A Hidden Gem–H2O American Café

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H2O American Café
101 S Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd
Fort Lauderdale FL 33316
954-414-1024
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There is a gem of a restaurant hidden on the ground floor of the historic Las Olas Beach Club, originally built between 1936-1937 as the 60-room Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Its Art Deco elegance defined the beach front from the moment it opened, with its exquisite lobby and ocean front suites crowned with the nickname, “Queen of the Beach” for the next 30 years. Created by famed Miami architect Roy F. France, portions of the original hotel were preserved and its stylized design incorporated into the new 29-story Las Olas Beach Club which was built in 2007.

H2O American Café blends itself into the mix with an interior arrangement that finds small tables and large beige banquettes arranged along the back inside wall with a chic small bar on the east wall featuring flat screen TVs playing the Fashion Channel and highlighting all the haute couture you never know existed. On the outside terrace, there is a view of the beach, the ocean and the bikini-clad men and women who occupy this particular stretch of metrosexual sand.

If it’s sunny outside, the tables on the terrace add the advantage of people watching and while the tables may be basically rattan, the location can’t be beat and those sauntering by will give your group plenty to talk about—from New York model chic with stick figure perfection to the full-figured multiracial tattooed babe that looks straight from Black Ink Miami.

Fortunately, you will have fortifications from the full-service bar, and a foreign-speaking server with an accent just thick enough to make you pretty sure that their nodding heads mean they have gotten your order correct.

As for food, we recommend the essential Fried Calamari ($12.95). Not greasy, not undercooked, a full platter replete with goodness that will definitely provide a full serving with an accompanying sauce with shades of Sharaz wine and garlic. Other appetizers include a large Chicken Quesadilla (with a three-cheese blend, onions, peppers, and spiced grilled chicken breast) ($11.95), and an enormous platter of Nachos ($10.95 ) (as in feeds three) that loads crisped tortilla chips, topped with chili, mozzarella and cheddar, green onions with chicken and pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole. A mouthful by any name.

Entrées include a mighty tender Prime Rib ($19.95) that’s medium-rare, very pink, very juicy, and served with au jus and a basket of French bread to sop up the leftover liquid. I’ve heard the Tilapia al Vodka ($19.95) is incredible, sautéed with jumbo shrimp in a vodka sauce, and includes a complimentary glass of paired wine. It certainly looks the part. Our favorite chicken dish, which we’ve order many times, is easily Chicken Marsala ($16.95) with its abundance of mushrooms and a brush of marsala demi-glace sauce with spaghetti.

 

For something a little lighter, the Flatbread Pizza is thin, fresh, and precisely baked. The most popular is the sausage with plum tomato sauce and a heavy-handed mozzarella ($11.95). For the vegans among us, there is a veggie version with crispy onions, peppers and mushrooms, with the same sauce and cheese for a dollar less.

If salads are your thing, there is not a better choice than the Sashimi ($15.95). It is thin-sliced, lightly seared sesame-seed encrusted tuna on top of cucumber and baby greens that is tossed in an ultra-lite tomato vinaigrette, coupled with sliced avocado and shredded seaweed dipped in Thai ponzu sauce. Rice wine never tasted so good. Of course, there is the usual Cobb ($13.95), Caesar ($9.95), Chicken Caesar ($14.95), Greek ($13.95) and Chicken Breast ($14.95) along strictly purest lines.

There is also a full sandwich menu including a dynamic Cuban ($12.95) with its roast pork, baked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles, served on freshly made Cuban bread. It is also the perfect size to take half of it home, to serve as a second lunch the next day. H2O also pays homage to Philadelphia with its own version of the Phillie steak, but this time a Chicken Breast replaces shaved beef, with caramelized onions, tomatoes, peppers and melted provolone ($11.95). If you insist, there is a Brewery Cheese Steak ($12.95), sliced roast beef, caramelized onions, and more provolone than should ever be allowed to consume at one sitting. Yes, it is delicious, and at least 1,000 calories. But, as they say, if you have to have to ask the price (or count the calories), this one is not for you.

And though you would never think it, looking at the beach setting and the buckets of champagne, H2O is also a burger joint. Begin with a half-pound of ground chuck and brisket cuddled by a grilled whole wheat or white bun. The basic 8-ounce Prime Burger comes served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a side for $10.95. A slice of cheese costs an extra $1.00 but there are nine (yes, nine) kinds of cheese to choose from. Order one, or order them all. And before we forget, there are 11 toppings to customize your feast. From housemade chili to fried onion strings, hickory bacon to pineapple, avocado to pepperoncinis (look it up), add a dollar a topping, as thick as you like. The only rule at H2O is to have a great time while enjoying a filling meal. Each time we go, we do just that.

And afterward, be sure to check out what remains of the original Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Walk down the sidewalk next to the restaurant, turn into the Las Olas Beach Club, and ask to see the two fireplaces, the original elevator, a decorative frieze over the original lobby entrance, and a stairway with art deco railings connecting six floors of the south section. Thank the Fort Lauderdale Historic Board for this rare opportunity to step back in time and experience our city circa 1937. An astonishing finish to a meal well served.

Aboard the Brightline at 75 miles an hour

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By Richard David Chamberlain. May 17,2018

There was a time, not so very long ago, when train travel was an elegant and highly anticipated form of transportation. There were writing desks aboard with free engraved stationery, a dining car with linen-covered tables, china plates with silver utensils, and uniformed porters who actually tipped their caps out of respect as they passed you in the aisles. I know this not because I’ve actually lived during that period of time when politeness and respect went hand-in-hand with the excitement of travel. No, what I know of train travel comes from old black and white films on the big screen in the fantasy world of movies.

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express were childhood thrillers that forever bonded me to the mystery that surely exists aboard all trains. I think I would have liked living back then, and must admit that a small part of me hoped to capture a sliver of the romance of train travel by hoping aboard the Brightline recently for a non-stop trip from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach with my husband.

For the uninitiated, Brightline is a diesel-electric higher speed express train that operates between the two destinations all day and night with additional runs on the weekends. Test runs are also being conducted to the company’s Miami station where service is expected to begin by the first of June.

Brightline, the trains, are owned by All Aboard Florida, the company, which itself is wholly owned by Florida East Coast Industries. And according to legion, this is the first time in half-a-century that a privately held company is running an express train service in the United States. The last time we’re told was in between 1970 and 1983 when the Rio Grande Zephyr operated service between Denver, Colorado and Ogden, Utah. The problem in that case was that Ogden was hardly a tourist capital, though it does have some interesting historic buildings according to the Chamber of Commerce.

Brightline has no such problem. When hubby and I recently took the train to West Palm Beach, we were headed to see the Henry Flagler Museum, otherwise known as Whitehall—his 75-room mansion constructed in 1902 at a time when Henry was building the railroad to bring folks from up north down to Florida for the healthy benefits of its sunshine. From the Brightline station in West Palm Beach, it is a quick five-minute Lyft ride to the estate, where you can get lost for hours.

To and fro, we were seated in quiet comfort in the Select section of the train (read: First Class) which costs $15 each way for the 40-minute or less ride. Currently, however, Brightline is running a two-for-one special, so the pair of us travelled roundtrip for $30. Seniors and kids ride at an additional discount.

There is not only free parking at both stations, in Select class there is also free drinks and grub. And it was surprising just how much free food and booze one can consume in just over a half-hour.

In the coach section, called Smart for no apparent reason, it will cost you $7 for a Bud Light, Stella Artois and assorted craft beers. It is also $7 for Simi Sonoma Valley Chardonnay, Mark West Pinot Noir, and a split of Martin & Rossi Prosecco. The good stuff, Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne, is $16 for a split—which is actually a very good price. There is also Tequila Avión, Bacardi Rum, Beefeater Gin, Dewar’s White Label Scotch, Tito’s Vodka, and Wild Turkey Bourbon, all available at $9. Unless, of course, you are upfront in the Select coach where it’s free for the taking.

So too are the snacks, otherwise known as nibbles. There are assorted flavors of Kettle Brand Potato Chips at $3.25, as well as assorted Popchips, SkinnyPop popcorn, Lenn and Larry’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Haribo Gummy Bears. Up the ante to $8.50 and you get a Go Picnic Sunflower Butter & Multigrain Crackers or a Go Picnic Beef Salami & Asiago Cheese. Again, buy a Select class ticket and that too is on the house. Oh—and lest we forget, of course there are sodas (as in Pepsi and Schweppes products), plus coffee, tea, milk, premium bottled waters, and the essential Red Bull energy drink.

In the ultra-modern yellow and blue themed stations, there is the Brightline version of an airport lounge for Select customers, who enter through a high-tech glass entry point operated by scanning their tickets. The fridge is stocked and the counter is full. (Smart Couch customers can look, but not enter).

Taken all together, Brightline is a first-class service in any seat. The employees deserve a special nod for actually smiling and seem to be enjoying themselves. Imagine. Take the train to and from work, and these uniformed cuties will become your new best friends. They will even help you stow your bags in the baggage area at the entrance to each car, or your pet in its carrier under the seat in front of you. Yes, Fido is allowed, as is Sylvester, if appropriately contained.

Train travel is a great idea whose time has come to Florida, with future expansion expected to aim all the way to Orlando in the not too distant future (hopefully). Trust us when we say that as you are sitting in your comfortable leather seat, reclined just so, with a bit of the bubbly and a crisp or two….somehow I-95 with its parking lot traffic just seems so-oo yesterday. N’est-ce pas?

Stonewall Pride in a Trump World

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Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.

That tweet from Presidential candidate Donald Trump in June of 1916 now stands as an indelible reflection of what a blatant liar the 45th President of the United States is. As Log Cabin Republicans bend over backwards in a feat worthy of a circus contortionist to continue to label Donald Trump as the most “gay friendly” Republican in history, it demonstrates exactly why Pride Festivals in the United States continue to grow in size and importance each year.

While the President may not be the most anti-gay Republican in Washington, he is by no means a friend of our community. He is a two-faced businessman posing as a politician that clearly has only one agenda in mind—Donald J. Trump. First, last, and always, the Trump administration is about its leader—and, in this day and age of weekly resignations and firings—the only one who matters.

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and their Straight Allies? You are road-kill to an administration that would prefer to genuflect to racist bigots and religious zealots than work on benefits or protections for any marginalized minorities—be they Black, Latino, Asian, Indian, and certainly the LGBT community.

As we put on our multicolor party hats and flock to Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday, June 16th to parade down Wilton Drive, there will be a message each of us will have on display by the mere visibility of our attendance. It is no longer enough to show pride in who you are or what you support, it is essential to demonstrate that you will not be ignored, repressed, or treated as second-class citizens in a first-class country.

Make no mistake. We are under attack just as much now as we were 39 years ago. Then, we flocked to the streets outside of the Stonewall Bar in Manhattan to stand up to police raids and mistreatment of gays. Now, we are faced with an ultra conservative backlash in Florida’s northern Panhandle cities that would love nothing better than to crush us out of existence. In an age where we can openly walk hand-in-hand on the streets of Wilton Manors, it is important to remember that we live in a protected bubble of illusion here in our sliver of sunburnt reality in South Florida.

The mood in Washington, DC, and in our state capital in Tallahassee is vile. Politicians in this country will never provide equal rights to all individuals regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation because to do so will weaken their strength within their own ranks as white Christian Americans tumble closer than ever to becoming a minority themselves. For the first time in U.S. history that reality is allowing a platform that gives the current administration permission to exist.

There is no pride in Donald Trump’s continuing efforts to keep transgender soldiers from serving in the military. There is no pride in the Department of Justice’s legal brief that clearly states its belief that anti-gay legislation is legal under Federal law. There is no pride that transgender students in schools no longer have the protection given them under the Obama administration. There is no pride in the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice who thinks LGBT laws are special privileges, rather than basic human rights. And there certainly is no pride in gun laws that allow the repeated slaughter of innocent victims across all spectrums of life without action to prevent it from reoccurring ever again.

We have no more time to tolerate fools among leaders or allow the disenfranchised to lack a loud voice at the table. Expect the upcoming Stonewall Pride in Wilton Manors the second week in June to be the largest in its 19-year history. Not because this is a party to show how proud we are to be gay, but rather because it is a demonstration that reaffirms the strength in our unity. Gays and Straights standing tall together because we will accept nothing less.