The Ever-Changing Fine Dining Scene In South Florida Has Seen Its Fair Share Of Good Eats
One can name on both hands the fine dining places that have made it 50 years or more.
This issue’s special section on restaurants was a big job, involving our entire editorial team, including two young ladies who usually concentrate on our rapidly expanding digital presentations. As usual, the section concentrates on new restaurants. That’s only good business. However, reading it, and still coming down from our big 50th anniversary celebration, we thought back to the restaurants that were popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Very few have survived. We wonder why.
It has always puzzled us why restaurants, like us humans, seem to be predestined for a given life span. Often they seem to disappear while still successful, with reliable repeat customers. As several people point out in this issue, running a restaurant is hard work. Still we wonder why there are not more second generations willing to take over, or why longtime staff don’t make an effort to buy an established business when the founders retire.
In the 1970s, we had small children, so dining out was not a regular occurrence. But we did get around a bit, mostly as guests at social functions, and the restaurants up and down the Gold Coast were memorable. Among the best were Le Dome, atop a high rise off Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, and Le Cordon Bleu, which sat amid a cluster of old oaks at the entrance to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The airport expansion eliminated it.
In Hollywood, the Top of the Home on Young Circle, another rooftop spot, was always a treat. Farther south, Manero’s in Hallandale had a big reputation as a steakhouse. Going the other way, Leonce Picot’s Down Under (at Oakland Park Boulevard on the Intracoastal) was the kind of place where businessmen came to lunch and were still there at cocktail hour (and sometimes later). Dante’s, on Federal Highway near Oakland Park Boulevard, was a top steak house.
Farther north, Delray Beach’s Arcade Tap Room was one-off—a greenhouse ceiling with the dining area flanked by two woody bars. In Boca Raton, The Bayou, with an all-black waitstaff, was a delight. There were at least a dozen more that had steady followings but were gone, most by the 1990s. Now, obviously we aren’t counting hotel restaurants, or more casual places, a number of which survive.
Which takes us to our point. One can name on both hands the fine dining places that have made it 50 years or more. Among them, Ta-boo in Palm Beach—much changed from its funky 1970s atmosphere—is a legend. As is Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai, still at the U.S. 1 location that was a country road when it opened in 1956. Tropical Acres on Griffin Road survived a recent fire and has been rebuilt.
Sadly, the number of great old restaurants will soon be diminished by one—Le Café de Paris on Las Olas Boulevard will close at the end of the season. Owner Louis Flematti and his wife, Janine, ran it with great style. Flematti, who had been a waiter at Le Dome, recalls when the late William Maus, founder of the Maus & Hoffman store, offered to back him to open a fine restaurant on Las Olas.
“Bill Maus walked me to the bank and said, ‘Promise you’ll hang around.’ We hung around for 54 years,” Flematti says.
Well done. But, alas, done.