The World's Gone to Pot, So Let's Eat Gravy

It's a truism of the restaurant business that when the world goes to shit, diners' taste for Indo-Peruvian Tuscan burrito sushi gratins vanishes, replaced by an intense craving for the culinary equivalent of a pat on the head, a glass of warm milk, and a thick, soft blankie to tuck ourselves in with. In other words, comfort food. The restaurants here all dish up food that's as comfy as a pair of old shoes but a lot better-tasting.



Brother Tuckers
 3332 E. Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach. Call 954-785-1984, or visit myspace.com/brothertuckers.
Beer and bar food go to the next level at this brewcentric Church of Penultimate Fermentation, where the 50-strong beer list is heavy with artisanal Euro-suds and exotic Belgian ales and the menu goes beyond the standard pub-grubbery with dishes like crabmeat-stuffed portobellos, bacon-laced meat loaf, and an über-cheesy quesadilla as thick as one of Thomas Pynchon's opuses. All that with a funky, dive-like ambiance that says, take your goddamned white tablecloths somewhere else.

Grease Burger Bar
 213 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-651-1075, or visit bigtimerestaurants.com.
Designer hamburgers right now are hotter than a napalm cocktail, and while this
Clematis Street newbie doesn't go for the full monty of Kobe-Wagyu-truffle-foie gras burgers, it does kick up the usual slab o' ground beef on a bun by serving fat, ten-ounce patties of grass-fed beef, ground fresh daily, with optional adornments ranging from half a dozen types of cheese to applewood-smoked bacon, roasted portobello mushroom, and even a fried egg.

Hi-Life Café
 3000 N. Federal Highway, Wilton Manors. Call 954-563-1395, or visit hilifecafe.com.
A stint on Top Chef a few years back may have had chef/partner Carlos Fernandez living high on the local foodie chain, but at Hi-Life, he celebrates decidedly homier pleasures than those wacky-ass creations shown on television. Fried chicken, braised short ribs, or penne with sausage in tomato-cream sauce may not make Tom Colicchio's beady little eyes light up, but you didn't want to be eating frog legs with peanut butter and corn flakes anyway.

Jack's Old Fashioned Hamburgers
 4201 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-565-9960.
Can we stipulate that everyone under age 60 is hard-wired to the internet and that we'll all give up our iPhones when they're pried from our cold, dead fingers? Progress is a wonderful thing. Except if it ever comes to Jack's hamburgers. There's nothing trendy about these meaty discs -- nor about Jack's, which has been serving them since 1972 -- just lean beef, ground twice daily, cooked to perfection, and self-garnished to taste. Progress is sometimes overrated.

Lola's on Harrison
 2032 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954-927-9851, or visit lolasonharrison.com.
Comfort food puts on a tux and tails and occasionally a clown nose at Michael Wagner's stylish-but-relaxed downtown Hollywood restaurant, where its chef/owner's take on comfy classics reveals both good humor and serious culinary chops. Potato skins are purple spuds loaded with sun-dried tomato crème fraîche, bacon bits and caviar; "burgers" are made with shrimp, poblano chilies, and green onions; beef ribs are basted with tangy Coca-Cola barbecue sauce. Haute dog!

Ouzo Blue
707 Lake Ave., Lake Worth, and 5090 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. Call 561-582-2002 or 561-776-3188, or visit ouzoblue.com.
Stuffed grape leaves, gyros, moussaka, kebabs, baklava. Stiff drinks and cold beer. Table dancing, bar dancing, belly dancers gyrating like jelly jackhammers. Greek music blasting loud enough to bring down the rest of the Parthenon. If all that doesn't give you the warm 'n' fuzzies, you really are in deep doo-doo there, Jim. It must work for somebody, as the Lake Worth Ouzo was quickly followed by another in Palm Beach Gardens and a third coming to Coconut Grove.

Rocco's Tacos
224 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-650-1001, or visit roccostacos.com.
The folks behind the City group of restaurants (City Cellar, Big City Tavern, City Oyster) struck gold with this yupscale suburban taqueria, dishing all the usual (and thoroughly familiar) Mexican culinary suspects -- nachos, quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostados -- with the added fillip of guacamole prepared tableside and 150 tequilas. It may be more about fun, margaritas, and hooking up than authenticity, but that combination has spawned another Rocco's soon to open in Boca Raton.

Smith & Jones
1313 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-888-8993, or visit smithandjones.us.
Johnny Vinczencz may have made his reputation serving roasted wild mushroom short-stack with sun-dried tomato butter and duck three ways with baby carrots, but that doesn't mean he's above turning out meat loaf, fish 'n' chips, barbecued baby backs, and burgers, all on the menu at his nouveau comfort-food eatery. After a rough start, a recent visit found the jagged edges smoothed out, good news to budget-minded Las Olas crawlers.


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