Whoever said that owner-operated, personality-driven restaurants have gone away has never set foot inside Goran and Amy Perovic's downtown Fort Lauderdale eatery.
Where did this charming couple come from? She's the stylish one with the Philly accent who makes you feel instantly at home. He's the guy in the chef's jacket whom you'll usually find spinning pizzas in the front corner of the open kitchen.
One time, when I ordered a pizza called the Tartufo ($19.95) — black truffle, cremini mushrooms, fontina and an easy-over egg — Goran was so proud of his handiwork that he took a detour to our table to show off the pie to another customer. He had reason to be proud: The delicious leftovers were stolen from our break-room fridge. (You know who you are!)
When we told Amy we didn't care for the cheesecake ($6) but loved the cannoli ($6), she offered us a complimentary cannoli on our next visit.
All their good nature almost makes me forget the split personality inherent in Rice and Dough. Japanese and Italian? Sushi and meatballs? Carbs and carbs? If you'd told me I was going to like this place, I would have said that was highly unlikely. Although I prefer the Italian side to the Japanese side, it somehow works.
Goran got the idea after working at New York steakhouses that serve steak and sushi. "I realized that the ladies like to eat a little bit healthy," he says. "But the boys can't get enough of meatballs and pizza and stuff. Being a little bit different from everyone else would be a little easier to compete."
Ultimately, he says, sushi and Italian food are now American foods. "We consider ourselves an American restaurant featuring two favorite kinds of American food," Goran says.
We started one meal with an above-average wedge salad ($9.95) that included a wedge of iceberg and field greens, blue cheese, red onion and cherry tomatoes. There was even a wedge of bread in the bowl. The chopped salad ($9.95) needed a crunchy component beyond the mix of single-textured vegetables. The vinaigrette was fine, however.
The pizza crust at Rice and Dough is delightfully thin and crispy, and toppings are never overdone. Kobe meatballs ($12.95 at dinner, $10.95 at lunch) are served with a very fresh tomato sauce and a dollop of ricotta. The Italian side of the menu also includes a dozen pizza preparations, meat lasagna ($12.95) and eggplant Parmesan ($12.95).
The sushi menu is long, and I haven't had time to explore its entirety. But I liked the California sushi maki ($6.95) and spicy tuna roll ($8.95). A roll combo costs just $14.95. Amy and Goran even named a roll after themselves: A & G Kiss of Fire ($16.95), cream cheese, cucumber, asparagus, avocado, white fish and jalapenos.
In the nine months since Rice and Dough opened, downtown office workers and residents have discovered the restaurant. Where else in this neighborhood does the wine list include $5 glasses? It's probably more a neighborhood spot than a destination, though I'd recommend it for pre- or post-Broward Center shows. It's also set on the main floor of an apartment building that's dog friendly. So is Rice and Dough's patio, where water bowls are set out. Amy was in charge of the 48-seat interior, which is a pleasant mixture of red, white and black.
Goran believes the concept can expand to other locations. But for now, he's getting used to wearing a chef's jacket to work instead of the suits he wore as general manager for most of his career (at the Palm steakhouse in Philadelphia and Las Vegas and BOVA Prime in Fort Lauderdale).
"Being a general manager, you need to know how to do every single job in the restaurant," he says. "Numerous times, I've lost a chef at 8 o'clock on a Saturday night.'
So far, the couple's hard work and personal touch is paying off. "People sense that," Goran says, "and I think that's a little bit of a refreshing approach."
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him Twitter.com @FloridaEats.
501 SE Second St., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Japanese and Italian
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily; limited late-night menu until 3 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Reservations: Only for six or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes