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Review: A 'nice' touch with sandwiches at Lunchroom in Fort Lauderdale

 

★★★

When David Letterman asked a dying Warren Zevon what his cancer diagnosis had taught him, the musician said, “You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich.” I enjoyed nearly every sandwich I tried at Lunchroom in Fort Lauderdale, a low-key breakfast and lunch spot that pays tribute to the comforting and sometimes sloppy simplicity of handheld food. There were enough good things stuffed into hoagie rolls, pressed into ciabatta and wrapped in tortillas to keep me coming back for more. No utensils required, just napkins and an appetite.

Some sandwiches, such as the meatball sub ($9) blanketed in golden melted cheese or pulled short rib ($11) with provolone, are comfort foods at their finest. Others, such as the ramen breakfast burrito ($7), squiggly thin Japanese noodles wrapped with scrambled eggs, maple sausage and green onions in a crispy grilled flour tortilla, are offbeat and creative.

Lunchroom, which opened in March 2017 on North Federal Highway near Holy Cross Hospital, is the latest eatery from the Be Nice Restaurant Group, the folks behind Fort Lauderdale’s Foxy Brown, G&B Oyster Bar, Red Cow and Top Hat Deli. “We like sandwiches,” says Elliot Wolf, co-founder of Be Nice. “And we wanted to create something that was not Subway, not Publix. A place to just come sit and relax for a minute, eat a sandwich and forget the cares of the world.”

Lunchroom is a boxy little room with an ordering counter at the back, lime-green Formica tables and retro metal school lunchboxes with Snoopy, Kermit the Frog and Batman lining the walls. Outside is a dog-friendly porch under an orange awning emblazoned with the words “Be Nice.” Even though the restaurant is fast-casual, the customer-friendly ethos of the Be Nice group is on display, with staff delivering food to tables from the kitchen and quick to offer and bring condiments as needed.

Breakfast items including burritos with eggs, bacon, sausage, roasted pork and cheese are available all day. The carbohydrate-averse will like that all sandwiches are available in bowl form with mixed greens and kale instead of bread. A few other nonsandwich offerings are available, including oatmeal and breakfast cups of fruit, chia seeds and yogurt with berries. Side dishes include good and creamy mac ‘n cheese topped with crunchy fried shallots ($4), crinkle-cut fries with garlic and Parmesan ($3) and a cool and vinegary cucumber salad with red peppers, onions, mint and lemon ($3). All the sides are made in-house, and the cold ones are packaged daily and set in a display case for the grab-and-go crowd.

Bread comes from outside purveyors, including very good hoagie rolls from Broward-based Cusano’s Bakery. The salad bowl option is a good thing, because not all the offerings work as sandwiches. The tuna poke sub ($12) with marinated cubes of tuna, avocado and mango, was a textural and flavor mismatch in a crusty and chewy hoagie roll. The bright and light Asian and tropical flavors got lost in dense dough.

“We wanted to provide a fish option, but that one is hit and miss. Some people love it,” Wolf says.

Buffalo cauliflower ($9), tempura-battered florets tossed with blue cheese and vinegary hot sauce, stands up better to the hoagie roll but also might work better with greens. No equivocation is necessary when it comes to more traditional meats.

The meatball hoagie ($9) is among the finest I’ve had in some time, well-seasoned orbs of ground beef, pork and veal baked into a roll that’s coated with red sauce and creamy housemade stracciatella (a variant of mozzarella) at the bottom and smothered in melted provolone and pecorino Romano on top.

The Machette ($11), given the nickname of the employee who developed it, was a rich and decadent delight, pulled braised short rib with melted provolone, avocado crema, jalapeno and onion on pressed ciabatta. It needed a little acidity to cut the fattiness. Wolf says a wedge of lime does the trick, but I don’t think my takeout order included one.

The porchetta ($11) also featured very good meat, slow-roasted pork slices coated in herbs, but the braised kale and sauteed onions could have also used more vinegary brightness to offset the creaminess of two cheeses and Parmesan aioli. The rooster ($10) featured panko-coated chicken breast with banana-pepper slaw that also lacked acidic assertiveness, and the chicken got a bit lost in the panko and ciabatta.

Wolf says the menu has stayed simple at the outset, with seven lunch sandwiches and a rotating special. On the day I was there, the special was cured salmon, but I wished I would have been around for a fried-green-tomato BLT. There is no BLT on the daily menu, a shame for a sandwich shrine. Wolf says there will be menu updates soon.

Desserts ($3.50) are as comforting as sandwiches, with a fresh-baked tray of gooey cinnamon buns on hand the day I visited, along with s’mores cookies. The kids in my crowd devoured them.

The Miami-born Wolf and business partner Merv Jonata met working at Houston’s, and they bring a mix of corporate efficiency and family-business humanity to their Be Nice ventures. They began by buying and revamping long-running Coconuts last decade and have steadily opened well-received and mostly well-executed new restaurants. Add Lunchroom to the list.

Lunchroom

4520 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale

954-870-7197 or LunchroomSandwiches.com

Cuisine: American. Wraps, sandwiches, salads and bowls for breakfast and lunch

Cost: Inexpensive. Breakfast items cost $5 to $12 and are availalble all day. Sandwiches and salads $8-12, sides and desserts $3-4, kids’ menu items $4

Hours: 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Reservations: No

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Wine by the glass and craft beers

Sound level: Conversational

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Free lot

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

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