Phat Boy Sushi & Kitchen rolls into former Even Keel restaurant in Fort Lauderdale

Phillip Valys, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Trendy Japanese mini-chain Phat Boy Sushi & Kitchen is rolling its flagship to bigger digs on Federal Highway: the former home of Even Keel Fish & Oyster in Fort Lauderdale.

Chef-owner John Maser told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that Phat Boy Sushi’s original 4391 N. Federal Highway location will officially close March 1, the same day its new location opens three blocks south at 4100 N. Federal Highway.

Maser says he pounced on the 6,000-square-foot space in early December, the same week Even Keel pulled anchor and sailed east to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea under a new name and concept but minus its captain, chef-restaurateur Dean James Max (2020 Ocean).

The much-larger restaurant will finally allow Phat Boy Sushi’s owners – Maser, 27, and his parents, Ted and Tina – room to breathe. For years, Phat Boy’s flagship had outgrown its 1,600-square-foot trappings, and the crowded strip-mall parking lot it shared with a kava bar and surf shop often forced sushi-heads to park on the grass along Floranada Road, the younger Maser says.

“[Our flagship] was basically a sub shop with small storage in the back, and we quickly outgrew it,” Maser says. “The [Even Keel] guys were doing a good job but they just got unlucky. Now we can have our parking lot, our own covered patio seating and faster takeout, which are good things to have in this pandemic.”

Phat Boy Sushi’s new 150-seat location – effectively across the street – will seat 40 patrons beneath its covered patio and feature a similar menu to its former space. The Masers leased the space in late November from 4100 Federal Hwy, LLC, which is registered to owners Karen Christensen and Daniele Bianca. The building is valued at $2.65 million, according to county tax records.

“We didn’t want to move it too far away since we have loyal clientele there,” Maser says, adding that he doesn’t plan to upgrade the restaurant beyond a fresh coat of paint.

While the restaurant spotlights raw fish – including toro, hamachi and its mashup Samurai roll – Phat Boy Sushi also sizzles with grilled items, such as shoyu ramen bowls, yakitori skewers and katsu sliders. New additions to the menu include a full-liquor bar and craft cocktails, such as Japanese Mule with Suntory Toki whiskey and a Shiso Mojito with shiso leaves.

The Masers have also quietly turned their short-lived Oakland Park pizzeria Harley’s Pizza and Wings, which closed this summer, into Only Thai, dishing pad Thai plus traditional dishes such as larb and tom kha. Only Thai opened in late December, Maser says.

That blistering pace should be unsurprising to Phat Boy’s fanbase. The restaurant has been in rapid expansion mode since its debut in 2016, a partnership between the Swedish-born Maser and Vietnamese restaurateur Thuan Lam. The Masers bought out Lam in 2017 and opened a second location across the street from the tony Rio Vista neighborhood in downtown Fort Lauderdale. They opened a third in Deerfield Beach in 2019 and a fourth in Coral Springs last August.

Phat Boy Sushi & Kitchen, at 4100 N. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale, is scheduled to open March 1. Call 954-533-4218 or go to PhatBoySushi.com.