Coral Gables

Christy’s celebrates 35 years in Coral Gables with tradition and Caesar salad

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.”

Nancie Sturges, a former PTA president for Pinecrest Elementary and wife of Miami Heat partner Robert Sturges, an executive in the gaming industry, remembers one event a number of years ago. It was Mother’s Day and her husband suggested Christy’s.

Behind the scenes Robert arranged to fly the couple’s son in from college in New Hampshire, where he was a freshman. The restaurant staff was in on the surprise.

“Everyone was on board and did their part so discreetly by secretly calling the airline to find out my son’s actual landing time, then calling a taxi to pick my son up at the airport and to bring him to the restaurant through the back service entrance,” she said in an email to the Herald. “Our waiter came to our table and told me the chef had ‘prepared’ something very special for me that evening to ‘accompany’ my entree. Out from the kitchen, he brought my son to the table. To me, that was one of the most memorable and joyous surprises of my lifetime. Can you imagine any restaurant that would devote such time and effort to impeccably pull off this coup?”

Jennie Hausler, daughter of the late Richard Hausler, a University of Miami law professor who earned a reputation for training attorneys, including former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, shared pictures of her sister’s wedding at Christy’s in May 1986. Mom Jeannette, who was a dean at the UM Law School, celebrated her 84th birthday at Christy’s in June.

“I raise a symbolic glass to Christy’s today to honor and celebrate 35 wonderful, beautiful years and thank them for embracing my family,” Jennie Hausler wrote in an email. “Christy’s has served as a great backdrop for successful business people who wished to embrace the traditions of fine, elegant dining without having to drive to downtown Miami to impress their clients and seal their deals.”

Hauser said he founded Christy’s because, as a Midwesterner in northern Wisconsin, where he maintains a home, he wanted a real steakhouse that reminded him of places in Chicago and New York. Coral Gables lacked such a place in 1978.

“We basically tried to create a restaurant for people who want what we wanted and it’s still what I want: a great filet and baked potato and Caesar.”

The menu hasn’t changed — managing partner Chris Klaic says the restaurant still serves about 1,100 to 1,200 meals per week, even after the 2008 recession and the arrival of competing chain steakhouses like Morton’s The Steakhouse and Ruth’s Chris Steak House nearby.

Christy’s recently converted one of its four rooms into a piano bar but the music doesn’t intrude on the dining. Familiarity reigns here.

“Trends come and go and restaurants come and go but we are still here,” Klaic said. “We try to stay true.”

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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