In 2011, Susan and Mitchell Phipps opened a cheese shop with just a few seats. Late last summer, they ripped apart their 1,000-square-foot space and installed a gorgeous 12-stool teak bar. With a dozen seats in the back of the store and another 12 on the patio, the Phipps now operate a restaurant. Or what they like to call a "wine and cheese tasting bar."
"He's the wine guy and I'm the cheese chick," Susan says. "I do the cheese purchasing. When we do our classes, he talks on the wine and I talk on the cheeses."
The fact that the Phipps know so much about what they sell is what makes Cheese Culture such an important addition to Fort Lauderdale's food scene. If you order a glass of white Minervois ($9), for instance, and then ask for a three-cheese plate ($19.99), Susan might ask if you like goat cheese. If you don't, she'll find three perfect matches from her case full of more than 50 varieties to match your wine. She'll even let you try before you buy. It costs $5.99 to add a meat — maybe some country pate? A bread basket is $2.99.
There's also a menu featuring eight sandwiches and four salads. Sitting on one of the chic, industrial-style stools while your meal is being made is like watching an artist create works of art on plates. It's a phenomenon that more daytime workers and nighttime strollers ought to discover.
Tuscan Pig ($10.95) is an opened faced sandwich on toasted rustic white bread. The combination of thinly sliced porchetta, Cabot cheddar and arugula gets a light drizzle of white truffle oil. Napa Valley Picnic ($9.95) combines fresh burrata, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, tomato basil pesto and olive oil balsamic glaze. Even the Ultimate Grilled Cheese ($8.95) looks like something from a food magazine — raclette and gruyere served with honey and a side salad. These are meal-size sandwiches.
You can also build your own sandwich ($7.99) with choices of bread, cheese, meat and toppings.
Among the salad offerings is The Parisian Picnic ($8.95), a mixture of greens tossed with house made honey balsamic and sprinkled with goat cheese and cranberry. It's served with toast points topped with warm goat cheese.
The well-chosen wine list runs from sparkling through dessert wines. Beer selections include Monk in The Trunk amber ale ($5.50) from Inlet Brewing Co. in Jupiter and Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale ($5.50) from Delaware.
The Phipps got into the cheese business through their travels. Susan worked in events and marketing in the yachting industry. Mitchell was in kitchen design and installation, but turned a photography hobby into shooting yachts.
"We were traveling a lot and experiencing all of this cheese and charcuterie and really enjoyed it," says Susan. "I really think this is an interesting way to eat, and I thought I can't be the only one. I thought I'd like to bring this experience here locally and looked around the city of Fort Lauderdale and realized there were no cheese shops in the city proper other than in supermarkets."
After attending cheese school in San Francisco and New York and interning in two Texas cheese shops, Susan was ready to open. They now offer wine and cheese seminars and host local authors, musicians and artists. Cheese Culture has quickly become part of the neighborhood.
The holidays are prime cheese time with baskets starting at $25. Susan has flown in several French cheeses including Rouzaire truffled brie ($42.99 per pound). It's cut in half horizontally and covered with black truffle slices. Crème fraîche and mascarpone are then added. Pure decadence.
813 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: wine and cheese
Hours: lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: only required for parties of eight or more
Credit cards: all major
Bar: beer and wine
Sound level: conversational
Outside smoking: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Parking: street and meter parking
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him Twitter.com @FloridaEats.