Meatballs at Café Martorano.

Steve Martorano certainly upped the stakes with his new venture at Seminole Paradise, and the lavish 378-seat restaurant is already looking like a winner. Dining here is fun, vibrant and not for everyone. Come before 8pm for a fairly quiet meal (it’s much easier to get a table during the summer) or join the younger, late-night crowd for the good times. You’re most likely to find the big guy himself at his “baby,” the cozier Fort Lauderdale café, where he cooks (the menu is more extensive), spins tunes and schmoozes with celebs like the former Sopranos cast and sports stars Jason Taylor and his buddy Shaq. Martorano’s tough-guy persona (he’s actually charming) and superb cooking have landed him an agent, an autobiography with recipes (Yo Cuz It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy, due out in September) and a deal for Steve Martorano’s Italian Village, a restaurant-lounge with a limited menu expected to open in South Beach this year. 

Despite the hype, homey Italian-American comfort food is still the star of Martorano’s show. He prides himself on using the wonderful recipes he learned from his mama and top-notch ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, Sicilian olive oil and house-made pasta.  Martorano is the meatball king and there’s a cook at the restaurant whose sole job is to boil pasta — to order — all night. Food is served hot, when it’s ready. It’s wise to eat family style so you can share the parade of generous plates whisked to your table by a young, capable staff.

Ambience: The sprawling setting near Hollywood has the same mobster film clips, sparkling disco ball and late-night party scene that helped elevate the South Philly native to celebrity magnet, but on a much bigger scale. The place is more than twice the size of Café Martorano, which opened 17 years ago in a Fort Lauderdale strip mall and spawned a Las Vegas version in 2007. The Seminole site has 32 plasma TVs (the sound is off most of the time), a DJ booth with state-of-the-art equipment (Martorano’s son, Joey, often takes over the spinning) and a gleaming open kitchen with 42 burners.

What Worked

  • Heavenly light, seven-ounce fried meatballs with ground pork, veal and beef, served with a soul-satisfying pork- and beef-enriched “gravy” and a mound of salad
  • A killer Philly cheese steak stacked with American cheese, tender pieces of rib-eye and caramelized onions on a toasty hoagie roll
  • Irresistible truffle-flavored, Parmesan fries
  • A starter of silky, house-made mozzarella served with salty, thinly sliced prosciutto
  • Plump mussels in an exquisite red sauce and heady with aromas of garlic and basil
  • Outstanding rigatoni and superbly tender Sunday-style pork gravy
  • A seafood linguine special carried by delicate, sweet flavors of lobster and shrimp
  • Juicy and perfectly cooked halibut served with a lovely risotto studded with peas
  • Luscious house-made waffles or a brownie topped with fudge sauce, both served with vanilla ice cream


What Didn’t Work

  • A disappointing $69 New York strip special


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