Up north, the temps have finally dropped and blizzard conditions are settling in and my email in-box starts to fill up with requests from friends to save them from the frigid temperatures.
Suddenly, all my friends up north have an overwhelming urge to visit. When friends visit I usually take them down to the water taxi and let them spend the day drooling over houses few of us can afford. The closest we can come is having a leisurely meal at one of the numerous water and beachfront dining spots in town.
There are a number of ocean-side cafes, but don’t neglect those places along the inter-coastals; at dinnertime you can get some pretty spectacular sunsets. Here are a few spots we find have the wow factor our guests desire, and while many are tourist traps, the food and service are good enough that we don’t mind going back again…and again…and again.
3049 Alhambra, Fort Lauderdale
This causal spot is in the Jova House, the first home constructed on Fort Lauderdale Beach and the oldest remaining oceanfront structure. Walk up the terra cotta steps into the main dining room or take the winding wrought iron staircase to the second floor dining room or patio and you really will feel as if Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman could be seated at the table next to you.
Although it’s across the street from Sebastian Beach, the raised patio, dining room and second floor balcony tables of the Mediterranean Revival home all offer great ocean views. Entrees average $25-$33, but lunch meals are half that price. There’s a great happy hour deal; small plate appetizers are just $5, and select drinks are 50 percent off Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. That deal is only available at the bar, but with the floor to ceiling doors open, you still get a pretty good ocean view. Among our favorites are the over-sized crab cake sandwich and the Mediterranean chopped salad.
Aruba Beach Cafe
1 E. Commercial, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
With live steel drum bands and Jimmy Buffet wannabees crooning, the bar can get quite noisy, but if you’re in the mood for it the festive atmosphere is fun. If you prefer something a little less frantic, wait for a patio table or, if it’s a bit chilly or rainy, ask for a table near the windows in the dining room. Aruba is literally right on the beach, so the views are pretty terrific. Parking in this area can be tricky, so you might want to opt for Aruba’s valet parking if there’s nothing in the city lot around the corner. The main draws here (other than the view) are the exotic cocktails and great seafood dishes. We always get the lobster club and the smoked salmon plate. The blackened seafood trio provides enough food for two. They charge for a basket of bread, but one taste and you’ll understand why, it’s addictive and we always go through at least a loaf. There’s an off-menu item they’ll make upon request; lobster pizza.
6002 N. Ocean Blvd., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.
A little north of Aruba Café, this hidden gem is hard to find. You could easily miss the sign in front of the small, independent hotel that houses Sea Watch. The waterfront restaurant sits atop a bluff just 50 yards from the ocean. The balcony and patio seats offer postcard views. It’s a bit on the pricey side, about $50 for dinner, lunch is half that amount. Try the crab-stuffed lobster tail and the corn bread.
3300 E Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Sure you can drop nearly $40 for an entrée at this upscale inter-coastal spot, but you can also enjoy a really terrific burger or salad and get away for about $25 a person (including a cocktail or glass of wine) and still get the same great view. For even bigger savings head over for lunch or brunch. Cocktail hour 4-7 p.m. offers up tons of apps for less than $10 and great deals on wine and beer. The living room style seating on the dock is perfect spot to laze away the afternoon, and the staff never tries to rush you.
3033 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
After years as a dive, Shooters was given a major facelift by its new owners a little over a year ago. It’s a lot more upscale now, and the prices reflect that. It’s a beautiful location, but the food is uneven in quality and preparation. However, if you go for cocktails and apps and watch the sun set over the inter-coastal you won’t be disappointed. The smoked fish dip, fried calamari and coconut crusted shrimp are good bets and, during happy hour, all cocktails are 50 percent off (at the bar only, but it’s raised up so you still get breathtaking views). BTW, there’s a lot across the street with metered parking, but Shooters offers free valet.
3051 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale
If you miss that dive-bar aspect from Shooters old days, just head next door to Flip Flops, where the views are just as good and the prices are a real bargain. However, it’s not just reasonably priced food and drinks that are a draw, it’s cheap food and drinks that are gooooood! Try the tender ribs ($19 for a full slab!), fish tacos or a shrimp po’boy ($12 each) and $3 drinks (wine, well and beer) during happy hour. The first Sunday of the month features a gay tea dance and drag show, with happy hour prices all day long. Both Flip Flops and Shooters are at a water taxi stop.
Coconuts/G&B Oyster Bar
429 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
These sister restaurants, part of the Be Nice chain, share the same kitchen, but have completely different menus. Coconuts offers seating on a dock right on the inter-coastal, G&B has a patio wedged between the side of the building and the parking lot, yet still offers somewhat of a view. At Coconuts, you must try the scoobies; snow crab legs soaked in garlic butter. Forget decorum and dig right in. At G&B the lobster corn dogs are impossible to resist and the lobster martini is a downright bargain for the amount of lobster you get. Dinner at either place should run you around $20, more with drinks.