Pizza and barbecue: two foods with rustic beginnings that have evolved into more upscale fare, retaining loyal followings and earning new ones along the way. Though new pizzerias and BBQ joints are popping up all over the place, two South Florida mainstays remain solid hometown favorites while expanding beyond their original turf.
Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza
Where: Aventura, Coral Gables, Doral, Kendall, Miami Lakes, Pinecrest, Miami Beach, Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Pompano Beach and Weston, plus Palm Beach County, Orlando, Tampa, and New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Founded: 2002 in Fort Lauderdale.
Essentials: Pizza, chicken wings, big salads, sandwiches and adult beverages, including craft beers.
More info: acfp.com.
The Bruno family operates Runway 84, a longstanding Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. In 2002, son Anthony opened a nearby pizzeria with a coal-fired oven, making pies the way they had for years at pizza joints like Grimaldi’s, near New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, in 800-degree heat. The result — a thin, crisp and slightly charred crust — might be considered burnt by some diners. Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza acknowledges the misconception with its motto: “Pizza well done.”
The single restaurant that Anthony Bruno opened in Fort Lauderdale has grown into a chain with locations throughout South Florida, as well as in other parts of the state and in the mid-Atlantic region. More are on the way, Bruno said.
“We keep it simple,” he said of his restaurant’s formula. “There’s a lot of pizza places out there. But we use the best ingredients — really the best you can get — and the difference shows. Simple: Grande mozzarella, Italian plum tomatoes, Romano cheese, basil and olive oil. That’s all there is to it. Simple, like I said.”
In addition to pizza and calzones, Anthony’s serves coal-fired chicken wings (if you’ve only tasted deep-fried wings, you must try these), meatballs and eggplant, as well as sandwiches and salads. It’s a surprisingly restrained and traditional menu, with one slight anomaly: The Paul and Young Ron Special, a pizza topped with meatballs, sausage, peppers and ricotta cheese, named after the venerable South Florida radio team.
“We had a contest and they won,” Bruno laughed. “We had a pizza named after them and one for Dan Marino [an ACFP investor], and more people bought theirs. Imagine that! So they’re on the menu permanently.”
Even in out-of-broadcast-range locations where diners may not know of the wacky morning duo? “Yes, everywhere,” Bruno said.
While Bruno said he has used his knowledge of South Florida and the New York-New Jersey region to help fuel the pizza chain’s growth, Hall of Famer Marino has been instrumental in expansion in “Pennsylvania and beyond.”
Bruno’s other ingredient for success? Something he calls the Jewish-Italian Index.
“Seriously. I look for areas with high Jewish and Italian populations, along with the usual demographic studies,” he said. “Jews and Italians like food, and they like to talk about food. They like to talk about food while they’re eating food! But really, we do well with all ethnic groups. We wouldn’t be successful in Dade, for example, if we didn’t offer a product that the Latin population enjoys.”
The pizzeria group has put a recent emphasis on offering local and regional craft beers — a tip Bruno took from his son Anthony and daughter Tara, who handles store openings and menu development.
“My kids suggested it, and it’s gone down really well,” he said.
Anthony’s partnered with Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park to create a house ale, available at all of the pizzeria’s South Florida locations: Fuhgeddaboudit Red Ale, a “fiery-red Italian-American ale.”
Where: South Miami, Doral, West Miami, Davie, West Boca.
Founded: 1951 in South Miami.
Atmosphere: Casually rustic.
Essentials: Barbecued pork spare ribs, chicken, brisket, coleslaw, beans.
More info: shortys.com.
Classic American barbecue isn’t really the burgers and weenies you grill in your back yard. It’s also not the parboiled, glopped-in-sauce meat that’s reheated and served at some national chains that will remain unnamed. And it’s definitely not the McRib.
No disrespect if you like that stuff, but genuine barbecue is protein (usually pork or beef ribs, shoulder or brisket, or poultry) cooked slowly and deliberately over low heat, flavored by wood smoke. Wet or dry rubs, vinegar- or mustard-based sauces, and any number of other variables depend on regional traditions or preferred flavor. Not many places still take the time or effort to do barbecue right, but one that does has been doing so in South Florida for more than 60 years: Shorty’s Bar-B-Q.
Shorty’s started in South Miami in 1951, with the original location rebuilt after a 1972 fire and again two decades later after Hurricane Andrew. Expansion in the early ’90s included openings in Davie, Doral and west Miami.
A franchised Shorty’s in Deerfield Beach opened several years later, then closed and relocated last year west of Boca Raton on 441 and Clint Moore Road. It offers mostly the same menu as the other locations — pork spare ribs, brisket, pork steaks and chicken, plus burgers and grilled skirt steaks. The four company-owned restaurants have nearly identical menus but with minor variations: no skirt steaks in South Miami, for example, but a coveted prime-rib sandwich in Davie.
Shorty’s serves a mean brisket, smoked for 14 hours, according to marketing manager Bayley Davis. Still, the ribs — meaty, St. Louis-style cut and with big, smoky flavor — are hard to pass up. Baked beans are a favorite side dish, and Davis noted that foil-wrapped sweet potatoes are a relatively new addition. Be sure to ask for something called Shorty’s Sauce, a vinegar-based condiment that’s only available by request.
Shorty’s website offers a variety of coupons as well as catering options. While Davis said the owners are open to bringing on additional franchisees, they have no plans to open any more company-owned locations. But with five restaurants in South Florida, Shorty’s is rarely more than a short — and delicious — drive.