New York has its Greek diners. Chicago has it steakhouses. Here in Fort Lauderdale, we have Southport Raw Bar.
Open for more than 40 years, Southport will not win any awards. Not for its ramshackle decor. Not for its salty style of service. Certainly not for most of what's on the menu.
What it lacks in creature comforts, it more than makes up for with good value, cold beer and a collection of characters right out of a detective novel. A five-paragraph appreciation on the back of the menu reads, in part: "This is Fort Lauderdale. You'll see a guy who pumps gas at the marina down the street, sitting next to the mayor. You'll see the billionaire who lives up the street. The weathered charter captain. The even more weathered mate. A pair of cops. The retired Hall of Fame quarterback. A half-dozen beautiful girls on their way back from the beach, and several polite, but mildly lecherous attorneys admiring them. You'll even see a few tourists."
The most coveted seats are on the back deck, but on a recent Wednesday at lunch, the wait was 15 to 30 minutes. After all these years, Southport is still a favorite.
You have to start with the sweet Bimini bread ($3.25), which everyone seems to order, and New England clam chowder ($4.50), one of the best bowls in town. Serviceable smoked fish dip ($6) arrives in a plastic condiment ramekin that costs $1 more with carrot and celery sticks. Buffalo-style chicken wings ($8.25 for 10) aren't the most meaty, but they'll do when the beer is flowing.
The raw bar is what draws folks here, and you won't go wrong with raw oysters and clams (market price), even if the presentation is more picnic than oyster bar. Share a half pound of Old Bay seasoned shrimp (market price) or the very good fried seafood basket with shrimp, clams and scallops ($10.25). Fries cost extra ($3.25). Instead, order the very good beer-battered onion rings ($5.50). They're almost meaty, and about the size of a woman's bangle.
One day, we shared an order of fried sweet surf clams ($7.95), a special. These long clam strips are meatier and sweeter than regular clams. They're served with very good coleslaw, which was neither too creamy nor too vinegary.
Dolphin — broiled, grilled or blackened — and served on a kaiser roll (market price) is a standout here. It is, in many ways, Fort Lauderdale's official sandwich, served simply with lettuce and tomato.
Not everyone who comes here eats seafood. Boneless fried chicken ($8.50) with fries and coleslaw, for instance, are chicken tenders for the adult set. Sandwiches, cold subs and burgers round out the nonseafood selections.
Southport is a quintessentially quirky Fort Lauderdale restaurant. If you live in South Florida, you owe it to yourself to go.
1536 Cordova Road, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Only for parties of 10 or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Can be noisy
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot