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Taste Notes: Friendship Café Serves Up Inspiration on Las Olas

Friendship Café, which serves up Mediterranean fare, opens Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale.
Friendship Café, which serves up Mediterranean fare, opens Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale.
Photo courtesy of Friendship Café

Las Olas Boulevard appears to be getting just what it needed.

And, for the record, that's not another Italian restaurant or another wildly overrated, obnoxious, and blaring taco joint (sorry, not sorry, El Camino).

What Fort Lauderdale's signature restaurant strip needed was a place with some heart — where folks can grab a something to eat that's quick and delicious, and come away feeling altogether good about it. That place opens Wednesday at Friendship Café.

Located at 1306 E. Las Olas Blvd., Friendship Café is housed in the former Falafel Time space. If you’ve ever strolled that section of Las Olas, you’ll recall Falafel Time’s endearing sign boldly claiming, “Best Falafel in the USA!”

The new 700-square-foot café carries a French-country theme designed by Perla Lichi and a Mediterranean fast-casual menu spanning falafel (no connection to the prior tenant, FYI), vegetarian shawarma, sandwiches, hummus platters, fresh-baked items, coffee, and more.

The new place doesn't just hold the promise of good fast food — it's made a promise to do good. Friendship Café trains and employs adults with Down syndrome, autism, and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Studies show 80 percent of those with IDDs nationwide are chronically unemployed. At Friendship Café, they're working to combat that statistic.

The spot is owned by Friendship Circle of Greater Fort Lauderdale, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which has paired more than 50 local special-needs citizens with volunteer friends over the past five-plus years.

“When we first began to put this nonprofit concept together as a restaurant training ground for our special-needs adults, I never would have imagined the community support and love that has been shown to us thus far,” Dean Myerow, an advisor to Friendship Circle and board member at Green Point Research, told New Times. “Friendship Café touches the hearts of so many people — all of us know somebody affected by autism or Down syndrome. We are planning to expand our mission of vocational training — adding future stores and a full-blown training center.”

Friendship Café will open at 1 p.m. on Wednesday following a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Mayor Dean Tantralis. The restaurant will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be closed Saturdays.

And now on to other news and notes from South Florida’s restaurant scene.

It’s chili out. What is that wafting, soup-y smell and country twang coming from Pembroke Pines? On Saturday, it’s totally the 35th Annual Chili CookOff at C.B. Smith Park. This year’s fest features headliners Kane Brown, Old Dominion, the recently added Eli Young Band, Ryan Hurd and others. As for “chili” being in its name, there will be a competition on-site and vendors will be serving up everything from chili bowls, to chili dogs to funnel cakes.

Dog days of winter. Green Market Pompano Beach will be one for the dogs (literally) on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In addition to its usual fresh produce and hand-crafted goods, its “Dog Day” includes a parade (at 10:45 a.m.), kissing booth, photo portrait sessions and more pooch-inspired activities. Bring your well-behaved pup to partake in it all.

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Veg out. On the “mark your calendars” front, Gulfstream Park Village’s Plant-Based Festival is returning for a second year on February 9 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The fest will have 60 vendors and the first 500 attendees will be gifted a stainless-steel reusable straw. Building on the green vibe, guests are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, cups and/or cutlery to mitigate the waste. Admission is free.

Food truck frenzy. A Seafood Festival on a Farm? Yep, it’s happening in Loxahatchee on Saturday afternoon. This fest will boast some of the top seafood trucks in South Florida, converging on the expansive You Farm agricultural space. Among the confirmed competitors are Maine Lobster Roll, Bojacks Seafood and more. Entry is free, grub will be available for purchase and, yes, you get to vote for the best.

A match made in heaven. If you’ve had the tomato pie at The Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach, it’s quite dreamy – loaded with sharp cheddar, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. Through Thursday, January 16 at select South Florida Shake Shack locations, you can enjoy a burger inspired by the pie: The Autry Burger, with a herb aioli, sharp cheddar, caramelized onions and, duh, heaps of tomatoes.

News and notes. West Palm Beach staple and Clematis Street fave Roxy’s Pub is launching brunch on Sunday at 11 a.m., with menu items including a short rib benedict, avocado toast, omelets, and, in true Roxy's fashion, a never-ending stream of booze. ... Sirocco Mediterranean and Level29 by William Levy recently opened at The Shops at Pembroke Gardens. Sirocco serves up traditional Middle Eastern fare, including tagine and shawarma and Level29 features Japanese-meets-Peruvian offerings like a Nikkei-style mixed seafood ceviche. ... Fort Lauderdale oceanfront Asian-inspired eatery Tsukuro launched a new “Hero Program” taking place in 2020. Each month, a hero (police officer, EMD, technician, fireman, lifeguard, or volunteer) will be selected on the first Tuesday of every month and win a $100 Tsukuro gift card and Hiro Sake gift pack. Nominations may be made at TsukuroFLB.com. ... Chefs Jeremy and Cindy Bearman this month are set to open High Dive, billed as a "relaxed yet elevated” seafood spot, at Rosemary Square in West Palm Beach. Jeremy is known for his Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate in New York City and Cindy was the executive pastry chef at Jean Georges’ ABC Kitchen. 

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