Ernie’s Italian Chophouse

I’ve learned there’s only one way to cook food, and that’s from the heart. Not surprisingly, that’s also exactly how I enjoy eating my food: via mi corazon.

I’ve long tired of those corporate-type restaurants that have executed their foods and flavors based off what one corporate chef living thousands of miles away has proclaimed. No matter if your restaurant is a factory for cheesecake or how many seasons you have, it’s not hard to spot when a chef cooks from his or her heart, or from a recipe page sent via e-mail by headquarters.

And this is where Ernie’s Italian Chophouse comes into play. Opened in January 2012, Ernie’s is all about heart. Chef Gary Wood, whose South Florida experience includes time at 32 East, Prezzos and Nick & Max’s, is a native New Yorker who ain’t afraid to wear his heart right on his chef sleeves. His love of food comes out in each of his dishes, and so does much of his soul.

Wood isn’t going to wow you with modern gastronomic visuals (what’s up with chefs and foam these days?), but what he is going to do is floor you with his perfectly made pastas, sauces that are one part season and one part savory. He just makes good food great.

Take the spaghetti. Everyone’s had spaghetti growing up, right? Even my mother, a native Vietnamese woman who saw boxed pasta as a quick “American” meal for our family of five, cooked spaghetti for us as kids. But Chef Wood’s spaghetti has that memory of childhood kicked up several notches to the gourmet level. There’s still that savory tomato sauce you had growing up, but this time it has so much more, well, heart (and so much less salt in my mom’s case).

Ernie’s Italian Chophouse isn’t located on the ritzy Las Olas Boulevard or trendy Mizner Park. It’s actually located among strip malls and across the way from a seedy bowling alley. The stand-alone building is in Lighthouse Point has character, and it’s a welcomed change from having to fight the crowds on Las Olas and beyond.

Here’s some brief thoughts and out-of-focus photos on my recent dinner there:

The grilled octopus ($19) is served with a warm limóncello vinaigrette and cannelloni beans. It was grilled absolutely perfectly.

The Straw & Hay pasta ($22) is made of spinach and egg noodles and served with pancetta, onions, peas and a touch of prosecco cream.

Sorry, Mom, but the spaghetti ($19) at Ernie’s is a touch better than yours.

The ribeye steak ($36) is for 21 days.

Easily the pièce de résistance during my meal, the Chicken Scarpariello for Two ($36) is branded as a fried chicken entree, but make no mistake: This ain’t no Southern fried chicken. It’s lightly fried and served with sweet Italian sausages and peppers. It’s simply delicious and unlike any other fried chicken I’ve ever had.

Shockingly, the bread pudding was eliminated from the menu for a while. Due to customer demand and outcry, it’s back on – and for good reason. It’s a perfect delivery of a not-so-sweet meal to end the night.

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