When Frank and Yaddi Rodriguez fell in love with a truly homey location for their Latin restaurant, they had no idea it would be six years before they served their first empanada. There was even more red tape, rebuilding and expense than they expected involved in transforming a decrepit 1924 house into a charming neighborhood destination. But The Chimney House Grill & Cafe is looking like a dream come true for the Colombian-born couple.
Open since August on the edge of Fort Lauderdale’s artsy Sailboat Bend, the restaurant is already drawing a steady stream of regulars for authentic fare at reasonable prices (all items under $20) served by a gracious staff in a unique setting.
We picked a table on the covered deck, which looks like a front porch, and enjoyed a soundtrack of soothing Spanish guitar riffs and Latin jazz. Inside, the dining room only has 24 seats; the Rodriguezes had to work around the original brick fireplace, which proved integral to the structure and inspired the name. There’s also a dog-friendly patio, with water bowls for your pooch.
The menu offers a few American (burgers, sandwiches) and Spanish (omelets, rice dishes) items, but it’s largely a pan-Latin mix. One cook is from Guatemala, the other from Peru, and Frank Rodriguez’s Colombian mom is often in the kitchen as well (yes, there’s even mom’s meatloaf).
There’s a limited wine list, with six by the glass, but go for the delicious house-made sangria with lots of fresh fruit, perfect to sip with tapas or ceviche.
We started with the house patacon combo, a large fried green plantain patty topped with a terrific guacamole, saucy ropa vieja and flavorful pulled pork. Or snack on empanadas with a light, flaky crust.
The house ceviche includes octopus, corvina, shrimp and calamari, served with ají chiles, thinly sliced red onion, crunchy cancha (toasted Peruvian corn) and a slice of sweet potato. The thinly sliced ahi tuna ceviche reflects the Asian influence in Peruvian cuisine with a Japanese-style nikkei sauce that adds honey and soy sauce to the lime juice marinade.
One of our favorite entrees is the flavorful arroz marinero, like a mini paella, with shrimp, calamari, octopus, clams, mussels and slices of chorizo nestled in a moist yellow rice that soaks up the sea-salty juices.
Lomo saltado, the classic Chinese-Peruvian stir-fry, combines soy sauce and Peruvian ají amarillo peppers with tender slices of beef tenderloin, tomatoes and double carbs — white rice and french fries. It’s also available with chicken.
The churrasco is a tender, grilled top sirloin elevated by a bright and tangy chimichurri sauce served with black beans and rice. The mahi mahi with coconut milk, made by Rodriguez’s mom, Nohora Cabeza, is a mild dish, the tropical coconut milk in the background like a swaying palm, with tomatoes, onions and white wine.
Cabeza also makes the flan, a wondrously creamy version topped with caramel that comprises the dessert menu along with rice pudding.
The Chimney House is also a good spot for Sunday brunch, with your choice of omelets and eggs with tortillas, pico de gallo and a black bean purée. The eggs could have been hotter, but everything was flavorful and the atmosphere delightful.
It’s a long time coming, but sweet mom-and-pop restaurants like this one are worth the wait.