If you’re a fan of great Italian food (and who isn’t?), then you’ll love Terra Fiamma in Delray Beach. The innovative eatery first opened in the new Delray Marketplace in 2012. And now a decade later, it still remains one of the center’s few original tenants—and one of the most popular, as readily witnessed by the lively crowd and buzz of activity appearing nightly in the convivial outdoor patio. Terra Fiamma means “Earth Flame” in Italian, and the restaurant conveys the beauty of nature’s elements at every turn. Wood furnishings, earth tones, and the kitchen’s natural approach to Italian cooking reflect the Terra, while strategic red accents and the signature wood-burning oven evoke la Fiamma. Meanwhile, the friendly bar and substantial wine list provide the ‘Water,’ while the capacious outdoor patio adds the “Air.” Service is friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive, under the watchful eye of GM Ronnie Gaeta.
Begin your Italian adventure with the signature Chicken Parm Dumplings—delicate pasta purses (think “Italian Dim Sum”) filled with chicken and mozzarella and baked to a golden, cheesy deliciousness, then served with the house’s famous homemade tomato sauce (“More rolls, please?”). They’re delicious, addicting, and a unique specialty you won’t find elsewhere. Wood-Fired Chicken Wings are another must try, teamed with fresh rosemary and caramelized onions before their trip to the wood-burning oven (i.e., not breaded and fried!). Their tantalizing sweet-savory-smoky flavor and distinctive charred crisp will make you forget all about those generic “Buffalo” style wings. Other starters (dubbed “Italian Tapas”) include fire-roasted Baby Artichokes with a balsamic-glazed arugula salad, house-made Meatballs, Sautéed Mussels (in red or white wine sauce), and of course, the obligatory Fried Calamari for you New Yorkers.
Fresh Salads provide a refreshing intermezzo. The Roasted Beet Salad shines brightly, a harmonious compilation of sweet roasted red and golden beets, creamy-tangy goat cheese, tender baby arugula, and nutty roasted pistachios, all perfectly counter-balanced with refreshing mandarin oranges and a light citrus vinaigrette. I’d come back for this salad alone! Other Salads ($6-$20) range from classic Tossed, Caesar, and Caprese, to a meal-worthy Summer Salmon and Pecan Chicken Salads. All salads may be augmented with a protein or cheese of your choice for a custom-made healthy meal.
True to its Italian roots, Terra Fiamma also majors in Pasta. Penne Melanie is a seductive marriage of chicken breast and penne (tubes) with fresh mushrooms, spinach, fresh tomatoes, and a light but intensely flavorful roasted garlic-white wine sauce (yum!). Meanwhile, wild mushrooms dance gracefully with cavatappi (corkscrew pasta) in a rich demi-cream sauce to form the hearty Cavatappi Funghi. Other old-school favorites abound, like Linguine & Clam Sauce (red or white), Lobster Ravioli, Rigatoni Bolognese, a noteworthy Lasagna, and good ol’ Spaghetti & Meatballs.
But with the seductive aromas of that wood-burning oven wafting by, you gotta try Terra Fiamma’s pizza (and thinner flatbreads). Coal ovens may be trendy in America—but as the Italians know, coal (which is petroleum-based), gas, or electricity can never imbue the distinctive flavor, texture, char, and smoky magic of real natural wood. Witness the airy crust, bearing telltale blisters and earthy goodness of la Fiamma. Call your own pie, or go for a house specialty, like the Tre Funghi (my favorite), with assorted wild mushrooms, truffle oil, and crisp sage, SOHO Chicken Parm, South Street Shrimp & Vodka Sauce, or the Fig & Goat Cheese Flatbread. The kitchen also rocks a standard deck oven, for those who prefer the more familiar ‘New York’ style (hence, “Dueling Ovens”). And there’s even a convenient pick-up window for take-out orders, including large pizzas, not on the regular menu.
Entrées are even more enticing, and consistently excellent (and quite reasonably priced, with most around $24-$31, including sides!) Chicken (or veal) Allesandro is a silky symphony of tender chicken breast (or veal tenderloin), artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and spinach tossed in a light plum tomato sauce—and a perennial favorite. Pan Seared Salmon is served atop a bed of sautéed spinach with a cloud of truffle mashed potato, then crowned with a decadent Dijon cream sauce. Meanwhile, a thundering bowl of fresh fish and shellfish swim in a flavorful seafood-tomato brodo over linguine to form the Frutti Di Mare. Less adventurous palates may seek comfort with familiar favorites by visiting the menu’s “Arthur Avenue” district, where the Picattas, Marsalas, and Parmigianas conduct their traditional business.
But for the true experience, look to the nightly specials, where Chef Damion Foulkes really gets to flex his culinary muscles. Our night saw a spectacular Veal Sorrentino, fork-tender veal medallions, sautéed with eggplant and prosciutto and crowned with fresh mozzarella, then finished in the oven to cheesy perfection. The dish alone is outstanding, then elevated even further with a sultry veal demiglace and red vermouth reduction that will have your taste buds standing up to applaud. Crab-stuffed giant Shrimp were equally outstanding, served over a luxurious saffron & pea risotto, enhanced with a sultry lemon-butter-white wine sauce (Bravo!). Both dishes were done to perfection, artistically plated with fresh sides, and finished with a plate-licking sauce that accentuated, but not overwhelmed the star attraction. Each night sees other specials, including some non-Italian options, from Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass and Pecan-Crusted Snapper, to Veal Chop, Lamb Chops, and bone-in Ribeye Steak.
The convivial bar takes care of the ‘Water’ element with its creative specialty cocktails and well-thought wine list. Finish with an ethereal homemade Tiramisu and a frothy cappuccino or Limoncello, take in some ‘Air’ in the outside patio, and savor all the elements of a great dining experience—at Terra Fiamma!
Terra Fiamma is located in the Delray Marketplace, 9169 West Atlantic Ave (at Lyons Rd.) in Delray Beach, FL. Open for dinner nightly and lunch on the weekends. Private parties, catering, and take-out available, with a convenient back pick-up window. 561-495-5570 www.TerraFiamma.com