It had all the makings of an episode of Miami Vice.
Operation Court Broom, an FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement undercover sting in the early 1990s, revealed how the Miami-Dade Courthouse was used as a backdrop for extortion and bribery. The sting swept up three judges, six lawyers and one businessman, all convicted on corruption charges.
One of the case’s turning points hinged on a lawyer-turned-FBI-informant who secretly recorded a judge with a fondness for coke and booze who had the FDLE on his tail and a tongue loosened by his illicit habits.
That chatter at Christy’s helped the feds bust the perps and serves as one more story to tell for fans of the Coral Gables steakhouse, which celebrates its 35th anniversary in November. The restaurant plans dinner specials to mark the occasion, including $35 entrees of filet mignon, sea bass or rack of lamb and $35 select bottles of wine.
“Back in the days when Miami was the capital for the bad guys we would have someone going into prison and enjoying their last meal in one room and in another room a strike team was celebrating a bust,” said Christy’s founder Charles Hauser with a laugh.
Of course, Christy’s clientele wasn’t all heading to the hoosegow. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. dined here. So have senators Bob Graham and Connie Mack, Gov. Jeb Bush, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Rod Stewart and Gloria Estefan.
“I was there when Richard and Charles [Hauser] opened the place up and it’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years. I remember vividly that night,” said Paul Huck, a federal judge in Miami. “What impressed me is the consistency. It’s their hallmark. They consistently serve terrific food and great service and ambience and atmosphere. When I walk in today it’s almost the same thing as 35 years ago.”
Though Christy’s is known for its meats like filet mignon and prime rib and, its distinctive Caesar salad, Huck lets us in on a secret: try the fish.
“I always get the salmon. It’s one of the best. People don’t always think of that right away,” he said.
As for the ingredient that makes the Christy’s Caesar a talked-about salad for 35 years, Hauser isn’t revealing company secrets. That’s because he says he really doesn’t know.
“I think the magic is garlic,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know. Honestly.”
Christy’s opened in the fall of 1978 on the corner of 3101 Ponce de Leon Boulevard in a space that had already seen the closing of a German and, later, a Jamaican restaurant.
French fare was in in the Gables at the time. The Grease movie soundtrack was No. 1. Laverne & Shirley was television’s top-rated program. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Gasoline was 63 cents a gallon and the first test tube baby was born.
And Christy’s birth came with a name but no actual Christy.
“I just made it up,” Hauser said.
Since then, the restaurant, its four rooms with red walls, table lamps, oversized leather seats and cozy tables, has been the setting for countless business meetings, date nights, wedding parties and family meals.
“Christy’s is an institution in the city of Coral Gables. I can’t think of another restaurant that has been in business here for 35 years,” said Coral Gables Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk, Jr. “My father took me there and now I’m taking my kids there. Christy’s symbolizes a place that brings back fond memories for me. I conducted many business meetings there but I think of Christy’s as just a place for me, personally. It resembles a family, basically.”