To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the best of dines, it was the worst of dines, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ..."
Twenty-Twenty was its own kind of special hell. Not only did we have to deal with the onset of a pandemic, but we had leaders in the government who refused to take appropriate measures until it was too late. We are still dealing with the consequences of their inaction. So many restaurants were shut down, consequently I did so few restaurant reviews, that I didn’t even announce Golden Spoon Awards for 2020. Then, as 2021 rolled around, things started to look up and restaurants reopened to the public. A few new places even debuted and thanks to our wonderful tropical climate, we can continue outdoor dining throughout the winter.
Business improved so much that a couple of new places opened in Wilton Manors and are not only surviving, they’re thriving, which leads me to the Golden Spoon Awards for outstanding dining experiences in 2021.
Golden Spoon Award: Outstanding New Restaurant - Wilton Manors (tie)
Opening during a pandemic is challenging enough, but then to excel as these two places have, is an extraordinary feat.
Tulio’s Tacos & Tequila
2150 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors
I prefer not to review a restaurant until it’s been open a few weeks, but there was great anticipation for Tulio’s, so I stopped in after it had been open about two weeks. In my review I said, “If Tulio’s operates this smoothly after only being open for a couple of weeks, I think that they’re ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille.”
Not only ready for their close-up, but quickly becoming a star on Wilton Drive. The taco selection is vast and each and everyone is a winner — and there are plenty of options for vegetarians as well as carnivores. Let’s not forget the other half of Tulio’s name; the cocktails are delish, varied and well prepared. Top that off with friendly and efficient service and you can see why it has become a must-stop for everyone, natives and visitors alike.
Union Kitchen & Bar
2309 N. Dixie
Wilton Manors has plenty of casual dining spots. Now, with Union Kitchen & Bar it has a fine dining experience, albeit in a casual setting. As I said in my review, “Union … is a place where all aspects of the dining experience from service to food prep to atmosphere unify to create something remarkable ... The food on its own is terrific, but when combined with the excellent service and comfortable atmosphere it becomes more than dinner out, it becomes a dining event … there simply are no other restaurants in the vicinity that can match this level of service and quality of food.”
Golden Spoon Award: Outstanding Landmark Restaurant – (tie)
Sometimes when awarding restaurants, it’s easy to focus on new places and overlook those that have been reliable mainstays. Wilton Manors is lucky to have two such places.
2468 Wilton Dr.
I haven’t done a full-fledged review on Bona since Mark Byrd and Glen Weinzimer took over the neighborhood landmark (it’s been around since 1979) in December of 2016. They’ve continued to shape the place, keeping what everyone loves and adding their own touches (like the Aperitivo lounge). During the pandemic they started focusing more on take-out and delivery, but the dining room is hopping again. Kudos to the duo for their commitment to the community, check out their Monday night community events and support for Island City Stage.
Rosie’s Bar & Grill
2449 Wilton Dr.
A required stop for anyone visiting Wilton Manors, Rosie’s is an integral part of the town, it is, in fact, the quintessential Wilton Manors experience. The food is tasty, the drinks are strong, and the staff is pretty. They’ve been around since 2006 and they’ve got this thing down to a science. I think the restaurant’s website sums it up pretty well, “A tropical oasis in the middle of the Island City offering amazing food and refreshing drinks and sassy fun. Whether you come for lunch or dinner, for Sunday Funday Brunch or for just a few drinks ... whether you are LBGTQ+ or an ally ...whether you are local or visiting ... whether you come with a group or venture out solo ... you will have a memorable experience with the most talented crew in South Florida … Rosie's is the place to see … and be seen!”
Golden Spoon Award: Outstanding Upgrade
Phat Boy Sushi
4100 N Federal, Ft Lauderdale
Phat Boy Sushi was open for a few years a couple of blocks up the road, but moved to a new, more upscale location. A move like that can be dangerous, sometimes a place can overreach, but Phat Boy has been more than up to the challenge. In fact, it’s become one of my favorite spots. I love the expansive patio and the servers are always friendly and eager to please.
As I said in my review, “Phat Boy Sushi is a textbook example of how to do sushi the right way. The fish is fresh, minimally manipulated, and kept perfectly chilled. Sushi and sashimi average about $3-$5 a piece, simple rolls are in the $6 to $10 range, and rice-less rolls (for those avoiding carbs) are $9-$18. If you’re looking for something exotic, check out the Phat Boy rolls … If you’re not yet won over to the sushi side of life, you can enjoy a variety of rice dishes topped with everything from chicken curry or fried chicken cutlets, to eel, or the luxurious surf and turf which tops lobster fried rice with a grilled piece of ribeye. Bowls of ramen average $15-$16 and provide enough for a very hearty meal. Plain grilled foods are anything but. The salmon arrived perfectly cooked; glazed with teriyaki sauce over grilled asparagus for $12. Other options include miso-marinated sea bass or scallops wrapped in bacon.”
Photo via Facebook.
Golden Spoon Award Outstanding Reimagining
Even Keel Fish Shack
112 Commercial, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea
Phat Boy Sushi moved into the space formerly occupied by upscale seafood restaurant Even Keel, which in turn, went more casual in a new location in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Casual however, doesn’t mean lower quality. Even Keel’s menu reflects a modern take on coastal Floridian cuisine — with fish, shellfish, and a raw bar taking center stage, alongside reinterpretations of classic American comfort dishes. Crafted cocktails, boozy frozen drinks, and an expansive wine list encourage discovery through several interesting by-the-glass offerings, and an edited collection of bottled, tap, and local beers round out the selections. The real draw are the specials; Monday mussel madness with all you can’t eat spicy mussels for $19 and “Two Buck Tuesday” features chilled oysters, Miller, and “Cham-bongs” (sparkling wine in a champagne bong) for $2 each.
Golden Spoon Award Outstanding Latin Restaurant
3701 N Andrews Ave., Oakland Park
Quates means “friends” and if our experience is typical, everyone is treated as a friend. As I said in my review, “There’s nothing fancy or pretentious here, a few tables outside and about a half-dozen booths inside, all lending even more of a feeling of a fast-food joint. And service is quick, no sooner had our butts touched the seat than we were asked if we knew what we wanted, or if we needed menus. I have a feeling that almost everyone who goes in there has a favorite dish. For me, there are so many from which to choose, that I will always want to try something else.
“Chef Jose Oscar Villatoro has more than 20 years of experience, and brings his passion for food to create, not just a meal, but a Tex-Mex experience. And, as if on a mission to disprove that old saying, ‘You get what you pay for,’ you’ll be hard-pressed to find much on the menu priced more than $15. I paid less for my steak entrée than I have for an appetizer at some of the fancier Mexican restaurants in town and yet the quality of the food at Quates is outstanding.”
Golden Spoon Award Outstanding Asian Cuisine
Krakatoa Indonesian Cuisine
1910 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
I have to thank my friend, the late Herb Parker, for turning me on to this place. After one visit you’ll crave Indonesian food, and it will become your favorite Asian cuisine (albeit with a Dutch influence). Abdul Saleh, the genius in the kitchen, cooks his favorite dishes from growing up in Indonesia, while his husband John Anthony runs the front of the house. As I said in my review, “Krakatoa isn’t cheap, most of the entrees are in the $25-$30 range, but the food is of exceptional quality and the experience so charming that it is worth every penny.”
Photo via Facebook.
Flying Fork Awards
Of course, for every yin there is a yang. For every positive, a negative. For these I have created the Flying Fork Award. This year, it is more the disappointment that some places didn’t survive the pandemic; we said goodbye to Too-Jay’s on Federal, La Boulangerie, Sage, Nabu and Gyro Express on Oakland Park as well as the much-loved Lucky’s Supermarket (although we did get two new Aldi’s and a Sprouts). The only true Flying Fork goes to The Wharf, the wanna-be food truck hipster hang-out in Himmarshee Village. Never has there been a bigger waste of real estate.