The restaurant business is mercurial at best and the pandemic didn’t make things any easier. However, for every place that the pandemic shuts down, another seems to pop up in its place, like a game of restaurant Whack-A-Mole.
You don’t expect to see a landmark like Franco and Vinny’s going out of business. The community institution on Sunrise Boulevard has been around for 50-plus years, and the décor looks unchanged. However, this is not a closure due entirely to COVID.
Owner Vincenzo Esposito’s decision to retire, at age 79, is the driving force, “My health is good, but I don’t have no life. I want to enjoy, a little bit, my life,” he says. “My brother had a heart attack at 76 [Franco Esposito, co-founder of the restaurant, died in 2014], I want to enjoy life with my wife, my daughter, you know?” Esposito reiterates that the decision to close is unrelated to the pandemic. “We’re still busy like crazy,” he said.
The landmark opened in 1971 in a storefront just east of the Intracoastal waterway and has always featured a classic Italian-American menu of pizza, pasta, seafood, meat and poultry dishes, and desserts. Many dishes were prepared from Esposito’s mother’s recipes. In the pre-pandemic days, Esposito would have easily been able to sell the business. Now, with investors less likely to take chances, all he can do is retire.
Fort Lauderdale Buckeyes mourned when their iconic Skyline Chili on Federal and 26th St. closed a few months ago. After 50 years, the building will be demolished to make way for a Valvoline Instant Oil Change shop. But fans needn’t be depressed, there is another Skyline Chili in Sunrise, at 2834 N. University Dr. Sure, the strip mall storefront doesn’t have the same retro feel as the beloved Fort Lauderdale location, but the menu is the same, as is the interior.
Brown Dog Eatery, the comfort food restaurant from the Be Nice chain (Coconuts, Foxy Brown’s, Top Hat), on Oakland Park Blvd, west of Federal, never quite caught on. Let’s hope the new tenant in the space Kraft Bistro Deli has better luck. Mangos restaurant closed long before the pandemic, with promises to reopen after a remodeling.
It sat empty for a while, and now after extensive remodeling, has reopened as the Fort Lauderdale outpost of the Cubra Libre chain with outposts in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Orlando, and Atlantic City. We’ll see how it fares where there are dozens of real Cuban restaurants to compare it to. The restaurant will be open for lunch, dinner, and brunch.
Another place that sat vacant for a long time is the former barbeque spot at 500 E. Oakland Park Blvd. We kind of guessed what was going on there when it was repainted a stark white and sky-blue, the colors of the Greek flag. Gyro Express opened quietly and if you’re expecting a place run by a bunch of swarthy, muscled, Greek men, sweating behind the grill (calm down, Rick), you’ll be surprised to hear a thick Russian accent from the woman staffing the counter and the folks speaking Spanish working in the kitchen. It is a global enterprise. The menu is limited, the namesake sandwich, the Gyro Express is a typical gyro, topped with fries; better to go for the classic version. I tried a trio of souvlaki, pork, chicken, and ground lamb ($2.50 each). Each was juicy and well-prepared. The thick tzatziki, almost a cheese spread, clung well to the souvlaki. I’ll be back.
Spread your Lips, hunty! Yes, the show lounge and restaurant is open again, after having weathered the pandemic. Nothing can keep a good drag queen (or chorus line of them) down! By the time you read this, they’ll be dishing up sass and surprisingly good food and putting on shows, although, for the time being, things will look a little different.
Lips was founded 30 years ago in New York City. Owner and founder Mark Zschiesche brought the concept to South Florida in November 2007. He said, “Lips closed down because the large groups weren’t coming.”
Zschiesche says demand is back thanks in large part to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, “It’s been a hard year, and people want to loosen up. It seems that people are eager to go out.”
There will still be minor differences from the pre-pandemic experience. Celebrations will have to be muted to maintain social distancing. Rather than parade a bachelorette party or birthday celebrant on stage, the festivities will be centered at each party's dining table. While serving, the queens will wear masks, of course, but those precautions will also extend to the stage, with performers wearing masks or face shields during performances. (Didn’t Valentina get booted off “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for just that?) Whether wearing masks or face shields, expect the queens to make it absolutely fabulous.