Alex Kuk grew up in a restaurant family.
When other kids were out playing after school, Kuk was at work. While his friends celebrated holidays, he and his family were busy waiting on festive diners.
"It's not your typical lifestyle," says Kuk. "Family time is creative. Dinner may be at midnight at the restaurant. It all comes with the territory; it's not your standard 9 to 5."
Kuk, the grandson of a Miami restaurateur and nephew of Christina Wan (of the eponymous Mandarin House), and his family have owned dining establishments throughout South Florida since 1966.
And his Temple Street Eatery is the latest addition to the Wan family's roster.
Owned in conjunction with his Chinese aunt Christina; her Vietnamese husband, Jason Huynh; and Kuk's Venezuelan-Chinese partner, Diego Ng, Temple Street serves reinterpretations of comfort fare from across the Asian continent.
The Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich is served with pickled vegetables, jalapeño, cucumber, and cilantro aioli, with a choice of lemongrass chicken or pork. It forgoes the traditional pâté.
Inspired by Korean barbecue, the bulgogi rice bowl features marinated beef sautéed with onions, carrots, scallions, and shoga (pickled ginger) over white or brown rice.
The bibimbap rice bowl is a vegetarian version of the Korean dish. White or brown rice is topped with inari (sweet tofu), mushrooms, pickled vegetables, scallions, marinated bean sprouts, and fried egg. Vibrant gochujang sauce (fermented Korean condiment made from red chili) is served on the side.
Japanese miso noodle soup is filled with pork belly, scallions, bean sprouts, seasoned egg, and either ramen or soba noodles. Rich and deeply layered, the homemade pork miso broth is simmered for eight hours daily.
That's a large part of what makes the fast-casual concept unique. Everything is made from scratch, in-house.
The dumplings (pork, chicken, shrimp, and vegetable) are folded together every day with no fillers. Vegetables are pickled on the premises. And all 15 sauces and three soup broths are proprietary recipes.
"The soup may be a bit lighter or darker on certain occasions," says Kuk. "We have no walk-in, so it's made fresh every day from fresh products."
Although the eatery incorporates a wide range of ingredients (like gochujang) that may have you scratching your head, there is also a large selection of fusion items for those looking for something familiar.
The edamame falafel is one of the bestsellers. Traditional falafel is refreshed with a blend of edamame, tofu, chick peas, curry, tahini, and garlic. It's served on its own or in a pita with hummus, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mixed greens, goat cheese, and the spicy gochujang cream sauce.
The kimchee quesadilla is another juxtaposition of East and West. Lemongrass chicken is layered with spicy and sour kimchee (Korean-style fermented cabbage), caramelized onions, cheddar jack cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, and the ubiquitous gochujang cream.
"People see kimchee, lemongrass, or bulgogi and don't know what it is," says Kuk. "So they'll shy away. We wanted to pair things you may not know with things you do know."
Featuring a fast-casual approach (guests are given a number at the counter, and the prepared food is delivered by servers), the concept is somewhat divergent for the area; however, it was inspired by Kuk and Ng's travels throughout the United States and Asia.
Titled after a famous night market in Hong Kong, the eatery draws inspiration from his travels; Kuk fondly remembers eating robust fare on tables practically falling apart on the street, with hordes of pedestrians and traffic whizzing past.
Although the cars and shanty furniture were missing, it was an ambiance he experienced yet again while living in San Francisco.
"I'd walk to the neighborhood restaurant," says Kuk. "It was simple counter service with great food. People would go in for lunch and dinner on the same day."
The same has been happening at Temple Street. According to Kuk, regulars frequently come in for multiple meals per week, some even visiting twice in 24 hours. He credits the initial success with the lack of Asian concepts in Fort Lauderdale.
"South Florida is ready for it," says Kuk. "Years ago, it wasn't. People didn't know what ramen was."
The eatery is offering specials for now, with selections ranging from green tea bread pudding and pulled pork arepas. Eventually, Kuk hopes to expand the offerings to incorporate more traditional items, like pig's ear and oxtail stew, in inventive, fusion-focused dishes.
While Kuk and Ng are still testing customers' palates, they are already looking forward to expansion. The team hopes to franchise in the next year or two.
"For us, the goal was to move the restaurant to the next generation," says Kuk. "We wanted to bring something new to South Florida."
Temple Street Eatery is located at 416 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 954-701-0976, or visit templestreeteatery.com.
Bulgogi rice bowl $12
Bibimbap rice bowl $10
Miso noodle soup $11
Dumplings ($4 to $8)
Edamame falafel $5
Kimchee quesadilla $7
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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