There’s a certain sort of food that Lobster Bar Sea Grille is known for. The discerning reader might even notice a clever clue in the restaurant’s name. But for executive chef Jeff Pfeiffer, the restaurant is just as much a place for a meal made of something that once roamed the land.
“That’s the great thing about us; we aren’t known for one thing,” he says. “You walk in the door and you’re thinking lobster, but I guarantee you half of Fort Lauderdale thinks we’re a steakhouse.
“A lot of our steaks are actually prime plus, they’re not just the USDA graded prime; they could actually be graded higher if anything existed like that.”
Pfeiffer has been at the Las Olas restaurant since it opened in 2013, and he’s always tried to strike a balance with the menu – one third lobster, one third other seafood and one third steak. It’s not a menu that lends itself to reinventing the wheel as much as it relies on quality products and preparation.
“We’re not trying to blow anybody’s mind here,” Pfeiffer says. “I like to cook the food I would like to eat. The quality of product we have, the simplicity of preparation, I think represents us very well.”
Whether it’s surf or turf, relationships with suppliers are key to maintaining the standards Pfeiffer wants. The restaurant’s parent company, Atlanta-based Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, has been around since the late 1970s. Pfeiffer’s regularly on the phone with a fish buyer who has worked with the company for more than 30 years and who has relationships with the people on the docks and seafood auction blocks.
“He’ll give me a call and say we’re able to get this certain fish from Greece or we’re able to get another fish from New Zealand,” Pfeiffer says. “We’re getting prawns from Japan; we’re getting Dover sole from the Netherlands. Our octopus is always Spanish. We’re not just going through companies, we’re going direct to the buyer, cutting out the middleman.
“I love all things seafood, so any time I can get something whether it’s local or more often than not, not local, that’s what I do.”
The family-owned restaurant company owns nine restaurants. Pfeiffer describes it as a best-of-both-worlds kind of place. “It’s a large company, but it’s also a mom and pop,” he says. “They’re obsessed with food and hospitality in general. They’ve got their finger on the pulse of the restaurant every day.”
Pfeiffer frequently gets calls from the founder and owner. “A lot of dishes are just me and him on the phone,” he says, “and then two weeks later it’s on the menu.”
Lately, they’ve also had to have discussions about plenty of topics other than the food. Pfeiffer thinks they’ve made COVID-related changes well.
“Just like people always eat with their eyes first, we feel that when you walk into the restaurant, see our safety protocols, you’re automatically put at ease,” he says.
The parent company has put all sorts of protocols in place, and Pfeiffer says the staff have been highly professional about the way they’ve adapted to the new ways.
“As highly regarded as our restaurant is by patrons, I think it’s regarded just as highly by employees,” he says. “We attract a certain type of professionalism that just understands this is the way of the world now.”
A greater focus on pick-up and takeout is also the way of the world now, and Lobster Bar Sea Grille has adapted there as well. “Originally when we opened we had a very strict rule, no take out; the food isn’t going to be the same,” Pfeiffer says. “That evolved over the years, but now we’ve really had to take a giant leap into it. We haven’t done a lot of different things to our food; we’ve modified the menu a little bit to help us do some carryout.”
They’ve done a few things to make takeout lobster work better – namely, helping customers get it ready when they get it home rather than overcooking it, which is easy to do with lobster. “I think we’ve done the best set-up for it,” Pfeiffer says. “We give some simple reheat directions for something like the lobster tail.”
It’s one more thing the place does to make a home for itself with loyal clientele on the downtown stretch of Las Olas that’s becoming increasingly crowded with restaurants. “Since day one we’ve always said we’re just happy to be part of the neighborhood,” he says. “It really takes all kinds of restaurants to make up a community.
“We’re very lucky that the community has embraced us, as such. We’re not a Florida company, we’re not a Fort Lauderdale company, but what we do offer is quality. There’s everything in Fort Lauderdale. I think we fit nicely in our niche corner in Las Olas.”
The Dish: Tropical Lobster & Seafood Ceviche
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 2 Nova Scotia lobsters, steamed and meat removed
- 1 cup calamari tubes, sliced half inch wide
- 6 large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut in half
- 1 cup scallops, cleaned and quartered
- 1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 tbsp shallots, minced
- ½ cup mango, small dice
- ½ cup papaya, small dice
- ½ cup cantalope, small dice
- ¼ cup basil, chopped
- ½ jalapeno, sliced thin
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 2 limes, halved
Combine the vinegar, olive oil and honey. Set aside the mixture in the refrigerator. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, turn off the water and add seafood other than lobster meat. Stir for 30 seconds and drain off the water. Put the seafood and cooked lobster meat in a chilled bowl over ice.
Drain all liquid off cold cooked seafood and add shallots, fruit, jalapeno and basil. Pour the vinegar and oil mixture over the seafood. Season heavily with salt and white pepper. Spoon ceviche into 4 bowls, cover with cilantro leaves and serve with half a lime.