Published On: Sun, Jan 14th, 2018

The Restaurant Year in Review – 2017  

Oliv Pit Athenian Grill- Assorted Favorites

“Another Wild Ride”

By Kenny Spahn

     Happy 2018!  Hard to believe another year has already come and gone.  So, as we settle into the New Year and say goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2017, let’s take a quick look back at the year that was. And what a wild ride it’s been: Constant political strife on all fronts. Devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. Catastrophic forest fires that decimated so much of California. International saber-rattling and nuclear tensions. Continued Islamic terrorist attacks abroad and horrendous mass shootings within our own borders, starting with the January airport shooting in our own back yard.  A horrifying AmTrack derailment. Massive email hacks and security breaches. And the endless barrage of scandals rattling the political and entertainment worlds.  Even our sacred retreat of NFL football was marred by controversy and protest before every game.

Yes despite all the depressing news, we could still find a brief respite by engaging in our favorite pastime – food and drink.  As usual, we welcomed a slew of new restaurants to our little corner of paradise in 2017 — and of course, we also saw many restaurants fail.  It’s hard to find any general consistencies anything about this crazy business – except for the fact that it’s always changing; but I do note last year’s most significant impact came from the New American/Gastropub and Create-Your-Own-Bowl concepts.  We also witnessed several national and regional chains enter the market, such as Burton’s, Blue Moon Mexican, Ouzo Bay, ROK:BRGR, and Batch Gastropub; along with the resurrection of some past favorites.   And so, my fellow foodies, here’s your recap of our local restaurant happenings, in something I like to call, “The Restaurant Year in Review.”

 NOW OPEN

            2017 brought us the usual smorgasbord of new restaurants, covering a wide spectrum of concepts and cuisines.  But the most significant influence were the chef-driven gastropubs, upscale burger & craft beer emporiums, and ‘New American’ kitchens offering kicked-up renditions of classic American comfort food. To wit, the much-anticipated Burton’s Grill & Bar opened in Boca’s new Park Place on North Military Trail.  The ingredient-driven menu and cool bar scene of this Andover, MA-based concept scores positive points on all fronts, and certainly has the necessary elements to become a major player in town.  Miami-based Batch Gastropub also entered the fray, adding a hip new hot spot and casual hangout to the Delray Marketplace. Meanwhile in east Boca, Flashback American Diner got back to basics, taking over the short-lived Bamboléo on North Federal Highway (which, ironically replaced the original Flashback Diner just a month earlier). And speaking of rebirths, Delray’s beloved The Green Owl, which closed a few years ago after its 30-year stint on Atlantic Avenue, came back to life in its new home on SE 4th Ave.

Burton’s – Grilled Fresh Catch

Our major culinary contribution, however, came from independent local chefs, like Chef Blake Malatesta’s stunning new MIA Kitchen + Bar in the new Tuscany Shops on W. Atlantic Ave.; and Temper Grille, Chef Erick Guerra’s wonderfully inventive take on “Modern American Tapas” in The Reserve of Boca. Delray also welcomed the curiously-named Death or Glory to the former Max’s Social House (and Falcon House) spot, showcasing Isaac Grillo’s cutting-edge cuisine; followed by the equally creative and wine-centric The Winemaker’s Table on South Congress Ave. Then Avant opened in Pineapple Grove, assuming the dual space of the former Solita and its sister restaurant Mastino.  The ‘Upscale Burger & Craft Beer’ craze was all the rage three years ago, and still continues to trend, as evidenced by Ft. Lauderdale-based ROK:BRGR expanding to East Atlantic Ave (in the former Tryst locale); along with Burger & Beer Joint at the Frank Theater Cinebowl in Delray Marketplace; and the short-lived The Brass Tap, followed by American Craft Kitchen & Brewery in the old Park Avenue BBQ spot at Dixie & Glades.

Batch Gastropub – Polynesian Grain Bowl and Korean Dino Rib

We also got a salubrious taste of  “healthful” concepts, reflecting the booming national trend.  Bolay first set the table in January, introducing its chef-inspired and surprisingly tasty “customize-your-own-bowl” sensation to the Polo Shoppes (replacing Voodoo BBQ). Tampa-based Fresh Kitchen soon followed suit with its similar version in the new Park Place on N. Military Trail; while Tampa-based Fitlife Foods took over the former Cold Stone Creamery spot in Glades Plaza;  and The Poké Company on N. Federal Highway introduced its unique Asian twist to the bowl concept.  AeroJuice on South Federal Hwy, LOV Juice in Royal Palm Place, and Bear’s Food Shack on West Atlantic Ave also jumped on the nutrition-themed wagon.  Then localgreens elevated the game a few notches with the launch of its inaugural unit in Delray Place (adjacent to Harvest Seasonal Grill, its parent restaurant).  Localgreens follows the same “create your own bowl” model, but with upscale chef creations, locally sourced and organic ingredients, and housemade adult popsicles – plus a very cool touch-screen kiosk, thus enhancing the entire ordering experience.

localgreens – Medicine Man Bowl

Of course any discussion of south Florida dining must include our adopted favorite, Italian — and last year was certainly no exception.  Most notably, Chef Louie Bossi expanded his eponymous Las Olas flagship with the new Louie Bossi’s in Boca’s shining new Hyatt Place Hotel, quickly becoming the “see & be seen” hot spot of downtown Boca.  Louie Bossi’s stands apart, as the area’s only restaurant (and one of the very few in the entire country) that actually dry-ages its own Prime Beef in house, and also makes its own sausages and charcuterie, including the sacred guanciale (“face bacon”) — along with everything else from sauces and pastas, to breads and desserts.  Downtown Boca also welcomed the long-awaited arrival of Pellegrino’s Ristorante in nearby Palmetto Place (SE Mizner Blvd), in the corner previously occupied by Yoko-San (and Il Marco, Andrew’s, Fork & Knife, Russia House, etc.).  In addition to being a “real deal” Italian restaurant, Pellegrino’s also features an authentic Italian deli and market (come here for a real sub!).  Also nearby, Frank & Dino’s relocated its original Deerfield Beach haunts into the space of the ill-fated Merlino’s; and Manhattan Joe’s Pizzeria opened on Boca Raton Blvd (expanding its Polo Club Shoppes home base).  On a more rustic note, Trattoria Nonna moved into the Shoppes of Village Pointe on SW 18th Street, converting the former Grande Pizza into a charming authentic trattoria; while Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, opened in the South Delray Shopping Center on Federal.  December then brought the reincarnation of a deceased old friend, Prezzo to Park Place, assuming the space formerly held by the extremely short-lived Park Place Deli spot (and its still-young predecessor, Rappy’s).  Long-time locals fondly remember Prezzo from back in the day, and if anyone can bring this beloved favorite back to glory, it’s Mr. Burt Rapoport and his all-star chef, Mark Militello.

Prezzo – Meatballs al Forno w fresh Ricotta Crostini

Sharing the Mediterranean spotlight with Italian is the sun-drenched cuisine of Greece.  Of particular note, Oliv Pit Athenian Grill debuted in the Shoppes at Village Pointe (SW 18th Street) in Boca Del Mar.  The unique new eatery features authentic Athenian street food, flame-grilled over imported Greek charcoal actually made of reconstituted olive pits (hence the name). It’s honest Greek fare presented in a comfortable setting without all the plate-breaking hoopla and belly-dancing ruckus of large chains  — and has quickly become our go-to source for good Greek food. Delray Beach also got a taste of authentic Greek cuisine with a special focus of seafood (even sushi) at Taverna Trela on Linton Blvd (in the former Blue Island Fish spot). With famed Chef Bobby Orfanos (of the former Zorba’s Taverna next door) at the helm, Taverna Trela is likely to become another popular neighborhood favorite.  On a pricier Greek note, the long-anticipated Ouzo Bay (finally!) opened in Mizner Park, after spending nearly a year converting the prime corner spot of the former Jazziz and ZED 451.

Oliv Pit Athenian Grill – Grilled Shrimp

Continuing the international theme, Boca said Bienvenidos to some new Mexican eateries in 2017, starting with the short-lived Bamboléo Cocina y Mezcaleria on N. Federal, which gave us a rare, albeit brief,  taste of authentic Mexican (i.e., not Tex Mex), and expansive array of high-end tequila and mezcal. Other new Mexicans include NJ-based Blue Moon Mexican Café at the newly renovated Boardwalk (f/k/a Wharfside) on SW 18th Street, and Casa Tequila on West Glades Road. Some Asian eateries entered the market, like Ramen Lab Eatery on NE 2nd Street (replacing fellow Asian, Sushi Thai); Geisha Asian Bistro on North Federal Highway, which took over a similar sushi-Thai eatery, Sakura (and Su Thai before that); and Boon’s Asian Bistro on W. Atlantic Ave.  Seafood fans could cast new lines at Ocean One Bar & Grill on Atlantic Ave (replacing Free House), Blue Island Fish on West Lyons Road (supplanting Mai Hibachi), and Luff’s Fish House on E. Palmetto Park Road.

         Also new on the horizon: MoBu Fusion Café on S. Federal Highway, offering an intriguing “French/ Asian/ Jamaican fusion” cuisine; Tanjore (modern eclectic Indian Cuisine) in Royal Palm Place; Park Place Deli on N. Military Trail (replacing in the short-lived Rappy’s); Hummus Culture on W. Glades Road; Mediterranean Kebob House on S. Federal; and brunch destinations Mantana Gastro Lounge in Royal Palm Place and nearby Boca Roma Café; and Paradise Island on Dixie Highway. We also found new venues to get our caffeine fix, including Subculture Coffee and Capital One Café on Atlantic Ave and nearby Colombian Coffee House (SE 5th Ave) in Delray, plus R1 Coffee on North Federal in Boca.  Dessert fans got even more ways to satisfy their sweet tooth, with the launch of Doughboy on NE 2nd Street (replacing another donut shop Rhino Donuts), J&D Cakes; and Nani’s Homemade Doughnuts on Congress Avenue in Delray Beach; plus frozen delights Cecilie’s Gourmet Italian Ice (NW 2nd Street),  Gelato-go on Atlantic Ave., Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream on W. Yamato Road,  and the short-lived La Gelateria Della Musica; plus adult Popsicle sensation Popbar on Delray’s Atlantic Ave.  (Are we full yet?)

SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED

            But alas, the restaurant biz is a fickle beast indeed (especially in south Florida), and as the restaurant gods giveth, they also taketh away. And 2017 was certainly no exception, as witnessed by the demise of many local eateries, from hopeful new upstarts, to venerable establishments.  Most notably, long-time Boca icon Brewzzi shut off its taps for good, to the chagrin of foodies and beer fans alike (Bummer!). Brewzzi was the area’s first (and only) authentic brew pub that not only served up some great food, but also brewed its own beers on premises – decades before the terms ‘craft beer’ or ‘gastropub’ were part of our vernacular. Atlantic Avenue will no longer be seduced by the enticing aromas of smoky goodness from Smoke BBQ — a true shame, as Smoke was arguably the best BBQ around (and a very cool hangout).  Other American-themed restaurants to close shop last year include Max’s Social House in the former Ceviche spot (the old Falcon House) in Delray; along with 13 American Table, the curiously-named Gluttonous Goat, Gibson’s Smokehouse on West Glades, the (second) Boca Burger House on S. Federal Highway, and Beach Park Café on East Palmetto, all in Boca.

         We bid Arrivederci to some Italian friends as well, including long-standing neighborhood favorite Tiramisu on West Camino Real, the new Jasper’s Italian Bistro S.W. 18th Street, and Grande Pizza across the street, and 1000 Degrees Pizza in Delray Place. We also said Sayonara to Pineapple Grove mainstay House of Siam, along with fellow Asians Sakura and Sushi Thai in Boca; Adios to Boca newborn Bamboléo on North Federal, and Lilo’s on the Ave. in Delray; and Aντιο to the beloved Zorba’s Taverna (Greek) in Delray. The year was not kind to continental or French concepts, either, including Jasper’s on 18th in Boca Del Mar, Josef’s Table (Polo Shops), and Delray’s Carpe Diem on the Ave.  As predicted, The Little Chalet closed its pretentious doors in downtown Boca – to no one’s surprise, given its ridiculously high prices, mediocre food, limited selection, horrendous service, and the owner’s inexcusable “save every penny, don’t worry about the customers” attitude.  Desserteries also found some less-than-sweet endings, including Rhino Doughnuts, Capricci, La Gelateria Della Musica, and Cold Stone Creamery in Boca; plus Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt and Popbar in Delray. Other hopeful restaurants who never got to turn their “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign back around include the ill-conceived Rappy’s, and its immediate successor Park Place Deli, health-oriented Nature’s Way Café, Juiceateria, and Apura; Sapphire (Indian) and Crepe Café in Royal Palm Place; Rock Steady Jamaican Jerk Café, Marti’s Café, Boca Burger House, The Spice & Tea Exchange in Mizner Park, Beach Park Café, Community Table, and its short-lived successor, Pizzeria 5000, and the (first) Flashback Diner, all in Boca; plus former Delray residents Blue Island Fish, Subculture Coffee (the first location), and Café Bleu.  And although not in Boca/Delray, due respect should be given to Testa’s, which proudly stood as a Palm Beach institution (and Florida’s oldest restaurant) for nearly a century.

   Still Newbies

        Restaurants come and restaurants go, and fatalities are inevitable —  especially in south Florida.  But it’s still shocking to see how many fail within their first year. The highly-hyped Rappy’s, for instance, closed just a few months after it opened. And then its successor Park Place Deli lasted only 31 days! A true shame, since Park Place Deli was really good, but never given a fair chance.  Even crazier, the owners of Flashback Diner  spent many, many months and bucu bucks converting the old 24/7 diner into the hip new Bamboléo, only to close it a month later!  Then they converted the still-neonatal Bamboléo into “Flashback American Brasserie” – which was then renamed back to the original Flashback Diner (go figure!).  On a similar note, Jasper’s on 18th decided to reposition its wonderful and uniquely Danish concept into yet-another Italian eatery renamed to Jasper’s Italian Bistro – which likewise died before it could even walk.  Also note, The Brass Tap (Dixie & Glades) also lasted only a few months.  Other hopeful newcomers who never even got to celebrate their first birthday include: Beach Park Café, Boca Burger House (on South Federal), Pizzeria 5000, Capricci, Apura, La Gelateria Della Musica, 4th Generation Organic Market on W. Glades Road, and Hummus Culture in Boca; and 1000 Degrees Pizza, Blue Island Fish, and Popbar in Delray – plus a few dozen more who came & went without any notice. (Whew!)

        Yes, 2017 added and subtracted more gems to and from the culinary kaleidoscope through which we gaze.  And 2018 will surely bring more changes to our landscape, with several exciting new projects already in the works. And so, my fellow foodies, here’s wishing you all a glorious New Year — full of health, happiness, and of course, Good Eatin’!

Kenny Spahn is a renowned food critic and culinary columnist, and also heads up Restaurant Placement Group, an exclusive recruiting and consulting firm for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Visit www.RestaurantPlacement.com

 TAGS: Restaurants, New Restaurant openings, Restaurant closings, Boca, Delray, Openings and Closings, Reviews, Food & Wine, Restaurant Placement Group, www.RestaurantPlacement.com

 

About the Author

- KEN SPAHN is an award-winning Food Critic and Culinary Author, and a renowned restaurant & hospitality authority and consultant. He has authored over 800 food-related articles; appeared on numerous TV, radio, online, and print venues; served as Celebrity Judge at culinary competitions; taught Hospitality Management courses at local colleges; appeared as a guest speaker at industry events; consulted and recruited for hundreds of restaurant, hotel, and food service operators; and has been intricately involved in countless food, wine, culinary, and restaurant events. Mr. Spahn is widely recognized as one of Florida's most knowledgeable and well-connected restaurant professionals. Ken Spahn is also the Founder and President of RESTAURANT PLACEMENT GROUP, the exclusive recruiting, consulting, and placement firm for the Restaurant, hospitality, and food service industry. For more information, visit: https://www.restaurantplacement.com Boca Raton Tribune is honored to have Mr. Ken Spahn on its team!

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