Dining through a sea of tantalizing meals — done coastal Floridian-style.
Story by Alison Kent, Vacay.ca Writer
BOCA RATON, FLORIDA — Hugging the Atlantic Ocean along Florida’s southeast coast, the Palm Beaches stretch from Jupiter in the north to Boca Raton in the south. Collectively, this makes up more than three dozen towns and cities divided amongst 15 districts, including Palm Beach, Delray Beach, and Lake Okeechobee (bass fishing enthusiasts, take note). The region includes 75 kilometres (47 miles) of lounge-worthy beaches along with more than 100 waterways. Within each of these districts, you can be sure to find a wealth of uniquely Floridian food experiences and vibrant dining destinations. From tropical cocktails sipped under the stars to market-fresh inspired fare, here are some favourites to whet both your whistle and your appetite.
Max’s Harvest: In Delray Beach’s arts district, Max’s Harvest is farm-to-fork fare at its locally sourced finest. This dining destination showcases globally inspired cuisine and with thoughtful menus reflective of what’s in season. Perpetually lively, reservations are essential here, or take your chances on securing a seat or two at the bar. The décor is lovely and intimate both inside and out on the backyard terrace. Dinner menu stand-outs include sherry-sorghum sauced ribs and creative sides like Brussels sprouts, red grapes, and cashews spiced with ras el hanout, a blend of spices from North Africa. At brunch, indulge in crispy duck and waffles — double-duck, actually, with both fried duck leg and duck egg atop a Belgian waffle drizzled with aromatic pear vanilla syrup. Or perhaps an order of hearty pork belly Benedict to cure what ails you.
Racks Fish House + Oyster Bar: Less than two blocks from Max’s Harvest, “nouveau-nautical”-themed Racks Fish House + Oyster Bar is the ideal spot for lunch or happy-hour libations and snacks (buck a shuck oysters or clams, anyone?), either indoors around the raw bar and steam kettles or outdoors on the patio. Featuring a fusion of Louisiana and New England-style flavours on the regular menu, Racks also has at least a half-dozen specials available on any given day. You’ll love the crispy-fried oyster po’ boy or fried green tomatoes with crab remoulade.
Chez L’Épicier Restaurant: Good news for visitors and locals alike, as award-winning Canadian chef, Laurent Godbout, and his wife, Véronique Deneault, have opened a Palm Beach Island location of their renowned Montreal restaurant. Boasting a casual-yet-elegant country French atmosphere throughout the bright and airy space, you’ll find French Canadian-inspired cuisine on offer, including poutine croquettes, PEI mussels with frites and Dijon sauce, and Quebec apple ice cider paired with DIY S’mores. At brunch, the nod to Canadiana cuisine continues with oysters broiled ‘til bubbly with maple, mustard, and cheddar cheese.
Guanabanas: Revered in north Palm Beach County since first opening in 2004, Guanabanas is an open-air restaurant and bar by the water and nestled amongst picturesque banyan trees, whimsical tiki huts, and mood-setting twinkle lights. Locally sourced seafood abounds, including Atlantic shrimp and blue crab, along with daily specials that often feature fresh, wild-caught fish. Enjoy a signature cocktail under the stars in an easy-going setting while listening to an ever-changing roster of groove-worthy live music.
Coolinary Cafe: Appearances can be deceiving — look beyond the Palm Beach Gardens shopping plaza locale and ye shall be rewarded. For once inside, the intimate layout, enticing aromas, open-kitchen atmosphere, and refined flavours join forces to make this bustling culinary hot spot well worth a visit. Menu highlights include roasted carrot salad in honey cumin vinaigrette with pickled raisins and crumbled sheep’s milk feta, while outstanding pasta dishes include a ragù of wild boar Bolognese with fennel seed and roasted vegetables. The cafe’s motto — “Our kitchen is small; our love of food is big” — rings true.
Hog Snappers: With three locations and an extensive menu, to say the least, decision-making can be a colossal conundrum here. Hog Snappers Shack and Sushi in Tequesta features a fun and casual ambiance in a tropical setting with featured artwork throughout. Amongst the more-than-ample assortment of sandwiches, burgers, salads and appetizers, and dozens of sushi rolls and sashimi selections to choose from, there are also boatloads of entrees from both land and sea. Might I suggest the Tequesta whole crispy snapper? It’s served lightly breaded and fried, and propped upright on a platter — seemingly caught mid-swim — with coconut-scented rice and chopped tomato-avocado salad. Serving sizes are considerable, to say the least. You have been warned.
Pistache: Located in downtown West Palm Beach, Pistache has been serving classic French bistro fare with a modern twist to enthusiastic diners since 2008. Open every day, the restaurant offers everything from weekend “petit dejeuner” favourites like pain perdu with warm peach compote to dinner specialties such as zucchini blossom beignets with bay scallops, Boursin cheese, and tomato compote. Must-try sides include ratatouille and truffle macaroni and cheese. Think, early 20th-century Parisian décor, with plush banquettes, antique mirrors, and a gorgeous brass bar.
Haute Hotel Helpings: Two to Try
The Leopard Lounge and Restaurant at the Chesterfield Palm Beach: Located in the heart of Palm Beach just steps from swanky Worth Avenue, the retro-chic charm of the Chesterfield Hotel continues down the hallway, past the library, and into the legendary and wonderfully kitschy Leopard Lounge and Restaurant. With its safari-sleek décor, the eclectic menu features a global mix of old-world European, Asian, and classic American dishes. Go South African-style with mildly spiced, rich and creamy chicken curry served with jasmine rice, pappadums (crisp round crackers), and tangy-sweet mango chutney.
The Seafood Bar at The Breakers: In Palm Beach, and poised on the picturesque Atlantic coast, The Breakers is a regal, historic, not-to-be-missed grand hotel experience. Along with the glamour and the glitz, it also happens to be a stellar dining destination, whether indulging in the ultimate all-you-can-eat brunch on Sundays at The Circle — it’s legendary — or simply enjoying a crafted cocktail at retro-glam HMF. For something a tad more informal yet still with panoramic views of the ocean, plus a unique aquarium-themed bar for sipping with fish gazing, head to the Seafood Bar for conch fritters, coconut shrimp, and crab nachos as part of The Sampler appetizer platter.