Mike Connell, one of the owners of The Pub, stalked chef Howie Fournier. That’s not as creepy as it sounds. When Connell took over The Pub, he had a vision and part of that was to improve the bar menu. Previously, the menu had been serviceable, but even after a complete kitchen renovation, nothing seemed to click.
Connell had been a fan of Fournier’s work, at Rumors and then Courtyard Café. He was finally able to woo the former Massachusetts resident over and the reaction to the revitalized kitchen service has been striking.
Connell, for one, is pleased. “Our kitchen revenue has more than doubled since Howie’s come on board,” said Connell. He’s bringing a fresh perspective.
That’s clear from even a brief glimpse at the menu. Sure, you’ll see standard pub fare; burgers, nachos and wings, but you’ll also find a selection of salads, fish and chips and…wait, is that a lobster roll on a bar menu? Yes, it is, and I have no problem saying that it was the best lobster roll I’ve ever had, outdoing what I’ve sampled from Maine down the Eastern Seaboard.
The lightly toasted bun managed to be buttery without being greasy and huge chucks of very fresh lobster (including an entire claw) topped that buttery roll. My problem with many lobster rolls is that they’re more mayo than meat. If anything, The Pub’s version veers to the other side and could have used a tad more dressing on the salad.
No problem, I’d rather add the mayo to taste than have to find the lobster swimming in the dressing. On the day of our visit, the roll was market-priced at $18.99. That may seem a bit high for pub fare, but as I said, it was “…the best lobstah roll evah.” It came with a choice of sides and the tater tots were also cooked to perfection, light and crispy without the slightest bit of oily residue.
Our appetizer choices proved equally spectacular. The shrimp quesadilla arrived crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. The optional shrimp filling provided perfectly cooked crustaceans, which is harder to accomplish than it seems. Kudos to Howie and the kitchen staff for that feat.
As a transplanted northerner, I’d never sampled gator before, so I opted for the gator bites. Available spicy or mild, the bountiful basket of bite-sized bits surprisingly did not taste like chicken – a claim you often hear about any protein that is out of the ordinary. They were quite tasty and, again, managed to be crispy without being greasy.
My only complaint is that the spices were applied a bit unevenly. I’d get a mild piece or two and suddenly my mouth would be on fire. The remoulade-like dipping sauce helped quench the blaze. The only disappointment of the meal was the Pub Clucker. The chicken was a bit dry and tough and the toast upon which it was served is not substantial enough to hold all the fillings.
Chef Howie is known for his breakfast fare and The Pub is now open at 8 a.m. for those who like to start the day early. This is another of Connell’s plans, providing an outlet for an underserved market. None of the other bars serve breakfast, in fact other than the two diners in town, there isn’t another option for breakfast other than Dunkin’!
Breakfast dishes are bargain priced from $5 to $8.75 and include the expected; eggs with sides, breakfast sandwiches and French toast, as well as a build your own omelet option, which includes cheese, plus choice of up to three additional fillings. Weekends often bring in specials, such as lobster Benedict.
Chef Howie isn’t the only new chef in town. Dune at the Auberge has brought in Edgar Beas to head up the new dining establishment. Beas is no stranger to oceanfront dining, he’s just used to working the west coast. He grew up in San Diego and Tijuana and has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
For Beas the chance to start from the very beginning was a draw. “There’s a different opportunity I had here to interpret my food and my cuisine. It’s building a concept. Auberge is seen as a next-generation beach house. It’s fun – you try to create some unique concepts to the food.”
He enjoys Fort Lauderdale’s diverse population and he’s finding a major difference from his SoCal roots. “California cuisine benefits from a strong Mexican influence, it doesn’t have as many different influences as South Florida does. For a chef, it’s a dream to be able to experience all these cuisines.”
You don’t need to move to a new location to revise your menu, according to Valentino Cucina Italiana owner and chef Giovanni Rocchio. He opened his first South Florida restaurant in 1974 and moved to his current location, a South Federal spot in 2012, which has since then, been consistently identified as one of Fort Lauderdale’s best restaurants. He has just given his menu its first major revision, because of the desire of his customers for quintessential Italian classics.
"There is modern technique, but the components are traditional, because I believe that these components have worked for a long time for a reason. We just play with different presentations and techniques."