By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
Indeed I know several critics who've been so put off by his laissez-faire attitude (not to mention his language, which tends toward frequent f-bomb explosions) that Martorano's official newspaper ratings have gone down because of it, from four stars to three-and-a-half. If you search the Websites of South Florida papers, it's impossible to locate any of the writeups without really great Internet skills, though I know for a fact that Lyn Farmer of the Sun-Sentinel critiqued the place rather recently. The only review I could find, by C.B. Marino of the Miami Herald Broward edition, sums up the restaurant perfectly: "In the eloquent vernacular of Sopranos star Steven Van Zant (Silvio Dante), Café Martorano isn't only a restaurant, it's a bleep-worthy event."
Steve Martorano, it's fair to say, is not a chef who caters to the typical restaurant reviewer. I'm told by an acquaintance that his straight-from-South-Philly philosophy is quotable: "Fuck the critics. You guys [the diners] are my critics."
Damn, but I like this guy. He may not be a pal to my ilk, but he's a downright teddy bear to his customers. And by that I don't mean that he comes around glad-handing and kissing babies. Simply, he runs the most egalitarian hip restaurant in the tri-county area. Everyone -- be you critic, celebrity, or regular -- waits, as long as it takes, for one of the ten or so tables (with the exception of Dan Marino, who's been known to wait in his car for take-out). During which you'll watch the off-duty cop who's been hired as a security guard outside scarf down a plate of pasta and, if you've hit the joint at the right moment, you'll witness South Florida's more charming asses -- some of whom you might have seen at Pearl or Rumi the night before -- doing a slow jiggle on the bar top. It's a show that has so much potential fun that Miamians have been making Martorano runs when they could be going to South Beach instead -- a cross-the-county-line nightly migration not seen since Fort Lauderdale Strip days. And I do mean, ahem, strip.
Don't believe that no one gets special treatment? I give you myself as an example. I tread a line as thin as angel hair pasta with my pair of New Times columns. In Miami I'm critic-at-large, visible as far as my height allows, frequenter of openings and media dinners and wine lunches and charity functions and just about any other event that allows me a closeup of the restaurant industry. But in Broward and Palm Beach counties, I review restaurants anonymously, make reservations under false names, pay with cash, act invisibly. Only once in a very great while do I encounter a conflict -- for instance when a Miami chef who is known to me opens a place in Palm Beach, the way former Astor Place chef Johnny Vinczencz is doing in Delray Beach at the newly revamped Sundy House.
Or when I head to a place like Café Martorano to celebrate a pair of birthdays, take a stretch limo to the restaurant to mark the occasion, and join the beverage account manager from Southern Wine & Spirits who supplies the restaurant with wine, the Southern district manager of South Beach, a well-known South Beach chef who has been quoted in print that Café Martorano is his favorite restaurant, and a few other industry insiders. One of them asked my permission to tell Martorano that I was a member of the party. "If he finds out afterwards," he told me, "he'll be mad."
Frankly I don't care if Martorano gets as pissed as a puppy tied to a fire hydrant. But in the end I agreed to be identified, not because Martorano despises critics but because he stands by his dislike. In other words, he's not just paying lip service like some chefs I know who hate me and my kind but then give us the best tables in the house and try to seduce us with off-the-menu food and drink. I knew Martorano wouldn't kiss my ass with the same mouth that curses it.
And he didn't. I wasn't introduced to him. He didn't acknowledge me. He didn't come over to greet the others at my table -- they went to him. And that's after we waited so long for a table I stopped checking my watch and just got flat-out pissed myself -- as in drunk. In fact the only perks we got were what the regulars often receive: South Philly cheese steaks, cut into hunks and passed around the bar area to keep us from eating our own limbs.