To paraphrase Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz,” “Places seem to come and go so quickly here.” Two new dining spots recently opened that have replaced short-lived eateries. Both venues have proven track records with previous thriving locations. That’s good news as each place appears to be off to a good start.

Smile Empanadas

2041 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors

786-567-0004

smileempanadas.com

We stopped in at Smile Empanadas just a day or two after it opened its doors, and we were reminded why we love living in the “Gayberry” we call Wilton Manors. First of all, everyone is so friendly, the server at the counter couldn’t have been more perky or helpful. Secondly, while we were sitting enjoying our lunch, in walks the First Lady of Wilton Manors, Arnie Cuarenta. He was going to have lunch to go but ended up sitting across from us as we caught up with each other. We were barely into our lunch and conversation, when in walked Carl Shearer, one of the organizers of Taste of the Island. He joined in our conversation while his order was being prepared. In the middle of all the neighborliness, Axel, one of the owners of the establishment stopped in and we all introduced ourselves.

As wonderful as the company was, this column is about the food. I was skeptical that an empanada place was opening where an empanada place couldn’t make a go of it. I can see why the folks from Smile decided to move forward. Their empanadas are so much better than the ones from the previous business. They are light and flaky and stuffed with plenty of filling. They have combo deals that include three empanadas and a soft drink for $9.99, and a hearty lunch package for two for $16.99. There are also family sized and party packs. For more information on combos, go to smileempanadas.com/combos.

Smile is the dream of Axel, an Argentine entrepreneur, who wanted to meld the traditional flavors of the Argentine empanadas with American taste. In addition to traditional Argentine fillings such as spicy creamed corn, savory mushrooms, and guava and cheese, you can get fillings inspired by American fare, such as cheeseburgers, BBQ pulled pork or chicken, creamy cheesy spinach, a Margherita pizza, or a vegetarian Impossible filling. BTW, Alex is very easy on the eyes and if he wants to increase business, he should be behind the counter every day. (I said the column was about the food, but I didn’t say it was just about the food.) Give Smile Empanadas a chance, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Batch chicken and waffles.jpg

Chicken and waffles at Batch New Southern Kitchen & Tap. Courtesy Facebook.

 

Batch

525 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale

754-757-0000

batchsouthernkitchen.com/ftl

Batch New Southern Kitchen & Tap is a casual spot highlighting southern cuisine and craft cocktails. It’s taken over the space formerly occupied by Mellow Mushroom. This is another place coming to us with some experience. Batch’s Palm Beach location has been around almost 10 years, and they’ve put together a menu that is focused on fresh local products, sustainable crops, and fair-trade ingredients. They are also experienced at catering to special diets, so don’t be afraid to ask your servers for vegan and gluten-free options. The drinks focus on craft American-made spirits, new-world wines, and Florida micro-brewed beers. One hundred percent of their bitters, tinctures, and syrups are made in house.

We discovered that Batch has some serious happy hour specials. From 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, on the patio and indoor bar area, all drinks that would normally be priced up to $13, are only five bucks! And there are a bunch of food specials for $6 (although sometimes the portion sizes are smaller), wings are a buck each and Florida oysters (raw or roasted) are $2.

Since we were there just in time to catch the tail end of happy hour, we started with a bunch of the app specials. We thoroughly enjoyed the house-made bacon tater-tots, which offered Flintstoned-sized bites of crunchy, greasy, deliciousness. Nashville hot chicken presented a trio of sliders topped with a sizeable piece of fried chicken but could have used more sauce. The deviled eggs were creamy with just a touch of brininess and went down easily. We didn’t try the wings, but they are available with Nashville hot and sweet, root beer BBQ, ranch, or Carolina mustard sauces.

My vegetarian husband was thrilled with the number of plant-based choices. He raved about the red bean and lentil chili which tasted pretty “meaty” even without the addition of Impossible meat. It came topped with Fritos which took us right back to childhood. It’s a large portion, and it should be its $14.50, and another $6 for the Impossible meat. Other veggie options include BBQ jackfruit "pulled pork", an Impossible burger, and veggie pot pie. Carnivores will not feel neglected, there are plenty of hearty options for the meat eater, and some salads for those dining lighter.

Chicken pot pie features pulled chicken in a light gravy with plenty of garden veggies, all topped by a giant biscuit that could feed a small family. The filling was a bit heavy handed on the salt, but it was otherwise delicious. Roz was gob-smacked by her Cajun Campanelle, a serving bowl of pasta with blackened chicken, pasta, roasted mushrooms, peas, and scallions in a creamy smoked gouda sauce. Loren wasn’t as thrilled with his jambalaya. It was chock full of smoked sausage, shrimp, roasted chicken, bell pepper, green chiles, and tomatoes, tossed with rice, but to be fair, he’d never had jambalaya before, so he didn’t know what to expect. It looked yummy to me.

Between the large portions and all the apps, we weren’t even tempted by desserts. And when I pass on chocolate pecan pie, you know I’m full. Service was friendly but could have been more attentive. And, of course, one of my pet peeves, the dishes were brought to the table by someone other than our server and “auctioned off” (as in holding up a dish and asking “Who had the…?”).


Rick Karlin is SFGN's food editor. Visit SFGN.com/Food to read his previous reviews. Have a culinary tip to share? Email Rick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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