Ernie’s BBQ & Lounge has been a popular institution in Fort Lauderdale for far longer than I’ve been alive.It’s impressive longetivity, the promise of BBQ, it’s attractive exterior, and the close proximity to the my favorite back alley club 1921 has always intrigued me. However, because of poor reviews from friends, I always seem to bump it down on my list of must-try restaurants. Finally, yesterday evening Strawberry Jam and myself decided to dine at Ernies, anticipating South Florida’s potentially best conch chowder and some sweet Bimini bread.
Local old timers have a bad habit of blindly preferring the old over the new. To these group of stubborn locals, a bar or restaurant is never as good as it used to be 20 years ago. This type of comment continually popped up on various food review websites describing Ernies. Most of the time, I disregard those remarks as typical local banter. After trying the average food at this underwhelming establishment, I tend to think there might be some validity to the common string of comments. When so many better places to eat go bankrupt so quickly, the only explanation for Ernie’s survival is its past reputation.
For starters, disregard the word BBQ in the name. The menu shows a diverse list of run-of-the-mill bar food, with a few unauthentic BBQ dishes sprinkled in. By this logic, Ernies is as much a BBQ restaurant as Quarterdecks or McDonalds during McRib season. Because I don’t believe in ordering two of the same dish, S Jam ordered a regular size conch chowder that came with their locally famous Bimini bread and I reluctantly ordered the open face pork sandwich with fries and slaw .
The conch chowder was tasty, but nothing I’d tweet about. Keep in mind, I am not an expert on what comprises a good chowder. As an example of my lack of knowledge, I actually expected the soup to be white — turns out Bahamian-style conch chowder is red. It didn’t impress me or S Jam more than a full sodium can of Campbell’s vegetable soup with tiny conch chunks. If you’re a conch chowder connoisseur though, their soup might be worth a taste.
The bread was good, but when is fresh bread not good? In my opinion, it tasted like every other bakery bread. I wanted it to be sweeter, but maybe that’s typical Bahamian-style bread. In fact, I’d bet that bakery on Las Olas (Gran Forno is the name I’m pretty sure) can make a better loaf of Bimini bread.
The bigger disappointment was the pork sandwich. Living in NC for 9 years, I’m used to a proper pulled pork sandwich. Ernies version of the sandwich was thinly slices of pork, akin to a deli or sub shop. The meat tasted fine, but not exceptional. Let’s face it, even the questionable “Manager’s Special” pork from Winn Dixie tastes ok. In addition, the BBQ sauce was bland and the thick slice of Bimini bread used for the sandwich should be replaced with a thinner, buttery bun. In hindsight, it’s laughable to even try and compare their pork to an actual BBQ restaurant.
On the plus side, the decorations and atmosphere of the restaurant was refreshing. It’s not the best view, but the open-air upstairs patio is a nice place to enjoy the breeze, have a couple beers, and watch Tuesday night Sun Belt Conference football match-up. I enjoyed looking at the vintage photography on the walls, especially the 80’s FTL Spring Break photo by the restroom that showed A1A as one giant mass of college students. And who can resist rubbernecking on US1 to check out Ernie’s bright orange and yellow exterior. Remember this photoshopped picture:
After that epic BBQ tease, I’m really looking forward to trying out the highly praised Tom Jenkins or Georgia Pig in the next few weeks. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on Ernies, past or presnt, and recommend some other places with real BBQ that I should add to my must-try list.
Ernie’s is located at 1843 S Federal Hwy in Fort Lauderdale.