If the walls could talk at GG's Waterfront Bar and Grill, they'd no doubt have lots to say about some of its former patrons, which include some not-so-nice mafiosos such as Meyer Lanskyand John Gotti.
That was a long time ago — 1948 to 1994 — when GG's was known as Joe Sonken's Gold Coast Restaurant and Lounge, and wise guys sat at red leather booths under chandeliers made from ship's wheels while a strolling guitarist played "Return to Rome." Ah, the good old days.
Let's just say I had my concerns — delightfully unfounded — before checking in on GG's twice in the past month.
Two years ago, veteran restaurateurs Dan and Lise-Anne Serafini took over what had become Giorgio's Grill. Close to half a million dollars later, the Serafinis have transformed a time-warped Intracoastal cliche into a handsome waterfront destination.
I had a sense this place was big — it seats 400 — but it runs like a much-smaller, more-intimate operation.
It starts at the valet stand, where a well-mannered bevy of uniformed attendants whisk your car away. Inside, the hostess gives you seating choices that run from main dining room to dockside and patio. The dock is my favorite. The servers are professionals who know a thing or two about service and hospitality. After one meal inside, we asked to see the dock and were escorted outside for a tour. That same waiter greeted us warmly on our return, even though he wasn't assigned to our table.
"I think it's a testament to us being here as owner-operators every day and leading by example," says Dan Serafini, who has increased staff from 25 to 60. "We want to bring back the locals. This was a local hangout for years, but it lost its luster. It had run its course. It was time to come up with a new concept."
Chef Henry Gonzalez's menu may best be described as classic steak and seafood meets modern South Florida. You can start with shrimp cocktail ($5 each) or raw oysters ($18 per dozen), tuna tartare with kimchi and sesame ($13) or spring rolls filled with grilled chicken and roasted vegetables.
Reminders of the old, Greek-centered Giorgio's Grill can be found on the menu, including roasted vegetable flatbread ($11) topped with Kalamata olives, feta cheese and pesto. The Mediterranean Trio ($11) — tzatziki, babaganoush, taramasalata — is big enough for a meal.
Floribbean crab cakes ($13) get plated with black-bean corn salsa and roasted-red-pepper coulis. One night, we started with a platter of stone crabs (market price).
Red meat is a good choice. New Zealand lamb chops ($29) are marinated in herbs and citrus, and come off the grill wonderfully tender. A 15-ounce New York strip steak ($29) was less tender, but fine. Steaks and chops are served with a choice of vegetables or roasted, herb-mashed or baked potato.
Gonzalez is at his best with seafood. I can't say enough about his bouillabaisse ($32), which includes a half Maine lobster along with clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari in a classic saffron tomato broth. The saffron may have been a bit overdone, but each shellfish was perfectly cooked. Another night, I ordered a special seafood risotto ($36), an overflowing platter filled with the same goodies as the bouillabaisse, minus lobster. Another winner.
The chef serves Florida snapper ($30) with a rich citrus beurre blanc, basmati rice and asparagus. And it takes a real talent to pair coconut and mango curry with seafood, but he does it expertly with pan-seared Florida grouper ($30).
Ever notice how visitors to South Florida want to eat seafood with a water view? They'd do no better than at GG's.
There's a fine tiramisu ($8) on the dessert menu, but the real star here is the unconventional Napoleon ($9), which starts with phyllo dough instead of puff pastry, and gets classic cream filling topped with fresh berries and preserves.
Folks in Hollywood have high hopes for the 2014 opening of the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort. I say GG's is already leading the way.
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GG's Waterfront Bar and Grill
606 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood
Cuisine: Classic American seafood and steaks
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $3 valet