Just opened in January 2012, Ernie’s Italian Chophouse is the new tucked-away dining destination shining brightly in Lighthouse Point and the namesake first restaurant of Florida nightlife veteran and Brooklyn native Ernie Patti. Executive Chef Gary Wood stays true to the spirit and soul of Italian cooking with an everything-made-from-scratch menu of rustic favorites and inspired specialties. Ernie’s offers the warmth of a casual, yet elegant, Italian chophouse with a decidedly refined and contemporary design – the perfect place for an affordable weekday pasta fix, a Sunday family dinner but also a great choice for a special occasion feast complete with veal chops and all the fixings.
“After years of being unsatisfied with the quality of local Italian restaurants, it was time for me to open the type of place I would want to eat at every day,” says Patti. “The restaurant embraces the best of what Italian food has to offer with a fresh take on age-old family recipes, all coupled with the type of hospitality that makes you feel welcome whether you’re a regular or a first time guest."
Combining time-honored recipes and traditions with his creative and discerning palate, Chef Wood showcases generous portions in a satisfying menu that celebrates familiar flavors everyone craves; balanced by inventive creations focused on simple ingredients, bold flavors and flawless execution.
House-made mozzarella cheese is the star of several tasty Appetizers (beginning at $6) including the breaded Eggplant Stack finished with balsamic reduction and Spiedini Di Mozzarella with charred tomato and anchovy dressing. If a seafood starter is in order, guests can enjoy offerings such as chilled Crab Cocktail – colossal lump blue crab and house mustard or an all-time-favorite, Baked Clams Oreganato. The 24-month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano and mouthwatering Beef Carpaccio topped with arugula salad and garlic aioli round out the diverse appetizer menu. For a lighter, crisp pre-dinner bite, Salads (starting at $8) include Fennel, Beets & Arugula tossed in mustard vinaigrette topped with shaved Grana Padano and a classic Caesar. Soups ($6) include Escarole & Beans, punctuated by flavorful pancetta as well as a seasonal Soup of the Day.
Composed Small Plates (starting at $14) offer an opportunity to share or perhaps to pair with a salad and appetizer for a full meal. Savory seafood options include luscious Grilled Octopus imported from Spain and served with a warm limóncello vinaigrette and cannelloni beans as well as Tonno Scottato with seared ahi tuna, heirloom tomato and panzanella salad. And, those looking for a killer meatball won’t be disappointed. Veal Meatballs – Ernie’s mother’s Old Country recipe – served over a mixed green salad with a side of ricotta are stars, along with additional meat options: twin baby veal shanks Osso Buco served with risotto Milanese, and a Chivalini Sausage Ring stuffed with provolone cheese served atop broccoli rabe. The Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi with roasted wild mushrooms score a homerun.
Hearty portions of homemade Pastas (starting at $18) satisfy cravings with spot-on Italian favorites ranging from Spaghetti All‘Amatriciana, red or white Linguini with Clams, and Pappardelle Bolognese made with beef, veal and pork to squid-ink Black Fettuccini with shrimp in white wine butter sauce topped with jumbo crab and breadcrumbs. Ravioli of the Day and the Straw & Hay dish with spinach and egg noodles, pancetta, peas and a touch of cream round out the palate-pleasing pasta menu.
Well-executed Meats and Fish (starting at $22) clearly represent the Italian chophouse concept. Veal takes center stage with several dishes including a 14 oz., milk-fed Veal Chop served with porcini mushrooms, red wine reduction and risotto; Sorrentino simply sautéed with thin-sliced prosciutto, eggplant and fontina in a tomato sauce; and a straightforward perfect take on Milanese.
A hands-down favorite is the Chicken Scarpariello for Two – which can be enjoyed as a half portion upon request – featuring perfectly crispy, free-range chicken on the bone, tossed with a agrodolce sauce, Italian sausage and peppers. With several additional Chicken and Pork options, the entrée menu also includes fresh Whole and Filleted Fish daily specials sourced from local purveyors and paired with simple seasonal accompaniments. Premium beef wet aged 21 days create four satisfying cuts of Steak (starting at $25): 9 oz. Filet Mignon, 10 oz. Skirt Steak, 14 oz. NY Strip and 14 oz. Ribeye. A top-quality Chophouse Italian Cheeseburger ($18) features 10 oz. of prime chopped beef topped with arugula and roasted red pepper on a house-made ciabatta bun.
Dinner can only be enhanced with Ernie’s selection of satisfying Sides (starting at $7) such as Truffle-Parmesan Fries, Whipped Sweet Potatoes, Sautéed Brussels Sprouts, Escarole, Roasted Seasonal Mushrooms, or their to-die-for take on mac and cheese – Cavatelli with Garlic, Fontina and Parsley.
All made in-house daily, Desserts (starting at $6) are a dinner-ending must. The selection of delights includes decadent Italian Ricotta Cheesecake with a hint of orange zest, moist Flourless Chocolate Cake, and perfect Sicilian Cannoli filled with two types of ricotta whipped to light and airy perfection with cream cheese, cinnamon and chocolate chips.
Overseen by sommelier Alfie Alvarado, the wine list features moderately-priced, by-the-glass varietals spanning Italy, Argentina, California and Oregon as well as an assortment of cognacs, grappa, whisky, dessert wines, Tawny ports and champagne. Guests can enjoy weekday Happy Hour, including a special Thursday treat: free signature meatballs and 2-for-1 drinks. For $30 per person, the Sunday Gravy Dinner special is a feast fit for any family: a heaping bowl of paccheri pasta with meatballs, homemade San Marzano tomato sauce, traditional meat-filled gravy, ricotta and bread.
The beautiful 4,000-square-foot space is the handiwork of Florida architect Jack Hawk (Hawk Fulwider & Associates) and interior designer Jose Graterol who have created a minimalist contemporary décor to match the cool, comfortable vibe of the space. Guests are greeted by the welcoming bar area with seating for 40 before passing through to a sleek 135-seat dining room boasting dark wood floors, white tablecloth topped wooden tables, and comfortable booth areas with black leather tufted banquettes. The simple blue and white spotlighting accents the frosted window-treatments featuring lit silhouettes of stark tree branches to create a modern upscale setting.
With more than 15 years’ experience, Executive Chef Gary Wood is a native New Yorker who has called Florida home since the mid-1990’s at which point he took on his first food job at a Coconut Creek wing joint – just miles from where Ernie’s now exists. Quickly falling in love with cooking, he enrolled in the Florida Culinary Institute. After graduating, Wood deftly navigated his way through the restaurant kitchen ranks – honing his skills and style while leaving his mark on eateries including Prezzo’s and Nick & Max’s in Boca Raton, which led to a career-defining, three-year stay at 32 East in Delray Beach where he served as executive sous chef. Under the tutelage of Chef Nick Morfogen, his next years included stints at the acclaimed Tra Vigne in Napa Valley, the former Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco, and Mark’s CityPlace in West Palm Beach before finally helming his own kitchen in 2002 at Aura in Delray Beach. The past 10 years have included Max’s Grille in Boca Raton, a Long Island, N.Y. steakhouse, and a Palm Beach Island private chef post. Wood returns to the commercial kitchen with Ernie’s bringing his love for great food and classic technique to the table.
Located at 3150 N. Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point, Florida, Ernie’s Italian Chophouse serves dinner daily with Happy Hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Hours of operation for dinner: Monday – Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ernie’s Italian Chophouse is on Facebook and Twitter (@ErniesChopHouse). Complimentary valet parking on Friday and Saturday; abundant free parking available. Telephone: (954) 781-0910; erniesitalianchophouse.com