamod (calamari) and South Philly meatballs are back. So is pitch-perfect rigatoni with Sunday gravy, spaghetti carbonara complete with runny egg yolk, and thin-crust pizzas topped with homemade mozz. You'll need to take out a second mortgage to eat there, but the food — and atmosphere — is worth it.