Some people, particularly politicians, are blessed with an uncanny ability to work a room. They have a knack for remembering names, faces and details about family members, and they do it with charm and charisma. Eddie Watana has this gift. The best part is he is not a politician, so he does not want a campaign contribution or your vote. Watana is a restaurateur, and all he wants is for his customers to leave happy and sated.
If you go to Eddie’s Thai in Cooper City, chances are good this will be the outcome. The setting is cozy and congenial, and the fare is fresh and flavorful. The Thai noodle dishes are particularly good. At some point, or more likely on multiple occasions, a smiling Watana will stop by and pepper your table with quips and one-liners. “This is my version of a happy ending,” he says, dropping off a dessert of fried bananas wrapped in wonton skins, with a creamy scoop of coconut ice cream in the center of the plate.
For 25 years Watana worked with his mother, Susie Komolsane, at Sukhothai restaurant near the Gateway cinema in Fort Lauderdale. Sukhothai closed in June 2015, a victim of declining sales and a landlord who Watana says wanted to raise monthly rent by 60 percent. Watana didn’t sulk. His mother retired, but Watana and wife Roberta scouted the western Broward suburbs for a suitable restaurant location.
They found a small spot in the Embassy Lakes Shopping Center, at the intersection of Hiatus Road and Sheridan Street. Eddie’s Thai, which opened in October 2015, has 37 seats, plus another six at a small bar that faces the kitchen. Watana brought along a few kitchen workers from Sukhothai. The rent in Cooper City is cheaper and he says the customer base is friendlier and more family-oriented than in touristy and trendy Fort Lauderdale.
“Everything has worked out for the best,” Watana says. “I love it here.”
I tried to dine at Eddie’s Thai surreptitiously and anonymously, but that didn’t work out. I trailed the rest of my party when we walked in and lowered my head to avoid eye contact when we got seated. “Mike?” Watana blurted. In the early 1990s, I frequented Sukhothai, but I hadn’t seen him in nearly 20 years. He didn’t miss a beat, asking about several colleagues.
Here’s the thing: Even though Watana recognized me and knew what I do now, it seemed as if everyone in the joint was given VIP treatment. Watana chatted up nearly every customer by name, stopping at tables and checking to make sure their meals were good.
After my recent visit, I mentioned to a neighbor who used to live in western Broward that I had just been to Eddie’s Thai. His eyes lit up. “I’ve been there a few times and he’s the nicest guy,” my neighbor said. He thought for a second and said, “I wonder if it makes food taste better when you get treated so well?”
It certainly doesn’t hurt. The food at Eddie’s Thai, however, is plenty tasty on its own. Consider, for example, the eggplant in red garlic sauce ($13.95), one of the best vegetarian dishes I’ve had this year. Lightly battered and fried slices of eggplant were bathed in a vibrant red sauce of minced garlic and tomatoes, topped with chopped scallions. The eggplant was light and crispy. The sauce kissed and tickled more than it punched or walloped, with the fine perfume of garlic dispersed as if sprayed through an atomizer. I piled it on a mound of sticky white rice and couldn’t stop eating.
Watana told me the origins of the dish: Longtime Broward State Attorney Michael Satz was a regular at Sukhothai, and one day he asked Susie to make something that wasn’t on the menu. Watana said his mother served it to him over angel hair pasta. Score that a big win for the prosecution.
Eddie’s Thai does traditional Thai dishes just as well. The menu runs the gamut of soups, salads, appetizers and entrees spiked with Thai staples such as lemongrass, ginger and pungent fish and lime sauce. Chicken, duck, pork, beef, fish, seafood and vegetable dishes with curry sauces, chili sauces and herbs abound.
Nearly everything we had was good, although the summer rolls ($8.95) crumbled apart too easily with brittle Vietnamese rice paper and the Nam Sod ($8.95), made with ground chicken, was a bit too saucy and gingery for my liking.
Because there is no such thing as too much pig, we tried two pork appetizers: the crispy pork ($7.95) and grilled marinated pork ($7.95). Just as our server indicated, the deep-fried chunks of crispy pork were better, akin to Thai chicharrones with an addictive lime dipping sauce. The grilled pork strips, served with the same sauce, were fattier and greasier.
The aromatic Tom Yum soups ($6.95 chicken, $7.95 shrimp) had the right balance of spicy and sour, their broths layered with lemongrass, lime juice, scallions, mushrooms and tomato. An even better value for seafood lovers was the family-style Ocean Soup ($13.95), a mixed Tom Yum with shrimp, scallops and squid that can serve two or three.
The duck with hot basil sauce ($19.95) was delectable, a crispy half duck with several easy-to-eat boneless breast slices on a platter of sliced vegetables, along with a leg and thigh quarter. The whole fish of the day was hog snapper ($35.95), and we had ours with sweet and spicy red chili sauce on top (side saucing is an option). The crunchy exterior of the fried fish was hard to penetrate with forks and easier to navigate by hand. Once we got to the moist interior and picked around the bones, this was finger food of the highest order.
The Pad Thai with chicken ($13.95) was outstanding, with perfect flavor and texture. Too many restaurants have Pad Thai with noodles that are gummy or clumped together, but these strands maintained their individuality and integrity while absorbing all the ingredients around them. Similarly, the wide-noodle vegetarian version of Pad See-Ew ($13.95) had square hunks of rice noodle that slithered marvelously through slices of sauteed zucchini, pea pods, carrots, mushrooms and broccoli.
Crispy and cylindrical Thai doughnuts ($6.95) were served atop a puddle of dulce de leche, covered with powdered sugar and rainbow sprinkles. And then there were those fried bananas wrapped in wonton skins ($7.95 with coconut ice cream). Who doesn’t like the combination of crunchy and sweet?
After the meal, Watana chatted about how business has been booming since the restaurant was featured this year on “Check, Please! South Florida,” the local PBS dining show. I’m glad he has found a home in the bedroom community of Cooper City. One visit to Eddie’s Thai and I felt like I was home, too.
2571 N. Hiatus Road, Cooper City
954-704-9006, or eddiesthai.com
Cost: Moderate. Soups, salads and appetizers cost $5 to $16, noodles and rice dishes $12 to $20, main courses $12 to $36, and desserts $4 to $8.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer, wine and sake only
Sound level: Conversational with music over speakers
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot