Back in 2005, Ruggero’s Restaurant in Sunrise was highly praised by critics and foodies alike. The dining was described as “a sophisticated white-tablecloth spot, tailor-made for anyone with an appetite for Italian with a side of steakhouse” by Judith Stocks of the Sun-Sentinel. Although circumstances led to Ruggero’s closing its doors, new ownership and management have resurrected this Sicilian supper club. Ruggero’s reopened at a new location on Oakland Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale in early October.
Italian-born New York resident Ray Cibischino bought the restaurant because he loves coming down to Fort Lauderdale and saw promise in the concept. He kept Gabe Salas, who was formerly running the Santa Lucia Restaurante in the building, as the general manager. Cibischino converted the location into Ruggero’s several months ago, when he purchased the location. A few of the updates included adding a wood-fired oven, a private room in the back which can seat up to eight people, and modern accents to the interior design.
Salas says his three main focuses for the restaurant are to provide personal, friendly service, delicious food, and a clean and warm atmosphere for guests. The concept is Southern Italian cuisine with a modern flare.
“We are in a great location, and I’m positive that we can bring back a real Italian cuisine to Fort Lauderdale,” he says. “We know that there are very good Italian restaurants in this area, but sometimes they can be the same. We want to keep typical Italian culture and cuisine, but we also want to do something different. “
Salas says they will have a good selection of 100 percent USDA prime steaks, a lot of seafood, appetizers, and a full bar. Authentic Italian dishes are on the menu, but there are some new, modern Italian items too. He is expanding the cocktails selection and will be starting events in November like a martini and calamari night. Ruggero’s is also offering happy hour six days a week from 5 to 7 p.m.
Salas wasn’t sure what would happen after the location took on new ownership, but he’s happy with the end result. “I’m most excited about being in a new environment and working for an excellent gentleman," he says. "The first restaurant was great too, but this one will have more specific and modern food.”
The menu is similar to the original Ruggero’s fare, but it has been improved upon by executive chef Giovanni Filippone who, like Salas and Cibischino, is also from Italy. (Sicily, to be exact.)
When his family immigrated to New York, Filippone started working at a McDonald's and then as a dishwasher in restaurants. He worked his way up and became a chef at prestigious restaurants throughout NYC and more recently South Florida. He combines his Sicilian culinary roots with a modern, fresh twist on authentic, classic Italian fare and draws a lot of his inspiration from his father.
“In Sicily, they are not as bold and are afraid to take risks, so everyone gives you the same thing,” Filippone says. “I want to put a twist on classic dishes and show people that I can do something elegant with it. This is not your everyday Italian.”
Filippone’s rigatoni Bolognese is a perfect example of his style. It is a traditional Bolognese recipe (with the exception of one secret ingredient) that is topped with a béchamel sauce, which he says reminds him of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, Italy. The arugula and truffle oil in his pappardelle pasta is the “modern twist” part of his creation.
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The chef will feature 12 to 15 specials every evening, in addition to the restaurant’s full menu. Desserts are made daily. Some of the resident items are: linguini vongale with littleneck clams, olive oil and garlic; pollo Milanese with baby arugula salad; and butcher cut filet mignon.
"I have a simple concept about our food," Filippone says. "Combine fresh, seasonal, quality ingredients with bold flavor profiles and transform traditional recipes into cutting-edge dishes. At Ruggero's, we've developed a menu consistent with old favorites as well as more innovative selections to satisfy even the most sophisticated palate."
Of course, no delectable dish could be complete without a well-paired glass of wine. Ellman Family Vineyard is providing a grand selection of wine by the bottle and the glass. The Ellman brothers, Lance and Neil, started making wine as a hobby in 2007 and bought a vineyard in Napa about a year ago. They live just four blocks away from Ruggero's.
Ruggero's Ristorante. 2701 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-396-0930; ruggerosfortlauderdale.com. Open 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.