In the ever-changing culinary landscape that is Wilton Manors, a food writer always has something to consider and mull over. Recently I’ve been thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the WilMa dining scene.
Here are a few of my musings:
Wilton Manors needs a wider array of dining options. We have enough Thai/sushi spots; there are five on the less than mile-long stretch of the drive, not to mention three other spots specializing in Asian food. We also have four ice-cream shops along that same stretch.
We finally have some good Italian options; under its new management Bona has finally realized its potential, while Nick’s Pizzarelli and Dolce Pizza & Gelato offer two excellent more casual options. Maria’s Cantina is developing nicely, so Mexican is covered. Those seeking Greek/Turkish fare now have two options Sean & Olive and Ethos as well as Mini Pita. Casual diner fare is available at Courtyard and Andrews Diner as well as nearby Peter Pan. Le Patio covers French/Italian fusion. We even have an oyster bar.
So what’s missing?
Another Indian restaurant would be nice. Bombay Café on Andrews is kind of mediocre and only offers a buffet at lunch and Sundays. The old Biergarten space seems like the perfect spot for a place serving Northern European (German or Scandinavian) fare. Anyplace serving the cuisine of Central or South American countries would seem like a given.
That doesn’t even take into account the various regional American favorites. Please, please, please somebody start serving a real Chicago-style pan pizza. How about a good soul food restaurant? The cuisines of the Southwest or New England would be welcome additions to the dining scene. We could also use a really good fast-casual restaurant with vegetarian offerings. California-based native foods offers tasty vegan versions of classics such as gyros, fried chicken and burgers. I’m not a vegetarian and it is one of my favorite places to go for a quick lunch. I’ve been going to the company’s website urging it to open a branch in South Florida.
The closing of Tropics sent shockwaves through the community because it was a Wilton Manors landmark. It’s also ironic that they finally installed a stoplight at that intersection and now there’s almost no one crossing the street there. While some of the Tropics crowd has migrated north to Matty’s, there is still hope that Tropics will re-open. If so, may I offer my suggestions?
Change the format of the dining room. Let’s face it; the food at Tropics was lackluster to say the least (and over-priced on top of it). Nearly $20 for a chicken Kiev that I could buy frozen at Costco (which I suspect is where the “chef” purchased it) is crazy! The $10 early-bird menu was a good idea, it just wasn’t promoted well, and the selections were too limited.
Here’s an idea; take that little-used raised dining area off the main bar and turn it into a buffet. If the management offered a reasonably priced buffet, they’d more than make up in sales what they lose in seating capacity. They could even up the ante a little more and offer themed evenings (see my notes above about the lack of diversity in dining options in Wilton Manors). Middle Eastern Mondays could feature cous cous, falafel, salads, roasted meats and veggies. Or go the regional American cuisine approach, and offer a New England clam bake (corn on the cob, boiled potatoes, steamers, crusty bread, salads, chowders), a Midwest picnic (brats steamed in beer, potato salad, casseroles) or a Southwest BBQ (grilled corn on the cob, baked beans, grilled chicken, beef ribs, pulled pork). None of these items are very pricey and all are popular favorites that will draw in the crowds, making the restaurant a viable component of the complex.
Once Tropics is open its cocktail hour crowd will return like the swallows to Capistrano. The problem was that they all went home by 8 p.m. leaving the bar area a ghost town. That’s easily solved by installing doors in the two open areas between the main bar/dining room and the cabaret bar area. Make it a live music venue. Keep the cocktail hour crowd, but think beyond the cabaret/piano bar sing-along format and bring in touring indie musicians and acoustic bands for show later in the evening. Think the kinds of acts booked into Sunshine Cathedral (Steve Grand, Jill Sobule, Matt Alber, Tom Goss or Ruthie Foster). Add cabaret tables (low and high top), and you could easily fit 40-50 people in that room. A ten to twenty buck cover and two-drink minimum will bring in business late into the evening, pad your bottom line and give your handsome bartenders something to do for the rest of the evening.