By Nila Do Simon
Photography by Felipe Cuevas
When owners Kareem Lakchira and Ned Jaouhar opened Dixie Tracks Cafe, everyone thought they were nuts. After all, nowhere in their culinary backgrounds foreshadowed leaving the tony Boca Raton Resort & Club’s Cielo restaurant, where Jaouhar was the executive chef, to open a 22-seat breakfast and lunch spot in Oakland Park.
The idea behind Dixie Tracks Cafe started with spice. The owners of the less than 10-month-old restaurant wanted diners to experience flavors atypical from other Fort Lauderdale restaurants, tastes that were essentially not American.
Jaouhar, ethnically Lebanese but raised in West Africa, studied at the Ecole de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie in Paris, and notably worked under Chef Gordon Ramsay when the “Hell’s Kitchen” host owned Cielo. Jaouhar met Moroccan-born Lakchira at Cielo, where Lakchira managed the front of the house. They loved the spices and herbs that are prevalent where they were raised in the Middle East and Africa, and thought South Florida was due to experience those same tastes, but with a twist.
Offerings at Dixie Tracks Cafe include a chicken-and-waffle breakfast dish. The difference? Spiced Asian syrup and kimchi coleslaw. A nontraditional ham-and-cheese melt is also served, and this version adds a bechamel sauce.
“It’s American cuisine, but we’re taking all the classic dishes and tweaking them with certain flavors, herbs and spices from our backgrounds,” Lakchira describes. “It’s not about being spicy; it’s about introducing new spices.”
Another example is the Vietnamese Banh-Mi Philly. Jaouhar took the traditional Philly cheesesteak and infused it with pickled carrots and vegetables found in the traditional sandwich. The accompanying french fries are seasoned with 19 spices, typical smells found wafting though open-air markets in Morocco. One diner, who Lakchira describes as a hamburger lover, was initially skeptical he would enjoy the bold, new flavors. Now, he orders the Banh-Mi twice a week.
If the owners of Dixie Tracks Cafe wanted to find a more underwhelming location to open their gourmet restaurant, then they could not have done a better job. In a strip mall sandwiched between an aquarium store and a British pub on Dixie Highway, the outside of Dixie Tracks Cafe looks the antithesis of epicurean dining. And that’s OK with the owners.
“We’re not trying to hide it,” Lakchira says of the sparsely decorated restaurant, whose look more resembles that of a questionable diner than of a restaurant run by a five-star chef. “It’s all about the food, nothing else here, especially not about how this place is designed. You go to a car dealership to buy a car; you go to a restaurant for good food. And that’s our focus here.”
Due to its casual location, prices rarely crack the $10 mark. “We serve the same quality of food, the same organic ingredients we used at Cielo, but with the break in rent here, that translates into lower prices,” Lakchira says.
Ask how Dixie Tracks Cafe manages to consistently fill the room despite no advertisement, and Lakchira smiles. “Listen, people don’t come here for the view,” he replies. “It’s all word of mouth.”
Twice a month, Dixie Tracks Cafe opens for a reservation-only five-course wine dinner with just one seating available each night. There, diners will find the menu more akin to one found at a five-star establishment. The dinners are a hit, with guests booking their next one before it has even been announced.
Lakchira and Jaouhar plan to open a second restaurant in Pompano Beach that will serve brunch and dinner based off a casual yet elegant American menu. Rusty Hook Tavern will have a different concept and look, but still with the signature flavors the two know best.
“I just want to be able to pay my bills and have people say, ‘This guy serves the best food,’” Lakchira says. “And that would make me happy.”
Originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue.