The Riverside Market Cafe is likely the most intriguing restaurant you've never heard of in Fort Lauderdale. The place opened 18 months ago way off the beaten path in eclectic Riverside Park, just west of downtown, where you'll find waterfront property as well as low-income housing. The best-known landmark is the North Fork New River swing bridge that connects the area to artsy Sailboat Bend.
Riverside Market serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, simple, flavorful fare with wallet-friendly prices. The most expensive item is a $12 pizza. And just about everything is homemade, from soups to macadamia nut cookies. The cafe is also on the local-sustainable bandwagon, A backyard garden brims with vegetables, fruits and herbs used in summer-fresh salads and other dishes. A friend who told me about Riverside Market gave me a helpful tip -you can ask to see the garden.
Paul Allen, who founded the national group Eat Real Food, was so excited about the restaurant on a visit to Fort Lauderdale that he helped owner Julian Segal plant hydroponic tomatoes, along with cucumbers, pumpkins, cilantro and basil. A huge avocado tree nearly shades another endeavor: herbs sprouting out of holes drilled into tall, black PVC pipes. Staffer Joel Whelpley has added a rooftop garden where he's growing a mix of greens. Plants are set in rock wool and plastic hair curlers, then wedged into PVC pipes. There's even a hops plant. Segal hopes to eventually offer beer made from those hops at an outside brewery.
He stocks 250 craft brews and specialty sodas that you can pick yourself from convenience store-style refrigerated cases. You'll find brands like super-strong Dogfish Head 120 IPA, Belgian Delirium Tremens and Nocturnum and Texas-brewed Shiner Ruby Redbird with hints of ginger and citrus. You can also customize a six-pack. Riverside offers beer tastings, and recently began carrying wine. The list is limited, but you can try boutique choices at new Saturday night wine tastings with a few tapas courses. The menu doesn't offer much in the way of entrees, but there are a few nightly specials, including fresh fish, a pasta dish and a choice of soups.
Ambience: From the outside, Riverside Market is unremarkable, but inside, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. We were charmed by the friendly staff and laid-back atmosphere. Families bring their kids, and there are a lot of college students, artists, lawyers and cops among the regulars. The airy space seats about 50 high-top tables that are often joined for communal seating, and there are comfy sofas and chairs for lounging. Walls are decorated with black-and-white blowups of historic photographs.