If there’s any one theme of the soon-to-depart year as it relates to the local restaurant scene, it’s that—down economy or not—the quality and diversity of our dining establishments just keep getting better. For every good or interesting restaurant that fell by the wayside, two equally commendable eateries opened up, which means if you want to eat bad food, you’re going to have to work a whole lot harder at it.
In looking back over 2011, I came up with a half-dozen reasons why that is so, six major trends that made the past 12 months a very good year.
In no particular order, they are:
Big-city trends go local. No one expects Boca or West Palm to be as cutting edge as New York or San Francisco, but what’s hot in the country’s foodie capitals eventually makes it way to our little corner of paradise. Cases in point: farm to table/organic (Max’s Harvest, DIG), world tapas (Buccan, Cha Cha), less-familiar Italian regions (D’Angelo Trattoria), modern dim sum (Buddha Sky Bar), noodles bars (Kapow!, Joy Noodles).
Food trucks hit the road. Forget about the “roach coach” of the bad old days, the food truck craze that ate Miami is now nibbling at PBC, turning out white tablecloth food without the tablecloths. . . or even tables. Among the local truckers: Curbside Gourmet, Stocked ‘N’ Loaded, PS561 and the Fire Within.
It’s a burger, burger, burger world. Yes, everyone’s favorite patty has put on a tux and tails and gone uptown with everything from custom grinds of various cuts of beef to garnishes like foie gras, prosciutto and lobster. On the lower-priced end of the burger bandwith are BurgerFi, CG Burgers, Chuck Burger Joint, Relish and the coming Shula Burger. More upscale patty purveyors are the family-run Boca Burger Bar and Burger Bar by Chef Allen (aka, original Mango Gangster Allen Susser).
“Name” chefs-restaurateurs discover PBC. It started with Daniel Boulud (Café Boulud), then picked up with Miami’s own Michelle Bernstein (MB at the Omphoy) and went nuts when Bernstein’s successor at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental, Clay Conley, opened Buccan in Palm Beach, which is still perhaps the hottest restaurant ticket in the county. Other “name” chefs-restaurants: Philippe Chow, Chris Miracolo (Max’s Harvest), and the soon to debut Red, The Steakhouse.
Local restaurateurs kick it up a notch. Though “outsiders” have contributed much to the PBC restaurant scene, what’s really fueled the explosion of ambitious new dining places are our stable of homegrown restaurateurs. Say a quick thanks to Burt Rapoport (Deck 84), Dennis Max (Max’s Harvest), Carmine Giardini (Umi Fish Bar), David Manero (Vic & Angelo’s, the Office), Rodney Mayo (Kapow! Noodle Bar), the Coniglios (Cha Cha’s), and Brandon and Brian of Cut 432 (the coming Park Tavern).
Hot and haute dining destinations.If you can’t find something really good to eat on Clematis Street or Atlantic Avenue. . . well, you’re just not very hungry. Any town would be happy to have a street that attracts so many good restaurants and so many hungry customers, and the number of both that want to squeeze into West Palm and/or Delray’s omnivorous avenues doesn’t show any signs of lessening. Among the Clematis newbies: Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, Longboards, World of Beer, Kabuki and Wine Dive. Delray notables are Park Tavern, SpoonFed, Scuola Vecchia, Deck 84 and Spot Coffee.