On the morning of June 16, he passed away at age 59 while driving to buy supplies for his restaurant with his new bride, Louise, who had become Mrs. Berkowitz just a week before when good friend Judge John Griesbaum married them at his home.
Larry’s restaurant in a tiny cottage off Washington Street gained a cult following soon after opening 11 years ago, drawing everyone from prominent civic leaders to fellow restaurateurs. Larry even lent friends Sheriff Wayne Ivey and Brevard County Tax Collector Lisa Cullen his apron so they could cook up a storm during guest chef events at Larry’s place. In a cutthroat industry, Larry thrived, even though for many years his restaurant was open for dinner only a couple of times a week, he didn’t serve alcohol and never deigned to take credit cards.
As for the competition, Larry often went out of his way to promote fellow restaurant owners. Of course, Larry could cook, and made culinary miracles happen out of the impossibly tiny kitchen that was the heart of Chef Larry’s Café, but customers flocked there in no small part because of the man himself.
“He was the restaurant,” said Louise.
During his tenure as chef at Palms West Hospital in West Palm Beach, Larry concocted a special blend of herbs into Chef Larry’s Spice, a secret mixture that perked up any dish and was liberally present in many of his menu items.
The legendary burgers he served were a testament to his philosophy of always going big. With his Café Burger, he blended brisket, prime rib and New York strip to create the patties. “Most restaurants just use ground chuck, and there is a big difference,” once said Berkowitz. Indeed there was, particularly since Berkowitz also mixed in Asiago and cheddar cheeses, plus a generous portion of Chef Larry’s Spice into every one of the patties. The rolls were homemade, too.
During holiday dinners, he delighted in the unique. Yes, you could always count on turkey at Larry’s for Thanksgiving, but he would also offer you the choice of something like lobster, crab and shrimp lasagna.
You could say that Larry, who owned restaurants in Illinois and California before moving to Florida, was one of the first celebrity chefs, since for many years his popular "Radio Grill" show featured plenty of cooking along with interviews with the movers and shakers of South Florida. After Louise and cooking, Larry loved cars, from Hummers to Mustangs and big trucks in between. He was piloting his showroom-pristine Mustang when he collapsed and Louise had to steer the vehicle to a stop.
“I think he was gone right then,” she said. Larry left Earth exactly as he had lived his life, on his own terms, driving his Mustang with his favorite person by his side.
Folks in heaven are going to be enjoying some really, really good burgers and crab cakes, now that Larry has joined them.
Memorial service arrangements for Chef Larry Berkowitz are pending. Chef Larry’s Café is temporarily closed.
Written by Maria Sonnenberg for FLORIDA TODAY