The goods: Il Mercato Cafe and Wine Bar is hidden in a strip mall on Hallandale Beach Boulevard, but once you find it you’ll forget your drab surroundings. Husband and wife owners Michael and Emily Lynch — she cooks, he does everything else — have created an unpretentious, refreshingly affordable spot. He was a sommelier at Maison d’Azur, she cooked at Manhattan’s Eleven Madison Park and Miami’s Table 8.
Ambience: The small space is warmed up with cookbook-lined bookcases, a cork-accented brick wall and an inviting bar displaying fresh-baked cakes. There are plans for outdoor seating, but for now the indoor butcher-block tables and candlelit atmosphere nurture date night.
The grub: Eclectic European cuisine. The Norwegian chef brings a Nordic/Germanic sensibility to the concise menu of five starters, a half-dozen mains, a few salads and pastas. Prices are wallet-friendly: starters average $8, mains are less than $20 and all can be had in half-portions for $7-$9 – perfect for sharing.
Start with a plate of the homemade knodel (potato dumplings) smothered in a mushroom cream sauce. The smoked salmon comes over a crisp potato pancake with a dollop of dill cream. A bowl of chicken wings is cooked confit-style and then grilled with a sesame ginger glaze. All pastas are house-made, including the artichoke-filled ravioli bathed in a lemon cream sauce. Main plates include a half chicken with spaetzle, zucchini and Riesling jus and grilled hanger steak with green peppercorn Roquefort sauce. For dessert, choose caramel flan, peach crostini or velvety, house-made gelato. The international wine list is eclectic and affordable.
Verdict: Interesting wines, Scandinavian-inspired small plates and a relaxed vibe make this spot worth a trek to Hallandale.