In resort towns such as Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale we’re used to seeing new faces every day – on visitors!
However, when new dining spots open within a few weeks of each other in the same mall, or on the same block, it causes us to sit up and take notice. Two new places opened in the Union Planters Mall on Federal at 24th (between Whole Foods and Dick’s Sporting Goods) and the others, while not open yet, will be on the 2100 block of Wilton Drive.
2400 N. Federal, Ft. Lauderdale
This Miami-based mini-chain (there are locations in South Beach, Coral Gables and at MIA) just opened its first Fort Lauderdale location. Don’t confuse this place with Popeye’s or KFC. Although Spring Chicken specializes in Southern-style fried chicken, it does so in a more upscale setting. It’s still fast food, but the décor is more reminiscent of a farmhouse kitchen than a fast-food dining room and dine-in meals are served on real plates and bowls. The main focus is Lewellyn’s chicken, raised without steroids, hormones, or antibiotics, on an all-vegetarian, pesticide free, corn and soybean diet. The fare is a bit more upscale as well, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and it has been packed almost since the day it opened.
Salads are made to order with seasonal ingredients, pickles are house-made and the biscuits are fresh out of the oven. “Blue plate” dinners average about ten bucks; each offers a choice of two drumsticks, two wings, dark (thigh and drumstick) or white meat (breast and a wing) or three tenders, served with fries and coleslaw (it doesn’t say so on the menu, but you can change your sides for a slight up-charge). A sandwich with the addition of a side will also cost you a sawbuck. Among the sandwich options are a choice of boneless thigh or breast served on a bun or a biscuit. My favorite is Mama’s Chicken Biscuit; a crispy chicken thigh topped with pepper jelly and house pickles, served on a flaky biscuit. I get a side of the mac and cheese, which some might find on the dry side, but which is perfect to me. Other side options, in addition to fries and slaw, are baked beans, side salad or the refreshing watermelon salad.
For those seeking something healthier, there are a variety of salads, or you may opt to have your chicken grilled instead of breaded and fried, but that’s like going to a whore house and spending the time chatting on the porch. Poor vegetarians aren’t given their due, they can choose from salads, the sides or a veggie sandwich (avocado, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts on whole wheat bread). Would it kill them to keep a few frozen “Chix” patties on hand?
2414 N Federal, Ft. Lauderdale
We’ve all had those days when time has gotten away from us. We’re driving home and are so ravenous we could take a bite out of the steering wheel. So, we pull in to some fast food joint, order a whole lot of unhealthy food and then feel guilty all night. Tampa-based FitLife Foods knows what that’s like and has pre-packaged meals to take care of days like that. In 2011, Chef Andrew Ruga and David Osterweil began with a single store in South Tampa, but it started with a bigger idea – give people option of all-natural, healthy meals that are as convenient as fast food. Pick up one meal, or a full day’s worth, if you’re looking to eat healthier, whether it’s for weight loss or general well-being.
With more than 70 items ranging from breakfast sandwiches to a quick lunch, from snack bars to full meals there’s always something for a last-minute meal without the fast-food guilt. For example, the Farmhouse Scramble is a satisfying breakfast and only 240 calories, yet provides 16 grams of protein. The Korean beef bowl provides a filling portion (most lunch and dinner entrees are available in two sizes) for 320 calories with 28 grams of protein. Even if you add in the peanut butter oat crunch as a night-time snack, you’ll still keep the calories and fat grams low. Following FitLife’s plans, it’s easy to keep your day’s caloric intake down to less than 1,500, without sacrificing nutrition.
If you decide to follow the meal plan and pick up three meals for each day, stopping in every few days for the fresh (never frozen) meals, you’ll probably spend about $25-$35 per day. That’s not much more than you’d spend grabbing a breakfast sandwich or bagel, lunch at a fast food place and making your own dinner. Sign up for the discount plan and you’ll even get some free meals in there. I’ve tried a few of the entrees and they’re pretty good. The snack bar is like crack and really wards off those mid-afternoon cravings. Augment the dinner entrees with a side salad, and you’re good to go.
The new places on Wilton Drive haven’t opened yet (at least as of this writing), but are in the works, and will add a little variety to the preponderance of Thai and sushi places that dominate the dining landscape in town right now.
Ethos Greek Bistro
2055 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Coconut Creek’s Ethos wins as many raves for its new interpretations of Greek cuisine as it does for its legendary portion sizes. We’ll see if the management brings that kind of success to the beautiful dining room that has been sitting empty at the southern end of Wilton Drive for too long. Ethos will be open for lunch. If the menu is similar to the Coconut Creek location, that means complete lunch platters for $12 (a choice of gyro, grilled chicken, kefte, pork tenderloin or veggies) or $15 (for shrimp, steak or salmon), served with a Greek salad, spinach rice, rosemary red potatoes, pita and yogurt sauce. While traditional apps, entrée, sandwiches and salads will be available, there will also be a selection of mezze, small plates made for sharing. Ethos will have a full bar and a selection of Greek and international wines.
Bubbles & Pearls
2037 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
Wilton Manors gets its first celebrity chef when openly lesbian Top Chef contestant Josie Smith Malave opens Bubbles & Pearls, her champagne and raw bar later this summer in the space formerly occupied by 13 Even, a few doors south of Ethos. The globally inspired neighborhood spot will focus on serving up small plates.
At the southern end of that same block of Wilton Drive, there are even more new kids on the block. After a distinct downhill turn when taken over by new management a couple of years ago, Wilton Manors landmark bar and restaurant Tropics has been sold. One of the first things the new owners did was poll customers and they found out 90 percent hated the changes the former owners made to the menu (Hey, one look at the empty dining room could have told them that) while they jacked up the prices. Tropic’s “new” new owners; Jackson, Gary and Mark have brought in restaurant consultants to give the place a fresh start. You’ll be able to top off that meal with an ice cream cone at Andee’s, which has taken over the former Hershey’s (aka Double Dippers). Co-owners Andy Martin and Tony Dee have added hot dogs to the menu and plan to expand the offerings even more after they get a summer under their belt.