“Your guide to the year’s Restaurant opening and closings”
Happy 2016! Another year has come and gone. And to Foodies like you and me, that means exciting new culinary adventures to attack, as a new batch of restaurants have entered (and departed) the Boca/Delray market. The national big guns basically shunned our little corner of paradise in 2015; and we also saw surprisingly few new Italian eateries or steakhouses open (have we finally reached saturation?). But some regional franchises (e.g., Zinburger, Blaze Pizza, and The Habit Burger) entered the fray; and local bigwigs like Burt Rapoport, Dennis Max, Gary Rack, Tap 42, and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza expanded their domain and planted new seeds in town. But, as Kenneth Spahn, president of Restaurant Placement Group, a Boca Raton-based restaurant consulting and recruiting firm points out, “the majority of new openings last year again came from the true backbone of the restaurant industry – the independent mom ‘n pop operators.” 2015 was also a year of renewal, with formerly-closed establishments such as Armadillo Café, Merlino’s, Caldwell Theatre, Butcher Block Grill, and Yoko-San coming back to life and/or reopening under new management. And of course, we bid an inevitable farewell to many restaurants as well. And so, my fellow Foodies, here again is your guide to our culinary comings & goings, in something I like to call, The Restaurant Year in Review.
“NOW OPEN” – 2015 brought a veritable smorgasbord of new restaurants to town, spanning all corners of the culinary gamut. And once again, we saw a back to basics movement, with “New American” menus, chef-driven gastropubs, and upscale burger concepts playing the predominant role. I noted this trend dominated the field in 2014, and it seemed to grow even stronger in 2015. To wit, the long-awaited Zinburger (finally) opened in the Boca Town Center mall, after nearly a year of preparation. With its premium burgers and shakes, cool bar (specializing in Zinfandels, of course), and convivial outdoor patio, Zinburger has sparked new life into the Town Center scene. Then The Habit Burger Grill, another popular out-of-town burger player, opened on N. Federal Highway in Delray, offering its own version of craft burgers, fries, and shakes. And Relish & More opened in the Fifth Avenue Shops on N. Federal, offering an incredible selection of a dozen different burgers (from vegan to wild boar and venison) and twenty signature relishes, along with its crazy shakes (how does a Red Velvet or Hostess Cupcake shake sound?) and salads. We eagerly welcomed Tap 42 into the Shops of Boca Center, taking the primo space vacated by English Tap & Beer Garden (and the beloved Cucina d’ Angelo before that). Tap 42 sure took a long time to open, but the new Boca hot spot is continuing the legacy of its older Ft. Lauderdale brother, with an innovative refined pub grub menu, and of course its namesake 42 craft beers on tap and 42 bourbons. Then another Broward County favorite entered the scene, when Chef/Owner Kevin McCarthy brought his former Davie icon Armadillo Café back to life in Piccadilly Square on W. Glades Road.
Central Boca also witnessed a reincarnation, as the shuttered Butcher Block Grill re-opened in the Fountains plaza on West Camino Real. And speaking of reincarnations, the long-deceased Caldwell Theatre was brought back to life, sporting a new name (Wick Theatre), major renovations, and a cool new restaurant called The Wick Tavern. Boca can once again enjoy live musical plays, now with the added pleasure of serious dining on site. Then in December, Boca’s Best BBQ & Smokehouse replaced Sweet Dewey’s BBQ on W. Glades Road, introducing its Carolina-style ‘cue, along with specialties including house-smoked corned beef, salmon, and even beef jerky.
Meanwhile in Delray, local legend Dennis Max expanded his dominion with his latest venture, Max’s Social House, taking the former Ceviche (and Falcon House) spot. Restaurateur Gary Rack likewise added to his eponymous realm with the launch of Gary Rack’s Fat Rooster, bringing a taste of southern comfort to the former Linda Bean’s spot on the ever-change Atlantic Avenue, which also saw Free House assume the former DIG space in July. Then Tip-A-Roo introduced its signature Tri-Tip Beef and other SoCal – inspired cuisine, taking over the former C.J.’s Draft House spot (Military Trail & Hillsboro) in nearby Deerfield Beach.
In addition to all these “American” venues, we were also treated to an international array of new ethnic cuisines to explore. Italian continued its local stronghold, although 2015 saw far fewer Italian openings than usual. Merlino’s (the second) opened in September under new management, after the original version closed a few months after it opened. Apparently Merlino’s is maintaining the precedence of its predecessor, Segreto, which likewise opened and closed (three times!) in that same in Royal Palm Place spot. Boca also said Ciao to Mozzarita on Clint Moore Road and Giuseppe’s Cafe on S. Federal; while Delray welcomed Francesca’s on Linton (replacing Green Fields Organic Bistro), and Eat Market & Deli on SE 2nd Ave.
But most of the Italian action last year came from new Pizza operations, delivering a full spectrum of pizza options, from old school to new wave. The year began with the January opening of Ft. Lauderdale’s famous Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, one of the very first (and certainly best known) innovators of the coal-fired pizza craze. Blaze Pizza soon followed suit in the Fifth Ave Shops on Federal Highway, offering a new realm of “fast casual” pizza items (following the Subway model), where you custom-order your own creation with unlimited toppings included, and have your creation made in about two minutes while you watch. We also welcomed Mizner Pizzeria on NW 2nd Street (replacing Spadini’s), Jet’s Pizza in the Somerset Shops on Glades Road, Paolo’s on W. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Joe’s on FAU Boulevard; and Swell Pizza in Delray, taking the old Salad Chef locale.
Mediterranean fans also got to fill their pitas with some new adventures, starting with the January launch of Apeiro in the Delray Marketplace. The latest creation of our favorite restaurant genius, Burt Rapport, Apeiro offers an inventive mixed Mediterranean menu, enlivened by the contemporary twists & turns of Executive Chef Anthony Sistek. Add to the mix a stunning interior, lively bar with some killer cocktails, and a spacious outdoor covered patio, and Apeiro quickly became the place to be in western Delray. We also shouted a big “Opa!” when Rafina Greek Taverna opened in the Boardwalk (f/k/a Wharfside) on SW 18th Street, replacing the former Euro Fusion. Then Gyromania opened in the Gardens Shops on Powerline & Palmetto (replacing fellow “quick serve Mediterranean” Garbanzo) – and readily became our new “Go To” place for a quick fix of authentic, affordable Greek food. On a more Spanish note, Patio Tapas & Beer now offers a taste of authentic Spanish tapas in its charming café on SE 1st Avenue (in the former Slice of Provence spot).
We also witnessed somewhat of an Asian Invasion, including the new Yoko-San in Palmetto Place, replacing the original Yoko-San which had opened and then closed in just a few months. Unfortunately, the new owners met the same fate, and likewise closed shortly after opening. In central Boca, Lemongrass Hot Pot introduced its unique endless Chinese Hot Pot concept (think, “tableside Chinese fondue”). The new hot pot haven moved into Boca Grove (on Powerline Road), taking the space seemingly destined for all-you-can-eat Asian food, with former tenants Jidai Kaiten Sushi and Kyojin Buffet. Delray Beach also got a new Asian buffet, as Vikings Steak Seafood & Sushi Buffet invaded W. Atlantic Avenue. And Oishii Bento moved into St. Andrew Square in December, offering its expansive selection of sushi and stir-fry creations.
Mexican y Latino eateries likewise joined the party — most notably, the long-anticipated opening of the new Rocco’s Tacos, which almost instantly became the new hot spot along the Ave, taking the old “Sopra” space most recently occupied by Prime Steak & Sushi. Meanwhile in Boca, Café Rodizio took the old Duck King spot on North Federal, Los Tacos opened in the Fifth Avenue Shops, and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill brought its Tex-Mex flare to Shadowood Square.
Those seeking healthier alternatives to burgers, buffets, and burritos were equally refreshed with some new options. Check out Maximum Nutrition in the Shoppes at Village Pointe (SW 18th Street), which blends up some the best organic Juice & Smoothie creations, along with its signature organic Smoothie Bowls (think, “semi-frozen smoothie ice cream sundae”), plus a broad selection of health, nutrition, and wellness products. Raw Jūc on South Federal and Smoothie King in Mission Bay are some other new healthy choices. We foodies love to eat healthy — because then we can enjoy some desserts with less compunction! I’m particularly enthralled with Papalani Gelato, which brought its signature Hawaiian-style gelato (yum!), along with Belgium Waffles and Belgium Chocolates to Addison Place on Jog Road. The self-serve frozen yogurt craze seemed unstoppable the past few years, but thawed out significantly in 2015, as CUPS Frozen Yogurt in Boca Town Center was about the only new entry in the once-hot segment. Then in December, Brendy’s Ice Cream opened in the Village Pointe (near Maximum Nutrition and Bakery of France), scooping out its real, old-fashioned ice cream, along with frozen yogurt and other goodies.
Many other new casual eateries opened in 2015, offering a culinary tour around the world. Start your day at Bakery of France in the Shoppes at Village Pointe on SW 18th Street (replacing Marble Slab Creamery). This charming neighborhood bakery & café offers a relaxed, casual, and authentic taste of France, with artisan coffees, sandwiches, crepes, omelets, and of course, those house-made French pasties. Across the street, Jasper’s on 18th opened its friendly American/Continental bistro with a Danish accent on S.W. 18th Street (next to Yogurt Emporium), in the space formerly held by the ill-conceived Fabien’s Bistro. Other new entries include Pat’s Wine Bar and Grill in Royal Palm Place (taking the former Rustic Cellar space); Off The Hook, Tesser’s Deli, and Fries to Caviar on North Federal Highway; Boston Market in Boca Town Center; House of Dog in Boca Grove (replacing Boardwalk Burger); Phlorida Pretzel and Open Kitchen Café on Yamato Road; SAKred Night Club (replacing Oasis at Powerline & Palmetto); Barrel of Monks Brewery on Rogers Circle; and Little Chalet in the ill-fated N. Federal Highway locale which formerly housed Ovenella, and a dozen-or-so others (Remember Saba? How about Chin Chin, Tanzabar, Zara’s, Oceans 11, Campagnola, Cavalino’s, Catch 22, etc.?). Other eateries boasting a new Delray address include Another Broken Egg Café and Firehouse Subs on E. Linton, and Subculture Coffee Shop on Atlantic Ave.
“SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED” — But alas, the only constant factor in the restaurant industry is the fact that it’s constantly changing — and as the Restaurant Gods giveth, they taketh away. And 2015 was no exception, as many establishments – from naïve newcomers to old familiar friends – were forced to fold. Most notably, Mizner Park’s magnificent Jazziz Nightlife, which made a valiant effort to bring live jazz entertainment to Boca, plus an A-List restaurant and bar. The owners spent buku bucks renovating the already-stunning ZED 451 spot and brought some serious national and local talent to the stage, and serious food to the table — but the high Mizner Park rent proved an unbeatable foe, and the cool jazz emporium is a-swingin’ no more. Mizner Park also had to scratch The Cheese Course and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt from its tenant roster.
Downtown Boca lost many other nearby restaurants, including Italians La Viletta, Segreto, Spadini’s Pizza, and Merlino’s (which then reopened under new management); Yoko-San (which also reopened under new management, but failed again); and The Filling Station. I will particularly miss Slice of Provence, with its wonderfully unique and distinct “Taste of France on a Pizza” — arguably the best, and certainly the most unique pizza we’ve ever had. Head a bit north on Federal Highway, and note vacant lots which formerly hosted Moonshine Molly’s, Cuthill’s, Sonoma House, Havana Nights, and (much to the chagrin of vegans in particular), Darbster.
Central Boca likewise saw many “Restaurant Space Available” signs go up, with the departure of Euro Fusion in the Boardwalk (f/k/a Wharfside), Sweet Dewey’s BBQ on Glades, Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill in the Gardens Shops, Shrimp House in Boca Town Center, Boca Muse in Beracasa Plaza, Oasis Night Club in the Powerline & Palmetto space which has seen so many similar clubs come & go (old timers will remember the infamous Club Boca), and Butcher Block Grill in the Fountains plaza on W. Camino Real (which subsequently reopened). On nearby SW 18th Street, Marble Slab Creamery closed in the Shoppes at Village Pointe, and Fabien’s Bistro across the street. Sadly, old-timer Red’s Backwood BBQ reluctantly smoked its last Boston butt after a long and popular stand in the K-Mart Plaza on Palmetto Park Road. Delray Beach lost its own share of restaurants, with Green Fields Organic Bistro on Linton, DIG and Mama’s Pizza on the Ave, Salad Chef in Pineapple Grove, and the beloved Out of Denmark on Federal Hwy among the many casualties.
Restaurant fatalities are inevitable, especially in south Florida — but it’s still alarming to see how many restaurants fail within their first year. For instance, Fabien’s Bistro closed about two months after it opened (no surprise here, given the owner’s snobby French attitude). Other newborns who never even got to celebrate their first birthday include Segreto, Merlino’s (the first version), Slice of Provence, The Filling Station, Havana Nights, Cuthill’s, Yoko-San (versions 1 and 2), Shrimp House, Garbanzo, Jidai Kaiten, and Green Fields Organic Bistro, to name a few. Whew!
Once again, the passing year brought dynamic changes to our dining landscape, adding and subtracting more gems into the culinary kaleidoscope through which we gaze. And 2016 promises to take us on further culinary adventures, with exciting new projects already in the works. And so, my fellow foodies, here’s wishing you all a glorious New Year — full of health and happiness — and of course, Good Eatin’!
Restaurant Placement Group, Restaurants, Boca, Delray, Openings