There are no reservations. No menus. No waitresses . . . only waiters. No butter on the table. And no telling how long you'll wait to get in. And there is also no better place for a good time on any night of the week than Café Martorano on Oakland Park Boulevard, just off State Road A1A.
There are no reservations. No menus. No waitresses . . . only waiters. No butter on the table. And no telling how long you'll wait to get in.
And there is also no better place for a good time on any night of the week than Café Martorano on Oakland Park Boulevard, just off State Road A1A.
This decade-old homage to all things Italian-American looks like it's right out of a Sopranos episode. In fact, Steve Martorano says he cooks for the whole cast when they're in town and has even cooked for the stars of the HBO series in New York City.
Behind the restaurant's blacked out windows and swirly purple neon sign, Café Martorano is decorated in '70s bachelor-style complete with a spinning silver disco ball, blue neon lights in the overhead ceiling fans and nearly as many TVs as tables.
The floors and walls are plastered with black-and-white tiles made to look like marble, and a geometric print wallpaper in shades of gray. Waist-high statues of Jesus, Mary and St. Francis of Assisi are strategically placed around the restaurant.
Jesus points the way to the bathrooms behind the open kitchen where chef-owner-DJ Martorano cooks and yes, spins: everything from Michael Jackson to Barry White and Kool & The Gang. Watch him taste a spoonful of sauce with his headset on as he controls the strobe lights and the volume.
He's as good on the turntables as he is at the stove.
As a testament to his talents, the place is packed shoulder to shoulder. And when the music starts after 9, diners and those waiting in the bar are likely to get up and hustle. Before and after the disco it's Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Harry Connick Jr.
With only 10 tables, plus about a dozen seats at the bar, the place is tiny. (He's expanding in the fall). So loyal patrons -- mostly male, many of whom have tattoos, shaved heads, leather loafers and enormous biceps -- wait an hour or more for a chance to gorge on what the restaurant dubs ``South Philly-style Italian American cooking.''
And plenty of it.
But don't expect a menu. On a recent Wednesday night our waiter, Dominick, literally took a seat with us and described the night's selections. He showed us a colander filled with five types of Benedetto Cavalieri pasta and other superior Italian imports and described how each would be prepared. There was red sauce with pork for the rotelle, broccoli di rabe for the orecchiette, chicken for the fusilli and clam for the linguine.
No prices mentioned. But feel free to ask.
We were also informed that cheese will not be served with seafood. Even if you want it. You can't have it. So don't ask.
Got it? Rumor has it that you can even be asked to leave for lesser transgressions.
''Look, you're not gonna go hear Frank Sinatra sing and shout out which songs he's gonna sing,'' Martorano said. ``There are 1,200 restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. I don't twist anyone's arm to come to my place. It's like buying a car. Not everyone can afford a Mercedes.''
For starters, we were given a complimentary plate of antipasti with a variety of olives, a hunk of aged Parmesan, pepperoncini and some basil. Perfect with the hot and crusty bread.
You may want to order some wine from the impressive list, which offers four times as many reds (about 80) as whites and a decent number of well-priced magnums. For those who prefer to buy by-the-glass, expect a nearly full goblet, about a third of a bottle, according to the menu.
Food, too, comes in portions big enough for a small famiglia. Don't worry, you are allowed to take home leftovers.
We started with an order of the fist-size meatballs ($16), four on a plate in a chunky red sauce with lovely hot green peppers wilted over the top. Deliciously moist with lots of parsley and cheese and just enough bread to keep them from being too heavy, these meatballs rival my mother's. Sorry mom.
We couldn't resist the calamari ($18) especially when the waiter promised ``It'll be the best you ever had in your life.''
Maybe not the best ever, but very good. The large tentacles and ringlets were light and tender and doused in a sauce that was both sweet and tangy, almost like a Chinese sweet-and-sour sauce. They were tossed with large hunks of sautéed banana peppers and lots of crushed red pepper.
All this heavy food made me crave a salad. The waiter said he could put something together, then pointed to the table next to ours to show me what it would look like.
Within minutes, I was sharing the salad with the silver-haired guy a few feet away. He got a plate of our squid in exchange.
For main plates, we had the wagon wheels pasta with pork sauce, a signature Martorano dish ($26). The pasta was aggressively al dente (we had been warned) with huge chunks of succulent roasted pork and a mound of milky ricotta cheese.
The linguine with clam sauce ($26) was even better. The long, chewy strands of pasta were tossed with knuckles of lightly browned garlic and fresh shucked clams. Confetti of parsley brightened the dish along with a couple of pungent dried red peppers to add a little punch.
Desserts are not a big draw at Martorano, though ours was superb. The waiter seemed only vaguely interested in telling us what was available and seemed apologetic that none were made in-house.
Nonetheless, we passed on the cannoli and settled instead on a near-perfect rendition of a tiramisu. The cake-like slice was moderate in size and perfectly fresh. A thick dusting of powdered cocoa lent a deep tone to the creamy layers of mascarpone cheese with just a hint of marsala but a nice hefty espresso kick.
Speaking of which, after all that wine and food, you may want to try a bit of the black ink to finish. Espressos and cappuccino are $8. And, no, there is no American coffee.
Oh, yeah. Say good night to your host. He likes that.