Usually one doesn’t want to see the words soft and opening together (there’s a pill for that), but in the restaurant biz, that means opening the door without much fanfare in the way of press or promotions. A “soft opening” is meant to give the staff time to establish a routine, find out what works and what doesn’t and to tweak the menu and schedules as needed.
Two restaurants in the area recently had soft openings, one was eagerly anticipated by the Wilton Manors crowd and the other was a quiet surprise. I managed to stumble upon one on its first day, the other after it had been open a week. As neither restaurant has had time to shake out the kinks, these are not reviews, but rather introductions to two new dining options in the area.
2150 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Eat has taken over the space formerly occupied by Scarfone’s, but unlike that restaurant seems on the right trajectory for success. First off, Eat offers up fare that you won’t find elsewhere on the Drive. Eat serves up Italian deli food with a fresh spin. Since Scarfone’s left behind a pizza oven, Eat serves up pies, whole or by the slice (a nice addition to the area since Humpy’s closed), but there’s also a wide array of sandwiches including classics such as eggplant parm and meatballs. There’s even a section of the menu devoted to Jewish deli favorites such as corned beef and pastrami. There will also be a classic Chicago style hot dog (I’ll be the judge of that). Additional entrée options include Italian-American favorites; lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs. To round out the offerings, there are entrée salads, steaks and chops.
We stopped by and took advantage of the happy hour special; half-off house wines and signature cocktails. The house pinot grigio was quite good and featured a generous pour, making it a bargain at the $7 regular price and a steal at 50 percent off. We started with the “shrimp boat” appetizer; nine large shrimp sautéed in garlic butter, resting on a bed of crispy fried eggplant. Everything was cooked to perfection and the $10.95 price, though high for an app, was quite reasonable given the quantity and quality of the shrimp. An eggplant parm and Italian cold cut sandwich were both perfectly prepared. Burgers and sandwiches run between $10 and $15, burgers include fries while other sandwiches do not – which is quite puzzling. The desserts, most of which are made in-house are delish.
Eat’s secret weapon though, is Jamie, the delightful server we were lucky enough to get. She knew the menu backward and forward, gave us some great recommendations and treated us like royalty. This woman knows how to take care of her boys and I predict that she will be a community favorite. Presently Eat is only serving dinner from 4 to 10 p.m., but soon plans to expand with lunch service.
1535 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
We stumbled onto Rubio’s soft opening and got a wonderful surprise; everything was free on the first day at the new location. The small chain first opened in San Diego in 1983 and has been credited for starting the fish taco craze in America. Cited by The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times as the country’s top fish taco expert, in fact Rubio’s has sold more than 200 million fish tacos. But, it’s not just the quantity that’s impressive; it is the quality of the fish and freshness of the ingredients.
There’s a real commitment to the environment. Seafood is responsibly sourced, beef and chicken are raised without antibiotics or hormones and everything, from the utensils (real, reusable plates and flatware for dining in) to packaging for take-out is environmentally conscious. The Federal Highway location is one of many locations slated to open throughout Florida this year and I predict success.
We ordered the trio of seafood tacos; the original beer-battered fish taco is made with wild Alaska Pollock, and presents a good-sized filet on a fresh tortilla shell. We also tried the grilled mahi version and sautéed shrimp. Each was perfectly prepared and featured generous portions of seafood and fresh veggies. There’s a salsa bar so that you can choose your own toppings. Tacos are available individually or as a two or three taco plate, which comes with a choice of two sides, chips, "no-fried" pinto bean, black beans or rice. Prices are just under $10 for most plates, less than $4 for individual tacos. Beer, wine and “low-alcohol” Margaritas are available.
That’s your sneak peek at two new places. I’ll give them a few weeks to get their feet wet, so to speak, before doing a full-fledged review.