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To Serve, With Love

James Beard-nominated chef Timon Balloo and his wife, Marissa, present Fort Lauderdale with the ultimate declaration of affection: The Katherine.

by Jenny

If all great restaurants are an extension of the owner’s home, then The Katherine almost certainly embodies this hospitality axiom because, for husband-and-wife team Timon and Marissa Balloo, this restaurant is a homecoming. “We met as teenagers on Broward Boulevard, and she convinced me to follow my dream to become a chef,” said Balloo. “And that led to years of travel, culinary exploration, cooking for other people in other places. And now here we are back on the same boulevard cooking for this neighborhood and for ourselves.”

Photo by Christopher Villano.

Very little about the appearance of The Katherine (it’s Marissa’s middle name and named for her) tells you that you are in one of the most impressive new restaurants that Fort Lauderdale has seen in several years. The restaurant’s plain white facade and modest footprint belie its proprietors’ pedigree and ultra-personal approach to hospitality. The restaurant is the current focus in Balloo’s expanding restaurant portfolio, where he is literally and figuratively the patriarch to a group of growing familial-concept brands. Other concepts have included Mrs. Balloo, which also paid homage to his wife with a food truck parked at The Wharf Fort Lauderdale, and Balloo Wallah, a fast-casual, to-go-only concept that honored his West Indian roots. Then there was the much-loved original and short-lived Balloo, which opened in downtown Miami in 2019, and for which he earned a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: South in 2020 before closing during the pandemic. And before those projects, Balloo was the Executive Chef and Partner of SUGARCANE raw bar grill, which opened in 2010, and he went on to open restaurants for the group in New York and Las Vegas. This Broward iteration couldn’t be further from those glitzy, big-budget spots – it is cozy and comfortable with large windows, a bar decked out with cookbooks and terra cotta plants and a steady stream of locals basking in the casual atmosphere enhanced by natural wines, local beers, and an eclectic playlist.

“This is what I call the New American Table,” says Balloo, who was born to Chinese and Trinidadian parents, of the restaurant’s ethos. “Because I think this is what America looks like. I think this is what eating in America looks like,” he explains. “Because where else do we break down barriers, do we create unity and make memories than at a table? We’re sharing our story with a city we’d never thought we’d cook in and it’s wild.”

The food here is an interesting collection of flavor-forward dishes from different parts of the world, many of which will be familiar to those who know global cooking. What that means is that the menu is unique, but it’s somehow not at all intimidating. Things like sherry roasted carrot topped with pistachio dukkah and labneh might sound adventurous and strange to many, but when presented at The Katherine, it’s very appealing. Maybe that’s because the service is so calm, centered and confident – there are no hushed recitations of ingredients and sources or instructions on how to eat each dish. Are you interested in food? Then you’re good here. But the owners have worked long enough in the industry to have absorbed many of its principles, including the understanding that real sophistication lies in distilling ideas to their essentials.

“We wanted the menu to be timeless in the sense that we wanted to create the quintessential neighborhood restaurant,” explains Balloo. “A place where there will always be certain things on the menu, and you can come back year and after year and they’re still there. We will always have a rice dish, and a dish that is something between bread – like a burger, obviously, and there will always be a pasta dish. But already we are seeing there are some popular dishes that we can’t take off, that have become our staples – the clam chowder fries for sure and the cabbage salad.”

Those two dishes – the Thai-Style Charred Cabbage Salad whereby roasted cabbage is tossed with crispy shreds of fried pork that has been braised in papaya salad dressing – and the clam chowder dish which brings a bowl of creamy chowder and clams topped with Old Bay-spiced fries – exemplify Balloo’s penchant for mixing bold flavors with comfort food tropes that tempt and satisfy and entice you to dig in bite after bite. Then there are slightly tweaked Caribbean staples like the Jerk Chicken Thighs with coconut milk braised kale that pay homage to his past while helping him embark on this new chapter, one in which each new dish presents layers of flavor and experience. Thekatherinerestaurant.com

By Sara Liss. Photography by Christopher Villano.

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