Rick's Reviews: Batter up!

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It’s spring and that means the beginning of baseball season and I’ve visited two new restaurants. One hit it out of the park and the other struck out. And that’s about as far as I can go with baseball metaphors, so let’s focus on the restaurants.

Luigi di Roma 

718 S. Federal, Deerfield Beach

954-531-6151

luigidiroma.com

You can tell a lot about a place by its website. On the splash page for Luigi di Roma there is a statement of the core values its owners feel are important. Although the restaurant had only been open a few days when we stopped by for an early dinner on the way to a movie, it was crowded and everyone appeared to be having the time of their lives.

I can see why, from the warm greeting we received from the hostess to the bright smile on the face of our handsome waiter, everyone seemed to want to provide the best food and service that they could. Even the busboy was charming. They certainly live up to one of their stated values, “We want every guest to feel welcome; as if they're visiting our home and not a restaurant... friendly service provided by caring people.”

We had planned on sampling some of the happy hour specials, served from 4-7 p.m. and available only in the bar or on the patio. The bar was packed and it’s easy to see why with such delicious offerings as; sausage on ciabatta bread, eggplant pancakes layered in mozzarella and ricotta with marinara sauce, fried calamari and a chicken parm panini, all for $6 each.

To add to the appeal, cocktails, beer and glasses of wine are half-priced. It’s no wonder we couldn’t find a seat. Rather than sit on the patio, we opted to pass on the happy hour specials and order from the regular menu in the dining room.

The fare consists of the Italian-American classics you’d expect, as well as some unexpected twists, including an entire section featuring house-made pastas. Two appetizers that you might want to choose for the table include the aptly named “Italian Feast,” a platter of chicken meatballs, sausage, eggplant pancakes, fried peppers, and ricotta. Similarly, the “Antipasto Platter,” presents a hearty mix of prosciutto, capicola, salami and fresh mozzarella with roasted peppers, olives, tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It’s $25 for either platter, which easily serve 6-8 people. If you’re with a smaller group, both platters are available in half-sized portions for $15.

The best way to test an Italian restaurant is to order a simple bowl of spaghetti in marinara sauce. Luigi’s (I feel like I can be on a first name basis with the place, as I am clearly smitten-and it has nothing to do with the extremely handsome staff) pasta is sheer perfection; cooked perfectly al dente and lightly dressed in a fresh marinara studded with chunks of fresh tomato and slivers of basil. The meatballs in the meatball parm sandwich were so light they practically floated off the toasty roll. I truly believe that the only thing keeping them earthbound was the yummy melted mozzarella. Even the sautéed zucchini, green beans and potatoes served on the side felt as if someone’s momma had just turned them out of the pan.

I want to stop back soon and try some of the more unusual dishes; sautéed mussels in
shallot-white wine sauce served over fettuccini or the beef short ribs with broccoli rabe, served over rigatoni with a dollop of ricotta.

I may get a group together to try the family-style dinners, available Sunday through Tuesday, for groups of four or more. The $20 per person tab gets your group a Caprese salad, fried calamari, gorgonzola or Caesar salad and meatballs and sausage in gravy over rigatoni.

Park & Ocean

3109 E. Sunrise, in Birch State Park, Fort Lauderdale

954-563-2900

ParkAndOcean.com

Park and Ocean, located right in Birch State Park has got a great location. It’s from the Society 8 restaurant group behind Avant in Delray and the recently closed Beauty & the Feast in the Atlantic Hotel, long named one of the best restaurants in South Florida. So you might think this would be a slam dunk (I know I’m mixing my sports metaphors here), but, sadly, it’s not.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a glorified concession stand and is set up as such. Picnic tables, plastic lawn chairs and plastic cups, don’t say casual chic to me, they just say cheap. The web-site touts that the “Caribbean & Southern influenced menu offers an eclectic mix of “farm to table” items.” If you consider Mexico part of the Caribbean, then maybe, but…no.

So much seems to be done without thinking about the big picture. Food is served on cheap, disposable plastic plates which blow away the minute you lift your sandwich to take a bite. There’s a giant Jenga set made from cut 2x4 planks. The tower is perched atop a barrel and it looks like loads of fun, and I’m sure it is, unless you’re trying to have a conversation and the tower of wood crashes onto the concrete, accompanied by the screams of children.

Oh, did I mention it’s set up right next to the entrance to the restaurant, so those walking in not only have to avoid the pieces of 2x4 underfoot, they can also have it topple on them as they enter? It’s this lack of foresight that plagues Park and Ocean throughout.

There’s no signage to indicate the restaurant’s location in Birch State Park (BTW you have to pay for admission in order to park near the restaurant, unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the limited parking spaces on A1A). When you do get to the building, you still might not realize it’s a restaurant; the sign outside touts kayak and paddleboard rentals. If you look closely enough, you might see the restaurant’s name—with no other explanation of what it is. Once inside, there’s nothing to indicate how to order, whether to be seated or wait to be shown to a table. It turns out, you order at the counter, carry a sign to place on your table (which the wind keeps knocking over) and wait for someone to wander out of the kitchen and try and find you.

The food is well-prepared if underwhelming. There are a variety of bowl dishes (veggie and fruit salads) sandwiches include burgers, Cubans (ah-there’s the Caribbean) and a delicious grilled cheese with shrimp, as well as some uninspired tacos.

For those seeking something heartier, there are a few entrees; rotisserie chicken, pulled pork and brisket. The restaurant also offers specialty beers, in-house cold brewed coffee iced tea on tap and made-to-order smoothies.

Park and Ocean is certainly not a destination dining spot, but if you find yourself in Birch State Park or on the beach near Sunrise… no, I’m sorry, it’s not worth it, even then.


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