For years now Oakland Park has been touting its “Culinary Arts District,” the strip of 12th Avenue east of Dixie Highway and north of Oakland Park Blvd. The concept for the Culinary Arts District came about after the city hired Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) to develop a 5-year strategic plan for the downtown strip. The problem is, they didn’t do much about it, nor did they have much of a focus.
This quote comes directly from the City of Oakland Park’s website; “The focus of American culture over the last few decades has centered around one room in the home…The Kitchen. When you think Culinary Arts District, think of anything relating to a kitchen. Is this a restaurant or bar? … Could it be a knife store or flower shop? ... Have you ever wanted an aquarium as a kitchen bar?” What the ?!?!?
There’s no doubt that the stretch of 12th Avenue from Oakland Park Blvd., to 38th has potential. It could become a great entertainment and nightlife area. There’s plenty of parking, tons of available spaces. Just imagine, if you gave it to a bunch of gay folks, we’d have the place hopping and a vacation destination within a few years. Just look what we did for (or is that to?) Wilton Manors.
Finally, five years later, we’re just beginning to see some sort of activity. In fact, two of the new places are terrific and will hopefully be able to develop enough of a following to keep them in business until street traffic catches up and downtown Oakland Park sees its potential.
Kelvin 3200 (3200 NE 12th Ave., 954-241-1930, kelvin3200.com) could be the kind of place that makes the city’s concept work. Although the décor looks exactly like what you think a place designed by a straight guy would look like (beer keg patio tables!), the food is so good you’ll go back again and again. Folks keep returning for the reasonably priced, perfectly prepared Southern fare. Imagine a country breakfast of two eggs and a choice of sausage, ham or bacon, for less than $10. Sub egg whites and turkey sausage or bacon? OK, and no extra charge!
Lunch and dinner are even better. All the sandwiches and dinner entrees are less than $15 and include a couple of sides. On the night of my last visit, the special of the night was meatloaf with gravy and choice of two sides and a soft drink for $12. That wouldn’t mean anything if the food wasn’t so good it makes you want to slap someone. The meatloaf was tender on the inside, with a nice crust. The mac and cheese I chose for one of my sides was the best I’ve ever had. Candied yams tasted just like my Gram’s.
Before we had dinner though, we had to try some apps. The fried green tomatoes are served with a house-made tobacco aioli that is to die for. Deviled eggs were classic. The crab and corn chowder was rich and smoky thanks to chunks of bacon, which augmented but didn’t overpower the still crunchy corn and sweet, abundant seafood.
My friends let me taste their dishes, a juicy stuffed pork chop served with cheese grits. The fried chicken was absolutely grease-free and so crispy you could hear the skin snap. Collard greens featured chucks of smoked ham and turkey and the Brussels sprouts were roasted to a divine nuttiness.
We all took most of our meals home so that we could taste the desserts. We were lucky, as there was still pecan pie and sweet potato pie left, so we shared a slice of each. Too often pecan pie is more filling than pecans. Not the case here, there was just enough of the gooey filling to hold the preponderance of pecans together. The sweet potato pie was creamy and smooth with a nice bit of nutmeg.
They don’t have their liquor license yet, but you can bring your own. Service is friendly and what Tina didn’t know about the various dishes, she found out for us. She managed to be there when we needed her and left us alone when we didn’t and you can’t ask for more than that! Kelvin 3200 should be a big success, the service is friendly, the food is terrific and that should keep folks coming back for more even if the “Culinary District” isn’t quite there yet.
That’s not to say there are no other options in the area. Switchbox Coffee Roasters
(3446 NE 12th Ave., 888-849-7269 switchboxcoffee.com) just opened a block or so north of Kelvin 3200. Brian and Miriam Protsman, the husband and wife team who opened the café, have worked with a variety of roasters and coffee shops throughout the country and they’ve come back to their native Florida with the idea of sourcing directly from farmers and using a small batch roasting process. If you’re looking to learn more about coffee, they are willing to teach you.
There are also a couple of bars that serve food as well. The biggest is Funky Buddha (1201 NE 38th St., 954-440-0046, funkybuddhabrewery.com). The Boca-based company opened a second location in a converted warehouse at the northern edge of downtown Oakland Park. In less than two years, they’ve doubled their size. It’s not just a place to buy a beer; they brew, package and distribute a number of brews.
Funky Buddha Brewery's in-house, craft beer kitchen (open from 11:30am to midnight) serves delicious bar bites. Try the giant pretzel, beer cheese soup, spiced olives, yucca tots, spicy onion rings or a cheese board as an app. They’ve also got entrée salads, bratwurst, burgers and sandwiches. The bar has also won SFGN’s Best Of award for “Gay Friendly Straight Bar” two years in a row. The 2016 contest is now open and taking nominations. Visit SFGN.com/BestOf2016 to nominate your favorites.
Big Dog Station (3148 NE 12th Ave., 954-561-4304, bigdogstation.com) is not only at the complete opposite end of the street from Funky Buddha, it’s at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to menu and attitude. This is a neighborhood sports bar, where the food comes in plastic baskets lined with waxed paper. That’s not to say it’s not as good as Funky Buddha, just a different attitude. It’s less fancy; no cheese plates here, just a big ol’ mess of chicken wings and other foods that are a heart attack on a plate. The kind of food you love. Who could say no to the Big Dog BLT with nine slices of bacon and a side of fries? This is the kind of place that makes us love dive bars. Good food, cold beer and games on the television.