It happens in sports all the time. One big-name star comes to a team that already has another big-name star and, well, it can go one of two ways. Sometimes the arena’s not big enough for the both of them. And sometimes, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade make beautiful music and win trophies for a few years.
This can, of course, happen in other walks of life as well. Take the restaurant business. Competitive place, the restaurant business. Plenty of egos and reputations at stake when a new place opens. However, for the last year in an increasingly popular corner of northeast Fort Lauderdale, two of the most recognizable names in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant scene have found that teaming up has its benefits.
Jack Jackson has done many things in the restaurant business, but most locals will remember him for Burt and Jack’s. The restaurant opened when Fort Lauderdale was still the spring break capital and for almost two decades, brought urbane, upmarket steakhouse fare to town. More recently, Johnny Vinczencz’s Johnny V’s was a lively Las Olas spot that, for more than a decade, helped transition the city’s main drag into the younger, cooler place it is today.
So when the two partnered on a restaurant, they both brought impressive resumes. But in the year and a bit that Jackson’s Prime has been open, they’ve found a partnership that works.
Jackson reached out to Vinczencz less than a year after Johnny V’s had closed, and when he was already building out a new restaurant. For Vinczencz, who took a few months off after Johnny V’s closed, it wasn’t a hard sell. “I walked in, I saw the kitchen, I said ‘I’m in.’”
In the coming months as the pair worked to get the place ready, Vinczencz became more convinced he’d made the right choice. Jackson, he says, gets things done.
“He said, ‘We’re going to open August first,’ and we opened August first,” Vinczencz says. “That never happens.
“It’s nice to have somebody who’s been in the business for a long time so everything’s not on you.”
They also found themselves agreeing with each other on the food. The concept is steakhouse – plus a bit more. There are beyond-meat-and-potatoes flourishes like the grilled octopus starter or the seared scallop dish with rock shrimp risotto. There are Floridian classics like conch chowder, as well as the same stuffed lobster dish Burt & Jack’s was known for. Vinczencz thinks up a wide-ranging selection of specials.
“We have a very good mix,” Vinczencz says. “It was a good collaboration.”
Then there are the steaks.
“We don’t have one steak in the kitchen,” Vinczencz says, “that’s not USDA Prime.”
Most steakhouses have cuts of meat that have earned the United States Department of Agriculture’s “prime” grade. It’s more rare for a kitchen to have nothing but beef with that grade. For Jackson, it’s something of a tradition.
“I was really the first guy to bring full USDA meats to Broward County with Burt and Jack’s,” he says.
Now, an explanation may be in order. Not for anybody who dined out in Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s and ‘90s, but for anybody who didn’t and doesn’t know the role Burt and Jack’s played in the local restaurant scene. The restaurant sat in Port Everglades overlooking the water; the “Burt” in the name was Jackson’s friend, Burt Reynolds. When the restaurant opened in 1984, Reynolds couldn’t make opening night – he was in a Pier 66 hotel room struggling with kidney stones – but celebrity friends including Dom DeLuise, Ernest Borgnine, Ricardo Montalban and Reynolds’ then-girlfriend, Loni Anderson, did. For nearly two decades, the restaurant offered high-end steakhouse luxury that largely still existed only in major cities such as New York or Chicago. (Jackson had been inspired by a visit to the original Morton’s the Steakhouse in Chicago.)
In the end, it was 9/11 – or more specifically, the post-9/11 security protocols that went into place at the port – that did the restaurant in. Every diner driving in had to now pass checkpoints. Security lines began to back up. The restaurant closed in 2002. But Jackson had a philosophy and a few basic rules that worked. He kept those.
The current location in the shops just north of Oakland Park Boulevard on A1A doesn’t quite offer the grand views of Burt and Jack’s or the Las Olas pedestrian vibe of Johnny V’s. But with a few diverse offerings in a small space – neighbors include bar and music venue Blue Jean Blues, Smoke BBQ, the waterfront locale of local sports restaurant chain Bokamper’s and others – it’s becoming a popular destination.
“It’s an enclave,” Jackson says. “It’s something you don’t see much of anymore.”
The restaurant itself offers understated elegance – a largely black-and-white color scheme, a central bar, an open kitchen in one corner where Vinczencz and his team are fully on display. It’s the kind of place that allows two known men to get out and see the people who know them. “Both Johnny and I are very accessible in the restaurant,” Jackson says. “I try to talk to every table every night, and Johnny’s always available.”
Vinczencz laughs and motions towards the open kitchen. “I can’t hide here.”
But if he lacks a hiding place, he does have a business partner who, like him, knows and is known in the industry. Sometimes, big-name partnerships end up working perfectly.
The Dish: Charred Octopus
For the tomato relish
- 1 large tomato (remove seeds & pulp) diced small.
- 1 large shallot (small dice and caramelized).
- ¼ oz. diced fresh chive.
- 2 ½ oz. octopus sauce. Serves 4 persons.
For the octopus sauce
- 2 oz. fresh ginger (peeled and cooked)
- 1 shallots (diced and cooked with ginger)
- 1 1/2 oz. roasted garlic
- 6 oz. sambal chili
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 1/2 oz. honey
- 1/2 bunch fresh basil
- 1/2 oz. red curry paste
- 12 oz. canola oil
- 2 oz. sesame oil
- Slow roast octopus with carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves, thyme, red wine vinegar and a touch of virgin olive oil. Roast approximately two hours or until tender.
- Remove from oven and also the vinegar marinade, then chill completely.
- Remove head and clean tentacles. Marinate overnight in octopus sauce.
- Grill 6 minutes on each side until nicely charred.
- Remove and slice into 1″ pieces.
- Toss baby arugula greens with fresh lemon, virgin olive oil, salt & pepper. Top with tomato relish, garnish plate with octopus sauce.