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Review: Inventive food, craftsmanship make Ends Meat

Review: Small Hollywood restaurant Ends Meat is big on experimentation.

 

★★★½

Ends Meat is so good, I'm torn writing about it.

The restaurant opened in March in downtown Hollywood, a hole in the wall that's easy to miss. It's narrow inside, with only 20 seats in the rear dining area, 10 seats at the bar and 20 seats outside.

Everything about the place seems right: the vibe, the value, the food. But mostly, it's the earnest craftsmanship you can feel oozing from the talented chefs onto every plate.

The flavors will make foodies swoon, but there's no pretension or fussiness. The skirt steak with chimichurri ($23) was so tender and nuanced it made one tablemate ditch his usual vegetarianism. The king trumpet mushroom "scallops" ($17) were so meaty and inventive, they had me rethinking my usual loathing of faux-animal dishes. Fresh oysters and clams were enticingly displayed on ice in the front window. Nearly everything on the small menu was a hit. These folks clearly know what they're doing, right out of the gate.

And that accounts for my ambivalence in hyping the place. Selfishly, I want to keep this gem to myself. Realistically, I know the word of mouth will spread fast, so the scant seats will soon be hard to come by.

Ends Meat is the creation of a husband-and-wife team, Kevin and Georgianna Dreifuss, who sold a successful South Florida food truck to pursue their brick-and-mortar dream. The truck, Pescados Unidos, specialized in mahi-mahi sausages, and those delicious links are found here, in the drool-inducing seafood jambalaya ($21).

Converting a former crepe restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard turned out to be a longer ordeal than expected: 16 months of hassles over city permits, inspections and the like. They've decorated it playfully, with upside-down lampshades hanging from the ceiling as light fixtures and a chalkboard running along the back wall for diners to scrawl on.

Kevin roped in a culinary school buddy, Kennole Wong, to move from San Francisco as co-chef. Unfortunately, Wong missed his hometown and left the restaurant this week. Ends Meat feels much like a Bay Area hangout, with rotating craft microbrews, a select and reasonable wine list, an in-house smoker they like to play with, and a menu that emphasizes seafood and veggies.

There's also a nod to Kevin's Jewish heritage, with Reuben egg rolls ($8) stuffed with housemade corned beef and sauerkraut and weekend brunch service featuring a bagel with house-smoked trout ($10) instead of the usual salmon. And there's enough traif to make a rabbi blanch, including an octopus-and-shrimp ceviche appetizer ($12), and a pork-and-beans main course ($19) that features a moist, sliced center-cut chop over white beans with mustard jus, topped with frisee.

The staff is making magic in the small kitchen, having fun experimenting and plopping down free samples of menu items for newcomers, including the carrots ménage appetizer ($8, a trio of carrots, including a blissful garam masala preparation).

They seem eager to show off their handiwork and build goodwill. That's smart business.

I'd give it four stars, but there were some occasional hiccups with servers still learning the ropes, such as how to open a bottle of wine. They're trying. The food more than compensates.

On several visits, all I've heard is gushing from customers. "I'm having a mouth-gasm," a local bartender named Drew said at a neighboring table on a recent Friday night. He brought a small crew as he ate at the restaurant for a third consecutive day.

Then, he offered me a bite from his plate. It's that kind of place.

I forget what Drew was eating, because my own table was deluged with dishes. The Chioggia beet salad ($9) featured precisely cut beet cubes over baby arugula, sprinkled with goat cheese and pine nuts and spiked with mustard seed. The Chesapeake Bay oysters (six for $14) were plump and briny, served with housemade cocktail sauce that shined. The smoked trout dip ($10) was amiss the night I tried it, a whipped blend with cream cheese and sour cream in which the fish got lost. Kevin admitted the batch got away, then atoned by bringing a few slices of the smoked trout. All was forgiven.

The jerk chicken roulade and rice ($19) featured moist white meat coated with Jamaican spice over pigeon-pea risotto with toasted coconut. The seafood jambalaya ($21) is a standout, an action-packed bowl with steamed clams and mussels, housemade mahi sausage, house-smoked shrimp and spicy rice. I'm usually not a fan of cream-tinged sauce for linguini with clams ($16), but this version was ephemeral, silky and not too heavy, coating the perfectly cooked pasta at the bottom of the bowl but not the steamed top-neck clams perched above.

Georgianna is the pastry chef, and she usually whips up a batch of fresh cakes and pies, including Key Lime. But they were out the first time I went, so we settled for a brownie a la mode ($5) that was fine. On my second visit, I was too stuffed to eat dessert.

Next time, I'll leave room for a proper ending. I'm just hoping Ends Meat will have room for me.

Ends Meat

1910 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

954-391-7400, EndsMeat.com

Cuisine: Modern American

Cost: Inexpensive/moderate

Hours: Tuesday-Friday lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5-11 p.m. (until midnight Friday); Saturday-Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday dinner 4 p.m.-midnight, Sunday dinner 4-10 p.m.; closed Monday.

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Beer and wine

Sound level: Conversational

Outdoor smoking: Yes

For kids: Highchairs, menu items on request

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Free on street

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