More than two decades ago, the Sardelli family opened Franco's Pizzeria in Davie. It was the first time a young Fulvio Sardelli Jr., now 35, had worked in a restaurant. "My first job... was washing dishes and then rolling garlic rolls," he says in a thick, slightly raspy Italian accent. The pizzeria's name was later changed to Fulvio's, for Fulvio Sr., and the whole restaurant moved to downtown Hollywood to become Fulvio's 1900.
The eatery is still there, one block south of Hollywood Boulevard, on Harrison Street. On a Thursday night, a valet sat outside waiting to park another Mercedes, and through draped windows, we could see men in sport coats and women in conservative blouses sip wine out of large crystal glasses, illuminated by the soft glow of candlelight. In late 2012, down the street on the beachfront, the family opened a second restaurant, Sardelli's – an opulent Italian steak house in a $1.6 million villa.
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Now, two doors down from Fulvio's 1900, at the Tipsy Boar Gastropub, Fulvio Jr. is serving the kind of food that a regular at the family's other two restaurants would be surprised to find. And he's teamed up with a chef who's ripe for a comeback.
A decade ago, Michael Blum was building a name for himself as Broward's celebrity chef just as the Food Network was exploding and foodie culture was becoming a thing. ("I want to be the next Emeril, the next Wolfgang Puck, the next Norman Van Aken," Blum told New Times in 2004.) In 2002, his namesake restaurant, Michael's Kitchen (motto: "the cure for boring food") moved from Sheridan Street to downtown Hollywood when the city, in the midst of a redevelopment, wooed him with a $150,000 grant. Michael's Kitchen closed abruptly in 2005, burning the city that had given him funds, and reopened in Sunny Isles at the Newport Hotel in 2007. But that venture was short-lived as well.
"We wanted to go in different directions," Blum explains now. "They [the owners of the Newport Hotel] wanted a nightclub, and I wanted a restaurant. They got their nightclub, and I decided to move on."
He was briefly involved with Holy Smoke's American Bistro & Bar on PGA Boulevard, and after a divorce and a low-key period, Blum opened a catering and consulting company, Downtown Bakery Co., where he reinvented himself as South Florida's self-proclaimed "Knish King" and specialized in traditional kosher foods.
The toque and the Sardelli family have known each other for more than two decades, and Blum says that when Fulvio Sr. mentioned the new project, he jumped at it.
Fulvio Jr., who has a narrow, handsome face with piercing blue eyes, a close-cropped beard, and slicked black hair, is humble about the new venture, saying he just decided to serve the kind of food he likes to eat after a long shift in the kitchen or during a game.
"We owned the property, and we were just looking to have a place where we can go grab a beer and something out of the deep fryer," Sardelli said, explaining what prompted him to open the new venture. "We decided to put together a beer concept, and we're winging it.
"Every night when I finish [at Sardelli's] between 11:30 p.m. and 2 a.m., you can find me there at their bar," he added. Look for the beard and either a chef coat or a crisp, white v-neck T-shirt. Sardelli said he spends mornings at the Tipsy Boar overseeing the day's prep work before heading out to Hollywood Beach to run dinner service at Sardelli's.
But the offerings might surprise customers who've come to know the Sardellis for their delicate, handmade pastas and carefully prepared beef, veal, and fish dishes.
With items like the Reuben spring roll ($9) — with juicy, salty corned beef, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and sauerkraut inside a fried wrapper, dipped in the accompanying ramekin of vinegary brown mustard — it's clear that Fulvio Jr. and Blum have more than just Italian cooking secrets in the pantry.
Across the country, the "gastropub" restaurant concept has exploded in recent years. The concept revolves around serving good beer and carefully prepared but shamelessly decadent bar food. Think burgers made with Wagyu beef and topped with artisanal cheeses. The standard-bearer of this genre has been April Bloomfield. The British chef's New York City restaurant, the Spotted Pig, opened in 2004 as the city's first gastropub and soon after earned one star in the Michelin Guide and a laundry list of accolades for its toque.
At the Tipsy Boar, an amped-up mac and cheese ($18) came with enough chunks of sweet lobster knuckle meat to warrant the high price tag. A creamy, tangy béchamel sauce, infused with smoky brandy and nutty manchego cheese, was a world apart from the nuclear-orange "cheese" sauce to which we've become accustomed.
The menu is split into six sections: bar snacks, salads, small plates, large plates, burgers, and pizza. The pizza comes from a wood-burning oven wrapped in red brick tucked into a back corner of the restaurant. Across from it, a large, stainless-steel tap room revealed dozens of silver kegs each time the door was opened.
More than 40 draft and bottled beers, plus a short list of daily specials, are listed on chalkboards hung behind a black-topped bar in between two flat-screen televisions broadcasting the night's games. Walls are lined with slate-gray tiles and eight-foot-tall rectangular windows. The manufactured vintage look seems to be mandatory at gastropubs, and the Tipsy Boar has a few such touches in the brick oven and the chalkboard but doesn't overdo it.
Another must-have in the gastropub formula is pork belly — and this ingredient is scattered throughout the Tipsy Boar's menu. We steered away from the pork belly caesar salad and instead chose pork belly sliders ($10). Three two-bite sandwiches each came with a thick slice of pork belly; crispy, creamy Southern slaw; and a julienne of green apple whose tart, sweet flavor was the perfect foil for the fatty meat.
A duck confit pizza ($13), topped with narrow slices of Brie cheese and a generous amount of torn duck meat atop sweet, creamy mascarpone cheese and caramelized onions, arrived blistering-hot from the oven. The crust was near-perfect.
We tried to order a stuffed turkey burger only to learn it was no longer available. In fact, much of the menu seemed to be in flux. Though the Tipsy Boar opened in mid-January, Sardelli and his chef are still tweaking some items. So many were unavailable on one visit that we found ourselves frustrated with a polite, apologetic waitress. "Tell us what you do have," we had to say. There's a turkey burger, but we opted for chicken and waffles ($12). Two golden-fried, bone-in chicken thighs had a peppery spice with just a hint of rosemary in the breading. Two square waffles had a sweet, crunchy outside with a pleasantly dense inside with the rich cinnamon flavor of the apple-cider doughnuts that any Northeastern transplant will remember from fall apple picking.
Like the lobster mac and cheese, lobster corn dogs ($12) came with plenty of meat, yet the cornmeal casing that should have been fluffy and slightly sweet was a gummy, bland mess. Unwilling to waste good lobster, my guest and I undertook the slightly impolite task of freeing each bit of lobster from its "corn dog" shell.
Sardelli said the changing menu is simply a new restaurant adjusting and getting into a groove. Dishes we didn't try, like sweet and spicy shrimp tacos and a bacon cheddar cheeseburger, have been selling well and will remain on the menu.
"We want to constantly be changing the menu," Sardelli said. "That's the whole fun of it — you see what works; you see what doesn't work. That's what a real chef does."
Young professionals can be stoked that there's finally a cool restaurant in Hollywood — a city that's always had an intriguing assortment of ethnic joints and traditional establishments, not to mention a wonderful absence of chains but nothing that could be described as trendy. And yet, the Tipsy Boar isn't just hipster-friendly. On a weeknight, we found a group of late-20-somethings tossing back beers at the bar, singing with the music, and celebrating a friend's birthday. A few stools away, three professionally dressed women who looked to be in their mid-30s sipped a postwork glass of wine.
Despite an aggressive, decadelong redevelopment program and a constant influx of new restaurants, downtown Hollywood has always felt empty on weeknights and not quite as full as it should be on weekends.
"Right now, it's pretty much stagnant," Blum said, assessing his homecoming. He lauded weekly food-truck roundups at Arts Park (though some restaurateurs have complained it steals their business), saying that anything to bring more attention to the area is a good thing. But otherwise, Hollywood is "exactly where it was a decade ago — there are more buildings but no more traffic flow."
With the Tipsy Boar, South Floridians finally have a good reason to get off I-95 in between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and explore.