The much-beloved Himmarshee Bar and Grill underwent a major transformation this past September. It emerged as PL8 Kitchen, a restaurant featuring tapas-size entrees, an assortment of exotic pizzas and a gargantuan, treelike installation made of clothespins by local artist Gerry Stecca. Despite the profound changes by the management, one thing remains the same: Himmarsh--, er, PL8 is still the best, most-entertaining restaurant within walking distance of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
PL8's menu includes one fan favorite held over from its predecessor: uber-sweet butternut-squash purses with shiitake mushrooms, sage and a brown-butter pecan sauce ($9) that walks the line between dessert and appetizer. Even though the most-expensive items cost $12, because the plates are small, a bill can easily add up. However much you plan to order, see if you can snag the best seats in the house on the second-story balcony, where you can people-watch while perched above the street like royalty.
Although the fare can be described as elevated bar food, it's also quite bold, particularly the fried-chicken-breast sliders with watermelon ($8) and nut-crusted goat-cheese croquettes with Fuji apples ($8). The drink menu is just as eclectic, with cocktails featuring basil, cucumber vodka, cilantro, figs and lemongrass. Holding its own on the bar-heavy street, PL8 serves a large selection of funky martinis, tropical cocktails, mojitos and caprioskas. We sampled the Sicilian Orange ($12), a pulpy drink with Ketel One Orange, Solerno blood-orange liqueur, Midori, grapes, orange and basil that sent us back to our screwdriver-drinking college days. A Downtown Slang ($12), with Grey Goose Citron, Cedilla acai liqueur, raspberry preserves, lemon juice and rosemary, was nuanced and sweet, with the Grey Goose giving it a nice kick. I may go back for seconds, even if my buddies give me grief for ordering a raspberry martini.
With so many restaurants and bars offering mediocre pizzas these days, you may be tempted to ignore PL8's list. That would be a mistake. PL8's pies, with their singed, airy, thin crusts, are the most-delicious pizzas we've had in a while. The pizzas are hand-tossed, and cooked in a glowing brick oven in a corner of the dining room.
Our clear favorite, the fungi pizza ($11) — with bechamel, seasonal mushrooms, porcini oil and plump, smoked Gouda — left us eyeing each other as a psychological war erupted over the last slice. Fans of Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza will enjoy the meatball pizza ($10), with ricotta, mozzarella and small, meatballs littered all over it. Venturing into the strange yet appealing, we went for the Sunny Side Up ($13), essentially a full English breakfast reincarnated as a pizza. You get bacon, smoked Gouda, onions, peppers, fingerling potatoes, maple syrup, truffle oil and sunny-side-up quail eggs. A quail egg is placed on each slice. Unlike traditional eggs would, these don't create a nasty pool of runny yolk in the middle of the pizza.
Elsewhere on the menu, beef sliders are made with ground brisket and short rib, raclette cheese, caramelized onions and a garlic-herb spread ($10). They held up well against other sliders we've had. Grilled Korean short ribs with sweet, hot, purple kimchi and pineapple ponzu ($10) were too fatty, and offered a low meat-to-bone ratio. But the pineapple sauce was enjoyable. On the other hand, chicken satay ($10) was perfectly seared, moist and made special with a mahogany glaze. The accompanying cold soba noodles aren't for everyone, but the chicken was a knockout. Shrimp bruschetta with fresh ricotta, roasted cherry tomatoes and saba balsamic vinegar ($9) has potential with some tweaks. But the kitchen misfired by going light on the shrimp, mild on the balsamic vinegar and using thin bread that gets overly soaked and floppy.
Despite all the restaurant's worldly influences, its good, ol' Southern dishes nearly had us licking the skillets. The ingredients in the mac and cheese ($6) change daily, but the version with goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, bacon and mushroom stock was just about perfect. Small, tubular ditalini pasta were perfect for soaking up the cheese, and the just-right layer of bread crumbs provided great crunch and texture. I'm a sucker for great grits, so PL8 came through for me with rich, cheddar cheese-infused shrimp and grits with bacon, tomato and sherry ($10), featuring two jumbo shrimp atop the whole thing.
You'll want to sample PL8's fried potatoes, both regular and sweet. While a bit pricey, a basket of thin, hand-cut French fries ($6) comes with outstanding sauces, including melted cheese, lemon truffle aioli and a spicy, fruit-infused barbecue sauce. Not to be outdone, chili-dusted sweet potato wedges ($5) were crispy and steakhouse-thick, and came with a homemade, spicy raspberry jam.
For dessert, the highlight was a slice of Baileys Irish Cream cheesecake with large chocolate chips, berry sauce and a rich chocolate crust ($6). Tiramisu parfait ($9) was enjoyable, but unconventional, with balls of cinnamon-topped mascarpone, caramel sauce and crunchy ladyfinger cookies all served separately on the plate. Banana bread ($6) was a hit with its spongecake-like texture and large slices of banana.
While repeat customers will decide whether Himmarshee Bar and Grill's transformation into PL8 Kitchen is a success, it is nice to see a long-standing restaurant courageously reimagine itself with tasty results.
210 S.W. Second St., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Eclectic, pizza
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes