When you arrive to Pompano Beach, you will not expect to find a place with such a small town feeling so near to Fort Lauderdale. Quickly, you will discover that Pompano Beach had the virtues of a vintage South Florida beach town, right smack in the middle of a big metropolitan area.
At its founding on July 3, 1908, Pompano Beach was a sleepy stop along the Florida East Coast Railway and, later, U.S. 1. It was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone else. “Most people had a passing acquaintance inside the town and even went to the same school,” says Dan Hobby, director of the Pompano Beach Historical Society.
Pompano grew up as a farming community, a bit of history that my adopted town celebrates each weekend, October through April, with the Pompano Beach Saturday Green Market. The market is not just for baked goods and other foods; vendors sell art, books and historical images, all under the banner of the market’s green pepper logo. The farmers’ market was created by the historical society; each fall the group inaugurates the new farming season by cutting a ceremonial green ribbon of green peppers in honor of this local favorite vegetable.
Pompano grew in size and in 1947 became the city of Pompano Beach. Growth came quickly through an influx of new residents, Northern tourists in search of beaches and transplanted companies including boatmaker Chris-Craft, which for a time made its luxury boats here. It was the hometown of the late Esther Rolle, who played the groundbreaking sitcom character Florida Evans on the CBS TV shows “Good Times” and “Maude.”
In Pompano Beach, history is very much apparent in the present. Since 1928, the notable pecky cypress paneling, captain chairs and wooden booths of Cap’s Place Island Restaurant have attracted boaters along the Intracoastal Waterway. Cap’s Place was once a rum-runner’s casino den, reachable only by launch and situated on a mangrove island.
Today, you still have to take a boat, whether your own or the restaurant’s motor launch. The restaurant’s Old Florida charm extends to the food, with dishes like jumbo lump crab cakes and cobia. It’s Broward County’s oldest restaurant. And it is still run by the founding Hasis family and claims Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Meyer Lansky, Al Capone and Mariah Carey as guests.
But Pompano’s restaurant scene isn’t just about nostalgia. The award-winning Darrel & Oliver’s Café Maxx has served up Florida regional gourmet cuisine for two decades. Co-owners Darrel Broek and Oliver Saucy (yes, he’s the chef, and that’s his real name) have won umpteen awards for their East Atlantic Boulevard restaurant. The Calypso Restaurant offers Caribbean fare, including Jamaican Jerk chicken.
Other locals’ favorites include Chez Porky’s BBQ; Jack’s Old Fashion Hamburger House (freshly ground hamburgers served up in a restaurant that started life in 1973) and Galuppi’s. Galuppi’s, situated on the golf green of the Pines Course of the municipal Pompano Beach Golf Course, offers American dining with a country club feel, but without the membership dues.
The waterfront Riverside Grille on North Riverside Drive, owned by Joe and Erica Cascio, offers up great seafood in a nautical setting. Like the rest of Pompano, the authentic Atlantic vibe is omnipresent at Joe’s, which hosts U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary meetings.
Quite a Moving History
The Pompano Beach Historical Society offers periodic walking tours of Old Pompano’s historic area, spread over a lush neighborhood of palm trees and green grass east of Dixie Highway and north of Atlantic Boulevard. Styles of homes on the walking tour include art deco, moderne, mission, bungalow, frame vernacular, gothic revival and Mediterranean revival.
On the tour, The Bailey-Saxon House, located on Fourth Street, is a bright pink mission revival-style house. The Cap Campbell House, also on Fourth Avenue, is notable for its Dade County rot- and termite-resistant pine. This house made the trip to its current spot in the 1920s, rolled on logs, from its original location near the railroad tracks.
Moving houses is a bit of a theme here. A highlight of the walking tour is the Sample-McDougald House, built in 1916 in the Georgian revival style by an early pioneer, Albert Neal Sample. Sample is remembered in the community for Sample Road, a namesake artery that runs from the Intracoastal to the Everglades. Such was the local affection for the house, its owners and its virgin cypress construction that in 2001, a newly organized Sample-McDougald Preservation Society paraded it down Dixie Highway to its new location at 450 N.E. 10th St.
Cottages by the Ocean (954-283-1111, www.4rentbythebeach.com) offers restored 1940s Key West-style studio cottages available for short-term rentals. The high-rise Residence Inn by Marriott offers a spa and a kids’ program (954-590-1000, www.residenceinnonthebeach.com). Other accommodations include the family-run Beachcomber Resort and Villas (1200 S. Ocean Blvd., www.beachcomberresort.com) and the nostalgic Croton Arms Resort Apartments (3237 N.E. 11th St., www.crotonarms.com).