Photos by Mark Thompson
Tropical Acres opened in 1949 and remains in the hands of the same family today. Gene Harvey opened the Griffin Road institution; today it’s run by his cousin’s son, Jack Studiale. (Studiale’s father, Sam, began running the restaurant after rebuilding it following a 1964 fire and took it over completely in the early 1970s.)
Plenty has changed since 1949, but plenty remains the same. “It’s a traditional American steakhouse,” Studiale says. “Our mainstay is beef.”
That’s not to say you can’t also get an excellent salmon or some lobster – or a happy hour drink in the lounge from a bartender who knows how to mix a proper cocktail. And then there’s the dessert selection, wheeled to your table on a cart.
The restaurant is not a museum. They consider changes often, Studiale says – but never change just for the sake of it. When a place has been successful for nearly 70 years, any change to the formula has to be for a reason. Sometimes adhering to the old ways means doing things that are a bit more labor-intensive, but that’s OK. For example, they cut their own steaks rather than buying pre-cut from the vendor. More work? Sure. But it’s worth it.
“It’s a bit labor intensive,” Studiale says. “But we feel like we get the product we want.”
That ethos is also present in the dish selected by head chef Jorge Pavia, Orange Glaze Pork Chops. Pavia liked how the recipe included how to make the stuffing and glaze – everything from scratch. Often in modern kitchens, he says, you lose the special flavors that the traditional ways offer.
“It’s a nice, traditional recipe,” Pavia says. “And we’re a traditional kitchen.”
The Dish: Orange Glaze Pork Chop
• 4 pork chops cut at least 1 inch thick
• 2 oranges – 1 sliced and 1 for juice
For the stuffing:
• 1/4 cup diced onion
• 1 cup broken bread bits
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1/4 teaspoon allspice
• 1/4 cup diced celery
• 1 egg
• 1/4 cup orange juice
• 1/4 teaspoon rosemary
• Dash salt
• Dash pepper
1. Melt butter in large frying pan. Add onion and celery and cook until onions become transparent.
2. In bowl mix eggs, orange juice, salt, pepper, rosemary, allspice. Add onions, celery and bread bits, mix well. The mixture should be sticky.
1st glaze: Mix 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup orange juice.
2nd glaze: Mix 1/4 cup honey and 1 tablespoon orange juice.
1. Brown pork chops in pan in which onions and celery cooked.
2. Make slot in pork chops and stuff.
3. Arrange chops in shallow baking pan and put slice of orange on top of each one, pour 1st glaze over chops, cover with lid or foil.
4. Bake for 1/2 hour at 350F. Remove lid.
5. Brush some of 2nd glaze over chops and return uncovered to oven.
6. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes more, brushing with remainder of 2nd glaze every 10 minutes or until glaze is gone.
When Darryl Shuford, head chef at Sea Watch on the Ocean, thumbed through Fort Lauderdale Recipes, he found plenty of recipes that look familiar.
“Believe it or not, there’s quite a few items that are already on our menu,” he says. “The more I flipped through it, the more I thought we could make a menu out of recipes in here.”
Several of the recipes in the book are fairly common to lots of restaurants – you won’t struggle to start a meal with French onion soup or finish one with Key Lime pie. But Shuford also recognized several dishes that are a bit rarer than they used to be – in particular, conch chowder and conch fritters.
“They’ve been doing these dishes since before the population of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County boomed,” Shuford says.
Sea Watch doesn’t go back quite that far, although it can put diners in mind of that era. The restaurant has been serving seafood since 1974. Housed in a stylish mid-century building by architect Dan Duckham that looks more like an expansive beach house now dwarfed by the condos around it, the restaurant sits just feet from sand. It’s a step back to a time of less-developed beaches, and it has a menu to match.
In addition to the cookbook dishes that Sea Watch already offers, one other caught his eye. Although he had his reservations about Broiled Catfish.
“I like catfish, but I don’t like it,” he says. “To me, being from the south, catfish is only good if it’s fried.”
For a good Lake Okeechobee product though, he’s willing to make an exception.
The Dish: Broiled Catfish
• 2 pounds catfish
• 1/4 pound butter
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 tablespoons flour
1. Skin catfish. (Put fish on back. Take knife and cut almost through to back. Cut around head, turn head back and pull head and skin off at same time.)
2. Cut fish in half. Wash and wipe dry.
3. Mix flour, salt, pepper. Roll fish in mixture.
4. Melt butter, add parsley.
5. Place catfish on broiler pan. Brush butter mixture on fish. Broil for 5 minutes on each side. Brush with rest of butter.
6. Serve at once with slice of lime or lemon.
Nothing else on Fort Lauderdale Beach is quite like Casablanca Café. The name alone conjures up noir and North Africa, and the gorgeous Mediterranean building keeps with that theme. The two-story restaurant offers outdoor dining at two levels and something resembling mysterious old Moorish charm to go with dinner or live music.
The Mediterranean Revival building was built in 1927 by influential architect Francis Abreu. Originally, it was a beach home for his grandparents. In more recent years, it’s found new life as a restaurant overlooking the beach that offers diners more than the typical tourist fare.
The diverse menu offers land- and sea-based choices with subtle flourishes. There’s a roasted duck with whipped yams, cucumber kimchee and a sweet soy ginger glaze, or a Moroccan- spiced, pan-seared salmon.
For head chef Marc Debrozzo, part of the book’s appeal is the way it keeps things straightforward. It’s an ethos he likes to maintain in his kitchen.
“It’s taking simplistic things – and that’s a lot of what creative food is. It’s taking a simple idea, and then putting your spin on it. That’s one of the things that really drives me in this industry.
“For me, that’s the more compelling part of it – just being creative, and then seeing how it’s received.”
The Dish: Lime Baked Fish
• 2 pounds fresh fish fillets
• 1 teaspoon grated lime rind
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
• 1/2 cup lime juice
• 1 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped onion
• 1/8 teaspoon pepper
1. Place fish in shallow pan.
2. Mix lime juice, rind, salt, pepper, Worcestershire and onion. Pour over fish. Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour.
3. Bake for 20–25 minutes at 350F or until fish flakes.
4. Pour pan juice over fish and stir.