Sweet Nectar Charcoal Grill and Spirits understands what folks on Las Olas Boulevard want. Much of its wine and beer is half price between 4 and 6 p.m. The price of craft cocktails gets chopped from $13 to $9.
And then, there's the menu. It opens with a section called "Snacks," which starts at $6 for offerings such as Kanabec potato fries and charred Key lime edamame beans and rises to $12 for lobster popcorn with lemon-truffle honey. The most expensive entree on the entire menu is a $26 whole Florida snapper expertly cooked over the charcoal grill. Every item on the menu is meant for sharing, tapas-style.
Sweet Nectar's owners, Trust Hospitality Group, also own Rouge Waterfront Dining, and C Lounge and Cigar Bar in North Miami Beach. Founder Alex Podolny opened Sweet Nectar in November after a $500,000 renovation of what was previously the ice-themed Tundra and, before that, Mancini's. There's room for just 32 people in the awkwardly designed interior. More than 100 can dine and drink on the covered patio.
The design is vintage meets the beach, with reclaimed wood walls, wood and metal tables, cafe chairs and Edison light bulbs. It's a little too bright inside at times. One table inside can accommodate large parties and comes with an overstuffed sofa that's so low to the ground you'll be glad there are pillows to sit on. From that vantage point, however, you can watch the open kitchen and the charcoal grill. I've never seen a grill man work quite this intently.
Oysters from the raw bar can be charcoal-grilled ($2.50 each), but they are so lightly fired that you may as well eat them raw ($14/half dozen). The selection varies between West Coast, East Coast and even Florida oysters when they can found. Stick to that charcoal grill, however, if you love the smokiness that charcoal brings to food. I'm thinking, in particular, about sweet corn ($6), served Mexican-style on the cob with cojita cheese and spices. Angus skirt steak ($10) was tough by my tastes. The better grilled beef choice is the tender Dinosaur beef short rib ($15), served dramatically on its very long bone. Kalamansi sweet and sour chicken ($8) arrives boneless on skewers.
I'm told Sweet Nectar's derives from the owners' wish to invoke a bit of the American South in the decor, booze and food. The light fixtures have a beehive quality, and there are pops of sweetness all over the menu. Charcoal-grilled asparagus ($8), for instance, is served with lemon-truffle honey drizzle. Roasted vegetables ($8) get a sweet soy glaze. Sometimes, sweetness becomes richness, as in the truffle misto that accompanies grilled mushrooms ($8). Sweet Nectar was serving chanterelles the night I dined.
Drinking is encouraged at the restaurant, which serves a dozen draft beers, another nine in bottles. Craft cocktails include the Sweet Nectar ($28), a pitcher of booziness that includes moonshine, blackberry, apple, peach, fresh sour mix and agave nectar. The wine list is 30-bottles short. Imbibe with crispy delicious shishito peppers with Meyer lemon and salt or crispy chicken chicharrón ($7), served with a kimchi vinaigrette that reminded me of Frank's hot sauce.
Among the shared large plates is an amazing coal-grilled whole Florida snapper ($29) with charred tomatillo relish. We watched the grill man roll the fish around the grill until it was done, but magically moist. Spanish octopus with watercress ($14) is served Greek-style with giant white beans. A cast-iron pan holds roasted Brussels sprouts ($8), which get much of their flavor from kimchi vinaigrette. Smoked barbecue pork "wings" ($12), made from the pork shank, while plenty meaty, are not so smoky. Can lobster macaroni and cheese ($12) get creamier? It's made with cheddar, Parmesan and mascarpone and includes plenty of lobster.
Service couldn't be friendlier, and it's clear there's a suited manager keeping an eye on dinner service. What our server lacked in skills he more than made up for with his kindly manner. Let me just call this aspect of Sweet Nectar a work in progress. I don't doubt it will improve.
Desserts ($10 each, or two for $17) include campfire s'mores complete with a tiny burner. I'd recommend it for kids. Sweet Nectar apple pie has a doughnut crust, and Florida lemon honey curd will be a favorite for fans of citrus desserts. I loved the vanilla sponge cake baked in a cast-iron pan.
So far, Sweet Nectar seems to be doing what previous restaurants in this space couldn't. That would be filling seats. With its emphasis on drinks and shared plates, it could be just what this choice spot on Las Olas needed.
1017 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Eclectic American
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot in back