H2O American Café
101 S Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd
Fort Lauderdale FL 33316
There is a gem of a restaurant hidden on the ground floor of the historic Las Olas Beach Club, originally built between 1936-1937 as the 60-room Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Its Art Deco elegance defined the beach front from the moment it opened, with its exquisite lobby and ocean front suites crowned with the nickname, “Queen of the Beach” for the next 30 years. Created by famed Miami architect Roy F. France, portions of the original hotel were preserved and its stylized design incorporated into the new 29-story Las Olas Beach Club which was built in 2007.
H2O American Café blends itself into the mix with an interior arrangement that finds small tables and large beige banquettes arranged along the back inside wall with a chic small bar on the east wall featuring flat screen TVs playing the Fashion Channel and highlighting all the haute couture you never know existed. On the outside terrace, there is a view of the beach, the ocean and the bikini-clad men and women who occupy this particular stretch of metrosexual sand.
If it’s sunny outside, the tables on the terrace add the advantage of people watching and while the tables may be basically rattan, the location can’t be beat and those sauntering by will give your group plenty to talk about—from New York model chic with stick figure perfection to the full-figured multiracial tattooed babe that looks straight from Black Ink Miami.
Fortunately, you will have fortifications from the full-service bar, and a foreign-speaking server with an accent just thick enough to make you pretty sure that their nodding heads mean they have gotten your order correct.
As for food, we recommend the essential Fried Calamari ($12.95). Not greasy, not undercooked, a full platter replete with goodness that will definitely provide a full serving with an accompanying sauce with shades of Sharaz wine and garlic. Other appetizers include a large Chicken Quesadilla (with a three-cheese blend, onions, peppers, and spiced grilled chicken breast) ($11.95), and an enormous platter of Nachos ($10.95 ) (as in feeds three) that loads crisped tortilla chips, topped with chili, mozzarella and cheddar, green onions with chicken and pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole. A mouthful by any name.
Entrées include a mighty tender Prime Rib ($19.95) that’s medium-rare, very pink, very juicy, and served with au jus and a basket of French bread to sop up the leftover liquid. I’ve heard the Tilapia al Vodka ($19.95) is incredible, sautéed with jumbo shrimp in a vodka sauce, and includes a complimentary glass of paired wine. It certainly looks the part. Our favorite chicken dish, which we’ve order many times, is easily Chicken Marsala ($16.95) with its abundance of mushrooms and a brush of marsala demi-glace sauce with spaghetti.
For something a little lighter, the Flatbread Pizza is thin, fresh, and precisely baked. The most popular is the sausage with plum tomato sauce and a heavy-handed mozzarella ($11.95). For the vegans among us, there is a veggie version with crispy onions, peppers and mushrooms, with the same sauce and cheese for a dollar less.
If salads are your thing, there is not a better choice than the Sashimi ($15.95). It is thin-sliced, lightly seared sesame-seed encrusted tuna on top of cucumber and baby greens that is tossed in an ultra-lite tomato vinaigrette, coupled with sliced avocado and shredded seaweed dipped in Thai ponzu sauce. Rice wine never tasted so good. Of course, there is the usual Cobb ($13.95), Caesar ($9.95), Chicken Caesar ($14.95), Greek ($13.95) and Chicken Breast ($14.95) along strictly purest lines.
There is also a full sandwich menu including a dynamic Cuban ($12.95) with its roast pork, baked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles, served on freshly made Cuban bread. It is also the perfect size to take half of it home, to serve as a second lunch the next day. H2O also pays homage to Philadelphia with its own version of the Phillie steak, but this time a Chicken Breast replaces shaved beef, with caramelized onions, tomatoes, peppers and melted provolone ($11.95). If you insist, there is a Brewery Cheese Steak ($12.95), sliced roast beef, caramelized onions, and more provolone than should ever be allowed to consume at one sitting. Yes, it is delicious, and at least 1,000 calories. But, as they say, if you have to have to ask the price (or count the calories), this one is not for you.
And though you would never think it, looking at the beach setting and the buckets of champagne, H2O is also a burger joint. Begin with a half-pound of ground chuck and brisket cuddled by a grilled whole wheat or white bun. The basic 8-ounce Prime Burger comes served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and a side for $10.95. A slice of cheese costs an extra $1.00 but there are nine (yes, nine) kinds of cheese to choose from. Order one, or order them all. And before we forget, there are 11 toppings to customize your feast. From housemade chili to fried onion strings, hickory bacon to pineapple, avocado to pepperoncinis (look it up), add a dollar a topping, as thick as you like. The only rule at H2O is to have a great time while enjoying a filling meal. Each time we go, we do just that.
And afterward, be sure to check out what remains of the original Lauderdale Beach Hotel. Walk down the sidewalk next to the restaurant, turn into the Las Olas Beach Club, and ask to see the two fireplaces, the original elevator, a decorative frieze over the original lobby entrance, and a stairway with art deco railings connecting six floors of the south section. Thank the Fort Lauderdale Historic Board for this rare opportunity to step back in time and experience our city circa 1937. An astonishing finish to a meal well served.