Walk into the 275-seat Gamaroff's most any night, and you may feel as if you've entered a time warp. It's a very pleasant time warp, but a throwback just the same, considering we didn't spend $15 on a bowl of soup or $40 on an entree.
Gamaroff's is a noisy, supersize dining hall of a place where value — and quality — is the name of the game.
Consider these prices: $13.95 for a 12-ounce cut of perfectly seasoned, slow- roasted, aged prime rib; $8.95 for a basket of golden-fried chicken served with a homemade corn fritter; $8.95 for the Gamaroff Burger, 10 ounces topped with cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and onion blossom petals.
Yes, onion blossom petals. The fried onion blossom ($6.95) is a signature appetizer, and well worth splitting if you're dining with a big group.
"We are emulating the higher-end steakhouses," says George Morfidis, who owns Gamaroff's with Michael Seltzer. "We specialize in our beef. I think the bottom line is what we try to do is value for your money, especially in this economy. Our catchphrase is 'genuine food, genuine fun.' "
Gamaroff, by the way, was the maiden name of Seltzer's grandmother. Seltzer is originally from Montreal, where he owned Le Bifthèque, a popular steakhouse that eventually became a multi-unit chain. He then oversaw the growth of Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse into a 10-location operation. Seltzer capitalizes on his experience in the meat business, sourcing quality meat at great prices, which he passes on to guests.
Beef — wet aged for 30 days and then butchered on the premises — is very much the star here.
So we also shared barbecue beef ribs ($6.95), oversize and chewy as beef ribs often are, but tasty in a home-cooked way. When's the last time you saw sweet-and-sour meatballs ($6.95) on an appetizer menu? I forgot how much I liked them.
I can't imagine coming here and not ordering that $13.95 prime-rib dinner. I ordered mine medium-rare, and it came cooked perfectly with a side of au jus for dipping. My only complaint? The au jus wasn't hot enough. Someone else in our party ordered his medium, and the kitchen nailed his temperature, too. The Gamaroff Burger, served with crispy fries, was also a crowd-pleaser.
But it's not all meat here. Ahi tuna steak ($15.95) is served seared or blackened with toasted sesame seeds. It seems awfully sophisticated next to overflowing plates of beef. Steaming-hot shrimp scampi ($13.95) is all butter and garlic, served in its own ramekin. There's even a house-made veggie burger ($8.95) and a chicken burger ($7.95).
I was just as impressed with the side dishes, served family-style. Creamed spinach ($5.95) had a wonderfully creamy texture, but the cream wasn't overdone. At least one person at the table objected to the amount of nutmeg in the dish. I didn't. Mac and cheese ($4.95) was another version that you'd be more likely to make at home than be served in a restaurant. But it was very good just the same.
With the Canadian co-owner, it was no surprise to find poutine ($6.95) — French fries, cheddar and gravy — on the menu. It wasn't the best version this Canadian has ever tasted, but a nice reminder of home.
Service, like the atmosphere, can be a bit chaotic. While we received everything we ordered, our waitress seemed overwhelmed at times, but she called on help when she needed it. My advice? Make a later reservation and avoid the 7 p.m. rush, because by 9:30 p.m., the place was near empty.
With its tavernlike atmosphere, Gamaroff's isn't for everyone. But with a menu where the highest-priced entree cost $24.95 for 32 ounces of prime rib, this restaurant delivers on the value it so gladly proclaims.
And who wouldn't like that?
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Gamaroff's Bar and Grill
100 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale Beach
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot