A tasty place for fun with fin­ger food

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Mayo SouthFlorida.com

At­ten­tion, ve­g­ans and health-food pro­po­nents: Billy Jack’s Shack is not for you. The restau­rant’s slo­gan is “Beef, ba­con, beer, bird,” and most items are fried in peanut oil, grilled on a flat­top or smoth­ered with ooey, gooey fat. At first glance, I thought Billy Jack’s Shack would not be for me, ei­ther, be­cause it does things that I or­di­nar­ily op­pose on prin­ci­ple. Typ­i­cally, I do not like gim­micky burg­ers, par­tic­u­larly ones smoth­ered with peanut but­ter, ba­con and ched­dar cheese. And typ­i­cally I do not like a place where the servers do not ask what tem­per­a­ture you want your burger, be­cause the smashed pat­ties get cooked to a crusty, medium-well done no mat­ter what.

And yet I liked Billy Jack’s Shack. Per­haps it was be­cause I went in not ex­pect­ing much, and I was pleas­antly sur­prised that most food tasted good and was ca­pa­bly pre­pared. Per­haps it was be­cause the eatery, near the eastern ter­mi­nus of Com­mer­cial Boule­vard in Laud­erdale-by-the-Sea, was fun and re­laxed, with a com­fort­able and ca­sual beach vibe. Or per­haps it was be­cause amid this sea of grease, the first plat­ter that came sail­ing my way was a gor­geous ar­ray of pris­tine, raw oys­ters from Maine and Canada.

These plump and briny mol­lusks needed no chili, ched­dar, peanut but­ter or even cock­tail sauce. They were ex­pen­sive ($36 for a baker’s dozen) and worth it, cool and de­li­cious with just a squeeze of le­mon and a drop of Tabasco. The larger ones were Pe­maquids from Maine, the smaller ones from Rasp­berry Point on Prince Ed­ward Is­land. The seafood lovers at my ta­ble ap­pre­ci­ated the light start, and it was an in­di­ca­tion that the team be­hind this fledg­ling chain re­spected qual­ity and had more game than just sling­ing burg­ers.

That also was ev­i­dent from the next plat­ter to ar­rive, a dish dubbed “red­neck na­chos” ($11.99), which was the culi­nary an­tithe­sis of raw oys­ters. This one could be called a hot mess, or a steam­ing pile, but a funny thing hap­pened on my way to dis­missal. It was de­li­cious. In­stead of tor­tilla chips, the base was house­made potato chips, and they were cov­ered with wellsea­soned pulled pork, cubes of Nueske ba­con, cheese, jalapenos, sauteed onions, sour cream and globs of chili and mac and cheese.

As fin­ger food, it was messy, be­cause some chips got soggy and wilted from plate to mouth. Once forks be­came in­volved, it was fun to as­sem­ble bites with bits of ev­ery­thing. This will sound strange, but it was the most bal­anced plate of cheese- Todd Zim­mer, chef-owner of Billy Jack's Shack in Laud­erdale-by-the-Sea, is a Fort Laud­erdale na­tive who comes from a fine-din­ing back­ground, pre­vi­ously ex­ec­u­tive chef at Prime 112 in Mi­ami Beach. He also worked at Mark's at the Park in Boca Ra­ton. chili-pork-ba­con-onions-mac­a­roni-jalapeno ket­tle chips I’ve ever eaten (OK, the only ones). It was salty, sweet, spicy, creamy and crunchy.

The other fin­ger food that later ar­rived was also mostly good, in­clud­ing those smashed, crusty burg­ers, a Nash­ville hot chicken slider, and crin­kle-cut, sweet­potato fries.

Pre­sid­ing over this ex­er­cise in tasty com­fort food is chef-owner Todd Zim­mer, a Fort Laud­erdale na­tive with a sur­pris­ing fine-din­ing back­ground. Zim­mer pre­vi­ously was ex­ec­u­tive chef of tony and trendy Prime 112 in Mi­ami Beach, a celebrity steak­house, and he also worked for James Beard Award-win­ning chef Mark Militello at Mark’s at the Park in Boca Ra­ton.

Go­ing from Prime 112 and the South Beach scene to Billy Jack’s Shack is like go­ing from $36-a-dozen oys­ters to red­neck na­chos, and Zim­mer later ex­plained to me that he grew tired of the high-end scene and wanted to own and run an eatery with sim­ple yet sat­is­fy­ing fare. Zim­mer, part­ner John Hart and for­mer part­ner Yuri Tsyganov (who has since left) opened Billy Jack’s Shack in May, a fran­chised spinoff of the Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint chain, which has dozens of lo­ca­tions through­out the South, and the sec­ond Billy Jack’s Shack. The orig­i­nal opened seven years ago in Har­rison­burg, Va.

Zim­mer says he in­tends to open an­other in Davie next year. The beach lo­ca­tion suits the honky-tonk decor fine, with re­claimed­wood booths and pad­locked lock­ers lin­ing the bar and kitchen area. The grill of a 1967 Chevro­let serves as a back­drop above the bar. Live mu­sic is fea­tured most nights, which can make things loud, but the acous­tics still al­low for con­ver­sa­tion. The bar fea­tures 70 craft beers, 10 on draft, and full liquor.

Zim­mer is not try­ing to rein­vent the wheel here, and he keeps prices mod­est. In­stead of mak­ing ev­ery­thing from scratch, he does what he calls “one-offs,” tak­ing com­mer­cially pre­pared sauces and dress­ings and jazz­ing them up with his own twists, such as Frank’s Buf­falo Wing sauce with Worces­ter­shire and sriracha to go along with nicely bat­tered pop­corn shrimp.

The menu fea­tures sal­ads that can be topped with pro­teins for those who want to go to the lighter side, such as the “wedgie” ($7.99), a wedge of ice­berg let­tuce with ba­con, chopped tomato, fried onion strings, blue-cheese dress­ing and a vinai­grette glaze that is sur­pris­ingly good. Zim­mer says he used the same prod­uct at Prime 112.

The menu also fea­tures a daily fish spe­cial, co­bia ($24) on the day I dined. “I’m a fish­er­man by pas­sion and hobby,” Zim­mer says, and he has de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with fish­ing ves­sels from the Keys to Jupiter. He likes to show­case fresh, off­beat fish, and when prices go down and the sup­ply picks up, he says he will start of­fer-

Billy Jack’s Shack

218 Com­mer­cial Blvd., Suite 102, Laud­erdale-by-the-Sea 954-990-8671 or Bil­lyJack­sShack.com Cui­sine: Cost: Hours: Reser­va­tions: Credit cards: Bar: Noise level: Wheel­chair ac­cess: Park­ing: ing stone crab and grilled Gulf oys­ters (both have been im­pacted by Hur­ri­cane Michael).

Burg­ers made from an Amer­i­can Wagyu blend from Snake River Farms in Idaho are the big sell­ers, and Zim­mer of­fers them plain or dou­ble-stacked in five styles. Although they are cooked be­yond my usual de­sired medium-rare, they were juicy and tasty.

I have seen peanut-but­ter burg­ers on lo­cal menus lately, but had never tasted one un­til my visit, and when I posted a photo of the Elvis burger ($11.99) on the Let’s Eat, South Florida Face­book group page, the re­sponse was po­lar­iz­ing (and mostly neg­a­tive).

It was smoth­ered with creamy peanut but­ter, strips of ap­ple­wood ba­con and ched­dar cheese, and it was sim­ply too rich for my lik­ing. It needed a sweet/spicy el­e­ment to cut the fat, per­haps some jalapeno jelly, and per­haps a de­fib­ril­la­tor on the side.

Much bet­ter were the tra­di­tional burger pair­ings such as the Hunter S. Thomp­son ($13.99), which fea­tured mush­rooms and onions sauteed in Jame­son Ir­ish Whiskey and Swiss cheese, and El Chu­pacabra ($12.99), which fea­tured goat cheese, sweet-ba­con jam and arugula.

For dessert, we had a sur­pris­ingly creamy and re­fined fried Oreo ($3), bat­tered and served with a scoop of vanilla Haa­gen-Dazs ice cream. It seemed a fit­ting fin­ish for a meal that is prob­a­bly best en­joyed af­ter run­ning a half marathon. mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Fol­low my food ad­ven­tures on In­sta­gram: @mike­may­oeats. Sign up for my weekly din­ing news­let­ter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.


Amer­i­can In­ex­pen­sive-mod­er­ate. Ap­pe­tiz­ers and sal­ads cost $4-$14, burg­ers and sand­wiches $6-$15, en­trees $12-$24 11 a.m.-mid­night Mon­day-Wed­nes­day; 11 a.m-2 a.m. Thurs­day-Fri­day; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Satur­day; 10 a.m.-mid­night Sun­day No All ma­jor Full liquor with 70 craft beers in cans and bot­tles, 10 on draft Can get loud with live mu­sic Ground level Metered street and nearby garage

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