2017 The Restaurant Year in Review

Happy 2018!

As we welcome in the New Year, let’s say goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2017. And what a wild ride it’s been: Devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and forest fires. International sabre rattling and nuclear tensions. Continued terrorist attacks and horrendous domestic massacres. And a never-ending barrage of scandals rattling the political and entertainment world. Even our sacred retreat of national league football was marred by controversy and strife before every game.

But despite all the bad news, we could still find a brief respite and engage in our favorite pastime — food and drink. We welcomed a slew of new restaurants to our little corner of paradise in 2017 — from the usual throng of assorted franchises and mom & pop eateries, to some new and exciting dining adventures. And of course, we also saw the demise of many local favorites. It’s hard to make any generalizations about this crazy business — and the only thing consistent is that it’s constantly changing. But I did note a particularly strong influx of ‘New American’ gastropubs and create-your-own-bowl concepts last year. We also welcomed some national and strong regional chains, including Burton’s, Blue Moon Mexican, Ouzo Bay, Batch Gastropub, and ROK:BRGR; along with the resurrection and revival of some existing and past institutions. And so, my fellow foodies, here again is your annual recap of our local restaurant comings & goings, in something I like to call, “The Restaurant Year in Review.”

NOW OPEN
2017 brought us the usual smorgasbord of restaurant concepts and cuisines, spanning the culinary gamut. But the most significant contribution came from 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 shows all the elements to become a major player in town. Miami based Batch Gastropub also entered the fray, adding a new ‘Must Try’ hot spot and casual hangout to the Delray Marketplace. Meanwhile, Flashback American Diner got back to basics, taking over the shortlived Bamboléo on North Federal Highway (which, ironically replaced the original Flashback Diner just a month earlier) in east Boca.

But most of the action came from independent local chefs, like Chef Blake Malatesta’s stunning new MIA Kitchen + Bar on West Atlantic Avenue; 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 spot (formerly the famed Falcon House), showcasing Isaac Grillo’s cutting-edge cuisine; followed by the equally creative and wine-centric The Winemaker’s Table on South Congress Ave., and then Avant in Pineapple Grove, assuming the dual space of the former sister restaurants Solita and Mastino. The still-hot ‘Upscale Burger & Craft Beer’ craze of the past few years continued 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 Tampa-based The Brass Tap in the old Park Avenue BBQ spot at Dixie & Glades in Boca Raton.

We also got a salubrious taste of health oriented concepts, reflecting the booming national trend. Bolay lead the pack 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 with its similar version in the new Park Place on N. Military Trail. Then in August, the playing field was elevated a few notches by the inaugural launch of local greens 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 personalized ordering system. AeroJuice on South Federal Hwy, LOV Juice in Royal Palm Place, and Bear’s Food Shack on West Atlantic Ave also joined the nutrition-themed game.

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. Of all the great restaurants around, Louie Bossi’s stands apart, as one of the only restaurants in the country that actually dry-ages its own prime beef in house, and even 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. Boca also welcomed Frank & Dino’s, which relocated from its original Deerfield Beach haunts into Royal Palm Place; and Manhattan Joe’s Pizzeria on Boca Raton Blvd. (expanding its Polo Club Shoppes home base); while Delray’s Prime Steak Sushi & Seafood reemerged in November as PRIME Tuscany Steakhouse. December then brought the long-awaited arrival of Pellegrino’s Ristorante on SE Mizner Blvd., in the corner previously occupied by Yoko-San. 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!). 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. December then brought the reincarnation of a favorite old friend, Prezzo, to Park Place. 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.

Sharing the Mediterranean spotlight with Italian was the sun-drenched cuisine of Greece. Of particular note, Oliv Pit Athenian Grill debuted in the Shops 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 made from 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 Oliv Pit has quickly become our go-to source for good, authentic Greek food. On a pricier Greek note, the long-anticipated Ouzo Bay opened in Mizner Park (finally!), converting the prime corner spot of the former Jazziz and ZED 451.

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 rare, albeit brief, taste of authentic Mexican fare (i.e., not Tex Mex), and an expansive array of high-end tequila and mezcal. Boca also welcomed NJ-based Blue Moon Mexican Café to 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); and Geisha Asian Bistro on North Federal Highway, which took over a similar sushi-Thai eatery, Sakura (which likewise replaced Su Thai). Other new entries to the market last year include: Seafood-oriented Ocean One Bar & Grill on Atlantic Ave. (replacing Free House), and Blue Island Fish on West Lyons Road (supplanting Mai Hibachi); Park Place Deli on N. Military Trail (replacing Rappy’s); and Tanjore Indian Cuisine in Royal Palm Place. Also new on the horizon: MoBu Fusion Café on S. Federal Highway, offering an intriguing “French/Asian/Jamaican fusion” cuisine; Mediterranean Kebob House on S. Federal; brunch destinations Mantana Gastro Lounge in Royal Palm Place and nearby Boca Roma Café; Paradise Island on Dixie Highway; and coffee havens Subculture Coffee and Capital One Café on Atlantic Ave, and R1 Coffee on North Federal in Boca. Dessert fans got even more ways to satisfy their sweet tooth, with the launch of Cecilie’s Gourmet Frozen Ice, Doughboy (outrageous donuts), J&D Cakes, and La Gelateria Della Musica, all in Boca; 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 the restaurant gods wield a viscous two-edged sword. As we welcomed new restaurants in 2017, we also saw the demise of many others, 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. Brewzzi was the area’s first authentic brew pub that not only served up some outstanding food, but also brewed its own beers on premises — decades before the craft beer craze or the “gastropub” concept were born. Delray Beach lost Smoke BBQ on the Ave. — a true shame, as Smoke was considered 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 in Delray; and Boca eateries 13 American Table, and the curiously-named Gluttonous Goat (both in downtown Boca); Gibson’s Smokehouse on West Glades, the (second) Boca Burger House on S. Federal Highway, and Beach Park Café on East Palmetto.

We bid Arrivederci to some Italian friends as well, including long-standing neighborhood favorite Tiramisu on West Camino Real, Jasper’s Italian Bistro and Grande Pizza, both on S.W. 18th 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 (which remodeled and rebranded as Ramen Lab) in Boca; and Adios to Boca newborn Bamboléo on North Federal, and Lilo’s on the Ave. 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. Desserteries also found some less-than-sweet endings last year, including Rhino Doughnuts and Capricci 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 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 (but its namesake Bistro at 2399 N Federal remains open, recently winning an aware for the Best Caribbean food in South Florida), 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.

Restaurant fatalities are inevitable, especially in south Florida — but it’s still shocking to see how many fail within their first year. The highly-anticipated Rappy’s, for instance, closed just a few months after it opened. But then its successor Park Place Deli lasted only 31 days! A true shame — Park Place Deli was really good, but never given a fair chance. Even crazier, the owners of Flashback Diner spent many, many months and bucks converting the old 24/7 diner into the hip new Bamboléo, only to close it a month later! But the story gets even crazier, as the owners then converted the neonatal Bamboléo back 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, dubbed Jasper’s Italian Bistro — which likewise died before it could walk. 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, 1000 Degrees Pizza, and Blue Island Fish — plus a few dozen more who came & went without any notice. (Whew!) Yes, 2017 added and subtracted more gems into 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. 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 been contributing to Simply The Best since 2004. He also heads up Restaurant Placement Group, an exclusive recruiting and consulting firm for the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Visit www.RestaurantPlacement.com.