At five minutes to 10 on a Saturday night, the music at Himmarshee Public House went from a conversational volume to a deafening one.
Since we were done eating, this was our cue to leave. Outside the front door, we saw what we thought was a restaurant turning into a bar. Stanchions and velvet ropes were in place. Bouncers were, too. Two police officers chatted with employees.
Running a restaurant and a bar in the same location is no easy feat. Especially when it's located in the middle of Fort Lauderdale's Southwest Second Street, party central for all kinds of alcohol-infused fun. But I had high hopes from owner JEY Hospitality. The same outfit owns ROK:BRGR, with locations across the street from Public House, in Miami and soon in Hallandale Beach. They sling some fine burgers and beer.
I should have known something was up when, at 8 p.m., one of the only tables having dinner was a party of about 30. The place also smells like beer. It serves more than 100 kinds.
The restaurant is plenty welcoming, with unfinished brick walls and a back corner hung with some very cool, oversize, black-and-white photographs of LeBron James, Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z.
Some of the food is very good, but like the restaurant's split identify, the menu careens between bar food and grownup restaurant food. Most of it is meant for sharing.
I loved the mini chicken empanadas ($9), with roasted corn, black beans, jalapeno Jack and cilantro crema. The pastry had an air of light authenticity, and the filling had a pleasant kick. I also liked the lobster nachos ($14), with a chunk of lobster placed on a corn chip with guacamole, Jack cheese, habanero-mango salsa and cilantro. Had they been hot, they would have been even better.
Barbecue-chicken flatbread ($13) also had a nice kick. The bread is topped with roasted corn, Monterey Jack cheese, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and a spicy, creamy drizzle. Not bad.
But then, bacon-and-corn fritters ($8), with bourbon-male syrup and bacon aioli arrived. All I could taste was chopped, deep-fried bacon. I was reminded of Elvis Presley's penchant for ground-bacon hamburgers. A little bacon goes a long way. Spicy lamb ribs ($14), with Abita root-beer glaze, toasted sesame and scallion, offered more sauce than meat. They ought to call them poor, little, skinny ribs.
Salads — Greek chop ($10) and Caesar ($10) — have a decidedly homemade quality. By homemade, I mean they could have been made in someone's kitchen in advance of a cookout. I want something a little more fussed over when I go out to eat.
One of my dinner mates insisted we order the foot-long, all-beef Chicago dog ($12), dressed with traditional green relish, tomatoes, onions and sport peppers. The only problem was the poppy-seed bun. It was too small for the foot-long by 50 percent.
Fried chicken ($19), meanwhile, came with a salty, cold, gelatinous excuse for gravy on the mashed potatoes. The doughnuts ($9) served to us after dinner tasted like burnt balls of raw dough.
While the staff is congenial, it's clear they're more adept at serving drinks than dinner. When our waiter and food runners showed up with platters of food, they quite literally froze and waited for us to find room on the crowded table. You know you're in a bar when the establishment doesn't appear to have a water pitcher. Each time we asked for a water refill, our poor waiter had to take one glass at time to the bar.
Himmarshee Public House may be a very fine bar. But so far, its restaurant credentials are incomplete.
201 SW Second St., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: American gastropub
Hours: Dinner daily; lunch Monday-Saturday; brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate until about 10 p.m.
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Metered street parking, garages and valet