A few weeks ago my wife and I headed down to South Florida for some restaurant hopping and relaxation. Here is a review of the kosher restaurants we tried while we were down there.
Straight from the airport we grabbed lunch at Mozart Cafe in Hollywood. The first thing I noticed was the menu was absolutely massive for a cafe. Of course there was sushi on the menu, because it wouldn’t be a kosher joint without it. In my opinion, large menus are a sign of an unfocused restaurant and the details end up getting lost in the shuffle. The food was decent but a bit forgettable, the service was efficient but waiter seemed like he needed to switch to decaf. We sat inside and to be honest we would have been better outside despite a little bit of heat as the decor was a bit boring and the walls were dingy. Also, we received more than one item on chipped plates, which is a pet peeve of mine.
We started with breaded tempura cauliflower served with a sweet chili sauce to share. It was definitely breaded and not tempura. I am not sure why they used the term tempura in the description. The portion size was sufficient, which is the least I would expect for $9 appetizer and the sauce tasted like it was out of a bottle.
My wife ordered gnocchi with a garlic alfredo sauce ($17.45). The gnocchi tasted mass produced and were way over sauced. I ordered their Milano pizza ($11.50) which was what I think of as a Margarita (fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato) with the addition of shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce. Overall the pizza was fine, but I suspect the crust may have been mass produced. An 18% tip was automatically added. Overall it was sufficient for a quick lunch but not particularly impressive and a bit over-priced.
For dinner the first night, we headed to Harbour Bistro the sister restaurant to Harbour Grill, in Surfside. The best way I can describe this place is a super high end deli. Don’t think chicken soup and mile high sandwiches, rather think hand crafted sausages and artisan cured meats. The restaurant is a little on the small side and feels a bit cramped, and did have a small issue with a leaky refrigerator, but once I pointed it out the waitress it was quickly cleaned up. Generally the service was excellent and the food was excellent.
My wife started with the Short Rib Flat Bread ($26) with caramelized onions, and sautéed mushrooms which she thoroughly enjoyed. I tasted it and found it very good. The bread was a little thicker than I expected. My guess is that was done intentionally to handle the volume and moisture of the toppings.
I started with the homemade Sausage Platter, ($24) an assortment of 2 merguez and 2 lamb chorizo. The flavor and texture were excellent. You could tell it was homemade and not your average mass produced hot dog. Honestly it ate like a small meal itself.
I followed that up with the Charcuterie Platter ($34) which a spectacular display of cured meat products. I could not even begin to remember all the varieties presented, but know that it changes daily based on availability. The assortment ranged from super rich to downright funky, but I enjoyed it. I would recommend splitting this dish with at least one other person as it is a lot of food and can be a little overwhelming.
My wife order the Rib Eye ($52) described on the menu as a certified prime rib eye dry aged for 6 weeks and pan seared. It is served with sauteed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. She seemed to enjoy it and the bite I had was tasty.
For dessert we shared what they called an Opera ($15). It seamed to be some sort of hybrid of a napoleon and tiramisu. It was fairly enjoyable and well presented.
While the wine list was large enough for me, I found the number of wines available by the glass a little low, most were only available by the bottle.
Overall the food was excellent both in taste and presentation and the service was excellent. However, the ambiance was slightly lacking, detracted by the open deli counter and the noise of the slicer and vacuum sealer.
For brunch the second day we went to Grand Cafe in Hollywood. Of the three restaurants we caught lunch at, all Israeli style dairy cafes, this was the best. This time we sat outside and enjoyed the 80 degree weather, although the ambiance suffers slightly due to the fact it is a strip mall and occasionally you catch a whiff of cigarettes from the smoking section. Even though they were fairly busy for a late morning in the middle of the week, the service was very attentive, although we were cared for by multiple servers which was a bit confusing. We started with a warmed chocolate croissant ($4) and a potato boreka ($2) which were generally good. My wife had a the croissant special ($10.45), which is a croissant omelet sandwich with cheese and tomato. She thought is was excellent even though she does not usually like tomatoes. I had the Belgium waffles ($12) and a cafe mocha ($4.45), both were good but nothing to write home about. Overall a good meal.
For dinner the second night we headed back to Surfside to Backyard BBQ and Brew. Before I go ahead with my review, as a matter of full disclosure I want to admit a bias. I consider Mendel Segal, the Pit Master at Backyard BBQ a friend. I have competed both against him and in BBQ competitions that he has organized. That being said I will do my best to be objective.
First thing I want to say is while they Backyard BBQ is open late like many restaurants in South Florida, get there early because the good stuff sells out fast. We got there around 8 PM and all forms of beef ribs were done for the day. The menu was printed on a simple piece of paper in a plastic sheet protector, which I will chalk up to the fact that they recently reopened with a new menu. They have a couple of televisions which I find distracting, but according to Mendel the restaurant gets a sizable crowd for football games. The service was excellent, the waiter was very attentive. The best way I could describe the decor was elegantly rustic, which I enjoyed.
We started with the Brisket Truffle Poutine Fries ($18). The fries looked fresh and hand cut in house. The gravy was nice and rich, and the brisket shreds were moist, although I don’t know that I got much truffle from the dish, but overall a good dish. On the menu it says, “Ask about our combo platters,” so I asked Mendel to make me a platter of whatever he thought was good that night. I ended up with a combo including a 2/3 of an order of brisket ($20), a full order of burnt ends ($25), and a 1/2 order of lamb ribs ($21) along with sides of red skin mashed potatoes and green beans. The brisket and burnt ends were excellent as I have come to expect from Mendel as the winningest man in kosher BBQ. Although, as far as the lamb ribs were concerned I found the crust from the rub and the fat both to be a bit thick relative to the amount of meat on them, which I attribute more to the anatomy of the animal than the cook, and for what they cost I would not order them again.
They have a great craft beer list. I was looking for something on the lighter side, so I ordered a Shiner Ruby Redbird, a grapefruit flavored beer. While I found it refreshing I did not get much grapefruit flavor from it. Mendel also brought me over another beer on the house, a stout that someone had brought him that I found excellent. We ended the meal with the bourbon pecan pie which I highly recommend. Like I said at the beginning, I am biased, but if you are in the mood for some real deal kosher BBQ, this place is not to be missed.
Also check out Rachel’s husband Elliot’s Review: Backyard BBQ & Brew in Surfside, FL
On day 3 we had brunch at Yumberry in Hollywood which was somewhat unimpressive. Similar to when we we went to Mozart Cafe we started with cauliflower tempura ($9), described as battered deep-fried cauliflower served with chili sauce. The dish was very similar to Mozart’s. Yumberry’s cauliflower also seemed to be breaded and not battered and the sweet chili sauced seemed like the same bottled sauce as Mozart.
My wife had a tuna panini ($13) which see said was decent, although not particularly remarkable. I had a shakshuka ($12). The eggs in that shakshuka were cooked over easy and then added to the sauce (which I found a bit thin), despite my specific request to have the eggs cooked in the sauce. I also had the Yum Berry coffee, a mocha cappuccino with whipped cream. It seemed a bit small, and lacked some oomph. Overall the meal was unimpressive.
Later that day we grabbed a quick early early dinner at Foozo. The food did take a bit of time but was generally pretty good. The pizza topping options were creative and the sauce and crust overall pretty good, although it could have been just a tad thicker as it got a bit soggy. The fries were a bit of let down though, as they seemed to be a mass produced frozen product.
We stopped at Serendipity in Wynwood for some ice cream before leaving but they were closed to do a pop-up event offsite. So we walked up the street and grabbed some pastries from the popular Zak the Baker. One of these days I will get to his new restaurant, as we had been to their old location a few years ago, and their stuff is the real deal, laden with rich butter and flaky puff pastry.
All in all it was nice to visit some restaurants that we don’t have in Chicago and of course the weather was definitely better than back home.