The Davie-Cooper City area may not be known as a dining mecca, but some of its small strip shopping centers hold pleasant surprises.
- In the same Cooper City location for 14 years, Marola’s Trattoria has built a steady clientele as a destination for a casual night out with the kids or a quiet weekend date night. It’s the kind of place where regulars are known by name. Co-owner Omar Errazquin presides over the cozy dining room while his partner, chef Rolando Gallegos, runs the kitchen. (They once expanded to Coral Springs, but sold the restaurant although it still bares the Marola’s name.) The menu offers traditional pizzas as well as gourmet options like the Vesuviana with baby clams, mozzarella, black olives and capers that we would try next time. Entrees include plenty of comfort-food favorites like lasagna, gnocchi, eggplant parmigiana, chicken francese and veal marsala. For more variety, try the fettuccine saporite (chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes) or mussels posillipo (with wine, garlic, fresh tomato and basil). I thoroughly enjoyed the zuppa di pesce, an overflowing plate of pasta with a plethora of shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, scungilli (snails) and fresh fish with a choice of red or white sauce over pasta. It was easily enough for two. My husband rated the veal parmigiana another winner with an ample portion of incredibly tender and lightly fried meat.
- If you want a casual, neighborhood place to watch a game, Billy’s Tavern fits the bill. Hidden in a Davie shopping center along State Road 84, it’s one of those places we had driven past hundreds of times without stopping. It’s definitely worth checking out. Not as loud and crowded as the big chain sports bars, Billy’s had the table set for our large party before we arrived. (It helped that we got there between the afternoon college football rush and the Saturday night karaoke crowd.) Billy’s is known for its wings, which they promise are never frozen or breaded. Choose from more than a dozen sauces including teriyaki, raspberry, jerk and Channing’s Cajun BBQ, named after Miami Dolphin Channing Crowder. We tried the honey-garlic, which was mild enough for the kids but still flavorful enough for the adults. The menu includes burgers, salads, sandwiches, ribs, seafood, quesadillas and even some low-carb options. The spinach artichoke dip and mushroom-Swiss burger were solid executions. The fried shrimp are another winner — 10 good-sized shrimp, hand-breaded and not greasy. The house specialty greuben (fried grouper topped with Swiss cheese, coleslaw and thousand island dressing) is a tasty twist on a classic, but save it for a day when you plan to blow the diet. Upgrading your side to the sweet potato sticks is well worth the minimal charge. One word of caution: When they get slammed, the kitchen and wait staff have difficulty keeping up. Order a pitcher of sangria ($11.99), and you’ll forget about the wait.
- Davie’s Emerald Thai has stood the test of time. The menu has all the favorites — curries, pad Thai, wok dishes — plus a wide range of pricier and more unusual offerings. Unfortunately, it served the least satisfying of our three meals. A starter of steamed dumplings was way too salty for our taste, while the pad Thai and chicken with fresh basil sauce were bland. (The waiter didn’t ask what spice level we preferred.) The shrimp was missing the first time the pad Thai arrived, and after it was remade and returned, the shellfish tasted rubbery. All in all, the food wasn’t nearly as good as we remembered from the last time we dined here. We’re hoping it was just an off night.