As I sit shivering in my chilly apartment outside New York City, contemplating whether or not to call my landlord about the heat and watching my neighbor through the window as he struggles to chip away ice from the windshield of his Honda SUV with a shoddy plastic scraper, I reflect back upon the winters of my post-college twenties when I lived in frostless Fort Lauderdale. As a native New Yorker, it was tough not living in the city for those long eight years... except when the frigid days of December through April rolled in and I’d hear about the snow, sleet, and requisite BS that comes with it from all my friends back home. And I was still going outside to play basketball in mesh shorts and my Champion-brand John Starks jersey like it was totally normal — and feeling like I needed to remove a layer.
Unfortunately for Fort Lauderdale, when people think of Florida and fantastic food, they’re more likely to picture the swanky restaurants in South Beach (or, these days, Brickell and the Design District of Miami), the global culinary offerings of Epcot at Disneyworld in Orlando, or the Floribbean cuisine the Keys made famous. But Miami’s beer-guzzling upstairs neighbor is actively attempting to change that, raising awareness about its restaurant scene to entice food-lovers into visiting the burgeoning gastronomic draw.
The canal-filled beach city and its surrounding suburbs are starting to dig their own identity out of the powdery sand lining the Atlantic, and instead of being stigmatized as a rowdy Spring Breaker's party haven, it's now elevating its image into one of the Sunshine State's top dining destinations. From fancy establishments like Steak 954, SAIA, and Market 17 (where you can dine on delectable farm-to-table fare in complete darkness) to masterly interpretations of blue-collar classics at places like ROK:BRGR, Tap 42, and Fort Laudy's favorite hometown franchise success story, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, the city offers incredible options for tourists (and locals) looking for a better-than-average bite.
Alas, my SoFla heyday is long gone and I’m a New Yorker once again, but thankfully, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) understands that we who deal with four distinct seasons could use a break from the arctic freeze part of the year, and they’ve decided to help us out by bringing a bit of the beach up to the Big Apple. It started on Jan. 15, when one of the most heavily-trafficked bus stops in Manhattan (the M42 at 42nd street and Lexington/3rd avenues) was given a special Floridian “heat treatment,” getting installed with two yellow and white-striped sun lounges, dreamy photos of sun-drenched sand and clear blue ocean, and a powerful warming unit to keep commuters comfortable while out in the cold. To make things even more SoFla-chic, there were voluptuous, bikini-clad models handing out free Metro Cards to lucky passersby — a lovely, if not surreal, occurrence in the middle of an icy Wednesday morning rush hour.
The promotion continues on Jan. 28, as the GFLCVB brings its warmth and charm to Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, where palm trees, chiseled abs, and hobie cats are just the beginning of what you’ll discover inside the train station’s tropical oasis. Stop by and you might just finagle plane tickets down south, courtesy of JetBlue, to escape the next polar vortex — or at the very least you’ll snag some oversized “Hello Sunny” sunglasses from one of the free vending machines or score a ride uptown on a pedicab rickshaw (only the most preferred form of transportation of tourists visiting “The Venice of America”). You may even get a taste of some of the deliciousness that’s awaiting you down there… if you’re lucky.
After Grand Central Terminal, the beachy bash moves to JFK Airport’s Terminal 5, where it’ll rage on until the following Monday. From there, the GFLCVB will invade Chicago on Feb. 19, Washington, D.C. on March 18, and Sao Paolo, Brazil, on April 29.
Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for a follow-up piece that showcases my favorite spots to dine at in my old stomping ground of Fort Laudy (and I’ll even shed light on its thought-provoking nickname). You’ll be surprised at how vast the current culinary landscape is, as it’s developed quite a bit in recent years and offers outstanding variety. Until then, make sure you catch the sunny spectacle at GCT on the 28th, and don’t forget to bring a pair of shorts to change into should the feeling to show some skin become too powerful to resist.