Underground Restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, Part 2

Categories: Food News
I didn't take a picture, but SnG's chocoate croissant bread pudding looked something like this.
Yesterday in part 1, we introduced you to SnG, a rogue restaurant operating in Fort Lauderdale. Today we'll finish up our meal and talk about the pros and cons of operating a rogue restaurant.

Dessert isn't always served at SnG. But tonight's meal was a special one. It was supposed to be the rogue restaurant's last.

So after the plates of coq au vin were cleared away -- most of them scraped completely clean of the delicate chicken braised in red wine -- JLo got up and went to the kitchen to serve up a surprise: chocolate croissant bread pudding.

"Does everyone want ice cream?" JLo asked from the nearby kitchen.

The response, of course, was a unanimous "yes."

She returned with bowls of sticky-warm bread pudding speckled with gobs of melted chocolate. On top of each helping, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, slowly melting into the bowl.

"Oh my God this is good," said Ashley, a Fort Lauderdale-based graphic designer who frequently eats at SnG.

Everyone agreed. The buttery croissants had absorbed the custard and become soft and sweet, while the melted chocolate throughout was divine. It might have been the best bread pudding I've ever tasted.

"Don't tell me you made the croissants, too," I asked JLo.

"Yep. I put all the black vanilla flecks in the ice cream, too," she joked.

Kidding aside, a three-course meal of this quality would cost $40 or more per person in a conventional restaurant. But SnG charged only $8. "I usually only ask for a 'suggested donation' of $6," JLo added when I asked about the price. "And I don't usually serve wine or dessert. But with the wine used to make the chicken, I had to ask for a little more."

When you consider that SnG serves in the range of 8 to 10 people per session, the place isn't exactly making money. That means the motivation to run a rogue restaurant has to lie elsewhere. "I dont do it for the money," JLo told me. "If I can charge just barely more than it costs me, that's fine. I do it because I enjoy it."

I asked her if she would want to own a fully-licensed restaurant some day . "Absolutely," she said.

If that's JLo's goal, then running a rogue restaurant isn't a bad place to start. In cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, many chefs make their break operating out of their homes. Portland chef Michael Hebberoy and his wife Naomi started their restaurant Family Supper in their rented bungalow in 2001. A year later, Family Supper went legit. It's a trend that's continued all across the United States. But in truth, the practice is a throwback to a time when commercial restaurants weren't always around.    

Despite the many positive attributes of the underground restaurant trend, there are plenty of good reasons why places must be licensed to operate. For one, each state requires that restaurants be inspected regularly to make sure they comply with health codes. Of course there's also the issue of taxing and revenue, as well as public safety concerns and liability. In Florida, the dangers of allowing restaurants to operate without any policing are very real. As New Times recently reported, half-a-dozen illegal restaurants -- along with illegal slaughterhouses, gambling dens, and animal fighting rings -- were shut down earlier this year in Florida's own Wild Frontier, the C-9 Basin. 

Still, from where I was sitting, it's almost impossible to make that connection with SnG. JLo is a wonderful hostess; a chef with true talent and the personal charm to back it up. Her kitchen and dining area (yes, her apartment) is spotlessly clean, too. It could even be argued that the level of transparency at SnG in regards to cleanliness and preparation is way higher than it is in an ordinary restaurant. After all, everything is right there in front of you.

Best of all, at rogue restaurants like SnG, you're not just getting a meal, but good company to go with it. Where else can you share such an intimate experience with groups of like minded people, i.e. those who are truly interested in food? To sit and chat, to sip wine and enjoy a family style meal like this is honestly much more fun than a very structured restaurant experience. Not to mention the homey quality of it all. As I sat and ate with JLo and company, I was reminded of what it was like to sit around the dinner table with my own family, passing plates and bowls around as we spen time together. (And sometimes even asking for seconds -- which plenty of us did with that delicious chocolate bread pudding). 

While I didn't stick around too late into the evening, the seven of us did sit on JLo's back porch for a good while afterwords. We talked more and drank more, and listened to a pretty great mix of indie rock tunes to boot. If the restaurant thing doesn't work out in the long run, SnG might just have a future as a nightclub. "It usually turns into a dance party after enough wine," JLo joked.

Remember when I said this was to be SnG's final meal? Well, JLo has decided to keep the restaurant running on Wednesdays, doing what she calls "International night." "We do a different theme each week, like Turkish, Greek, or French," she says, "It allows me to cook things I never have before, which is really fun."

That is was. I'll definitely be back.

Know of any other underground restaurants in South Florida? Send me an e-mail here. I haven't disclosed any pertinent information on SnG, but if you're interested in attending, leave your e-mail address in the comments field below.  

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