Published On: Mon, May 7th, 2018

32 East  – Last Chance for Excellence

Last Chance to experience the Legend

By Kenny Spahn

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or something, you know of 32 East, the iconic chef-driven restaurant and Atlantic Avenue hot spot.  And you might know that for the past 20+ years, 32 East has stood as one of the undisputed best, highest rated, and most creative restaurants in the entire area, as well as having the coolest bar scene on the Ave. But what you may not know is that after 22 years of reigning supreme, the legend is about to fade into history. In fact, the restaurant is closing on Mother’s Day (May 13) – so you only have a few more weeks to experience the legend.

The closing of 32 East is truly the end of an era — one might say, “The End of Excellence.”  First, a little history: When 32 East opened in 1996, it was the major impetus for converting the less-than-desirable (and high crime) Avenue into the happenin’ action scene it is today – and it paved the way for the hundreds of other eateries that have since come & gone.  Moreover,32 East was not just another formulaic restaurant – it was the area’s first upscale, ahead-of-the trend, chef-driven, ingredient-forward restaurants, featuring locally-sourced artisan ingredients and a unique cutting edge menu that changed daily, under the creative genius of Executive Chef Nick Morfogen, unquestionably one of south Florida’s greatest Chefs.  And that was decades before today’s trendy “farm-to-table,” “gastropub,” or “chef-driven bistro” terms were even known. The cutting-edge eatery was (and still is) equally praised for its award-wining wine program, hip bar scene with creative artisan cocktails, and absolutely stellar service.

Seared Scallop Starter

But alas, to the chagrin of thousands of food & wine fans, the owners have decided to end the legend and close shop for good after Mother’s Day. So whether you’ve never been to 32 East or you’re a long-time regular, better get there now and experience the legend, before it’s gone forever.  Although the restaurant is coming to an end, rest assured the incredible experience remains true until the very end. When I first reviewed 32 East back in 2003, I ended my article with a final conclusion: “In a world of rather generic eateries, 32 East is simply unparalleled; A definite A+!” And now, 15 years later, that conclusion holds even stronger now.

Granted, filling the culinary shoes of Chef Nick Morfogen is like replacing Pavarotti in an opera.  But under the new helm Executive Chef John Thomas, Nick Morforgen’s legendary standard of excellence remains true. As with his predecessor, Chef John also offers a new menu each day, utilizing fresh and locally sourced products, along with some rare, seasonal, exotic, and unusual finds. Some items are familiar, and sometimes Chef John pushes the envelope – but he knows just how far to push.  Each element is precisely contemplated and strategically utilized to complement and enhance the dish. The resulting compositions are simply amazing, and may quite possibly have never been offered before, anywhere (and may never be seen again), so each night brings forth a unique culinary adventure.   Chef John is not just a great chef, he’s a true artist, artfully fusing divergent ingredients as if by alchemy into total masterpieces.  And he paints vividly, but with a very fine brush, artfully finessing subtle nuances, notes, and textures in unexpected ways that entice, confuse, and delight every strand of the taste buds.  Take for instance, his Local Tuna Crudo, featuring locally sourced (Ft. Pierce) fresh tuna treated to a light  nuoc cham (an umami-filled Vietnamese dipping sauce) bath, along with smoked pineapple, mint, and wonderful avocado-coconut puree, sided with crispy rice paper. I’ve tasted hundreds (probably thousands) of crudos and ceviches, but this creation truly stands apart.  Ditto on the incredible Burrata, teamed with fresh Cantaloupe (instead of the usual tomato and balsamic vinegar), augmented with fresh-picked local basil, the subtly sweet-salty textural crunch of roasted pistachios, and a vibrant burst of burnt orange vinaigrette. Bravo!

Burrat & Cantaloupe, with fennel blossom, fresh basil, toasted pistachios, & burnt local orange vinaigrette.

Local Ft. Pierce Tuna Crudo, with smoked pineapple, mint, avocado-coconut puree, Nuoc Cham, and crispy rice paper!

Each night sees a new menu, with each item more straddling the line between familiar and exotic, each one more enticing than the next. Vesuvio Pasta (volcano shaped) joined an all-star cast including spring peas, speck, oyster mushrooms, burnt carrot ricotta, cured egg yolk, and parmesan brodo; while Key West Pink Shrimp & Grits was a marriage of south Florida tropical and traditional low country southern soul food, highlighted with bits of bacon, scallions, and a zippy habanero-tomato sauce.  Other starters on our night ($8-$16) ranged from Spring Veggie & Farro Soup and Baby Kale Salad, to Crispy Zucchini Blossoms and Oak Roasted Prosciutto-wrapped Peaches with a sherry gastrique and sweet grass double cream (wow!).

Key West Pink Shrimp & Grits

Wood Fired Pizzas are a house favorite, blazed in the authentic wood-burning oven.  Our night featured a Cacciatore version with oyster mushrooms, heirloom tomato, shishito peppers, garlic confit, and fontina (yum!), along with a spicy Nduja (spicy Italian spreadable salami) and pesto, and classic Margherita.

One can easily make a meal of the Starters alone, and grazing your way through the menu is quite common (and highly recommended!).  But Chef John really gets to flex his culinary muscles with the Main Plates.

Case in point: our night’s Ft. Myers Red Grouper. The delicate filet was seared to absolute perfection, firm yet still tender and flaky, accentuating its sweet, delicate texture.  Chef John gave the local fish a Mediterranean treatment, teamed with eggplant caponata, castlevatrano olives, and pine nuts.

Prime Dry-Aged Ribeye rivals any fancy (and higher priced) steakhouse offering, especially when accentuated with the accompanying fresh grilled asparagus, red onion, potato-cheddar gratin, and flavor-packed cabernet wine reduction!  Other main plates on our night included Double Cut Pork Chop, Virginia Wild Striped Bass (with green cay corn & zucchini “succotash,” bull horn peppers, squash blossoms, fava beans and salsa verde!); Nantucket Scallops in an Asian ramen treatment; the signature McTryst Burger, and a hearty Double Cut Artisan Pork Chops.  Bell & Evans Chicken Breast was on the very first menu, and has become a signature dish; in fact, it’s the only item that appears on the menu every night. One taste of this incredibly moist organic bone-in chicken breast graced with an insanely tasty truffle-mushroom gravy, and you’ll know why.  Most entrees are around $30-$34, and all include the chef’s fresh veggies, sides, and accompaniments.

Signature Bell & Evans bone-in Chicken Breast, with Haricot Verts, local Tomatoes, Bed Bliss Smash, and Truffle-Mushroom Gravy

Desserts are all house made – and of course, delicious. Service remains as stellar as ever, under the leadership of veteran General Manager John Bates. I usually find at least a few minor flaws at any restaurant, no matter how fancy (hey, it’s my job!), but our service here was simply flawless.  Our server Jason was a real pro –friendly, attentive, and extremely knowledgeable, knowing just when to come back and help without being intrusive.  Another aspect that remains at the very top is the extensive wine list, especially with John Bates adding his expertise and advice as needed.  And don’t forget about the great bar scene, with creative and house cocktails and 30+ craft beers.

– Incredible Bread Pudding with Raspberries & Bacon bits!

32 is one of the finest and most dining experiences you may ever encounter – So don’t your last chance to experience true excellence – at 32 East.

32 East is located at 32 E. Atlantic Avenue, in the heart of Delray Beach, FL.

Open for dinner every night, with Happy Hour specials and ample private event facilities.

For more information, call 561/276-7868 visit   www.32East.com

For more information about Restaurant Placement Group visit https://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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