With “La La Land” poised to score at the Oscars later this month, I figured it might be a good time to check out All That Jazz Café in Sunrise. For those who haven’t seen the movie, Ryan Gosling plays a musician who dreams about opening his own jazz club and restaurant. The idealistic character wants to bring a quintessentially American musical genre back to relevance, and a younger audience. He also wants to serve chicken on a stick.
“That was a bad idea on his part,” Michael Kolber says about the chicken.
Kolber opened All That Jazz in 2013, and he doesn’t offer chicken on a stick. He does have decent pastas and Louisiana-inspired dishes, including jambalaya, barbecue shrimp and Cajun-spiced pork chops. The food can be uneven, and the service was slow on a recent packed weekend night, but you can’t beat the beat. There’s something about live music that puts you in a happier place, particularly when it’s the sophisticated strains of a grownup jazz trio.
Like the Gosling character, Kolber is a musician who has followed his heart and an unlikely path. He has spent time in kitchens as a professional chef, running Il Bacio in Davie in the 1990s, and has spent time playing music professionally in New York clubs. He also is a music teacher.
When you walk into All That Jazz, you’ll see Kolber playing the upright bass (he says some kids call it “a big violin.”) He also preps food in the kitchen during the day, and lends a helping hand with service when the jazz trio takes 15-minute breaks every hour. His sister-in-law, Eliane, cooks and runs the kitchen and his brother, David Kolber, oversees the 90-seat dining room.
“We want to be known as a restaurant first,” Kolber says in a follow-up interview.
But it’s a restaurant with limited hours, open only three days a week for dinner, Thursday through Saturday, with occasional special events on Sundays, including a monthly Beatles tribute. There is no cover charge, but tables are asked to satisfy a $15-per-person minimum, no problem given the food, beer and wine selection.
I happened to visit on the restaurant’s busiest night ever, according to Kolber, when it served 160 meals and took in record revenue. I asked if he’s seeing a “La La Land” boom, something he hadn’t considered but said was a possibility. He saw the film recently, and is heartened that “people who aren’t hardcore jazz fans can discover how passionate and moving this music can be.”
Too often, he says, people who want to check out bands are relegated to a bar or lounge, maybe a smoke-filled place where you wear blue jeans. “The idea of being able to have a wonderful dinner in the same room as the music, with passionate professional musicians — and there are many around here — it just really appeals to me,” Kolber says. “It’s like going back to the 1950s.”
If “La La Land” wins Best Picture, would he reconsider his chicken-on-a-stick aversion, and maybe offer it as a sly special?
“Totally cheesy,” Kolber says.
Kolber has some cheesy stuff of his own, namely very good garlic bread topped with mozzarella and pesto ($7.25). It was a nice way to ease into the meal, along with a bottle of Pinot Noir. Our table for five was lucky, because we snagged the last table before a wait began. The restaurant does not take reservations, but if you call when you’re on your way, they’ll put your name on a list.
I had some issues with the appetizers, the Bourbon Street barbecue shrimp ($11.50) and calamari and shrimp in Creole sauce ($12.50), both with concept and execution. The restaurant uses small (50-to-60 per pound) shelled shrimp in both dishes, and they were so small and tasteless I almost thought I was eating bay shrimp.
For those who have been to New Orleans, Louisiana-style barbecue shrimp typically uses head-on jumbo shrimp, better to sop up the traditional sauce made of butter and delectable Cajun spices. Kolber also uses beer. The sauce is good, but would be bolstered by better seafood. And the dish came out cold. Kolber says he and his brother have discussed a switch to larger, head-on shrimp.
Much better was a white-bean soup with a tomato base that came out piping hot. It’s a simple vegan dish with five ingredients, and it tasted clean and delicious.
All That Jazz offers tacos, meatball and chicken Parmesan sandwiches, and salads with numerous add-ons, but we decided to go for heftier Louisiana dishes. Diners can custom-order pasta plates with a variety of sauces and toppings, and there is fish, steak, chicken and pork chops prepared in different styles: Cajun, Jamaican jerk and Italian.
There’s also something of a tease. On Thursdays only, the restaurant offers a wider selection of Southern and Cajun dishes, including gumbo, shrimp and grits, and bread pudding with whiskey sauce for dessert. Kolber says he wants to bolster business on Thursday with exclusive specials, but it’s annoying that weekend diners can’t have a shot at the same fare, which he describes as delicious. And if he can’t offer the whole shebang, at least give us a chance at the bread pudding.
The jambalaya ($20.95) that is offered every night was delicious, spiced rice simmered with Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp and scallops. Pesto pasta with chicken ($17.25) was flavorful. New Orleans pasta ($18.25), with shrimp, sausage and chicken in a light spicy cream sauce was fine. Pecan-crusted mahi-mahi ($24.95) was a bit overcooked. Cajun-style pork chops ($20.95) were a hit at first, crackling with spices and a creamy housemade remoulade sauce, but tempered when the second pork chop on the plate came up overcooked and leathery.
With the room full and the kitchen backed up, our server drifted away for a while. That was OK, because we drifted away with more wine and music. After two-plus hours, we ran out of patience and skipped dessert, which included tiramisu, dark-chocolate cheesecake or Key lime pie served in a martini glass. The sweet music had to suffice.
I’m willing to give All That Jazz the chance at an encore. With a few simple tweaks, this place can score.
ALL THAT JAZZ CAFÉ
3491 N. Hiatus Road, Sunrise
Cuisine: Live jazz with American, Cajun/Creole and Italian cuisine
Cost: Moderate. Appetizers, salads, tacos and sandwiches $5-$15. Pastas and main courses, $13-$26. Desserts $5-$8.
Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Reservations: Not accepted, but call to get on a waiting list
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine only
Sound level: Loud upfront when band is playing, 15-minute breaks every hour
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot