What do you think of when you think of Shooters Waterfront? Do you go there for good food or for hot bodies? If you're a longtime South Floridian, the answer to that question might be the latter form of fresh meat and not the sort you'd find on your dinner plate.
When Shooters opened in 1982, it was the place to party in Fort Lauderdale. Here, patrons could swim in the waterside pool, drink at the outdoor bar, and lounge as yachts zipped past on the wide stretch of Intracoastal just south of the Oakland Park bridge. Flanked to the south by Bootlegger, the two properties drew huge crowds for their hot-body contests. It was the embodiment of all that Fort Lauderdale stood for at the time: spring break, every weekend.
Twenty years later, Fort Lauderdale had grown up, and the Sunday crowds had dwindled to less-than-enviable numbers. After some back and forth with concept changes and cover charges, in July
In February 2014, Shooters Waterfront Cafe reopened as Shooters Waterfront, sold for an estimated $7 million to William McIntyre, owner of the Grateful Palate Restaurant and yacht provisioning company, who relocated his business from the city's busy 17th Street to reopen in Bootlegger's 6,000-square-foot space.
Rather than change the name and have everyone refer to the new restaurant as "that place where Shooters used to be," the family decided to keep the name, says its director of operations, Peter Lopez.
Today, a tamer version of Shooters exists, like the restaurant woke up one day, realized its potential, and decided to grow up and make something of itself. There are no more bikini-clad hot bodies, no more pool parties, and no more sleazy umbrella drinks and bar food. Older couples and families have replaced the raucous crowds.
The memory of the past remains for those who knew its former glory, though. And thanks to a wall of framed pictures, those who don't can certainly imagine it. Among the many photos - some donated by patrons - there's even a picture of a sailor-suited Hugh Hefner, flanked by two big-breasted blonds, a testament to the thousands of revelers who came to watch the debauchery.
Despite a design overhaul, the restaurant's footprint, layout, and view are still the same. Architecturally, all that's missing is the old wooden dock, crowded patio, and - of course - the pool. If there was one word I'd use to describe it now, that word would be "gray." Gray interior decor, gray walls, and gray table settings give the place an overall dull tone.
Outside, it's a different story. It would be hard to improve on the view from Shooters' waterside patio, what I'd venture to say is among the most picturesque in the area, a wide swath of water where megayachts float past. The new, uncluttered layout allows guests a better view of the water. There's also a tiki bar outdoors and seating near the water's edge on an expanded patio widened by nearly 20 feet from the old days. In true Fort Lauderdale style, patrons are welcome to arrive by boat, with 340 feet of dockage as well as a Water Taxi stop.
Aside from the name, everything else is new, including the menu. After several iterations over the past year, the most recent rollout - delivered by your server as a leather-bound book instead of a flimsy laminated sheet - covers all the bases, from a raw bar and sushi to flatbreads, sandwiches, soup and salad, and entree-sized dishes.
According to Lopez, it was a big job designing a new menu for a restaurant that once was nothing but filler. "It was burgers, beer, and bikinis," he says. "Just something to soak up the alcohol for the people that came here to drink and party."
Now you can find appetizers like seared mussels, lollipop lamb chops, or chicken pesto flatbread. There are vegetarian and gluten-free dishes too. Beer, wine, and specialty cocktails are also on the menu. A weekend-long brunch began last year, an all-you-can-eat buffet of create-your-own options for $26 per person.
For lunch on a quiet weekday afternoon, I start with sushi. Sure, you might not want to order sushi at a place like Shooters - when is American restaurant sushi ever good? - but you should. You might be impressed with the size of the roll (it's worth the $13 price tag), and there's a balance of flavor and texture, a layering of flavors, you don't expect here. Even the vegetarian roll was something worth Instagramming, a satisfying combination of seared tofu marinated in sesame oil, julienned carrot, asparagus, and lettuce. The slices are so big that you'll have a hard time fitting them in your mouth.
Other dishes were unremarkable but decent. An apple, Brie, and chicken sandwich is a new addition, oozy melted dairy atop a layer of wilted spinach and thin-sliced apple smothered in a thick balsamic glaze. It's folded into a pocket of sweet, chewy tandoori bread, and although I would have preferred less chew and more crunch, it was easy enough to finish.
Entrees are your typical South Florida fare: a towering, ten-ounce Angus cheeseburger, perfected after a month of trial-and-error taste testing; or cashew-crusted
But if you want to order the best dish on the menu, forget the grilled skirt steak or filet mignon a la Oscar. Instead, it's the seared brown-butter scallops and shrimp. Fat bay scallops sit in a citrusy
When the inevitable question of dessert rolls around, what can usually usher a weary dismissal instead piqued my curiosity. Lopez says - more than any other part of the menu - a lot of time and effort went into making the new Shooters desserts something to "wow" you. After a few, I'd agree. You could go to Shooters just for the desserts.
The dessert menu is refreshingly exciting - no boring standards cut from bought cakes. Instead, enjoy fantastical creations like the Key-lime baked Alaska, a way of dressing up a classic Floridian dish with a tuft of torched meringue, Key-lime custard sitting in a creamy white puddle of coconut-scented daiquiri sauce. The restaurant sells at least 40 each night.
Neither too sweet nor too dry, the chocolate fudge cake is quite a spectacle, large enough for three people to share. Lopez says he wanted to name it the "big-ass slice of chocolate cake," but that didn't fly with the owners. All humility is gone once it arrives at the table, the restaurant's name scrawled in powdered chocolate on the plate. Ask to take it home and they'll devise a way to use several to-go containers to pack it up for you.
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"We realized when we took this spot that there was a real lack of upscale, waterfront dining," says Lopez. "We knew we could do better."
At the end of the day, the revamped waterfront restaurant is still a place to go - if not for the hot body view, then for the water one, the live music, and an outdoor lounge area built for doing just that. The restaurant and bar have an equally strong nocturnal allure, with a blazing fire pit built for cozying up to. And the food isn't bad - it's just nothing to rave about either. Unless, of course, you're ordering dessert.
3033 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Hours are Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 954-566-2855, or visit shooterswaterfront.com.
Seared tofu veggie roll $13
Apple, Brie, and chicken sandwich $14
Seared brown-butter scallops and shrimp $28
Caribbean-bread-pudding flan $9
Key-lime baked Alaska $11