In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when exploring the Las Olas restaurants scene, make sure to stop by an artisanal venue worth the trip in itself: Sweet Nectar Charcoal and Spirits. After walking along the beachfront and seeing so many chain restaurants, it was a joy to discover Las Olas, filled with boutiques, art galleries, local businesses, ambient wine bars and innovative restaurants. To me, this boulevard provided an immersive experience into the local culture through art, local design and artisanal eats.
After wandering the street and doing some research of my own, I stumble upon the menu of Sweet Nectar. Charcoal-grilled Florida snapper? Ahi Tuna carpaccio with black truffle chimichurri? Lobster popcorn? Sounds interesting.
As I approach the indoor/outdoor restaurant I see locals gathered around the bar watching a game, friends sitting under dangling potted plants eating at rustic wooden tables off of wobbly plate and cast-iron skillets. In this farm-feeling space there’s also an industrial vibe with long dangling bare bulbs and exposed brick.
I choose to sit outdoors so I can enjoy the ambiance of Las Olas with its cobble-lined streets, palm trees laced with white Christmas lights and fashionable sidewalks that give this boulevard the nickname “Style Mile.” There are also a few quirky local characters roaming around, humanizing the almost-perfect setting.
The focus of the menu is southern-style tapas with globally-inspired sauces. Their specialty is charcoal-grilled meats and vegetables on lump wood charcoal, which brings out the aromas and flavors of the dishes cooked due to the extra smoke produced (which also makes them better for searing). In fact, right on the menu it states “Cooking over charcoal makes your food taste like bacon. Let us repeat that: blah blah charcoal blah blah BACON.”
It’s obvious from the menu that the chef might be a bit eccentric — and I mean that in a good way. Even beyond the menu, the restaurant features touches like Mason Jar potted plants in the bathroom, tin/steel wash basin sinks, a long communal picnic table to encourage interaction with strangers and atypical dishes served on pretty much anything other than your typical plate. Talking to the director of operations, I learn the decor was hand-curated and took the owners about six months to find all the pieces they wanted, with furniture made by hand. All the wood used throughout the space — including the wooden serving ware — is reclaimed wood from a local Indian reservation swell.
“What makes us different from everyone else is the focus we had when we designed and created the concept, which was meant for locals,” says Peter Cumplido, who along with being the chef is Sweet Nectar’s director of operations. “People tend to forget that this is still a neighborhood, so we offer happy hour 4 to 7 pm everyday, brunch Saturday and Sunday, and weekly and daily specials. We also decided to make great and different food and real craft cocktails using only fresh ingredients and making everything in-house.”
As it is my first time dining I decide to try much more than I can possibly ever eat (and then have tasty leftovers for tomorrow). My waitress is a friendly woman from Israel, who is great at helping me to choose a diverse selection of some of their best offerings. The menu is broken up into sections: Snacks, Charcoal Grill, Raw Bar/Oysters, Aged Assortments (charcuterie), Shared Plates, Lunch and Sweets. I decide on two snacks to start that seem unusual: the Lobster Popcorn and Chorizo Stuffed Dates. From there, I move over to white meat with a Coal Fired Pterodactyl (turkey) Wing, and then decide on a salad of Spanish Octopus with Watercress.
As you can probably assume from the name, Sweet Nectar specializes in craft cocktail, served in Mason Jars, no less. This is a hard pick, as the venue makes their own nature-inspired syrups in-house, some of which include coriander/fennel seed, filthy black cherry, honey, fresh mint and cardamom/black pepper.
While I am first thinking about the “Mountain Berry Shrub,” made with 44 North Huckleberry Vodka, Rhum Clement Creole Shrub, house-made black berry syrup, fresh lemon, ginger beer and rosemary, my eyes then wander to the “Grandpas Apple Pie.” This drink features Michter’s Rye Whisky, Old Smoky Moonshine, Rhum Clement Creole Shrub, bitters and muddled orange.
At that moment the manager stops by the table. I point to the drink. “What does this taste like?”
“It tastes like apple pie at first. Then you get a kick of moonshine in the end that makes you think, “Yup, Grandpa must have made this!” he explains. As I love apple pie and to actually taste my alcohol when I’m drinking it, this is what I settle on. Once I have my first sip I realize I made an excellent choice, the perfect mix of summertime pastry and nostalgia-inducing flavors.
It doesn’t take long for my snacks to arrive. Compared to the tapas I’m used to getting in New York City, these are pretty hearty portions — three bulging dates and a big box for the lobster. I’ll tell you now the Lobster Popcorn is possibly the best things I’ve ever eaten, starting from the unusual presentation. It’s served in a square movie theater popcorn tub filled with fresh butter popcorn about 3/4 of the way and topped with deep-fried lobster coated in batter. On the side, a honey truffle oil adds a sweetness to the salty and savory mixture. I can really taste the quality.
Says Cumplido, “We get deliveries every day and use the freshest ingredients, hand selecting everything from local farms as much as possible. We strive to serve the best ingredients money can buy. Even if it costs us a bit more our guest, locals, and regulars appreciate it.”
The Chorizo Stuffed Dates are also a treat, covered in Swiss cheese and sitting in a roasted red pepper sauce. As soon as I bit into one it is like a performance of flavors, the first act the chewy melted cheese, the second the salty meat and the third a bursting of sweet fruit, the whole while each taste accented by the sweet tang of the pepper.
The next course is served on a butcher paper-covered cheese board, a massive turkey wing coated in a thick sweet yet spicy habanero glaze. Tender meat is enveloped in a crispy skin, with the sugar of the sauce causing an almost addictive response to my system.
Finally, the Spanish Octopus with Watercress. The dish has very fresh, Mediterranean flavors, simple and light. While the watercress adds a bitter, vegetal touch, tender seafood and plump and soft white beans offer an array of enjoyable textures.
“I traveled all over the world before the opening of Sweet Nectar, seeing different types of ingredients and cuisines,” explains Cumplido. “When I created the concept for this restaurant I wanted food that I enjoyed eating while growing up, with a modern twist paired with the food I loved during my travels.”
If you’re a regular reader of Epicure & Culture you know that we’re not the type of people who skip dessert. So, despite being ready to burst, I order not one, but two sugary items. It is hard to choose with options like table-side-prepared S’mores, a root beer float made with Dr. Browns soda and a chocolate and Nutella fondue; however, I decide to choose one dessert I always love — bread pudding — and another the waitress promises will be something completely out of the norm — Sweet Nectar Apple Pie. While I’d had apple pie plenty of times — in fact I was essentially drinking it now in my cocktail — she assured me this was not what I was used to.
The bread pudding is big enough to be a meal. Made in-house with croissant bread for a lighter yet still satisfying consistency and topped with peanut butter fudge ice cream, it reminds me almost of a chocolate chunk cinnamon roll. While I could have finished the entire thing, I knew my stomach would hate me so I ate a quarter of it and brought the rest home for the next day. While not the healthiest breakfast, I know I’ll end up eating it the next morning. Fattening, maybe, but oh so satisfying.
When the apple pie comes out I immediately know the waitress was correct in saying it was atypical. Served on a cheese board, one side offers finger-sized chunks of doughnut crust while the other houses two small Mason Jars, one containing house-made apple pie filling and the other cinnamon ice cream. It is a do-it-yourself treat with the same flavors; however, because they are separated end up being lighter but more concentrated.
I leave the restaurant feeling satisfied, not only with the food, but that I am able to navigate away from the Outback Steakhouses and Bubba Gumps to find a place dedicated to quality, innovation and locally sourcing that locals eat at too. If you’re heading to Fort Lauderdale and love food and drink, this is a great spot to begin your exploration of the city’s culinary culture.
If you’re going to feel stuffed somewhere, Las Olas is the perfect place, as right after your meal you can wander the boulevard, gallery and boutique hopping. While you don’t really need a guide for this, as simply walking around will lead you to numerous worthwhile stops, there were a few spaces that I recommend that are less than a 10-minute stroll from Sweet Nectar. First of all, Forre & Co makes for an interesting gallery stop, with abstract and fine art works in mixed mediums by global artists. I really love the pieces by Steve Hix, a photographer who plays with color and group formations taken from an aerial perspective. Another gallery I recommend is the Wentworth Gallery, with a nice collection of Peanuts pieces and food and drink-inspired Godard paintings, like a sexy-legged chocolate-covered strawberry drinking a glass of Champagne. Art Connection sells a mix of acrylic paintings, candles and soaps, while M R Mctigue & Co is an antique shop that’s been in operation since 1927. These are just a few of the many worthwhile offerings on Las Olas Boulevard.
Have you visited Fort Lauderdale? What is your favorite dining experience in the city?
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