Tim Petrillo, Peter Boulukos and Alan Hooper are masters of a particular style of boozy hospitality. At S3, YOLO, Tarpon Bend — and now Fork and Balls — the bar is the heart of each restaurant.
The Restaurant People, as the three co-founders call their company, understand that Fort Lauderdale isn't affectionately known as "Fort Liquordale" for nothing.
At the 2-month-old Fork and Balls, the rough-hewn, vintage-style bar is wonderfully stocked with 10 kinds of draft beer ($5-$6) and 10 wines on tap, sold by the (diner-style water) glass, carafe or bottle. If you come for dinner on weekends, you'll need sharp elbows to find a spot at the bar because the no-reservations policy has diners waiting up to an hour. Foodies should come for lunch or a very early dinner. If you love a crowded scene, come at 8 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night.
Order some nibbles at the bar, as we did on a crowded night, since most of the menu is meant for sharing. Yes, that menu is centered on meatballs — beef, chicken, veggie, house blend, spicy pork and a daily special — but some of the salads and sides are just as good if not better.
Brussels Sprouts ($7), for instance, are served crispy with a bit of bacon, but the addition of toasted garlic-tomato sauce puts them over the top. White beans and kale ($5) combines creamy cannellinis with just the right amount of garlic and greens. To good old mac and cheese ($6), the chef adds peas, one of my favorite and least appreciated vegetables. Herb polenta fries ($7) are deep-fried to crispy perfection, but somehow oil-free, and then seasoned with rosemary, thyme and parmesan. Fried calamari ($10) is served with a combination of hot and sweet peppers as well as marinara and roasted garlic aioli.
Even salads are excellent. The Traditional ($8) combines tomatoes, onions, chick peas, olives and a simple vinaigrette. Add blue cheese for $1.50 and you've got a version of the salad I make at my house at least once a month. Each day brings a special salad, and the other day it was a combination of watermelon, feta and cashews served over arugula and tossed with citrus vin ($8). Look, too, for the daily vegetable special, which one night was a New Year's Day-worthy combination of collard greens, black eyed peas and bacon ($6). Eating one's vegetables has never been more pleasant.
And then there are meatballs.
Let me first congratulate The Restaurant People for opening a restaurant that doesn't break the bank.
Where else can you order four meatballs and sauce of your choice for just $8? Talk about egalitarian. Traditional tomato, parmesan cream, mushroom, herb pesto and roasted tomato are the sauce choices. For $13, three meatballs can be served on a salad, vegetable, garlic spinach, pasta or polenta.
I'm particularly fond of the classic beef and the spicy pork meatballs, although at one meal the meatball of the day was a short rib stuffed Fork and Balls blend that ought to find a regular spot on the menu. Another day, the special was Swedish meatballs with mushroom demi-glace, which needed a bit more salt. Vegetarians will be happy with the veggie meatball, although it tasted a bit too much like Thanksgiving Day stuffing for my tastes.
If you don't want three meatballs of the same variety, order sliders ($3), which can be had with or without bread.
The menu also offers five so-called favorites that include The Texan ($13), classic beef balls served with slow-cooked chili, cheddar and strips of corn tortillas. The chili was a bit one-note, that note being cumin. Spicy Italian ($14), however, is a sensational combination of spicy pork balls, creamy polenta, roasted tomato sauce, ricotta, sweet and hot peppers.
And now my second and final word on meatballs: If they're going to be your specialty, they've got to be hot from the inside out.
There is no shortage of hot servers, however. Oops! I mean, there is no shortage of young and efficient servers, from hostess to waiter to bartender. Even at the busiest most difficult-to-hear part of the evening, those bartenders bring a bit of calm to the mayhem that is Fork and Balls during its dinner rush.
For dessert, there's kid-friendly orange-flavored milk with chocolate chip cookies ($5), fried bread pudding ($6) and gelato sorbet sundae ($5). Share the bread pudding.
The Restaurant People have another hit on their hands.
Fork and Balls
1301 E. Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Comfort food
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: What?
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: High chairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Street, city lot and $5 valet