I'm all for creativity and pushing boundaries, but I'm afraid that B Square Burgers & Booze sometimes falls off the culinary cliff. I've eaten a lot of hot dogs in my life, but never a $40 footlong with shredded hunks of Maine lobster, coleslaw, garlic butter and (supposedly) truffle oil. And I downed a lot of chicken wings in my sportswriter days, but I've never seen peanut-butter-and-jelly wings on a menu.
I wasn't brave enough to try the PB&J wings, because that dish sounds like something only a drunken, bingeing Elvis would enjoy. If you want to take away my critic card for that, or my man card, so be it. The lobster hot dog was enough torture for one meal, thank you very much.
Don't get me wrong. There were some good dishes and tasty bites at B Square, which opened in August and was voted Best New Restaurant for 2016 by SouthFlorida.com readers in our annual Best of South Florida poll. The Las Olas Boulevard eatery has been doing well with the young and trendy crowd, and there have been some menu additions and tweaks since I visited this month.
But overall, there were too many head-scratchers, over-the-top toppings, and service stumbles for me to understand the hype. This is a case where I disagree with the masses. Instead of B Square, a better name might be C Minus.
"We're a work in progress," says co-founder Tommy Febbraio, a successful restaurateur from Connecticut.
Febbraio comes from the world of Italian cuisine, and he teamed up with Marc Katzenberg, the founder of the TooJay's deli chain, and chef Rafael Palomino to start B Square. The Fort Lauderdale outpost is the first of what they hope will eventually become a regional chain. The concept seizes on the upscale-casual craze that has swept the restaurant world. Besides burgers, wings and hot dogs, there is seafood, salads and comfort entrees such as chicken Parmesan and chopped sirloin steak with blue-cheese butter melted inside. There are 80 seats indoors, 80 seats on a patio and a raucous good time at the bar, which features specialty cocktails and boozy shakes.
"It's a spectacle. It's beautiful," Katzenberg says. "We want to have something for everyone, not just a place where you come to pig out on burgers, but also a place for vegetarians, for women, for kids."
Katzenberg talks up the virtues of B Square's innovative chopped salad bar, where you fill out a slip and the kitchen prepares a custom-made salad. Too bad our server never told us about it, nor did we see it listed on the menu, nor did we see any slips on our table. It might be time to go back to the drawing board on staff training.
Our server also failed to mention that the Key lime pie dessert ($7.95) isn't a pie at all, but served parfait-style in a glass. Febbraio says it's supposed to be served in a Mason jar, but ours came layered high and deep in a highball cocktail glass. It wasn't what we were expecting, wasn't easy to eat and wasn't conducive to sharing.
Febbraio calls B Square "eatery-tainment," a combination of eating and entertainment. Hence the gimmicks such as the $40 lobster hot dog (actually $38.95, but $41.29 if you include tax), and the peanut-butter-and-jelly wings.
I found some of the more basic things to my liking, such as a pan-seared filet mignon tips appetizer ($13.95) with a delicious corn-and-onion relish. And a Jack-Daniel's-and-cracked-peppercorn burger called the LMFAO ($14.95) is also very good, topped with fontina cheese, onions and a béarnaise-aioli spread. The hand-cut fries (plain or sweet potato) are also good, served with a housemade pomegranate-flavored ketchup. And the orange layer cake ($7.95) was moist, flavorful and different, with a Trumpian hew. I say it should be served at next month's inauguration.
We tried the hot-and-sticky wings ($11.95), a version with mango, pineapple and habanero. The sauce was good, but unevenly scattered on the wings, more soggy than crispy. That's because the wings are baked and only dipped in the fryer for a minute, a bid to make them healthier. The Katzy's Juben sandwich ($15.95) packed too much of a salt punch, with pastrami, roast pork and cheddar cheese (not the listed Swiss).
The T-Square turkey burger ($13.95) was topped with six ingredients, including turkey bacon, provolone and avocado, but the burger was dry, a function of the no-fat ground turkey used. The kitchen will soon switch to low-fat turkey for better texture and flavor, Febbraio says.
Some of the burgers are just topped into oblivion, too many overwhelming ingredients covering the guts of a very good patty that's seared on a custom-built, ultra-hot flat grill. Febrraio says the meat is all-natural, free of hormones and antibiotics, a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib. The burgers go through a 13-step cooking process, starting with the chilled patty hitting the grill at exactly 40 degrees, then being sprayed with water as it sizzles on the grill, which gets as hot as 750 degrees.
Too bad that burger is lost in a too-thick brioche bun and then smothered in too many ingredients in most versions, including one with pastrami, cheddar cheese and Russian dressing and another with blue cheese, caramelized onions, truffle-infused mushrooms and a fried egg. More simple burgers are also available, but you're almost hypnotized and drawn to the three-ring circus.
That brings us back to the Decadent, the foot-long American Wagyu hot dog topped with lobster. The owners say they have sold more than 100 so far, more than they expected, and that it's an item that some groups come to share and Instagram. "It's something people talk about," Katzenberg says.
Better to talk about it than to eat it. Or smell it. I didn't detect any of the advertised truffle oil with it (nor on the Parmesan truffle fries that accompanied it), but that was OK, because there were so many other things on it: lobster, cabbage, carrots, garlic butter. It was a big, hulking mess. I took a few bites, shrugged and asked, "Why?" As one of my dining companions said after sampling it, "There's a lot going on here, and none of it works."
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B SQUARE BURGERS & BOOZE
1021 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
954-999-5216 or BSquareBurger.com
Cuisine: American with upscale burgers, hot dogs, salads and comfort food
Cost: Moderate, and a $38.95 lobster hot dog
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday (lunch until 4 p.m.); 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday (brunch until 3 p.m.)
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full bar, with specialty cocktails and boozy shakes
Sound level: Lively
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Metered street and lots nearby