As SFGN celebrates another anniversary, it reminds me that the newspaper business is probably only slightly less volatile than the restaurant business. Both have numerous factors working against them, but those outstanding businesses not only manage to survive they thrive.
In preparing for our anniversary issue, I looked through my files and thought that those places offering exemplary dining experiences deserved an award. Here they are folks, my “Golden Spoon” Awards for 2018.
A bit of explanation, these awards honor only those places I happened to write about in 2018. Think of it as the Oscars for South Florida restaurants; honoring wonderful dining experiences of the past year!
Rather than tout any candidate as “Best” I prefer to use the term “Outstanding,” as each of these dining experiences was memorable in its own way. After each award, I quote a sentence or two from my original review.
2018 Golden Spoon Awards
Outstanding New Spot(Wilton Manors)
The Grille on the Drive
2000 Wilton Dr.
Few places have been as anticipated with such fervor and for a large segment of our community, the stakes have seldom been higher. The Grille managed to make the old Tropics space hip and attractive, bringing in a younger crowd, yet remaining welcoming for those who have gathered there for decades.
Outstanding New Spot(Fort Lauderdale)
401 N. Ft. Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Try the blood orange and classic margaritas, carnitas or chicken tacos,
burgers, nachos or smoked red snapper tostadas. Oh, did we mention, every seat overlooks the beach and, it’s in the W Hotel? Given the prime location, the prices are crazy low!
Outstanding New Spot(Palm Beach)
320 Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach
Basque in the historic Hotel Biba, has got to be one of the best dining experiences, not just in the area, but in all of South Florida. What’s even more amazing is that the majority of the food is prepared and served out of a food truck. This is not just any food truck, it is a 22-foot custom designed mobile kitchen.
Outstanding Happy Hour Special
Himmarshee Public House
201 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale
It’s not just that the food is good, and the portions are enormous, or the fact that the servers are terrific, it’s that all appetizers and drinks are 50 percent off. Let’s just say that two appetizers were enough for a table of four hungry men. Make certain to order the crazy nachos.
Outstanding Early Bird Special
664 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
The “Sunset Special” served from 3-6:30 p.m. includes a choice of soup (egg drop, hot and sour or won ton) brown, white or fried rice, and a spring roll or egg roll. The entrees include your choice of chicken, beef, shrimp, pork or tofu (depending upon entrée selection) in a variety of sauces and preparations and are priced between $13-$16.
Outstanding Happy Hour Special
817 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
During Taco Tuesday at El Camino, all tacos are $2 a la carte. I ordered five tacos and the meal was almost more than I could finish. Crispy fried fish got a nice kick from tomatillo salsa and chipotle mayo and a pleasing crunch from shaved cabbage. The Gulf shrimp were a tad small, but perfectly cooked and topped with salsa, charred tomatoes and guacamole. The spicy chicken lives up to its name with an achiote rub, arbol chiles and scallions, which are tempered by a healthy portion of cotija cheese. Barbacoa highlights meaty chunks of brisket with cilantro and queso fresco, while the carne asada pairs slices of steak with ranchero sauce and sweet corn. With the exception of the fish, all were served on corn tortillas. A large basket of chips and two kinds of salsa were more than worth the $3 charge and easily served four of us. Stop in during cocktail hour when drinks are discounted as well.
Outstanding Sandwich Joint
4520 North Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Lunchroom is the latest (for now) offering from the be nice restaurant group (Top Hat, Coconuts, G&B Oyster Bar, Foxy Brown, Red Cow) and ranks as its top spot in my book. It serves up unique breakfast and lunch fare in a fast/casual setting. How unique you ask? How about a ramen stuffed burrito or a tuna poke hoagie?
Sandwich options range from decadent (the porchetta showcases herb-roasted pork, braised kale and sautéed onion all topped with provolone, pecorino, Romano and Parmesan on toasted ciabatta) to health-conscious (a toasted hoagie roll plays host to a generous helping of sushi-grade ahi tuna poke, mango, avocado, cucumber, cashews and scallions bathed in a soy-ginger-lime vinaigrette) to exotic (tempura battered cauliflower tossed in spicy buffalo-blue cheese sauce atop banana pepper slaw on a toasted bun).
Outstanding Breakfast Joint
Country Ham & Eggs
2671 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
There are more varieties of eggs Benedict than you knew existed, featuring the traditional as well as versions swapping out the Canadian bacon with; spinach, sautéed veggies, turkey breast, pork roll, Italian sausage lox, steak, or fried shrimp.
Backflip @ Plunge Hotel
4660 El Mar Dr., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
This is the ultimate laid-back beach bar, serving local brews and rum-fueled cocktails in a thatch-covered hut that would make Hemingway smile. The menu highlights street-style eats such as tacos, sandwiches and some fresh salads, served right on the beach. Nothing fancy, just good food, served by friendly people. Eat with your toes in the sand.
Outstanding Fusion Cuisine
Kubo Asian Fusion Street Food and Sushi
753 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
Kubo’s menu is exactly what it advertises, a fusion of Asian street food (with an emphasis on Filipino fare) and, in keeping with Florida’s tradition, sushi. In this case excellently prepared, exceedingly fresh, sushi… More unusual fusion offerings range from curries to such Filipino favorites as pancit (clear noodle stir fry), adobo (spicy bbq) and sisig, (fried rice with crispy pork, pig ears, onions and garlic mayo served on a sizzling plate).
Outstanding Comfort Fare
Betty’s Soul Food
601 NW 22nd Rd., Fort Lauderdale
Betty’s is a staple of the community…Entrée options include beef stew, ham hocks, fried turkey wings, barbecue ribs or chicken, smothered or fried wings, meatloaf, oxtails, pigs’ feet or tails, smothered or fried chops, stewed chicken, liver & onions, fried chicken or sirloin steak.
Fish and seafood selections include; shrimp, catfish, scallops, tilapia, grouper, snapper, trout or swai, all either baked, grilled or fried. Side dishes of yellow or white rice with or without pigeon peas are available, but the servings are so large you won’t need it. Besides, you’ll want to save room for desserts such as; cakes (red velvet, pineapple-coconut, old fashioned chocolate, caramel pound), pies and cobblers (sweet potato, peach, lemon cream) and, on weekends, banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
Outstanding Fast Casual
1823 E. Commercial, Fort Lauderdale
The fastest growing trend in fast casual dining is the bowl-based meal, featuring a choice of grains or green for a base, various veggies and a protein. The latest entry into the super bowl competition is the best yet.
Food Court at Aventura
If your idea of the food court at the mall is Panda Express and Sbarro’s, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new Treats Food Hall at Aventura. Gleaming at the top of a bank of escalators, it is a place to see and be seen. The restaurants flank the sides of the sun-filled dining hall. Wood furnishings and marble countertops, adorned with Moroccan tiles, offer a mix of communal tables, individual banquettes, and high-top tables. It’s all very high-end, more like a buzzy restaurant than a food court.
Then there are those places, that you never knew existed until they are suddenly revealed to you. They may be tucked away in unusual locations, as two of these spots are, or they may be someplace you pass every day without a hint as to the wonders inside. Discovering and sharing these hidden gems are the real joy of doing this job.
Outstanding Hidden Gem(Hollywood)
2035 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Go Bistro is a tiny storefront that brings together all kinds of folks. Hipsters, families and hipster families. Foreigners, tourists and foreign tourists. Gays and seniors and gay seniors. It seems everyone loves Go Bistro’s inventive takes on classic Japanese comfort foods, and not just ramen, but sushi, and fusion dishes that will blow your mind.
Outstanding Hidden Gem(Oakland Park)
331 NE 44th St., Oakland Park
Outstanding Hidden Gem(Miami)
Lolo’s Surf Cantina
161 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach
On the Flip Side
Of course, it’s not all delicious food and attentive service. Occasionally, I stumble into a situation where, if I wasn’t writing a review, I’d get up and walk out. Two places managed to be that unpleasant. They are the recipients of my “Flying Fork Award.”. The other two places get the award for just annoying me.
Flying Fork Awards
Wipe Out on Wilton
Maria’s Cantina Sea & Olive
2400 Wilton Dr. 2390 Wilton Dr.
Although I reviewed these places in 2017, I’m including them in this year’s Flying Fork Award because both failed so spectacularly in 2018.
Here’s what I wrote; “It’s not unusual to have new restaurants opening on Wilton Drive, but when two places opened across the street from each other at the same time, that was something to note. I was excited to see a Mexican restaurant going in the storefront that used to house a bakery. I also discovered that the prime location that was home to Thirteen, would focus on Mediterranean seafood… Neither seems to be operated by people who know anything about how to run a restaurant…based upon my initial visits, I’m not certain either place will be around that long.”
It seems I was right.