If Elliot Wolf has learned one thing after opening Red Cow two months ago, it's that people take their barbecue personally. Unlike customers at his other restaurants — Coconuts, G&B Oyster Bar and The Foxy Brown — everyone's got an opinion about barbecue.
"It's been a learning process," says Wolf. "Everyone grew up on barbecue no matter where you grew up in this country. You grew up with your barbecue place just like your pizza place. People get passionate about it."
Perhaps that's why Wolf prefers to call Red Cow "a restaurant that serves barbecue" instead of a barbecue restaurant.
It gives him and chef Steve Shockey the opportunity to offer dishes you might find at a gastropub: fried quail and waffle ($10), fritto chili pie ($9) and smoked artichokes ($12). There's also rotisserie chicken ($15), chopped salad ($12) and a bahn mi sandwich ($10).
Wolf and business partner Merv Jonata are turning South Florida barbecue on its head, making it more sophisticated while honoring its roots. You won't find another spot that serves barbecue along with such a big selection of craft beer. The 76-seat restaurant, home to several failed eateries, has been reborn with a cozy bar set with tractor seat stools. There's a cow sign on one wall under-lit with neon, and an American flag mural on another wall.
Red Cow's service is outstanding. The staff not only knows the menu, but isn't afraid to make recommendations.
But as Wolf himself admits, the barbecue is a work in progress. While I loved that the menu offers two kinds of beef ribs — spare ribs ($19, includes one side) and flanken ($21, with potatoes) — the wonderfully meaty spare ribs had way too much sticky pomegranate sauce. The beef in the brisket platter ($19) had good flavor, but the meat was tough. Pork ribs were more successful, especially the dry-rubbed, slow smoke spare ribs ($19, with one side).
I loved that you can order different meat combinations in combos. Jalapeño cheddar sausage, for instance, was delicious alongside beef ribs.
While I'm not a fan of traditional shepherd's pie, the version here ($16) is made with burnt brisket ends and gravy and served in a skillet with baked mashed potatoes on top. It's a nice change. Seared sea scallops ($24) were well executed, but the accompanying cauliflower mash ($4, as a side) was grainy and bland.
Better side choices are macaroni and cheese ($6), fried Brussels sprouts ($4) and BBQ beans ($4). I can see that many diners might love the iron skillet corn bread ($9), but I was put off by its oiliness, which is a bad substitution for moistness.
If there's one part of the menu where Red Cow excels, it's desserts ($8 each). Banana cream pie parfait is as good as it is unique. Imagine all of the banana cream pie elements stacked vertically. Likewise, a Blondie sundae was a nice twist not only on a sundae, but on the old-fashioned bar cookie.
With all of his success in other restaurants, I'm hoping Wolf will iron out the kinks.
1025 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily; Sunday brunch starting Sept. 8
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot