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The Eat Beat Dining around South Florida
with Mike Mayo

Remembering Burt Reynolds and Burt & Jack's restaurant in Fort Lauderdale

Dapper, debonair and quite the pair. One was a Hollywood movie star and sex symbol who called South Florida home. The other was a polished and proper restaurateur, the kind who required gentlemen to wear jackets to dinner. Burt Reynolds and Jack Jackson did not know each other until they teamed up to open Burt & Jack’s at Port Everglades in 1984, a waterfront restaurant that combined celebrity sizzle with South Florida’s nautical beauty.

When Jackson got the news Thursday that Reynolds had died at 82, the good times of Burt & Jack’s heyday came flooding back. “I’ve been sitting here reminiscing and thinking about how my life would be different if I had never met him,” Jackson says. “Before Burt & Jack’s opened, I was known within my little circle. But since 1984, I’ve been known as Burt Reynolds’ partner. It opened a lot of doors for me.”

Burt & Jack’s lasted 18 years, shuttering in June 2002 after stifling security measures at the port imposed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks killed business. The 200-seat eatery featured fine food and service, waterfront views of the Intracoastal and a strict dress code. It was a place where patrons celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and where Reynolds, who lived in Jupiter, would occasionally drop by.

“We were partners in the best sense — and also friends,” Jackson says.

Both their fathers were born in July 1906 (Reynolds’ father was once police chief of Riviera Beach), so Reynolds and Jackson would throw a joint birthday party every year in the Oak Room, the restaurant’s private dining room. And when Jackson’s daughter, Nikki, was a senior in high school, Jackson says, “Burt insisted that she could not go anywhere but Florida State.” Reynolds, a former Florida State University football player, was a big booster of his alma mater.

Jackson fondly recalls their trips to Tallahassee for football Saturdays while Jackson’s daughter was a student: “We used to fly up to games on a private jet, get an escort from the airport, get whisked to the stadium and then straight up to [head coach] Bobby Bowden’s office. Burt and Bobby would just shoot the breeze, talk and talk, and then there’d be a knock on the door. One of Bowden’s assistants: ‘Hey Bobby — the game is about to begin.’ ”

Jackson says the restaurant partnership came about when Reynolds was in Fort Lauderdale filming the movie “Stick” (an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel) and Reynolds’ helicopter flew over the spit of land with a shuttered restaurant at Port Everglades that Jackson was developing. Reynolds loved the property and got in touch with Jackson through a mutual friend. They met at Reynolds’ home in Jupiter. “He said, ‘I don’t know if you’re interested in having a partner, but if you are I’d like to be it,’ ” Jackson remembers.

He says Reynolds had 30 of his Hollywood friends fly in for the opening night (May 19, 1984) on the Caesars Palace private jet, but the actor’s local guest list for the opening was small, “just two or three people.” Among them: young Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino (who brought a date named Claire Veazey, the first date for a couple that would go on to wed) and H. Wayne Huizenga.

Reynolds got felled by a kidney-stone attack that evening and did not make it to the opening, staying at his Pier 66 hotel room with future wife Loni Anderson. “Everyone was crushed that Burt didn’t make it, but Ricardo Montalban did his best ‘Corinthian leather’ bit and had everyone in stitches,” Jackson says.

Burt & Jack’s closed in 2002 and was razed and paved over in 2006. The site is now a restricted dock.

Jackson says he and Reynolds were “Christmas card friends” in later years, occasionally seeing each other. They “had a real nice time catching up” during their final visit in 2017, when Reynolds came to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival to accept a lifetime-achievement award.

Jackson is still in the restaurant business, having in 2017 opened the sophisticated Jackson’s Prime near Galt Ocean Mile. The menu features the same baked, stuffed lobster that used to be a staple at Burt & Jack’s.

“He told me that no matter where he traveled in the world people would come up to him and say how much they loved Burt & Jack’s,” Jackson says. “Burt was a movie star and known for his movies, but it never ceased to amaze him how many people had been to the restaurant.”

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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