This is a little bit of a departure from the usual content, but I feel compelled to write a fitting eulogy of sorts to one of the most beloved restaurants in my life; Silver Pond Chinese Restaurant in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Yes, I know this is not Gainesville related, but the restaurant is near and dear to me as I’m sure it is to many South Florida transplants in town (both Chinese and not Chinese). It is what I consider to be the best Chinese restaurant in the entire state.
Silver Pond opened around 1991. The chef/owner, Yam Kin Yuen and his family had just moved down from New York. At the time, my father was just also going out on his own and starting his own Asian grocery and food wholesaling company. The details are muddy because Asian parents aren’t exactly open books, but in one way or another, my dad became involved with helping Chef Yuen, or “Kin Gaw” (“Brother Kin”) as we all call him, in getting stable footing under him. A friendship was struck, and in a world where loyalty has given way to whoever can cut the best deals, they have continued to do business together for the last 28 years.
Which means for 28 of my 33 years on Earth, the same kitchen, mostly the same servers, and the same location has fed me and my family for every major holiday dinner. It is the place where my love for food really began. The place where I said “what the hell is that!?” one too many times before trying what it was, and learning what I like and do not like. Even for the last 15 years I’ve lived in Gainesville, we would almost never miss a trip there each time I visited my parents. The food, the staff, and the décor hasn’t changed in decades in a world where restaurants have to periodically reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Some places such as Silver Pond, are institutions that defy this, and are a dying breed.
The restaurant has become a central gathering place for so many Chinese immigrants and their families in South Florida because of the familiar and quality cuisine. It’s the closest thing to Hong Kong in Florida as my parents and many of their friends would say. Yes, they do some white people Chinese food to appease the masses, but our dinners, like many other Cantonese families consisted of dishes like Phoenix Nest Seafood, Crispy Hong Kong Chicken, Cantonese Beef, Crispy Hong Kong Pork Chop, and my favorite Soy Sauce Pan Fried Noodles. No one makes those noodles like Brother Kin. The crispy, salty fried noodles with scallions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms are a mainstay at our dinners there. Even as I type this, my mouth is watering just thinking about them. No one else in Florida does it like they do.
The dishes here are Cantonese perfection. Balanced flavors that are not overpowering, a slew of traditional dishes on the menu, and options that cover both the land and sea are well represented. Service is curt but friendly, as the kitchen churns out dishes at unbelievable speeds. In 28 years, there has never been a bad plate of food put forth. It’s almost robotic-like in consistency. And if you grew up in an Asian household, you know how imperative this is to what your parents would consider to be a good restaurant. It’s a practical, blue collar approach that places emphasis on good food made with quality ingredients, served hot, and served fast. Regardless of what the general public blabbers about on Yelp, ask any Cantonese person from South Florida and they will tell you the wonders of Silver Pond.
A while back, Brother Kin and his family decided it was time to retire and walk away from the business. They have been sold to another veteran Chinese chef in South Florida, and the official hand-over date is set as June 1st of this year. As with many traditional Chinese chefs, their recipes and techniques are not passed on, they do not take understudies outside of family, and much of the cooking was done by them alone. I do not know if the restaurant will be as good with the new ownership/chef, but I do know it will not be the same.
I felt this was important to bring to light, as it has not become wide-spread knowledge that they have sold. I looked online, and there’s no press or bloggers talking about the end of an era for such an important central institution to so many Chinese families in South Florida. It is difficult to fathom a trip to visit my family without eating Brother Kin’s food.
All good things come to an end. I understand this. My hope is to find the time to make one more trip there before the hand-over, and an uncertain new era begins. I implore you all to do the same. Cheers to hoping the new owner/chef upholds the same level of excellence as Brother Kin has for the last 28 years, and Silver Pond lives on for many many more years.