South Florida Redeemed by Brunch
A visit to South Florida is not normally cause for culinary jubilation. If my mother didn't live in Broward County I'm sure I'd never find myself down there wondering where the hell do I get a decent meal. I understand that as New York Jews get older they're genetically programmed to head for a warmer climate, but why can't it be some place like New Orleans or Charleston, or how about Singapore, where the question is more likely where can't I get a decent meal? So I was as shocked as anyone to have finally found an actual culinary destination right there in Coral Springs, not far from my mother's home in Tamarac. I first had the Sunday brunch at the Blue Moon Fish Co. last winter, and I made sure my visit this time would include a Sunday stay so I could go back, it was that good. Not only is it good, it's an amazing bargain. All you can eat for $21.95, including a bloody Mary or a mimosa. What really distinguishes this brunch, though, is not the price, or even the quality or the quantity of the food, but the added element of presentation to all of the above.
Blue Moon's brunch is only partially a buffet. There's a salad bar, a raw bar and a bread station, as well as waffles and mussels that you can take yourself, but otherwise you order from a choice of nine entrees and five desserts. You can have as many of them as you want, including seconds, the only rule being that you can only order one item at a time. All the plates are quite nicely presented. The available entrees, which varied only slightly from the year before, included crab and crawfish cakes, blackened mahi mahi, salmon streudel, baby loin lamb chops, chicken breast rolled with Gruyere cheese and wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, filet mignon meat loaf (I don't quite get the concept), black (Berkshire) pork tenderloin, a seafood risotto and a gumbo. I tried all of those except the last two and had seconds of the crab cake and the lamb chop. It's not as much food as you'd think though. They're really only tasting plates, with a small serving of the entree, the equivalent, perhaps, of half an appetizer, padded with sides, usually starchy, like polenta, fries, plantains or boniato hash. But the quality of the ingredients and the preparation are exceptional.
I think for the diner as well as the restaurant this is a winning approach to an all-you-can-eat brunch. Sure it's more labor intensive than a buffet, but I think it discourages excess and waste. I've never been thrilled with food that's been sitting around on steam tables anyway, and food kept hot with sterno always picks up a bit of a sterno complex. At a buffet one is tempted to fill up a plate, to minimize trips back and forth. Invariably most people will bite off more than they can chew. Who hasn't taken a large helping of something that looked good only to leave most of it because it disappointed? I find it hard to go to a buffet and not overeat to the point of discomfort. Even when the food isn't great the buffet center of the brain shuts off the time to stop eating switch in the brain.
The Blue Moon approach is much more civilized and leisurely. In fact, my mother and I spent close to three hours at our last brunch there. By having to order your food one small item at a time you can't help but pace yourself. I did, of course, play the brunch strategically. I had one small waffle, because I'm a waffle lover, but I avoided all the bread, and only took cursory tastes of all the high-starch sides with the main courses. The desserts were actually a bit larger than they ought to be if you're going to eat multiple ones. I had about half a piece each of the pecan pie and the key lime pie (sort of a cream cheesecake), and all of the egg-custardy creme brulee that I fondly remembered from my previous visit.
The salad bar seemed adequate as an adjunct to the main event. The oysters and clams I tried from the raw bar were rather flavorless, but the boiled shrimps in the shell were quite good. The only one of the main courses that left me cold was the very bready meat loaf; as I said, I don't quite get the concept of filet mignon meat loaf anyway. Everything else was superb, as was the service. As I told my mother, a brunch of this quality would easily cost twice as much in New York.
I hope to return to Blue Moon for brunch, but only as an occasional South Florida visitor, please, because I sure as hell hope I was spared that "turn into an old Jew and move to Florida" gene.
Blue Moon Fish Co.
10317 Royal Palm Boulevard
Coral Springs, Florida 33065