Restaurant Rundown

Downtown Photo Fort Lauderdale

Table styled by Christofle’s Art of The Table, National Brand Ambassador Justin Trabert

At a time when restaurants open and shut as fast as you can say “foodie,” three South Florida chefs and restaurant groups are at the top of their game – expanding and cooking up new concepts.

Empire State of Mind

If you were asked to rattle off some of Fort Lauderdale’s most popular restaurants, old and new, I bet you would name at least one that Executive Chef Peter Boulukos co-owns and operates. From downtown to the beach, Boulukos and partner Tim Petrillo have steadily built a solid empire of restaurants and nightclubs that includes Tarpon Bend, YOLO and O Lounge, Vibe, Fork & Balls and S3.

On October 17, Boulukos and his team were scheduled to reopen the reimagined Bimini Boatyard Bar & Grill on 17th Street, changing everything from the decor to the food, adding a more “yachty-chic, upscale vibe.”

“We are undergoing a complete redesign, inside and out,” Boulukos says. “We’ll be adding a modern, sophisticated lounge setting in addition to bars throughout and completely revamped seating areas with an open layout that will transition seamlessly from room to room, indoors to out. We plan to focus heavily on the outdoor space, creating an intimate, casual garden patio setting with lounge areas, lush landscaping, an outdoor bar and fire pits.”

The Greek chef, who loves hooking and cooking fish, goes on to say that the menu will be seafood-centric, but with fewer fried dishes. “I try to keep it simple and let the integrity of each product speak for itself,” he says. “We are going to have a big emphasis on shellfish. We are trying to develop a shellfish bar cart area that will also do fresh ceviche tableside.”

The day we interviewed Boulukos, he was getting ready to take a quick family trip to Florida’s west coast, a rare opportunity when you’re juggling so many restaurants. “The dedication that you have to have to be successful is tremendous,” he says. “My partner and I don’t know any better. If we only work eight hours, then that’s like a half-day.” Boulukos typically works at least a 12-hour shift every day as executive chef at YOLO on Las Olas.

If you think it’s hard “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” try keeping up with five totally different restaurant concepts. “Like children, they are all equally as important. Some are more trouble than others,” Boulukos jokes. He and Petrillo visit all of their locations monthly to experience everything as guests; their restaurant managers do it weekly.

Even as they worked to reinvent Bimini Boatyard and keep their current hot spots thriving, the team is always looking for fresh areas to open new concepts. Boulukos sees Fort Lauderdale Beach as “the” place of opportunity (it was the first place he lived when he moved here in 1983 at just 22 years old).

“The Conrad is coming up, the Four Seasons will be coming, the redevelopment of the Bahia Mar… In the next five to seven years, Fort Lauderdale Beach is going to rival some of the other competitive beach areas in South Florida. It’s going to bring a whole different game to this area.” ?

5 Questions with Chef Boulukos

Where do you go to get away?

“My house on Pine Island (near Captiva). When I go there and I get on the boat, all my stress just comes right out of me. You can be in areas where you see absolutely no signs that man has ever been there. It’s pretty special.”

In what city would you want to eat during your last weekend on Earth?

“Madrid. I have never been and would love to experience it.”

What’s your favorite food indulgence?

“Chocolate. I know to stay away because I know if I start, I can’t just have one bite. I’ll just annihilate it.”

Where do you eat on your days off?

“Greek Islands Taverna. Being Greek, I know the owners; they sit down and you can have kind of a sharing meal. We just order a lot of appetizers and it just feels like you are sitting with your family.”

If you weren’t a chef, what would you do?

“Great question. There is nothing I would rather do. Maybe something to help underprivileged kids.”

Tap Takeover

Sit down with Andrew Balick for a few minutes, and you’ll immediately understand why the young-gun executive chef is a front-runner in the restaurant scene. After a successful three years heading up Tapco Restaurant Group’s flagship eatery, Tap 42 Fort Lauderdale, the 33-year-old recently helped open another Tap 42 in Boca Raton and will introduce a third location in Coral Gables by the end of the year. Balick and the restaurant group will also debut a fresh new concept in Fort Lauderdale called Bar Rita this fall. With three openings underway this year, the Tapco team seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to flourishing in an ever-shaky restaurant world.

�We know that there’s a lot of risk in doing it,” Balick admits. “If you take your finger off the pulse for one second, you might lose control. Thankfully for us, I know we’re the type of operators that will never take our fingers off the pulse because we never rest.”

For Balick, it’s about knowing what works and what doesn’t; and for his team, expansion means consistency. “Tap 42 Boca isn’t different from our Fort Lauderdale location except for the building itself,” Balick points out. “The menu is 95 percent the same with maybe one or two things different.” The Boca location and the forthcoming Coral Gables location will also display the restaurant’s iconic stretched-out bar.

The young chef also points out that these days, remaining at the top of the food chain also means staying on top of social media. With foodie photos trending more than ever, Balick admits he’s always watching. “We’re really looking at what other people post. We know what every single plate is supposed to look like. Does the sauce look perfect? Do the grill marks look perfect on the wings?”

In between monitoring social media and two Tap 42 grand openings, Balick is hard at work on what is perhaps the most anticipated restaurant reveal of the year: Bar Rita. Coming in hot as downtown Fort Lauderdale’s first rooftop bar, Bar Rita will offer a modern Tap twist on Mexican cuisine. Balick says traditional dishes like tacos and quesadillas will be infused with flavors from other worldly cuisines and that there will also be a Mexican-themed brunch (much like Tap’s uber-popular brunch) to ensure a genuine Tapco experience.

A massive staircase will allow guests to float up and down the two-level restaurant. An elevator will also be available for stiletto-wearing señoritas or those who may indulge in few too many cervezas. “What I imagine is a really bustling happy hour with people sitting on the rooftop having guacamole and sharing a margarita,” Balick says. “It’s ultimately going to be a party.” ?

5 Questions with Chef Balick

If you weren’t a chef, what would
you be?

“I would love to own and operate a high-end gym that would have an on-site nutritionist and trainers that work one-on-one with individuals to help them achieve their fitness goals.”

Who cooks at home?

“There isn’t much cooking going on at home, although I make my own beef jerky regularly.”

In what city would you want to eat during your last weekend on Earth?

“Tokyo, Japan, because I would want my final meals to be some of the best sushi in the world, and it’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit.”

Where do you eat on your days off?

“Sushi is usually my first thought.”

What did you have for dinner last night?

“There is a bar in Hollywood, Rickey’s, my dad used to take me to as a kid. They serve a twin Maine lobster dinner a few nights out of the week as a special, and it’s still as good as it was when I was 10 years old.”

Cucina Collection

In a world where restaurants are shuttering as quickly as they open, Angelo Elia has found a way to not only survive, but thrive.

“You have to prove yourself every single day,” says Elia in his thick Italian accent as we sit inside his popular flagship restaurant Casa D’Angelo in Fort Lauderdale.

Proof of his heavy-hitting success is in the numbers. The chefpreneur now boasts a large collection of restaurants: three Casa D’Angelos (Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Atlantis Bahamas) and four small-plate concepts called Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar, Tapas (Fort Lauderdale, Weston, Delray Beach and Coral Springs). And this year, the Italian-born restaurateur will continue to grow his cucina collection, opening even more new concepts.

For the first time, Elia is expanding to Miami-Dade. He plans to open Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar, Tapas in Aventura and Doral, and the Doral location will house his first Italian bakery. “Guests can expect everything from the best Italian coffee and espresso to fresh croissants (the Italian way – the little ones), Sicilian cakes and homemade gelato,” he says. The chef will also open his last namesake Casa D’Angelo in Pinecrest.

Elia has other big plans for Fort Lauderdale. He’s looking to open an Italian bakery (similar to the one he’s opening in Doral) in addition to a totally new type of hot spot: “A bar-type restaurant with a young crowd and finger foods.” By the time he’s rattled off everything he’s doing in the next year, all we can manage to ask is, “How do you do it all?”

“It takes a lot of work, a lot of stress,” he says, matter-of-factly. “You have to be on top of everything, every day.”

The day of our interview, Elia is battling a head cold and quickly points out there’s no time to be sick. Most days, he leaves home at
7 a.m., often sprinting from Fort Lauderdale to Boca and Weston, and returning home around 1 a.m. His family strategically lives in Coral Ridge, so he can easily touch all of his restaurants.

“I have some great people working for me,” he says. “I like to surprise here, surprise there, and be on the phone all day. I want to make sure everything is running smoothly.”

Elia is constantly making changes and renovations to his restaurants. Even during our interview, the shrill of a drill in the kitchen vibrates around us. The chef says he always wants his guests “to see something new,” and for everything to always feel “clean.” He revamps the menus at each restaurant monthly and credits a July trip to Italy for offering fresh inspiration.

But it’s not just about appearances; some might say the secret to Elia’s success is the way he treats his customers. Elia is at the Casa D’Angelo restaurant in Fort Lauderdale every night, and his regular customers expect to see him when they come in. There are even guests who ask that only Elia cook for them. “I treat everyone the way I like to be treated,” he proudly says. ?

5 Questions with Chef Elia

What did you have for dinner last night?

“Popcorn and M&M’s. I went to see a movie. I’m a big movie buff; that’s my enjoyment and my way to escape everything.”

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?

“An architect. I think food and architecture mesh together very well – they are both creative. I’m fascinated with building houses; I built my own house seven years ago.”

Who cooks at home?

“My wife. But I get stressed out because I know I have to jump in and finish the product.”

In what city would you want to eat during your last weekend on Earth?

“Positano, Italy. I can see the sun, enjoy the best beach in the world and eat the best food in the world. Then I can close my eyes.”

Biggest indulgence?

“I’m a dessert freak. I love chocolate. Also, my mom used to make the best lasagna, so a beautiful piece of lasagna. It reminds me of where I came from.”

2ton
josh@2ton.com
No Comments

Post A Comment

#Follow us on Instagram