Decor at Sistrunk Restaurant Fort Lauderdale, Florida
A dozen kiosks and an exclusive experience pack a vast warehouse providing an incredible number of endless seeming appetizers, salads, entrees and sweets at the Sistrunk Marketplace and Brewery
. Start by scanning a QR code, order from the menu, sit back and wait or check out the store, or grab a drink at the bar and wait for a steady parade of food to arrive at your table.
If you're fortunate, you can get a tour of the Shady Distillery next door and return, with your appetite renewed. They claim to have something for everyone, change the protein, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant, or even (gasp) lactose-free so you can't enjoy the ice cream.
Empanadas Flavors You Would Never Have Expected
It is sad to be celiac and not be able to taste Juan's empanadas which contain cage-free chicken or grass-fed beef, ham and cheese, the sweet guava and cheese, or savory broccoli and cheese. Juan offers spicy chicken or spicy beef empanadas, or a truffle infused chicken or beef empanada. He tells me their best seller is the caramel and cream cheese empanada, which is quite sweet and may well 2000 or 3000 on a weekend.
Juan Cobain has been in Fort Lauderdale since before the days of the Voodoo Lodge. He serves bottled, cold-pressed juices made by his friend Judy of 305 Squeeze. The local area code, 305, Judy's juices are now available through Whole Foods.
Juan also offers what he describes as a "Brunch Five," served Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This empanada contains egg, cheese, red and green pepper, and onion and remains a savory favorite. My colleagues are sad we won't still be here this weekend to return and try more of his dishes.
When the empanadas arrive, a choice of four, beef, chicken, ham and cheese, and guava and cheese were greedily devoured. The beef does have a hint of spice and the chicken melts in your mouth, but it's the flaky crust that takes your breath away and makes you want to indulge in these luscious pastries for many meals to come.
Next, staff delivered their Woke Burger, with lettuce, Pickles, tomatoes, and onions, which can be made to choice or even to take away. My colleagues, able to eat the bun, said they wouldn't change a thing. We never even opened the ketchup or mustard offered with it. It needed nothing but a light beverage to accompany it. Perfection.
The star of our culinary festivities this fine evening with our four merry travel writers was the pulled pork fries. The pulled pork is served with mac and cheese and initially the "really good" from those who enjoyed the Mac and cheese to "absolutely incredible" for the serving they delivered without the macaroni and cheese for a non-cheese eater. One of our writers was even able to eat two plates of fries, and that says a lot about how delicious they are since the food was just extraordinary in both quantity and quality. These pulled pork fries came from the Chop Shoppe Meat Provisions section of the market.
Next came a couple of sandwiches - their Cubano, which is a pulled pork, ham, pickles, a typical Cubano, with a soft torta type bread, and then a French dip, which is a true roast beef, not corned beef.
The roast beef was salty and thinly sliced, lean, with not a single ridge of fat found within the toasty bread. The dip was so delicious, I didn't see any of the jus used. It's an utterly delicious French dip that I would be happy to have on gluten-free bread any day, or every day.
Sushi and Big Island Poke Bowl
Next in line, three gorgeous trays of sushi arrived with a large bowl containing Big Island Poke on white rice. The avocado rice and Dante's Sushi (pink on top) accompanied Papa Chang's sushi. There was just so much food it was difficult to keep up, but that Big Island Poke Bowl was one of the favorites of our non-cheese-eating travel writer. It was tangy and tasty and shared with new friends throughout the night.
At this point, I'd had a bite of the roast beef from the French dip but nothing else because of my gluten issue or because it was an item that I just don't eat. The Italian Shop, Mari's Kitchen, took it as a personal challenge to find me something I could eat. When I first met the friendly proprietor, it was like I was running into a taller version of my Uncle Vince as we walked into his shop. My aunt's husband wants to make sure everyone is well fed, and my aunt is definitely the cook to confirm this is so.
The Best Eggplant Ever
He asked if I liked eggplant, which I do not. He told me that the first problem. It's typically that it is not prepared properly. The second issue is that It doesn't have the right accompaniment. In addition to the eggplant, he sent out a simple (in its simplicity) dish of carpaccio. Served with capers, cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, and ripe olives, the raw beef dish was very pretty.
The eggplant was sliced thin as paper, served on a bed of fresh arugula, and lined with a sweet. and tangy item that I've yet to identify but tasted like balsamic. I've just never seen it in a solid form previously. When asked, this lovely gentleman told me in his thick Italian accent, the first secret of making great food, especially my eggplant, is his wife! Married for more than 40 years, their love keeps the food tasting wonderful.
The second secret is the olive oil, This olive oil is imported from the South of Italy from the Campania region. He may have just made a convert of me. The eggplant was light and sweet with a little balsamic vinaigrette, I think, and absolutely something I'd be willing to try again. To me, it tasted like a bruschetta without tomatoes. As Ernie Gonzalez, the kind and gentle guide for us this evening told us, "you can taste the love." I agree. It was in every bite.
Next, a dish of prosciutto and Stracciatella was placed at the other end of the table, enjoyed by my colleagues. They each said they'd be happy to order it again.
The owner tells us that he has sold 75 to 80 jars of eggplant a week. I'm impressed it's not double that with how delicious it is.
Best All Beef Meatballs Ever
I really appreciate the effort he went to on my behalf. He next served us 3 meatballs with a pomodoro sauce and a very light dusting of cheese. I was thrilled to hear that the meatballs were all beef, no sausage, and no breading so that I could enjoy them. My colleagues even gifted me with two out of the three meatballs since I'd had so little to eat at this point in the day. The meatball was light and refreshing, two words I don't usually associate with meatballs. It now occurs to me that they provided the boost that left me dancing for the rest of our visit. The Marketplace is loud, but the music is good.
At this point, we were a little more than halfway through our tremendous tasting menu, and I polled my colleagues for their favorites. The pulled pork dish, with or without the macaroni and cheese, definitely placed first, though the empanada, French dip, and woke burger were close on its heels.
Chips and Fresh Guacamole
Ernie next brought us a homemade guacamole with chips and hummus, Baba Ghanoush and Mediterranean Salads with Tahini dressing. I wasn't particularly familiar with Baba Ghanoush, which doesn't surprise me since it is another eggplant dish, but I was impressed to learn that it has been documented back into the 13th century in the Middle East.
With great pride, the freshly made hummus was presented next. We learned that Ernie had spent time in Israel at the top of Jaffa, with the most famous hummus makers in the world. I was stunned to hear the way they make their hummus so incredibly creamy is to hand peel each and every chickpea after it's been boiled. Can you imagine a sweet little old lady sitting there every day with the little tool that she uses to remove the skin of each individual chickpea? That is a tremendous commitment to quality.
Flavorful Middle Eastern Dish
Our next dish was a plate of dessert crepe from Papi, a strawberry Nutella combination with a very fresh whipped cream.
I couldn't have the dessert crepe (those that could, said the strawberry Nutella combination was decadent), but I did try the whipped cream and it was fresh and not too sweet, which was pretty perfect.
The most anticipated dish from the moment we walked in the door may have been the dessert churros. They put things like children's cereal and ice cream and other coverings on these sweet or savory churros and can combine them to create sundaes or milkshakes or ice cream concoctions. Just ask, and you'll see some amazing photographs of artistic creations from this dessert chef. The Four of us were gifted with a box of 6 Churros folded like scarves in a box to take away with us.
Italian Sausage Pizza
Finally, a double rise crusted Italian sausage and red pepper pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, and red sauce, all directly imported from Italy, was presented with great pride. If only we had an extra leg to put this additional food in, we could have enjoyed it even more. The sausage was thickly sliced and smelled delicious.
As the coup de grace, Ernie was kind enough to take us back to the Shady Distillery and give us a brief tour. He explained the distilling process, showed the equipment and the place where the discarded amount is removed. That's the by-product the company made hand sanitizer from throughout the pandemic. They've got gorgeous little copper bottles to hold the hand sanitizer for your purse or plane travel. It's really a lovely gift. They continue to work towards perfecting their rum distillation process so watch for that.
In addition to all this incredible food, there's a bar in the center of the Marketplace, a VW bug with some skeletons driving during this time before Halloween, a large bar in the back with a dozen stools and more distillery equipment through large plate glass windows, and a store with fun and quirky items to tickle your fancy and even some utterly practical ones like a sweet balloon clip that holds earrings in pairs.
They have Farmers' Market on Saturdays from 9am to 3pm and live music on weekends.
If you're in Fort Lauderdale, you should make your way to the Sistrunk Marketplace and eat your way around the world as you make your way across the building.
Thank you to the Sistrunk Marketplace for hosting us for this meal. While we didn't pay for the meal, the opinions are my own.