Happy 2015! It seems 2014 came and went in the blink of an eye. A lot happened in the Boca/Delray market last year – especially in our ever-evolving restaurant scene. The national Big Guns generally avoided our little corner of paradise – indicative of the still-struggling economy, and I surmise, because they have already realized market saturation. But the true heart & soul of the restaurant industry — local restaurateurs and entrepreneurs — readily entered the fray. As always, we welcomed a boatload of new Italian eateries along with other assorted ethnic ventures. But I note a particular marked preponderance of chef-driven gastropubs, featuring artisan burgers and creative twists on familiar comfort foods, plus craft beers and signature cocktails. We also got a strong dose of another rising trend, health-conscious venues — offering fresh, natural, organic, locally sourced, and generally “healthy” fare. And of course, we inevitably lost many restaurants, as well. And so, my fellow foodies, wine & beer fans, here again is your annual guide to the local culinary scene, in something I like to call, “The Restaurant Year in Review.”
The predominant trend of 2014 was the continued influx of “New American” chef-driven, foodcentric gastropubs, to the gustatory delight of all us foodies – especially burger fans and craft beer aficionados. It began with the January opening of twentytwenty Grille in Royal Palm Place (replacing the short-lived Artizan Flatbread). This quaint chef’s bistro brings a Portland, Oregon influence, spoken with a slight German accent to Boca. Royal Palm Place also welcomed The Filling Station (in the former 101 Cantina / The Mexican space), a neighborhood tavern where you can get your “fill” of craft beers, burgers, and upscale pub grub. Then came the Gluttonous Goat Craft House in Palmetto Place, taking the space of the very short-lived L’Etoille (which is still better known for its original tenant, Moquila). Burger fans in particular can open wide for the hand-crafted creations at the new Boca Burger House on Spanish River Boulevard. From within its modest confines, the unpretentious burger joint turns out some of the best – and certainly the biggest — burgers around. (Can you say, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives?”). On nearby N. Federal Highway, M.E.A.T. Eatery and Tap Room offered up its hand-crafted specialty burgers, custom sides (try the duck fat fries) and craft beers, in an unlikely office building lobby. Boca also welcomed Boca Beach Cantina on East Palmetto Park and Cuthill’s Bar & Grill on NE Spanish River. While just south of the border, Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox has already racked up some serious culinary cred from its new Deerfield Beach hangout on Powerline Road. But Boca’s “Best in Show” award must go to Waterstone Bar & Grill, in the beautiful new Waterstone Resort & Marina (f/k/a Boca Raton Bridge Hotel). In addition to its contemporary menu, casual atmosphere, and great bar scene, Waterstone offers something no other Boca restaurant can claim — an outdoor poolside setting, and unmatched waterfront views. Meanwhile, at the prestigious Boca Raton Resort & Club, the curiously-named The blue replaced the stunning Cielo at the top of the tower.
Delray Beach also got into the action, as Beer Trade Co. Café & Beer Lounge opened on NE 4th Ave (taking the old Crepes By The Sea space), offering chef-inspired gastropub fare to match its vast craft beer selection. But the big news came in December, when Hudson at Waterway East revamped the former Old Calypso site on Atlantic Ave into a chic, stunning, and brilliantly designed waterfront retreat. With its ideal waterfront setting, expansive outdoor deck, creative “urban comfort food” menu, and killer cocktail program, the casually-hip eatery adds a new waterfront dimension to the Atlantic Ave scene.
We also dug into some serious Barbecue, especially with the launch of Smoke BBQ in the heart of Delray’ vibrant Atlantic Ave. Creators Scott Kennedy and Steve Chin transformed their former Union spot into a rustic-chic, comfortable ‘cue haven, thanks to acclaimed pitmaster Bryan Tyrell. Meanwhile, Voodoo BBQ & Grill opened in the Polo Club Shoppes of west Boca, and Sweet Dewey’s BBQ brought Chef Dwayne Hooper’s sweet smoky goodness to the Boca Lyons Plaza on Glades Road.
Mediterranean fare also filled our pitas in 2014. Delray Beach shouted a cheerful Opa! when Hollywood icon Taverna Opa joined the Atlantic Avenue scene, taking the space left by the ill-conceived 75 Main. Meanwhile, Aladdin’s Eatery opened in the Boca Village Square (on St. Andrews). With its unique Lebanese/Mediterranean menu, casual atmosphere, and affordable prices, Aladdin’s Eatery is our new go-to spot for a quick Mediterranean fix. Boca also welcomed Kosher Miami Grill House Express (Israeli) in the Somerset Shops on Glades, The Olive Tree (Turkish) on South Federal (replacing the beloved Anatolia), and Gyroroom (Greek) on S.R. 7 in west Boca.
Of course, any discussion of south Florida restaurants must by definition include Italian, and 2014 was certainly no exception. Most notably, we welcomed the arrival of Merlino’s in Royal Palm Place, taking over the former Segreto space. With famed Executive Chef Angelo Morinelli (of the beloved Cucina D’ Angelo) donning the top toque, you know Merlino’s is the real deal. Add to the mix “Beverage Scientist” Lee Hoechstetter’s amazing artisan cocktails, and Merlino’s rises to the top of our “Must Try” list. Of equal note is fellow new Royal Palm Place Italian, Piattini, which moved into the former Caruso’s spot. Chef Lillo Teodosi (who, coincidentally, was the original owner of Caruso’s) returned from Italy to launch the fabulous new Piattini to rave reviews, and Piattini equally ranks among our absolute top Italian venues. Other new Paisano include Sicilian Oven (in Boca Village Square) with signature wood-fired pizza; DaVinci’s Ristorante in Town Center Mall (taking the Legal Seafood space); The Community Table on N.W. 2nd Ave.; Lenny’s Pizza (Kosher), which replaced Steven’s Pizza on S. R. 7; and Delray newcomers Brooklyn’s Original Pizza on Federal; Luigi’s Coal Oven Pizza on Atlantic Avenue (replacing Rotelli); The Porch on 6th Street, and Mastino in Pineapple Grove (adjoining Solita). But our favorite new pizza find is more French than Italian — Slice of Provence on SE 1st Avenue. The innovative “French Pizza Bar” offers unique French-inspired pies unlike anywhere else, with its signature lavender honey & truffle-infused dough, imported French Cantal cheese, and chef-created artisan combinations more likely to be seen at some trendy bistro than at a “pizza parlor.”
We also witnessed a minor Asian invasion. In addition to the usual spattering of neighborhood Chinese take-outs and assorted sushi-Thai joints, Ichiyami (Sushi/Buffet) opened in Royal Palm Place (taking Rosario’s former locale); followed by Basilic Vietnamese Grill (Vietnamese) and Duck King (Chinese), both on N. Federal Highway, and the ever-changing Yoko-San (Japanese) on Mizner Blvd, taking the space left by the short-lived Fork & Knife. Two Thai concepts – Nori Thai (replacing Kao Tong), and M&M Thai (replacing Sultan Express) both opened on E. Palmetto Park Road. But the latest and greatest Asian entry came in December, when SanTo’s Modern American Buffet & Sushi moved into the former Gary Woo location on N. Federal Highway. Following the path of its popular Coconut Creek mainstay, SanTo’s offers an endless array of fresh sushi and assorted pan-Asian creations, along with “non-Asian” hot dishes, grilled and carving station entrees, raw bar selections, salads, desserts, and more. (Come hungry to this one!)
French cuisine made a revolution last year, most notably with the launch of La Nouvelle Maison on East Palmetto Park Road, evoking the glory days of La Vielle Maison (Boca’s iconic bastion of fine dining for many years), but enlivened with a hip bar setting. The year also brought the launch of the short-lived Bistro Gastronomie on Lakeridge Boulevard (off Yamato Road). The Bistro lasted only a few short months; but fortunately, its gorgeous setting was recaptured with the launch of La Ferme, a contemporary bistro focusing on lighter French cuisine and fresh Mussel specialties. This “French-replacing-French” scenario seemed to be a reoccurring theme: In addition to La Ferme replacing Bistro Gastonomie, Chez Marie replaced the former Mimosa in the tony Polo Club Shoppes. Village Bistro replaced Fleming & Ellas’s on SW 18th Street in Boca Del Mar, but likewise quickly failed, and was then succeeded by fellow Frenchie, Fabien’s Bistro. Meanwhile, Bakery of France opened across the street in Village Pointe Plaza, replacing Marble Slab Creamery. And Tulipe Café took over yet another short-lived French concept, Le Macaron in the Boca Grove Center. But our favorite new French was the aforementioned Slice of Provence – a taste of France on a slice of pie.
We also reeled in some new Seafood catches, especially when Boca Landing opened in the stunning new Waterstone Resort & Marina on East Camino Real. Other Aquarian offerings include Mussel Beach on Delray’s Atlantic Ave (replacing Rotelli), and quick-serve Shrimp House in the Boca Town Center food court. Mexican food fans enjoyed the fiesta when Baja Cantina opened on NW 1st Ave., taking over Boca’s former favorite Mexican, Baja Café. El Jefe Luchador expanded its popular Deerfield Beach hangout into food court mode, with the launch of its new spot in Town Center Mall, and El Camino opened on NE 2nd Ave. in Delray. We also got a taste of Indian cuisine, with the August opening of Sapphire in Royal Palm Place, taking the space left vacant by Fusionarie.
“Healthful” fare made a healthy showing, especially with the launch of Gary Rack’s FARMHOUSE Kitchen in Royal Palm Place, converting Rack’s Table 42 (Italian) into a fresh new “Just Good Food” model featuring seasonal, sustainable, and locally sourced ingredients. The Seed (“a squeeze and drip company”) opened on E. Palmetto Park Road, offering its unique house-roasted, brewed-to-order artisan coffees, cold pressed organic juices, and organic smoothies. Other new health-conscious options now include Vegetable K, the call-your-own-salad concept in the Shops at Boca Center (taking over the almost identical Tossed); Planet Juice on North Highway; Apura Juicery & Coffeehouse in the Palms Plaza on Powerline Road; Organic Express Juice Bar on North Federal; and Delray eateries The New Vegan and Green Fields Organic Bistro on Linton.
We also got a smorgasbord of casual and informal options, from the usual array of fast food franchises, to some notable informal eateries. The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Company brought its fresh-baked bagels, coffees, and signature “Brooklynized” water to Palms Plaza on Powerline Road (in the old Hurricane Grill spot), and then to the Fifth Avenue Shops on N. Federal. Another Broken Egg Café moved into Royal Palm Place, converting the beautiful Rafaelle’s space. Other grab & go eateries included hot doggeries House of Dog in Boca Grove (replacing Boardwalk Burger) and JJ’s Red Hots at FAU; Cream Frozen Yogurt & Gelato in the Kmart Plaza on W. Palmetto, and also on Yamato Road (replacing ECO Yogurt Lounge); Lilo’s Garden Grill on E. Atlantic (replacing E& J’s Sandwich Shop), and Panera Bread on N. Federal. Yet other new venues serve their entire menu in glassware, instead of plates. Craft beer fans in particular can now enjoy their favorite microbrews at T.A.P. Global Beer Collection, along with Saltwater Brewery and The Vintage Tap, all on West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Other night-life venues now include Havana Nights Cigar Lounge in Royal Palm Place (replacing Jake’s Stone Crab); 131 E. Lounge on E. Palmetto Park Road, and Honey, which replaced Delux on Atlantic Ave.
“SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED”
Aye, but the restaurant animal is a fickle beast indeed, and just as many new ventures were coming to life, many others inevitably joined the great restaurant graveyard in the sky. We lost many valiant contenders, from hopeful newcomers to long-standing institutions. Most notably, Red The Steakhouse shuddered its gates in March. Red was by all accounts one of the best steakhouses around. Those who knew Red loved it — but unfortunately, not enough people even knew about Red, much less got to try it. Fork & Knife was another sad loss. It seemed to have all the elements for success – a cool concept, great food & drinks, sharp management, even a cool logo. Yet the promising star sadly died before it really got to live, closing shop after just a few months. But Fork & Knife was certainly not the only case of infant mortality, as many other newbies never even got to celebrate their first birthday. To wit, its adjacent neighbor L’Etoile also died shortly after it opened (as I quickly predicted, given its snooty French attitude!). A similar fate fell upon other French and Continental restaurants, including Bistro Gastronomie on Lakeridge, Mimosa in the Polo Club Shoppes, Le Macaron in Boca Grove, and Fleming & Ella’s, and its successor Village Tavern on SW 18th Street. Other short-lived newcomers include 101 Cantina, El Taco Loco, and Cornerstone Café..
We also lost some Italian amici, like the beautiful Raffaele Ristorante in Royal Palm Plaza, which offered a truly unique Italian experience within its stunning setting. Royal Palm Place also bid a parting ciao to fellow paisanos Segreto and Table 42. Cielo at the Boca Resort, Steven’s Pizza and Anna’s Kitchen (both on S.R. 7), and Pizza Via in Town Center likewise tossed their final pie last year. But the saddest departure was that of long-time institution Saporissimo on East Palmetto Park Road. Amidst a sea of generally similar Italian joints, Saporissimo stood alone as the area’s only true Tuscan ristorante, featuring authentic Tuscan specialties unlike anywhere else in town, from ribollita (Tuscan bread soup), to Tuscan rabbit (coniglio) and cinghiale (wild boar).
Another popular hangout, The English Tap Room tapped its last keg in The Shops at Boca Center. Several Mexican eateries likewise bid adios last year. Perennial favorite Baja Café on NW 1st Ave took a permanent siesta after many years. Nearby Royal Palm Place saw the departure of 101 Cantina, less than a year after it replaced The Mexican (yet another the short-lived Mexican place); and El Taco Loco on Spanish River Boulevard likewise closed its Mexican doors at a very young age. We lost a host of other ethnic options, including Anatolia (Turkish) on Federal, Pita & Company (Mediterranean) on S.R. 7, Ceviche (Spanish/Tapas) and Union (Asian) in Delray, and China Café (Chinese) in the Somerset Shops. Seafood fans in Delray Beach can no longer hook their catch at Old Calypso, Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll, or The Fisherman’s Grille, all on Atlantic Avenue.
It also proved a cold year for the frozen treat segment. Tutti Frutti (Fifth Ave Shops), Marble Slab Creamery (Village Pointe Plaza), Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt (Mizner Park), ECO Yogurt Lounge (Yamato Rd.), Tasti D-Lite (Boca Center), and Girasole Gelato on Palmetto Park Road all thawed out for good last year.
Many other restaurants likewise fell victim to the Obama economy. The popular Beany’s, for instance, finally folded its hand after years in its little Mizner Square locale. Other shops who never got to flip their “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign back around include Mikey’s Hot Dogs & Pizza and Broadway Palace (both on Glades Road), Cornerstone Café on South Federal, Tossed in the Shops at Boca Center, Subway on E. Palmetto Park, and Delray eateries E&J’s Sandwich Shop, Spot Coffee, The Garden of Vegan, Crepes By The Sea, and Delray Tea House. Several bars likewise made their last call in 2014, including long-time favorite The Rustic Cellar (wine bar) in Royal Palm Place; Wowies (Sports bar) in the Garden Shops, The Palm Lounge (lounge) on E. Palmetto; The Ugly Mug (bar & grill) in the Delray Marketplace, and Delux (night club) on Atlantic Ave. Whew!
Yes, 2014 was an eventful restaurant year indeed. And 2015 promises to bring us even more culinary adventures, with several new projects already opened in January, or in the works. And so, my fellow foodies, here’s wishing you all a joyous 2015, full of health, happiness, and of course, Good Eatin’!
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