Worth the Wait

Florida heat

Everything at Café Martorano in Fort Lauderdale is cranked up to the max: the bone-chilling air-conditioning, the ear-pounding music, the belt-stretching portions, and the mouth-watering flavors. At this no-reservations restaurant in a strip mall opposite the built-up beachfront, diners wait an hour and a half (on weekends, up to four hours) for Steven Martorano's "South Philly" Italian-American food, which he describes as "the peasant food my grandmother used to cook, brought to a new level." His succulent, enormous veal chop topped with spinach, mushrooms, and imported Fontina cheese is the best cut of meat you'll find anywhere. (At $48, it should be.)

The men dining at Café Martorano tend to have big shoulders beneath their black shirts; the women are usually blonde. In the black-and-white room (which Martorano redecorates each year) with a tiled open kitchen, there are six television sets, two broadcasting sports, the other four playing movies like The Godfather trilogy. Early in the evening, the soundtrack favors Sinatra, whose youthful photograph hangs near the bar; as the night advances, Motown comes on. A framed news clipping in the men's room records the recent gangland-style shooting of Steven's uncle, Raymond "Long John" Martorano. The place exudes authenticity.

So does the menu, recited for each of the dozen tables by the white-aproned waiters. Martorano, 46, has never been to Italy: This is definitely Italian-American cuisine, at its pinnacle. Rigatoni in a tomato sauce, festooned with big chunks of pork and homemade sausage and a great gob of fresh ricotta, was delicious; so, too, was the batter-fried yellowtail snapper in lemon-and-white-wine sauce. After all this, the cannoli for dessert, though it wasn't bad, was beside the point. Dinner, $110. At 3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd.; 954-561-2554.

Restaurant prices reflect a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverages and gratuity.