Ryan Lorenzo can’t easily define the restaurant where he’s head chef – and really, that’s kind of the point. He can tell you what the Brown Dog Eatery isn’t. It isn’t a pizza place, for example, and it isn’t a burger joint. But what is it? That’s a bit trickier.
“It’s fun food,” Lorenzo says. “It’s a cross between comfort food and a gastropub. I like to do food you’re not going to go down the street and get.
“We’re not nailed down to a certain thing.”
If the place’s name sounds familiar with its animal/color theme, that’s because it’s the newest creation from restaurateur Elliot Wolf’s Be Nice Restaurant Group – the people behind the last two restaurants where Lorenzo worked, Foxy Brown and Red Cow.
“We wanted to do something in this area that’s a little different,” Lorenzo says of the restaurant he helped open. “We’re here to have fun with food.”
The menu’s familiar to Foxy Brown fans, with its upmarket takes on American comfort food.
At Be Nice, they try not to box food or restaurants into specific concepts. Lorenzo’s got the freedom to be creative and try different things. They’ve got a pizza oven, but they don’t use it for pizza. Instead it’s where the caramel apple bread pudding gets made. (The hotter pizza oven gives it a nice crust.) There are a few items that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find on a nice restaurant’s menu – like hot pockets. (Although it should be noted, these are homemade “hot pockets,” not the microwavable lunch items known to office workers and fans of comedian Jim Gaffigan.) It’s the sort of menu where quirky can sit alongside high-end.
“We can do peanut butter and jelly hot pockets,” Lorenzo says, “or we can do prime rib.
“We’re unique. Especially in this area, there’s nothing that does what we do.”
Lorenzo’s not the first member of his family to put a unique stamp on the Fort Lauderdale dining and nightlife trade. His uncle, Butch Samp, owns Las Olas institution The Floridian Restaurant and owned another local landmark, Ernie’s Bar-B-Q, until he sold it for development last year. (Since Ernie’s closure, it’s Samp who’s responsible for saving the Ernie’s menu – conch fritters, Bimini bread and all – and adding it to The Floridian menu.)
Lorenzo’s late father, Paul Lorenzo, preferred bars and nightclubs to restaurants – his businesses included such spring break heyday spots as the Candy Store, Rosebuds and the Booby Trap as well as Cheers, the Cypress Creek bar that today has a second location in Sunrise.
Ryan’s first restaurant job was at 13 in Shuck N Dive, the Victoria Park Louisiana-style restaurant and bar. (That was a family friend’s place, not a family business.) Other than years spent at New York’s Culinary Institute of America, he’s always been a Fort Lauderdale guy. He started his career (not counting his teenage stint) at Mark’s Las Olas, and he’s seen other kitchens as well. In fact, this isn’t even the first time he’s worked in the building that is now the Brown Dog, and which has been a number of other restaurants over the years.
He’s known Elliot Wolf for a number of years, and came to work for him about four years ago. “When you treat people well, people want to do their jobs, and then everybody is happy,” Lorenzo says of Wolf’s success in a business that can be rough. “The Be Nice logo is really what drives this company.”
Lorenzo knows the history of dining and nightlife in Fort Lauderdale, and he’s seen many places come and go. People dump money into places that are gone three weeks later. That’s the business. But, he reckons, the people he’s working with now have a vision – and it’s a vision that lets him be creative and develop something different.
“There’s pizza places opening on every corner, there’s burger places on every corner,” he says. “That gets boring. We have fun with it.”
The Dish: Brown Dog Eatery’s Corn & Crab Dip
- 2.5 lbs cream cheese (softened)
- 1 cup shallots, sliced
- ¼ cup garlic, sliced
- 1 can lump crab meat
- 3 ears fresh corn
- 1 tbsp Old Bay
- 2 cups cheddar cheese
- ½ cup of diced scallions
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sautee corn, shallots, and garlic in a pan. Once the mixture has cooked down, let it cool. In a bowl, mix in the other ingredients and add in the cooked vegetables. Place in casserole dish and heat at 350 for 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve with crackers or bread; at Brown Dog Eatery we recommend eating it with Ritz Crackers.
For more information on Brown Dog Eatery, please visit browndogeateryftl.com