Thursday, July 18, 2024

Best of Boca and Beyond: Editors’ Cut

A shakeup at City Hall, construction projects jutting into the sky, hordes of restaurants opening their doors, movers and shakers, donors putting their money where their mouths are, and events good enough to make our Instagram grids—the 2023-2024 year gave us plenty of water cooler conversation. The Best of Boca Raton and Beyond is back, recounting the highs and lows of the last year. Think of it as a yearbook for our fair city.

Written by Tyler Childress, Christiana Lilly and John Thomason

CITY NEWS AND PEOPLE

John Jakus

Farewell, Dusty May

The Dusty May era of men’s basketball at Florida Atlantic University drew to a close this year following back-to-back appearances at the NCAA championship in 2023 and 2024, the former of which ended in a Final Four loss against San Diego State. May’s green pastures are in Michigan, where he will assume the head coach position for the Wolverines. The coach’s departure begs the question of what the future of FAU basketball looks like, but with the university capitalizing on its Final Four momentum by going on a massive recruitment spree, it’s safe to say that new head coach John Jakus (incoming from Baylor) will have plenty of talent at his disposal for future winning seasons and (fingers crossed) an NCAA championship.

Bad move, Brightline

Brightline train at the Boca Raton station

Boca Raton had the rug pulled from under it when Brightline made the decision to end its discounted monthly passes and cut down on the number of seats on trains servicing South Florida. The premium rail service touted as a “game changer“ for the city is now much less accessible both for commuters and visitors to Boca Raton and other South Florida stations, as the company shifts its focus to its higher-profit fares to Orlando.

Wins for the great outdoors

Turtle at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

We finally can get back to Lake Wyman/James A. Rutherford Park, which reopened at the end of April after about 18 months of improvements. Some noted additions to the parks: new and restored boardwalks; pavilion restorations; a new observation pier; kayak launches; restored canoe, kayak and walking trails; mangrove restoration; the removal of invasive species; and shoreline stabilization. The restoration and improvements cost $9.6 million. And we can’t forget our friends at Gumbo Limbo, who celebrated the return of their two turtles, Morgan and Lefty. The two had temporary stays at Loggerhead Marinelife Center and other facilities, but now that the nature center received a permit to house resident sea turtles, they headed home to Boca Raton. Also, Boca Raton beaches saw a record number of sea turtle nests this last season: 1,325 nests.

Counting down the days

tcai
Main entry into the Edith & Martin Stein Public Lobby from The Piazza. (Courtesy RPBW)

We’re still at least five years away from the planned opening of the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, the ambitious project from founder and former ballerina Andrea Virgin to transform the north end of Mizner Park into a multidisciplinary arts center. With news breaking last year that Renzo Piano—a Pritzker Prize-winning architect with a specialty in cultural venues, and a resume that includes the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New York Times building—would design the campus, our anticipation ratcheted up even further. Piano will be instrumental (sorry) in fashioning the look and feel of an institution that is expected to elevate Boca to a new level on the national stage. Stay tuned…

The Boca Raton: Bigger and Bolder

The Boca Raton’s Tower Suite Collection

Boca’s iconic resort has undergone massive renovations in the past year, starting with the debut of the highly anticipated Tower Suite Collection. The top five floors of the famous pink tower have been completely transformed into 11 signature suites that redefine modern coastal elegance. The cherry on top is the building’s crown jewel, the Top of the Tower, where Tower Collection guests soak in dazzling views of Boca Raton from the highest point in the city. Alas, some changes were less easy to accept, like the closing of the beloved Beach Club for renovations. But fret not; guests will be able to reap the benefits of this $100 million reimagining when Beach Club reopens in December. The new Beach Club will incorporate open spaces, natural textures and vibrant coral colors to reflect the space’s tranquil setting. “This transformation is going to catapult the Forbes Five-Star destination to a completely new status of oceanfront luxury,” says Daniel A. Hostettler, President and CEO of The Boca Raton.

New sporting obsession

Padel racquets

It’s time to expand your racquet collection. While pickleball has been taking the courts by storm, right at its heels is padel. The game was created in Mexico in the 1960s and is described as a combo of tennis and squash, with players bouncing balls off of clear walls and the court in outdoor settings. Padel X is expected to put in eight courts just east of Clint Moore Road and Military Trail this fall, Boca Grove has two courts for its members (as well as five pickleball courts), and indoor courts are available up the road at Kinetic Indoor Racquet Club in Boynton Beach.

Is this New York Fashion Week?

Lynn Fashion Showcase 2024

If this year’s Lynn Fashion Showcase is any indication for the future of fashion, we know our closets are in good hands. The annual student project challenges design students to put together their own collections, and with sustainability being top of mind, they were tasked with utilizing discarded textiles. When the big day arrived, 268 students worked with 11 designers to create stunning pieces donned by models strutting down a runway covered in scrap fabric; you’d never know it was at the university library. It gave up-and-coming designers hands-on experience to execute a fashion show from the spark of an idea to the audience applause—and we can’t wait for next year.

A fashionable transformation also occurred at the HabCenter Boca Raton during its Waves of Happiness FashionAble Runway Show. The event was the culmination of a 20-week fashion course, where clients of all abilities were asked to create designs that showcased their interpretation of waves of happiness. Their inspirations were revealed with aquatic flair during the show, with models strutting their stuff with smiles on their faces and confidence from each step. This was an event that had us all in our feels.

Feel-good event of the year

Platinum Service Awards Luncheon

Last year, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce honored those on the frontlines and in the background of the hospitality industry at the inaugural Platinum Service Awards Luncheon. Country clubs and hotels from across Boca submitted nominees of individuals who exemplify the high level of service that visitors have come to love and expect in our city. It’s not often enough that we recognize all that service workers do to provide the best experience possible to us, so we’re thrilled that they are being shown some love at this annual event held in their honor. 

Our new favorite city gathering

Boca Raton’s State of the City

Mayoral addresses are normally dull affairs, but not in Boca Raton. We had more reason to tune into this year’s State of the City when the city added a Community Celebration into the mix. Mayor Scott Singer delivered the address Ted Talk-style from the Mizner Amphitheater, and after hearing about the city’s wins, residents and visitors were able to indulge in food trucks, play yard games, dance to live music, and visit tables from community groups and each city department. Far from a mundane speech, it’s something we hope becomes a Boca tradition.

Can we do it again?

Photo by Andrea Máté Photography

History came alive at The Boca Raton for the Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum’s Officer Party. The elegant affair celebrated the opening of the museum’s “Florida in WWII” exhibit, which highlighted the largely unknown yet critical role the Sunshine State played in the Second World War. The resort’s Valencia Ballroom was decorated in a stunningly attentive re-creation of a 1940s dance hall where guests enjoyed drinks, dance and food all inspired by the era. This event was definitely one of our favorites of the year, and we think we speak for everyone when we ask that all future exhibits be opened with the same level of over-the-top energy. 

Don’t put baby in a corner

Mayor Scott Singer busts a move

Boca Mayor Scott Singer channeled his inner Elaine from “Seinfeld” last year when he busted out his (hopefully not) best moves to celebrate the Miami Dolphins’ victory over the New England Patriots. A fellow Miami fan got more than their ticket’s worth as they recorded Singer’s arrhythmic dancing to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove.” As cringe as our mayor’s 15 minutes of fame may have been, the City of Boca Raton was quick to jump in on its official X account and repost the dance with the caption “When your city’s taxes are low, services are superior, business is booming … AND your Fins are 6-2, you’ve got plenty to dance about.” Well played, Boca, well played.

Clubs/groups making a difference 

There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to giving back in Boca Raton, but here are a few standout groups.

  • Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce: Our chamber does so much more than ribbon cuttings with comically large scissors. Leadership Boca, Leads groups, membership breakfasts, roundtable discussions, workshops, uplifting business owners in underrepresented communities, and supporting students through the Golden Bell Foundation are just a few. Plus, there’s the new Platinum Awards Luncheon, shining a light on the people behind the scenes in the hospitality industry.
  • Rotary Club of Boca Raton Sunrise: We truly don’t deserve teachers, and these Rotarians have recognized more than 700 area teachers since 1987 for their hard work educating our future leaders during the annual Boca Raton Teacher of the Year event. The club’s annual golf tournament also gives back, raising funds for the Fuller Center.
  • Pulte Family Charitable Foundation: The patriarch of this family was in the construction industry, so it makes sense that his descendants have given back to help the unhoused. Last year, the family donated $7.1 million for causes under the pillars of care for others, shelter, hunger and thirst, and education. Currently in the works is a partnership with the The IDDeal Foundation to build independent housing for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Impact 100 Palm Beach County: In its 13th year, this group’s annual Grand Celebration luncheon had some pretty impressive numbers: 817 members donated $984,600 to area nonprofits. Since its inception, the women have provided more than $6 million worth of grants to more than 100 nonprofits, ranging from veteran suicide prevention and swimming classes to mental health and access to nutritious food.

Boca puts its money where its mouth is

Rendering of the Gloria Drummond Patient Tower at Boca Raton Regional Hospital

It was another record-breaking year for philanthropy in Boca Raton. Thanks to the generosity of local donors, Boca Raton Regional Hospital met and exceeded the $250 million goal of its Keeping the Promise campaign, raising a whopping $270 million and counting. Funds from the campaign go toward expansions to the hospital, including the Gloria Drummond Patient Tower, which will feature new surgical suites as well as private patient rooms. The Keeping the Promise campaign has been an historic undertaking, made possible by Boca residents with a passion for ensuring our city has access to the best health care available. 

A little country, a little rock n’ roll, a whole lot of support

Darius Rucker performing at the 2023 Hospital Ball

More than $2.7 million was raised to benefit Boca Regional at this year’s Hospital Ball, which featured a powerhouse performance by GRAMMY award-winning Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker.

Opening number from last year’s Boca Ballroom Battle dancers

Another record-breaking fundraising success story from the past year was the George Snow Scholarship Fund raising nearly $5 million to aid deserving scholars in pursuing a college education. A staggering $1.2 million was raised at last year’s Ballroom Battle alone, where members of the community partnered up with Fred Astaire Dance Studio to bring dazzling performances to the dance floor as more than 1,000 individual donations poured in from local supporters.

The unofficial mayor of Boca Raton

George Petrocelli

There are elected leaders we vote for at the ballot box, then there are community leaders. George Petrocelli is a veteran of The Boca Raton, having earned his stripes as a sous chef to the now-director of catering. He’s a familiar face outside the walls of the resort, though, attending community events and even serving as co-chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Platinum Awards and event chair for the Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum’s Officers Party. A true man of hospitality, he’ll remember your name and go above and beyond to make sure every event is flawless. He’s a great liaison for our city as the resort navigates working under new ownership.

People on the rise

Phillip DiPonio

Phillip DiPonio

As GM of the Wyndham Hotel Boca Raton, DiPonio embodies hospitality. Heck, he was made for it. Like any true leader, no task at the hotel is beneath DiPonio, and he goes the extra mile by endeavoring to make a positive change in the community. He is a big supporter of the SOS Children’s Village, ScentsAbility and the Pulte Family Foundation; sits on the Tourism and Platinum Service Awards committees for the Boca Chamber; volunteers his time at Lynn University; and the list goes on.

Amy Kemp

Amy Kemp

A fresh face from Florida Power & Light, as external affairs manager it’s Kemp’s job to connect with the community—but it’s how well she does it that has us smiling. Kemp has become an ambassador between the utility company and Boca Raton residents and companies. Case in point: She was a judge at the Boca Chamber’s Community Cookout and also took part in the FPL group that surprised a veteran with Christmas lights and gifts during the holiday season. We know we’ll be seeing her around more.

Brad Winstead

Brad Winstead

This business owner extended his reach from his cigar store, Casa de Montecristo, onto the dance floor. He participated in the 2023 Boca Ballroom Battle and is now serving as co-chair for this year’s competition. It’s not his first foray into community involvement, though. He’s also on the Board of Trustees for the YMCA of South Palm Beach —Peter Blum Campus, Building Hope Society for The Place of Hope—Rinker Campus, and a school board member at Spanish River Christian School. Fans say they wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up on the council one day. 

Under construction

Look up, because that’s where development is headed in Boca Raton. Alina Residences’ nine-story towers sit on a sprawling nine-acre swath with a rooftop pool and sundeck, meditation gardens, spa, and nine-story towers. In the works, too, is Glass House, a 10-story condominium advertised as the city’s “first modern glass building,” which opened its sales gallery this spring and is scheduled to open its doors to residents in 2026. While not condo towers, we’d be remiss to gloss over the project at Palmetto Park Square as well as GL Homes adding 600 homes between Lyons Road and State Road 7. But is there such a thing as too much development? That remains to be seen.

Projects that are taking forever

Via Mizner, an urban resort area featuring Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Residences in Downtown Boca Raton

Construction delays at the highly anticipated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in downtown Boca Raton are pretty much a running gag at this point. The project was first announced in 2015 by Penn Florida Cos., with the 164-room hotel connected via walkway to 85 residences, all sharing the Via Mizner complex on the corner of Federal Highway and Camino Real with a 366-unit apartment complex which opened in 2016. The Via Mizner complex was not without controversy, with most residents decrying the project as yet another example of overdevelopment. But progress marches ever forward, albeit slowly in the Mandarin Hotel’s case. The last update as of this writing was the announcement of Penn Florida Cos. securing a $302.5 million loan for further construction, with an estimated completion date sometime next year. But we’ve all heard that before…

Construction on Palmetto Park Road bridge

Speaking of construction delays, traffic backups still plague the Palmetto Park Road bridge over Rio Canal. Construction to replace the bridge began in August 2021, with city officials giving a timeline of one year to completion. Thirteen months later, the only thing that the city had any luck in building was an eyesore, citing issues with obtaining construction materials as the cause for the delay. More delays followed as traffic continued to clog the main thoroughfare into downtown Boca, and as of writing the completion date is estimated to be sometime this spring. We’ll believe it when we see it.

A bad look for Boca

Boca’s legal bills continue piling up over lawsuits from the developers of two proposed oceanfront lots. This year, a judge ruled that the city wrongly denied a variance that would permit the building of a four-story home at 2500 North Ocean Boulevard. In this case, developer Natural Lands, LLC argued that members of the city council expressed opposition prior to the variance vote and thus should have recused themselves.

A month prior, a Palm Beach County judge ruled that the city failed to produce records to another developer of communications between city officials regarding the development of a duplex on the adjacent lot at 2600 North Ocean Boulevard. The developer, Azure Development, argued that city officials secretly colluded to kill the project. In both cases, Boca is on the hook for the developers’ legal costs, totaling more than $2 million on top of the city’s own legal expenses, and the developments will still be built.

More Businesses Are Choosing Boca

Boca has been bolstering its appeal to corporations in recent years, and it’s paying off—the city is now home to more than half of the corporate headquarters in Palm Beach County. Contributing in large part to Boca’s status as a business leader is the city’s Office of Economic Development (OED), which serves as the main line of support for local businesses by facilitating economic development programs to create and maintain economic sustainability. Through expedited permitting and hands-on, personalized assistance to businesses looking to set up shop in town, the OED has helped make Boca the most business-friendly environment in South Florida. (The low tax rate doesn’t hurt, either.) Here are a few Boca business highlights from the past year:

  • More office space leased in Boca Raton than Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach
  • City approves BRiC makeover; the complex will now be able to include housing, hotels, restaurants, and even nightclubs and a performance venue 
  • Expedited review of a proposal by Mutual of America to triple the size of its office at the Park at Broken Sound
  • City approves Aletto Square project (still too big)
  • More office space coming to Midtown, the once-sleepy area that is now home to Restaurant Row, Boca’s buzziest new dining destination

What Boca desperately needs for liveability

Listen, we hate when people compare South Florida to New York (we get it, guys), but there are some things we’re lacking that some older cities around the country have on us. For one, being built in the time of the automobile has led to major issues with walkability (including sidewalks) and a robust public transportation system. We give major kudos to the city for signing a contract with Circuit, an electric shuttle that many neighboring cities have glommed onto, and we’re crossing our fingers it’s just the beginning of more to come. Something that’s even more complicated, though—and what New York definitely doesn’t have us beat on—is affordable housing. As our community grows, can our college grads and families afford to stay here? This remains to be seen.

City Hall shakeup

Boca Raton City Manager George Brown, photo by Aaron Bristol
chrissy gibson
Deputy City Manager Chrissy Gibson, photo by Aaron Bristol

Congratulations are in order for a new lineup at Boca Raton City hall. After serving as city manager for 24 years, Leif Ahnell stepped down and was replaced by George Brown. While Ahnell was notorious for keeping a low profile, Brown has been more forthcoming to speak to the press. He has 45 years of experience working for the city, and after vacating his seat as deputy city manager, the role was filled by Chrissy Gibson. She’s also a familiar face at City Hall, having served as community relations manager and assistant city manager. Looking ahead, there’s a literal move for City Hall as the council discusses plans for a downtown government campus that includes a performing-arts center and is just steps away from the Brightline station.

The high cost of living

Boca Raton, like most of South Florida, is suffering from an affordability crisis that is pushing middle-income earners out of the area further north to the Treasure Coast. The supply of affordable housing in Boca is nowhere near close to meeting the demand, which begs the question of where we will house the first responders, teachers and service workers that make Boca such an enviable place to live. One solution to this affordability crisis is the Live Local Act, a bill passed by the Florida Legislature which allows developers to bypass local government approval in developing projects as long as a certain percentage of units are designated as affordable housing (between 10 percent to 40 percent, depending on the project).

Critics of the bill argue that the Legislature is stripping local governments of their authority while giving too much power to developers. In Boca, implementing Live Local is particularly difficult because there’s so little land left for projects. One thing is for sure: Boca’s attempts to attract talent to the area, both corporate and academic, may be hindered if the city is unable to develop units for them to live. 

A win for Boca schools 

Blue Lake Elementary School; photo by Aaron Bristol

Once upon a time, school crowding was a major issue at Boca Raton’s schools. Over the last few school years, though, that’s been a thing of the past. A sales tax increase voted on in 2016 allowed Verde and Addison Mizner elementary schools to be rebuilt with extra grades added, alleviating overcrowding at Boca Raton Middle School. Meanwhile, Boca said hello to a brand-new school, Blue Lake Elementary, which had its first school year from 2022 to 2023 and reduced crowding at Calusa Elementary. Even better, the land was donated by the city of Boca Raton. Tougher boundary checks also helped with crowding at Boca Raton Community High School, and work still needs to be done at Spanish River High School.

There are wins in higher education, too. Enrollment is up at Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University—27 percent since April 2023 for FAU alone (thanks to the basketball team reaching the Final Four, perhaps?). With more students headed to campus, the two schools have plans to add housing that will accommodate more than 1,000 more students.

Still too big

Aletto Square rendering

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Aletto is just too big. It was too big when it was proposed, and it was too big when it was approved last year. The city’s argument for approving the project was based on the idea that Boca’s need for more office space was more of a concern than the potential traffic congestion the development might create. Aletto Square will be developed a block east of Sanborn Square, and the project received quite a bit of criticism from locals who believe the proposed office buildings will be disruptive to the low-rise neighborhood. While Boca is certainly bolstering its appeal for would-be corporate tenants with the approval of Aletto, it’s sacrificing some good will from residents to do so.

Big trouble at FAU

fau
Photo by Alex Dolce

You have to wonder if John Kelly could have predicted the fallout of his resignation as president of Florida Atlantic University. Since Kelly stepped down at the end of 2022, the search for candidates to fill his post has been a mess of political drama and cronyism that, as of writing, is still ongoing. The search for a new FAU president is happening within the broader context of higher education’s upheaval stemming from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on “wokeness” on college campuses. So far, the initial search has been scrapped after being found in violation of state law, and a new search is set to begin under the leadership of a new committee leader. Until then, FAU remains under the interim presidency of Stacy Volnick.

FAU also was dealt a blow this year when the Legislature rejected the university’s funding for a dental school. The school was to be named in honor of Jeffrey Feingold, the late husband of Barbara Feingold, who is the vice chair of the presidential search committee. Feingold’s pledge of $30 million to the dental school was put on hiatus during the president search, which we have on good authority was the result of her preferred candidate, State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, being passed over. Without the additional state funding, however, it looks like plans for the new dental school will be put on hold indefinitely. 

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Concert

Cheap Trick performing at Beatles on the Beach (Photo by Ron Elkman/USA TODAY NETWORK/Sipa USA)

Delray’s Beatles on the Beach booked arguably its biggest name yet in power-pop legends Cheap Trick, and their headlining appearance didn’t disappoint. The band delivered a bespoke set list of not only their greatest hits but their inspired takes on Fab Four classics like “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Day Tripper.” The concert was the capstone of five days of Beatles-centered music that included bands from all around the world. To wit, Finland’s She’s Leaving Home played a dizzying six shows during the festival. Clad in matching rainbow-striped overalls, they were far from the standard image of a mop-topped, British-accented Beatles tribute. The only singer is a woman, and they use no guitars. Bandleader Riddo Ridberg played keyboard and synthesizer, anchored by a funky foundation of bass and drums that wouldn’t sound out of place in a dancehall.

Diva

Renée Fleming at Festival of the Arts Boca. Photo credit: StoryWorkz / Festival Boca

Looking resplendent in a gold sequined gown, Renée Fleming’s return to Festival of the Arts Boca exceeded even the lofty expectations of the packed house. The superstar soprano’s eclectic set included traditional operatic fare, including her famous rendition of Puccini’s “O mio babbino cara”; favorites from the American Songbook, including “All the Things You Are”; and even popular songs from the second half of the 20th century, such as Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” supported by the audience in an incantatory sing-along. She closed her recital with Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now,” because love, she said, is “what’s needed today.” The audience certainly felt an abundance of it radiating from the stage.

Musical

Hamilton, photo credit: Joan Marcus

Hopes for the latest Broadway tour of “Hamilton” at the Kravis Center couldn’t be higher, but by the end of the opening number, it was clear those expectations would be met and exceeded. Despite its whopping three hours, no part of the time dragged, and the audience didn’t express the slightest bit of fatigue throughout the show’s 46 songs. Each performance seemed to immediately engage the crowd, from the irresistible grooves of “The Room Where it Happened,” to the back-and-forth verbal sparring of the rap battles over Hamilton’s establishment of a central bank, to the somber reflection of “The World Was Wide Enough.” This rendition was every bit as triumphant as the original, with inspired acting, catchy tunes, and a message of what it means to be an American that will continue to resonate.

Special Event

william shatner
Backstage with William Shatner at the Broward Center

OK, so this one is personal, but it’s not often your humble A&E editor has the opportunity to interview a national treasure. Live onstage. In front of a thousand or so people. When the tour manager for William Shatner approached me (John Thomason) to represent Boca magazine and moderate a conversation with the living legend on his speaking tour last November, I couldn’t say no, despite my every inclination to avoid the spotlight. My hour with Capt. Kirk on the Broward Center stage was pretty much a blur. Because Shatner answers most questions in the form of paragraphs, not sentences—rich, varied, digressive paragraphs at that—I mostly just sat in my chair, basking in the raconteur’s sprawling stories like everybody else in the audience, albeit from the best seat in the house. In hindsight, knowing that how Shatner presents on TV—congenial, funny, sporting—is exactly how he is offstage, I clearly had nothing to worry about.

Loss

Keith Garsson and Genie Croft of Boca Stage, now at Delray Beach Playhouse

As with many a personal item, what is lost often is found. The Palm Beach Improv, the county’s primary home for touring comedians, shuttered last year but promptly forged an alliance with the Kravis Center to bring its headliners, including road warriors like Carlos Mencia and Kevin Nealon, back to the Palm Beaches. And while the arts in Boca suffered a loss when Boca Stage moved out of its five-year residency on Federal Highway, it did so for a worthy reason: It’s now producing theatre in the larger environs of Delray Beach Playhouse, and recently announced an expanded 2024-2025 four-play season in the 77-year-old venue. The biggest future loss is the announced retirement of Irvin Lippman, who has created a cultural renaissance at the Boca Raton Museum of Art since his appointment in 2014. His replacement, come 2025, may not be so easily found.

Art Exhibition

Art from “Smoke and Mirrors” at Boca Museum, photo credit: Brian Forrest

There were so many dazzling works in the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s blockbuster “Smoke and Mirrors” exhibition that one could spend a full day at the museum and not experience them all—from the severed head of Alice Cooper to a critique on the addictive allure of ChatGPT to a full-scale re-creation of an American middle-class living room on the night of the Apollo 11 moon landing, reconstituted as a frightening deepfake in which the astronauts never made it to their destination. There were many takeaways from this zeitgeist-capturing exhibit, but the most cutting observations served as the natural endpoint of magical thinking, where innocent illusions can be manipulated for more nefarious means. For all the humor and whimsy in the exhibition, it was a show about the double-edged sword of deception.

FOOD AND DRINK

Drinks from yesteryear are making a comeback

As the saying goes, everything old is new again—particularly when it comes to cocktails. Lately we’ve been seeing a resurgence of famous early 20th century libations on more and more cocktail menus, from bourbon-forward favorites like the Manhattan or old fashioned to the gin-based negroni and gimlet. We’re not sure what suddenly sparked this renewed interest in the classics, but we’re all for it. Throw in some flappers and sultry speakeasies, and you’ve got all the makings of a Roaring ‘20s-themed party.

What’s in:

  • Small plates and tasting menus: While small shareable plates aren’t exactly an innovation, we’re seeing a lot more restaurants adopt tapas dishes into their menus as a way for guests to experience a wider range of cuisines. Tasting menus are another style of dining that’s been catching on lately, much to foodies’ delight. These menus, typically offered either in lieu of or alongside standard menus, are a chance for chefs to flex their culinary talents with a specially crafted multicourse meal offered usually only for a single night. Each tasting menu is a unique creation showing off the best of what our local chefs have to offer. 
  • Omakase: For those that get easily overwhelmed by menus long enough to shame “War and Peace,” omakase is the perfect dining option. Loosely translated to “I’ll leave it up to you,” omakase takes all the decision-making out of dinner by letting experienced chefs meticulously craft meals right in front of you. 
  • Sustainable dining: Sustainability is a growing restaurant trend, so diners can think globally by eating locally. More and more restaurants are sourcing their vegetables, meats and seafood from local sources, which is a major win for the environment, local businesses, and diners who enjoy dishes made with the freshest ingredients.
  • Steak, steak and steak: We carnivores have been feeling a little left out over the past few years as more restaurants have expanded their vegetarian and vegan offerings, but lately we’ve been enjoying a meat renaissance with the debut of several new Boca steakhouses. In the past year, Eddie V’s, Gallaghers, and Meat Market have all hit Boca’s dining scene, providing prime cuts for those of us who don’t count a meal complete unless there’s meat served.
  • Mezcal: Tequila is out, and mezcal is in. Though tequila is technically a mezcal, the difference in production is that tequilas are only made from the blue weber agave, while other mezcals can be made from any agave. The most important distinction, however, is that most tequilas use a variety of additives that completely butcher the flavor profile, while mezcals are additive-free, making for a clean taste. We’re seeing more bar menus adding mezcal to their inventory, and we snobby purists couldn’t be happier about it.
  • Experiential dining: Any restaurant can serve food, but more and more concepts are looking to provide experiences that trigger all of the senses, not just taste. Experiential dining is intended to give guests an unforgettable experience by immersing them in a unique atmosphere as they enjoy a meal. An example of this locally is the Supper Club at The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum, where diners can view live performances as well as presentations on wall-to-wall projection screens.

What’s out:

  • QR code menus: Please just hand us a paper menu. Please. Nobody’s perfect dining experience has ever begun with connecting to a restaurant’s Wi-Fi just to see the menu. 
  • Shishito peppers: The trendy appetizer seemed to sneak up from nowhere, and we’d be happy to see it leave just as quickly. They taste like blistered cardboard, and we already have the perfect pepper appetizer in the jalapeño popper.
  • Cauliflower: We’re not sure at what point cauliflower stepped in to replace all of our favorite grains and appetizers, but we would ask that it kindly step back out. From cauliflower pizza crust to cauliflower rice to buffalo cauliflower bites, we are cauliflowered out, and believe that the vegetable should stick to what it’s good at—being a slightly worse version of broccoli. 
  • Charcuterie boards: Charcuterie boards are Lunchables for adults, no matter what fancy shapes you make them into. 
  • Having your smoked old fashioned made tableside: First there were tableside Parmesan graters, then tableside guacamole makers, and now we have tableside old fashioned smokers, which is where we should finally retire this trend of tablesiding. If we order an old fashioned, the last thing we need is a tableside fog machine blowing exhaust into our drink. If it absolutely must be smoked, please do so at the bar, where drinks are supposed to be made.

A place that’s worth the hype

Provoleta from Narbona

Narbona, a Uruguayan restaurant-marketplace-winery, opened its third American restaurant (the first one outside of Miami-Dade County) at the Shops at Boca Center in November. And boy, does it have people talking. Friendly staff, prompt service, and good food is all we ask for, and Narbona delivers on all counts. Come for lunch and dinner, or pop in to browse the marketplace with goodies like house-made dry pasta, honey, jams, salts, herbs, cheese, fish, and meats.

We can’t wait to watch this grow

Fajitas from El Camino

It feels a little silly to call something Restaurant Row when there’s only two restaurants, but our patience has paid off as it slowly expands. The area east of Town Center mall, measuring 22,500 square feet, is set to become the ultimate dining destination. We’re already enchanted by the row’s first two arrivals, El Camino and Fiolina Pasta House, and we’re patiently waiting for Pubbelly Sushi to make its Boca debut. Then there’s the long-awaited Stage, which we’ve heard will be arriving by the end of the year.

New to Boca’s dining scene

Chicken and Waffles from American Social
  • Gallaghers—this legendary NYC chophouse has been serving up steaks for more than 100 years before its Boca debut—so you can trust them to do it right
  • Meat Market—this steakhouse is all about posh interiors, high energy and a diverse menu that doesn’t dictate your only option is a basic cut of red meat (gasp!).
  • El Camino—the Restaurant Row outpost of the beloved taco joint has dishes exclusive to its Boca location, like the red snapper ceviche
  • La Fiolina—also new to Restaurant Row, famed chef Fabio Trabocchi’s menu includes homemade pastas, fresh baked Italian bread, and imported Italian goods
  • Mia Rosebud—a Chicago import serving up Old World-Italian fare
  • American Social—bar bites, craft brews, and about a million TV screens to catch the game

These new Boca restaurants are snowbirds that have migrated south, but we don’t hold it against them:

Filet mignon from Gallaghers Steakhouse
  • Gallaghers Steakhouse
  • Sushi by Bou
  • Mia Rosebud
  • Eddie V’s
  • Maggie McFly’s

Most anticipated restaurant opening

Bang Bang Cauliflower from Stage

Boca knows a thing or two about having to wait for a restaurant opening, and the one we’re currently refreshing our news feed for is Stage. James Beard nominee chef Pushkar Marathe runs his global small-plates restaurant out of Palm Beach Gardens and has been teasing us with a second iteration to arrive on Restaurant Row. He promises that by the end of 2024 we’ll have house-made naan, fresh-caught fish with Bengali-style sauce, fried chicken, and plant-based options, too. P.S.: Don’t lose your foodie street cred; it’s pronounced staahj, playing off a culinary stage and a stagiaire, a chef’s intern.

Places that won’t break the bank 

You can eat here—and still pay your mortgage.

  • Fat Cat’s
  • Lenora’s
  • Maggie McFly’s
  • Tucci’s Pizza
  • Max’s Grille
  • American Social

Must-attend eating and drinking events

Boca Bacchanal

Boca Bacchanal

Boca’s famously decadent celebration of all things food and wine invites guests to enjoy beautiful vintner dinners in the homes of local hosts. The level of detail that goes into crafting these unforgettable dinners is simply incredible, and the hosts are true hospitality rock stars. The vintner dinners culminate in the Grand Tasting Afternoon, where top local chefs prepare an eclectic feast paired with a curated selection of wines. Each year the Boca Bacchanal benefits the Boca Raton Historical Society, and this year marked the 21st anniversary of Boca’s signature food and wine event. Cheers to 21 more!

Sunset Tequila & Mezcal Festival

Sunset Tequila Festival

Since its debut two years ago, the Sunset Tequila & Mezcal Festival has become a huge hit among South Florida connoisseurs of the agave spirit. Attendees can enjoy samples from dozens of the world’s top tequilas and mezcals, as well as live music, restaurant pop-ups and more. The annual event is held at Mizner Park Amphitheater and benefits Kula Cares, a Boca Raton-based organization that provides educational supplies to underserved communities.

Savor the Avenue 

Savor the Avenue

While not in Boca Raton, this annual event is well worth the drive to Delray Beach. Savor the Avenue is a Delray tradition where diners enjoy a meal at South Florida’s largest dining table, spanning five blocks of Atlantic Avenue. Restaurants along the Ave prepare special multicourse menus to serve guests at custom-decorated tables, each competing for the coveted Best in Show award for table decor. Participating restaurants for the 15th-annual Savor the Avenue this year included Avalon Steakhouse, The Wine Room, City Oyster and many more.

Happy Hour hotspots

Happy Hour at Kapow Noodle Bar

End the day early and indulge in these happy hour specials.

  • Meat Market, every day from 3 to 6 p.m. for drinks and 4 to 6 p.m. for food
  • Copperfish, every day from 3 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Chops, every day from 5 to 7 p.m.
  • Kapow, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Farmhouse Kitchen, every day from 3 to 7 p.m.
  • Sixty Vines, Monday through Friday, 3 to 5 p.m., followed by Reverse Tappy Hour from 8 p.m. to close

Strike a deal over a meal

No business meeting worth its salt would consider meeting at any place other than J. Alexander’s. From its plush leather booth seats and surf-and-turf menu to the first-rate servers donning bistro aprons and ties, it’s a place to talk business in a lively atmosphere. Then, when you seal the deal, celebrate with a drink from the restaurant’s extensive wine and martini menu. Side note: The mac and cheese is totally worth the cholesterol.

The more restaurants I go to, the more I just want to go back to…

  • Trattoria Romana
  • Renzo’s
  • Taverna Kyma
  • Sixty Vines
  • Las Fajitas

What we have too much of

  • Italian
  • Steakhouses

What we don’t have enough of

  • Chinese food
  • Indian food
  • Raw bars
  • Sports bars

Cocktail of the year 

Anyone who’s visited a bar lately could tell you that the espresso martini is hands down the most popular cocktail of the year. This libation has made its way onto all the drink menus of our favorite watering holes, and sampling a single sip will tell you why. The simple-yet-elegant combination of espresso, vodka and coffee liqueur (and occasionally a dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream) is packed with bold flavors. For best results, we recommend pairing one with your favorite dessert. Also, if your bartender isn’t garnishing your martini with espresso beans, they’re doing it wrong. 

Best place to meet someone

Meat Market

Want a quiet, low-key place to eat your meal in silence? That’s not Meat Market. Rather, the steakhouse at the Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel is where Boca goes to see and be seen—and there’s plenty of people watching to be had. The lunch rush bleeds into an early happy hour starting at 3 p.m. for drinks (this is also when valet pulls up) and 4 p.m. for food. The third shift begins when the night crowd makes its way into the plush banquettes for a shared bottle of wine, and on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, tunes from a DJ and a drink in hand will give you the courage you need to say hello to that sultry someone across the room.

This Web Extra is from the July/August 2024 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

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