Welcome to the liveliest bistro in Pineapple Grove, a spot where happy hours can easily segue into supper. Clearly it’s a place loved by locals, as they belly up to the stylish bar on weeknights, secure sidewalk tables for alfresco bites and help keep the buzz alive at Brule Bistro.
The buzz factor proved a tad noisy on my first visit to the Delray Beach eatery, which serves a good mix of inspired small plates and heartier American bistro-style fare. As the early evening hum intensified (dramatically so), my tablemates and I had to shout at one another. We loved the food, but couldn’t talk about it until we left the restaurant.
For that reason, I had stayed away from the place. But one can stay away from good grub only for so long.
I returned recently for a weeknight dinner, on a slower, more quiet night. On such a night, the urban charms of the bistro reveal themselves, detail by detail – the warm welcomes, the attentiveness at the bar, the smiling locals, the interesting mingling of flavors.
Those flavors rise from fresh, seasonal ingredients, as the menu shifts and transitions. That means what you may have enjoyed on one visit may be gone the next time you visit. But what remains is Chef Jason Binder’s artful touch on the plate.
Where some pub chefs might include the obligatory flatbread on the menu, Binder offers a crispy pork cheek “pizza” ($13), a crispy, tostada-sized round crowned with slow-braised pork cheek, Asiago cheese, arugula, pickled red onions and oven-dried tomato, served upon a board with droplets of fried rosemary aioli.
His take on the classic Caprese salad, the Fried Cheese Caprese ($14), involves slices of lightly fried mozzarella layered with marinated local tomato slices, organic greens and pesto aioli, all neatly stacked beneath a drizzle of aged balsamic.
His Day Boat Fish Tacos ($12) – recently replaced on the menu by Crispy Shrimp Tacos – are tucked in pickled cabbage slaw, cilantro and Serrano chile aioli for a bite full of flavor and textural contrasts.
On the night of my most recent visit, we enjoyed a nightly special of large, plump Crispy Coconut Shrimp ($14) served atop a ginger-pepper rice pilaf with a touch of soy glaze and chipotle aioli, plus micro cilantro for grassy punctuation.
The heftier dishes are equally delicious here. In fact, Chef Binder’s seared diver scallops ($29) dish, served with roasted local corn and young peas in an arugula fumet (reduction) cream with pasta, is a thing of beauty. But this convivial spot almost begs for the shared plates or small-plates route.
You may find, as we did, that there’s a nicely shareable cheese board on the nightly special menu. Our board ($16) boasted Belton Farm Cheddar, Dolce Gorgonzola, Drunken Goat cheese, Brule Brie and fig jam.
Such a combo invites a glass of wine or beer, both of which Brule Bistro offers well curated selections. The wine list travels from Oregon’s Willamette Valley (Van Duzer pinot noir) to Argentina’s Mendoza region (Tapiz Malbec) to Burgundy, France (Bachelet-Monnot Chassagne-Montrachet). Beers range from the Old World Belgian and Trappist to local craft brews.
There are some menu mainstays worth noting, such as the ginger chicken meatballs ($10), served in a bit of coconut broth with bok choy and chili oil. The seared ahi tuna poke ($15), with pops of cilantro, Serrano chiles, avocado, basil oil and toasted macadamia nuts, is also one of those favorites.
Also worth noting: Brule now offers a “peasant brunch” at lunchtime each day. Highlights include a fried egg and short rib hash with cumin potatoes and roasted tomato salsa ($12), fried eggs and curried lentils with toasted curry oil ($10) and a B.L.T.E. sandwich (apple wood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and farm egg) on multigrain with a smear of tarragon aioli ($10).
If you savor your brunch into the mid-afternoon, you may find yourself tempted to stay for happy hour, which starts at 3 p.m. (great bites, all for under 9 bucks). You can blame this charming little bistro for extra calories incurred.
R E V I E W
ADDRESS: 200 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach
PRICE RANGE: Moderate
FULL BAR: Yes, with separate bar area.
NOISE LEVEL: Lively, often noisy inside when the bistro is packed.
HOURS: Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to close (often till 2 a.m.), Sunday from 5 p.m. to close.
CREDIT CARDS: Major cards accepted
RESERVATIONS: Walk-ins welcome; no reservations taken
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother