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Review: Bowled over by tasty options at Beehive Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale

 

★★★

It takes a certain amount of confidence, or perhaps chutzpah, to launch a bowl-based restaurant smack dab next to a Chipotle Mexican Grill. The founders of Beehive Kitchen did just that four months ago, in a strip shopping center on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale populated with fast-casual eateries. Beehive’s bowls are more diverse than Chipotle’s, with global influences, quality ingredients and bold seasonings, and they are better. I could eat Beehive’s shredded barbecued pork with wok-seared mushrooms, kale salad and glass noodles every day. Judging by the buzz and long weekday lunch lines, it seems some people from the nearby Cypress Creek office parks do.

Say what you will about the bowl craze sweeping the dining landscape — restaurateurs must regard on-the-go millennials like dogs or zoo animals when it comes to the throw-everything-in-a-biodegradable-trough trend — but it has an audience. Beehive Kitchen plans to open locations in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs and Weston, and another bowl-based eatery, Bolay, from Outback Steakhouse co-founder Tim Gannon, recently opened in Pembroke Pines after starting in Palm Beach County. Fresh Kitchen, another bowl restaurant, has sprouted around the state, including in Boca Raton. I do not know and somewhat fear what comes next on the mobility and convenience dining horizon. Perhaps VR goggles with feeding tubes?

“We really think this is how people are going to eat from now on,” says Mark Anders, vice president of Beehive Kitchen for Doral-based Centurion Restaurant Group. He dismisses notions of bowls as a fad. Centurion operates Bulla Gastropub and Pisco Y Nazca, restaurants that will soon expand outside Miami-Dade. “There’s almost a war on fast food and traditional burger places from moms and millennials,” Anders says. Beehive Kitchen touts products that do not contain antibiotics or added hormones. Much of it is gluten-free. Nothing is deep-fried.

For all the supposed healthful simplicity of bowl cuisine, my first trip to Beehive made my head hurt. The ordering process can feel like solving a puzzle or math problem. For a moment, I thought I had stepped into Chipotle, because the physical layout is similar, with the ordering counter and food toward the rear and the queue area along the left wall. Then, I looked up at the overhead menu board and saw the diagram for the classic bowl: “2 bases, 2 veggies, 2 proteins, 1 sauce. $9.95.” I saw the intricate listings of roughly a half dozen for each, along with even more “add-ons,” such as cheeses and avocado.

The young clerk looked at me eagerly. I started stammering like Jackie Gleason in “The Honeymooners”: “Homina, homina, homina.” I needed a moment. So did the others in my group. Which flavors would meld and which would clash? Would cranberry almond kale go with Parmesan-roasted broccoli and ahi-tuna poke? Or should I just punt and order one of the “chef-inspired Buzz Bowls,” set combinations that take the guesswork and pressure off.

“It’s a little much the first time through — it’s just confusing,” Anders admits. “That’s our No. 1 challenge.” Still, he says people are fast learners and build-your-own-bowls account for 95 percent of business.

As it turned out, nearly every ingredient was good, and worked in various combinations. I had a bowl with mixed greens, scallion-charred basmati rice, wok-seared mushrooms, smoked paprika cauliflower, herb-grilled chicken and soy-charred steak (a $2 supplement, bringing the cost to $11.95) with marinated tomatoes and a side of chimichurri sauce. Everything was so flavorful the sauce wasn’t needed, but it was still good. Instead of pouring the chimichurri on top, I selectively dipped.

Small bowls, with just one protein, cost $7.95. Barbecued pork is more akin to lechon asado or pulled pork Carolina style, juicy shredded meat in a vinegar base with no sweet or sticky tomato sauce in sight. In my mind, that’s a good thing. Combined with mushrooms, kale and cold glass noodles, it is a perfect summer meal. The glass noodles are made from the starch of sweet potatoes, and they are a revelation, flecked with peppers for a spicy kick at the finish. They have become the most popular item, Anders says.

Grilled chicken comes in cubes, moist with a mix of white and dark meat. Baked almond-crusted chicken comes in strips, and although the crust slightly overwhelmed the white meat, it was a winner combined with Brussels sprouts, diced sweet potatoes or lemony cool quinoa, and dipped in a mellow roasted Peruvian pepper sauce. I’m no fan of coconut, but the coconut curry sauce had pleasant heat at the finish and worked well with grilled chicken and beef.

The only clunker in the lot was the ahi-tuna poke (also a $2 supplement). I visited on a Sunday, the only day Beehive does not get a fish delivery, and the cubes I had in the East Meets West Buzz Bowl ($11.95) tasted fishy and dull, with many chunks marred by sinewy white tendon that made them chewy and almost inedible. Perhaps Beehive should consider not offering tuna on Sundays.

I washed my mouth out with Miami Vice ($7), among the bottled cold-pressed juices Beehive makes. It was an invigorating mix of fruits and ginger. Juice samples are available at the register. Beware the Bee Sting ($5), water with honey, lemon, lime, ginger and cayenne pepper that bites.

Cake-jar desserts ($3) are offered in two varieties: the Bumble Bee, a chocolate cake with honey buttercream, and the much better Honey Pot, honey cake with buttercream topped with spiced pecans. Cold-brew coffee will be available Aug. 1. Refillable lemonade and iced tea are offered at a counter with napkins and utensils. Taps with Funky Buddha beer ($6) are almost hidden behind the register, the only alcohol offered for now, and beer is not listed on the overhead menus. I missed it, but I suppose juice was healthier.

My only other quibble: I’m never sure how to handle tipping in these fast-casual restaurants, particularly ones where diners do all their own carrying. The staff cleans tables after patrons leave. A tip jar is set up near the register, and credit-card slips offer the usual 10-15-20 percent tipping guide at the bottom. A 20 percent tip here? I don’t think so. I left 10 percent. Anders says tipping is optional, and all staff earns standard minimum wage and higher, not the lower tip-based minimum wage for restaurant servers.

The dining room is airy and comfortable, with wooden tables and fruit in wire baskets hanging on walls. “Think inside the bowl,” Beehive Kitchen’s slogan, is written on a wall and serving mats. A little too much thinking is required on initial visits, but with flavors such as these, I’m happy to dive in.

Beehive Kitchen

6312 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale

954-541-8787 or Beehive-Kitchen.com

Cuisine: American. Meals in bowls with global flavors

Cost: Inexpensive. Bowls cost $7.95 to $11.95, drinks $3 to $7, cake jar desserts $3

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Reservations: No

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Funky Buddha beer on tap, $6

Sound level: Conversational

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Free lot

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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