A structural engineer inadvertently helped give The Chimney House its name.
When restaurateur Frank Rodriguez first started work on remodeling the historic 1920s Sailboat Bend house into a café, he wanted to remove the house’s large brick fireplace and chimney. The fireplace was large and characterful – the sort of detail real estate agents and HGTV personalities gush over – but it sat squat in the middle of what was going to be a busy dining room and serving area. Rodriguez reckoned it needed to go.
Not so fast, said the engineer. Turns out, the fireplace/chimney structure was integral to the building’s framework. Removing it would be a big, expensive ordeal.
“Against all of my wishes, we ended up keeping the chimney,” Rodriguez says. “And it turned out to be the best decision ever.”
Rodriguez has made a few good decisions at The Chimney House. The cozy restaurant, which sits at the eastern edge of Sailboat Bend across the street from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, offers a unique mix of Latin flavor and old Fort Lauderdale charm.
Rodriguez owns the restaurant with Yady, his wife. They’re Colombian, and the kitchen team comes from across Latin America. Together they’ve created a pan-Latin menu. “Everything about the menu is Latin food – we work off traditional recipes,” Rodriguez says.
There’s a tapas menu, several ceviche dishes and a “casual corner” featuring dishes such as the “Gaucho Steak Sandwich,” seasoned mahi mahi tacos and vegetarian tempeh tacos. Main courses include such dishes as the “Peruvian-Cantonese” lomo saltado (wok stir-fried steak strips, red onions, tomatoes, French fries and soy sauce) and ropa vieja (actually more a Venezuelan version of the classic Cuban dish, Rodriguez says.)
Sometimes new customers misunderstand what they’re doing – but occasionally that leads to new menu items. Like the time people kept asking for a certain Mexican-restaurant staple. “We got tired of explaining we’re not a Mexican restaurant,” Rodriguez says, “so we did our own version of guacamole and chips.”
The restaurant’s décor is minimalist, save a couple of old black-and-white Florida pictures on a wall, allowing the old house itself to occupy center stage. Outside sits a large covered patio with a raised deck giving way to a ground-level area.
Being away from the main eastside restaurant areas means costs such as rent are a bit lower. That means Rodriguez can keep his prices where he wants them. Of the regular menu items, only the grilled ribeye in Malbec sauce checks in at more than $20.
“We always want to maintain our affordable price points,” Rodriguez says.
There are challenges. Turning a historic Sailboat Bend house into a restaurant means, inevitably, a small kitchen. They get around that by giving up a bit of dining room space and turning one side of the room into the cold-prep area. (The fireplace squats alongside a food case and a counter that act as the demarcation line.) And the process of getting all the necessary permissions and doing the remodeling in Fort Lauderdale’s historic-district neighborhood was one that took six – six – years. At one point during the process, they gave up and left the project for the better part of a year. But they came back, and finally got it going.
That was several years ago, and the long road to opening has proven its worth from the struggles. The Rodriguez family live nearby in Sailboat Bend and love their eclectic location, where they get everybody from the lunchtime business crowd to pre-theater diners to neighbors from Sailboat Bend and Riverside Park.
“I love seeing families come in,” Rodriguez says. “We get a lot of baby outings – ‘Oh, it’s our first day out and we decided to come here.’ Or kids pick us.”
It’s the sort of location where you can see all kinds, and Rodriguez loves that.
“I’ll get a customer on a skateboard, but I’ll also have a Bentley or a Ferrari in the parking lot.
“We like that it’s one of the most eclectic places for a customer base.”
The Dish: Arroz Marinero
Spanish seafood rice that’s similar to paella and popular in South America. Serves about 4.
- 4 cups of rice. Use long grain as it’s most forgiving
- 5 cups of seafood stock. Use shrimp shells to make your own, or buy
- 1 cup of chicken stock
- 1/2 lb calamari, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1/2 lb shrimp, clean and deveined. You can save shells for stock
- 1/2 lb scallops
- Mussels and clams as desired – for flavor and decorates the dish
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron (Splurge on this key ingredient)
- 1 red pepper, some chopped and some cut into thin long pieces
- 1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup white cooking wine
- Spanish chorizo, sliced into thin pieces (This provides depth of flavor, but you may do without)
- 1/2 cup peas
- Olive oil
Put olive oil into a paella pan or a large-lidded, shallow casserole dish. Bring to medium heat and add finely chopped garlic, onion and the chopped red pepper. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and fry for another 5 minutes in medium heat stirring regularly.
Add the saffron and stir, then add the seafood and chicken stocks and stir. Add pinches of salt and black pepper for flavor. Immediately add the rice and stir a bit so the rice takes on the flavor and color of the ingredients. Then cover the pan with the lid and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring lightly and adding splashes of white wine as needed. Stir in the seafood at this time – shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, clams – and peas. Add a splash of the white wine and cover for another 5 minutes or until seafood has changed color and looks ready. When done, place some of the long red pepper pieces on top to decorate. Also reorganize mussels and clams around the edge of the pan to decorate. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper if desired. You may also sprinkle some parsley flakes. Buen provecho!