Tag Archive | "Caleb Ben-Avram"

A “NOSE” FOR WINE: Naked Grape Celebrates Anniversary

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When Realtor Caleb Ben-Avram and school teacher Tim Slivinski learned that a small wine store in the business district of Wilton Manors was on the market, they decided to investigate. “We both always loved exploring wine stores, whether locally or when we traveled,” says Ben- Avram. “At the time, The Naked Grape only sold wine by the bottle, and did not have ‘by the glass’ sales. We decided that if we were to purchase the business, we would change the format to a wine bar,” adds Slivinski.

Caleb Ben-Avram and Tim Slivinski

Caleb Ben-Avram and Tim Slivinski

“It’s hard to believe,” recalls Ben- Avram of that day in 2007. The partners knew that success would bring changes. “We used to listen to people who would stop in for a glass of wine. We’d hear, ‘We’re going to grab a bite to eat and we’ll be back.’ Of course, most times they never did come back after dinner,” Slivinski recalls. That oft-repeated scenario motivated the duo to find a location where they could offer food service to their patrons. That brought them—and their successful operation— up the Drive a few hundred feet, to 2163 Wilton Drive, next to Karl Grace Insurance (and the old offices of Guy Magazine). It was a wise decision.

“We consistently get four-and-a-half [out of a maximum of five] stars on Yelp.com,” notes Ben-Avram. “Our food is always fresh. I go to green markets throughout the area. I refuse to use anything that is prepackaged. That’s one of the things that set us apart,” he adds.

Slivinski says that they are regularly fine-tuning The Naked Grape to better serve their regulars and new patrons. “We have reduced the amount of bottles from our retail area. We do sell lots of bottles near the holidays, and of course for dinner parties as hostess gifts, but we are really concentrating on our food.

Of their addition of an alfresco outdoor dining and conversation area, he adds, “People enjoy being able to sit outside with a book and sip their wine or one of our gourmet beers.”

The oenophiles (look it up) have lots to offer wine-lovers who can’t get enough of the juice of the grape. “In addition to our Tuesday and Wednesday half price bottles for on-premise consumption, we are offering ‘Pairings’ on Thursday night: Three food items and three wines for one price. Sometimes we will pair desserts with wine, and other times it may be cheeses,” Slivinski explains. “We always have one of the wine reps at these tastings to answer questions. We call it ‘Wine with No Pretense.’”

As for the rest of the year, “Every year around Thanksgiving we have a Holiday Tasting. This year the date is November11, from 3 to 5 p.m.,” notes Ben-Avram. “It’s always well-attended and a great time. I may even bake one of my blue cheese cheesecakes,” he adds—teasing palates and threatening waistlines across the Island City. The same as it ever was.

For more anniversary specials, visit nakedgrapewinebar.com, and tell Caleb and Tim you read about them in Agenda. Cheers!

Naked On The Drive – Big Tastes in Small Packages

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She’s naked and she’s hot, and hiding in plain sight right on Wilton Drive. We’re speaking, of course, of the Naked Grape Wine Bar, which manages to mix cozy with industrial in a welcome mat of stainless steel, plush seating and dark walls mixed with a friendly cliental that seemed to flow as couples throughout a recent Saturday night visit.

Nutritional counselor and fitness trainer Andy Kress joined me to taste our way through the Grape’s new tapas menu with features flatbread pizza, panini sandwiches and an assortment of crisp and tempting salads. But it was the cheese sampler plate ($15) that attracted Andy’s palate. Three half-servings from the extensive cheese case sounds like it should be a gourmand’s dream, but making a choice from their huge selection was hardly simple.

The first taste of  Humboldt Fog ripened goat cheese, with its layer of edible vegetable ash, combined creamy texture with a tangy overglow. A great start to a varied assortment. The cave-aged gruyere made with cow’s milk was far subtler, but no less tasty.

Perfectly creamy while still maintaining its shape. Our third sample, the  sheep’s milk manchego, the definitive Spanish cheese, had a piquant, buttery and nutty flavor, distinguishing it from the trio, which came with British biscuit crackers and was accompanied by a caramelized Vidalia onion compote.

While still on the Small Plates section of the menu, we were lured by Manny’s Lower East Side Chopped Liver ($5) that was supposed to be served with a French baguette, but instead came with saltines. Either way, Manny knows his stuff—for the thick and rich chopped liver was laced with onions and eggs and a symphony of ethnic undercurrents.

The freshly prepared lump-crab cakes were easily the best deal on the entire menu at a scant $10 for two. Served on a bed of arugula, the crab cakes featured a sun-dried tomato finishing butter that left a lingering taste of garlic, basil and oregano just behind our smiling lips.

Our ever-informative server Johnny sold us on trying a dish called Three Little Pigs ($10), which at that point in the evening was exactly how we were beginning to feel as we loosened our belts and continued to graze the way Americans increasing do these days. As it turned out, the “pigs” of the title were actually slightly-larger-than-cocktail-size wieners, snuggled in a fresh bun and decorated with a host of accessory items that gave each a regional twist.

Not surprisingly, the least inspiring and tasty was the American: with its roasted red pepper catsup and mustard relish. Far more of a standout was the Mexican: an excellent combination of corn relish, jalapeno, and chipotle mustard dressing. Hot, sweet and delicious. But the triple-crown went to the out-of-the park Greek: a baby weiner covered in feta cheese, diced cucumber, Kalamata olives with a Greek tahini dressing. All three were served were can’t-stop-eating-them blue potato chips. Yum!

As I went wondering through the bar-restaurant, chatting up customers and joining in various celebrations in progress, it was evident that the Naked Grape is a happy place. There’s a fireplace warmth to the space without a fireplace. That glow you feel is from the friendly faces and outstretched hands. Not only are you encouraged to linger here, there are scattered board games—Yahtze, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit among them—to keep you fastened to your seats.

At the far end of Naked Grape, a retail section features jars of specialized chutneys, antipastos, jellies, relishes plus warm and cold dips, fresh from the Virginia Chutney Company in Arlington. And then, of course, there are the walls of wines—available for purchase by the bottle, glass, or two-ounce taste beginning at $2.50. What a clever way to explore the vineyard without committing half-a-paycheck in the process.

Co-owner/proprietor Caleb Ben-Avram is always in the kitchen, positioned right next to the eight-seat bar where the cute bartender Ben is a blur of activity and effervescence, while co-owner Tim Slivinski works the room.

Walk through the door at the Naked Grape and you’re family. And like family, you’ll immediately feel at home, and come back again and again.

Caleb Ben-Avram & Tim Slivinski, Owners of Naked Grape Wine Bar

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Caleb Ben-Avram and Tim Slivinski are the owners of Naked Grape

Wine Bar, a wine bar specializing in limited production wines, craft beers, artisan cheese and meats and tapas.


How long have you been here? What brought you to South Florida?
We have been in South Florida permentaly going on 9 years, but bought our condo 11 years ago. We came to Fort Lauderdale when Tim accepted a job here.

Please tell Agenda readers about your business.
We are a unique, alternative gathering spot on the Drive. We are quiet and mellow, which creates a conducive atmosphere for conversation. It’s a great place to de-stress and relax.

How long have you had your business and how is it going?
We are in our fifth year. Business is going well with many loyal local clients. We have weathered the economic downturn well and have adapted to the changing times.

What niche did you feel was missing, that you started your business?
Many people want a quiet place to meet their partners, spouses and/or friends. We saw a need for a place that would be a great date night spot while, at the same time, introducing limited production wines to our customers. Our addition of tapas was actually a response to customer requests for unique, fun, fresh small plates.

How does your business benefit the community?
The business has given us many opportunities to give back to the gay community, as well as to the community at large.

What disadvantages do you feel there are?
We really see no disadvantages.

How would you identify your management approach? Iron Fist or more Flexible? What do you see as the advantages to your approach?

Our staff is small and this allows us to be flexible. Our employees have great ideas and suggestions that we listen to and take to heart. We want them to have a stake in the business, so we respect their opinions.

What do you feel about the idea that the summer season is slow? How do you combat this pressure?
South Florida needs to come out of the “season” mentality. There are many in the area who are now year-round residents. Summer tourism is actually up also. Those of us who are permanent residents need events throughout the year.  We need to become a 12 month area, rather than a 6 or 7 month area.

How do you think the community as a whole responds to your business?
Our clientele is extremely diverse. All people who come to the wine bar gather and get along well, whether straight, gay, lesbian, old or young. That is a key reason why people come to the Naked Grape. It’s one of the aspects that we, as owners, really like about owning the business. Everyone feels welcome, and people like bringing their parents, siblings and friends into the wine bar when they visit.

In your lifetime how do you feel the gay community has changed?
Though we still have many steps to take, there is certainly a much greater acceptance in the community-at-large of gay and lesbian residents. We are fortunate to live in an area with such wide acceptance. Most people know someone in their lives who is either gay or lesbian, and that makes it much more personal. It’s hard to feel hatred when it’s that close to home. Though there is still prejudice out there, we feel it will continue to decrease as time passes.

Do you believe there is credence to the idea that a business geared towards the gay market is cutting out a major section of the wider community?
It depends on the business. In our case, we welcome the wider community and that co-existence does a great deal to broaden understanding and acceptance of the gay community.

How do you minimize that effect?
In some cases, minimizing it is not necessary. Again, it depends on the nature of the business.

What plans do you have for the future?
As of September 1, we are broadening the wine bar by offering a tapas menu and market items for sale at our new location. This plan has been under development for nearly a year. Our menu will focus on fresh, seasonal items. It will change regularly rather than remaining static. We hope to remain one option of many along the Drive in the years to come as we continue to watch and be a part of the on-going development of the Drive.

If you had an open check book, what business would you go into next?
We would remain with our wine bar/craft beer/tapas/market concept. We enjoy what we do, our many great customers and working with our loyal, fun staff. We really have no desire to change into another business but continue to improve the Naked Grape.

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