The next classic reviewed with Chef Joshua Marcus of Josh’s Deli and Chef Daniel Serfer of Blue Collar is a fantastic, almost 20 year old Italian American restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale.
Name: Cafe Martorano
Location: 3343 E Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308
Guest Reviewer: Chef Brandon Whitestone
Ever since I’ve known Danny Serfer he’s been telling me Cafe Martorano is the best restaurant in all Florida, so when we decided to start the Classics reviews, this had to be one of the very first. Danny should know, being a local boy and having been to probably every classic restaurant in Miami Dade/Broward you could think of.
Despite there being a sister Martorano’s closer to Miami, at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood, Danny insisted we needed to go to the original one, located on Oakland Park Blvd in Ft. Lauderdale. Quite a drive for just dinner if you’re in Miami, but well worth it and hence its inclusion in our reviews list. It is indeed quite possibly one of the best classic restaurants around.
Upon arrival, Cafe Martorano gives the impression it’s part restaurant/part nightclub and rightly so: we didn’t get to stay late enough to witness it firsthand but I understand after 10pm there is some serious DJ action going on and things get funky.
It is no secret that restaurants that offer extended hours club like entertainment are the cash cows of the industry, the Taos, the STKs, the Buddha Bars of this world. But it is also not a secret that the food at these places is commercial and lacking personality, which is ok for these places and their crowds. Apart from Andres Carne de Res in Bogota, I have never had a meal I can remember at a place where there was music past midnight and above 100 decibels. Cafe Martorano may very well be another exception to this rule, since the food is indeed outstanding.
Steve Martorano is the owner and executive chef behind the South Philly inspired Italian cuisine, paying tribute to his origins. He started out selling sandwiches from his apartment in Philadelphia and in 1993 he opened the Cafe on Oakland Park Blvd. The menu is extensive and has a great combination of classic, popular Italian dishes and a wide range of proteins to suit every taste. Martorano doesn’t make his own pasta, he proudly uses an exclusive brand of the dry type, but the execution and the fact that it is boiled to order puts to shame many restaurants in Miami that lure customers with the “we make our own pasta” song. His tomato sauces are all made with D.O.P. (Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta) San Marzano tomatos .
There are more that 20 options to kick you off, between the Antipasti and his classics and salads. There are even a few choices for the adventurous type, like tripe and pigs’ feet / skin. The mozzarella, one of the highlights of the meal, is made in house and was probably as good as the best I have ever had, at Torrisi up in NYC. Although tripe is not my cup of tea, the succulent tomato sauce made it quite delicious. We also tried the mortadella spread, made with bologna and served with crispy baguette slices that have been smeared with olive oil. Its the sort of stuff you wish your mom had when you were a kid to send you in that lunchbox. The meatballs, one of the Martorano classics, were soft and had a robust herb presence; the salad they are combined with and the ricotta make up an amazing bite. The other classic we tasted was the Philly cheesesteak, and one you take a bite into it, it all comes clear; if selling these puppies is how Martorano started making a living for himself, its no surprise he’s been so successful. I believe this is probably his main business card, what better way to portray his origins. The bread is crunchy and fatty and the contents are screaming with hot, gooey flavor.
The mains include 13 different pasta dishes and 10 main protein large plates. Our emphasis was on the pastas, and we tried the bucatini carbonara, / Amatriciana and the clams fettuccine. The balance between sauce and pasta was perfect, the “al dente” not just a sales pitch on the menu. Protein contents were just right, and I’m happy to say my recent disappointment with pasta dishes in Miami was happily overcome. If there is a place to eat pasta, this is it.
A word on the service: Cafe Martorano is run like a ship, a tight ship. The food arrived quickly and the dirty plates disappear even quicker. No glass has the chance to breath empty, and so swift is the service that when the veal Parmigiana arrived, I couldn’t even take a picture of it since our waiter already knew we where sharing. He divided it in four equal pieces in a second, and of course my patrons waited no time for me to point and shoot. It was delicious by the way. Another winner.
For dessert we had a cannoli (of course) and a waffle? Odd choice for dessert but Danny was in waffle mode. The plate decor seemed too party themed with color sprinkles and smarties spread around, but the bites immediately dissipate any negativity your eyes might have created for you. A great ending to a great meal.