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Review: The Foundry forges solid foundation

Review: Three stars for The Foundry in Pompano Beach

 

★★★

Oh, the things restaurateurs dream up as concepts. In the case of the Foundry in Pompano Beach, it is "a décor theme leading the imagination to believe that an abandoned foundry was converted into a restaurant." Those words are from a city document that recommended approval of a $50,000 taxpayer grant toward the $2 million restaurant, which opened in December 2015.

An abandoned foundry? Yes, of course, because Atlantic Boulevard near the Intracoastal drawbridge has long been known as the Rust Belt of South Florida. (In actuality, this site was formerly Mr. Fish, a longtime seafood restaurant that closed earlier this decade.) When you enter the Foundry, you'll see standard elements of modern industrial restaurant chic, including high ceilings and exposed venting ducts and beams. You'll also see cool older touches, including 100-year-old brick brought in from a shuttered Chicago factory, wood from a 19th century North Carolina tobacco factory and early 1900s lighting fixtures, with low-wattage filaments that cast understated tones over the burnt orange banquettes and wooden tables.

There is a lively open-air bar up front. A big, open kitchen, featuring a wood grill that uses oak, is in the back. There is also a raw bar with seats toward the rear, with fresh oysters, clams, crab and lobsters on ice. High above the raw bar is lettering on the wall that reads, "Through these gates pass the finest foundry workers in the world." On another wall is a mural with skyscraper construction workers sitting on a steel beam, feet dangling high above a city, eating from lunchboxes.

So if I had to come up with a slogan for the Foundry, it would be, "Workers of the world unite — for $36 steaks, $16 burgers and $12 espresso martinis!" The actual slogan, printed on menus, is "Eat. Drink. Lounge." I'm down with that, although you might need a powerful union contract or a hike in the minimum wage to fully enjoy a night here.

I don't mean to be overly snarky, because the Foundry is a good, casual and comfortable restaurant with some solid food. It has been a hit, popular with singles at the bar and couples and families in the dining room. It has 150 seats, including 30 outside. And there is still some decent value on the menu, although prices went up since I dined there earlier this month. General manager Rick Hamilton says the increase is a function of maintaining quality to keep up with rising costs. The crisp, thin-crust margherita pizza went from $12 to $14. The very good grilled burgers went from $15 to $16. The tender short rib entrée went from $18 to $20. Desserts went from $6 to $8. Most cocktails went up $1, although many of the craft beers are still $6.

The crowds keep coming, and with high season here, the Foundry recently began daily lunch service. "The restaurant has become a destination," Hamilton says. "People are coming from Miami to Pompano. Usually, it's the other way around."

Hamilton is a restaurant veteran who helped grow the Bru's Room sports bar from a single location to a regional chain. He also worked for Champps Kitchen + Bar, a national chain. The Foundry's executive chef is Shary Almodovar, who used to work for a catering firm in Miami. The Foundry is owned by four local partners, with Frank Grieco, a bodybuilder from Canada who owned fitness centers, the majority owner.

The restaurant has a corporate feel. It's efficient and well-run, but there were some stumbles. A cucumber-martini cocktail wasn't made correctly (it was missing an ingredient and tasted like straight salt), but that was quickly fixed. Our server made a good appetizer recommendation, but later in the meal, he was uneven and seemed uninterested.

Hamilton says he's "a nibbler," so the modern American cuisine reflects the small-plate and bar-bite mentality that has gripped so many restaurants. The barbacoa tacos ($15, three to an order), with braised short rib, are the most popular starter, but my group went heavy on seafood to start, which turned out to be hit and miss.

The hit: A sushi stack ($15) of raw tuna and salmon, molded into a layered ring atop seasoned rice, drizzled with spicy kimchi mayonnaise and topped with avocado, cucumber and "tempura crunchies," fried bits of seaweed. The fish popped with freshness, the sauce was terrific, and the crunchies and rice provided great textural contrast.

The miss: a two-level seafood tower ($85 when I had it, but now up to $90) that still has me shaking my head. The bottom level had four raw littleneck clams and four oysters. The clams, from Sebastian Inlet, burst with briny flavor but were marred with grit and bits of shell. For this kind of money, competent shucking is a must. The top level had four large shrimp, four snow-crab claws (at this time of year, they couldn't spring for four small stone-crab claws?) and two lettuce cups, one filled with chunks of chilled Maine lobster and the other with a fish ceviche that tasted off and was inedible. We barely touched the ceviche, yet the server didn't ask if anything was wrong. Hamilton says the lobster and ceviche are supposed to be served in red radicchio cups, but my tablemates and I clearly recall it being served on limp lettuce. The dish was a towering disappointment.

Aside from that, everything was tasty. We had the Big Smoke pizza (now $14), which our server warned us is spicy. We love spice. This didn't disappoint, with peppery capicola slices and Calabrian chilies scattered atop a mozzarella and San Marzano sauce pie. The Foundry burger (now $16) was comfort-pub grub at its finest, a perfectly cooked blend of chuck, short rib and brisket topped with Gruyere cheese, thick-cut bacon and red-onion marmalade. It's served with housemade pickles and hand-cut fries. My only quibble, the big brioche bun that slightly overwhelmed the meat (Hamilton defends it by saying it sops up the juices).

The short-rib entrée (now $20) featured tender meat atop farro and mushroom ragout, with shaved slices of vegetables dressed in tangy truffle vinaigrette. And we loved the simple, roasted free-range chicken ($18), its skin charred black but not burnt with a coating of za'atar, an aromatic Mediterranean spice mix.

For dessert, try the "coffee and doughnuts" (now $8), hot housemade doughnuts served with a side dipping cup of espresso pot de crème, a whipped and frothy mousse that's not too strong or sweet. It left a much better taste than that seafood tower.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

The Foundry

2781 E. Atlantic Blvd., Pompano Beach

754-205-6977, TheFoundryFl.com

Cuisine: Modern American, with small plates, pizzas and raw bar

Cost: Moderate to expensive

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily (open 11 a.m. Sunday); dinner 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Reservations: No

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full bar, with craft beers and specialty cocktails

Sound level: Conversational

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Valet and street

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