We traveled to Montreal without leaving the island of Palm Beach. Sure, there were palm fronds nearby somewhere as we dined on Québécois flavors, but our imagination was transported during The Post’s Dinner Series feastat Chez l’EpicierTuesday night.
Chef Laurent Godbout created a lavish, three-course dinner that kicked off with a series of passed bites and sips of a decidedly Canadian welcome cocktail: sparkling apple cider laced with blueberry-maple syrup. Starters continued with a composition of the chef’s favorite appetizer bites: a modernized poutine croquette (filled with a puff of cheese curd and gravy), a rich avocado tartare, a refreshing gazpacho and a boldly flavored baked oyster crowned in maple-Dijon and cheddar.
For main course, he prepared a traditional Montreal winter dish of fork-tender beef cheek, corn relish and potato foam presented as a Shepherd’s Pie.
The meal’s sweet finale proved downright decadent, a classic apple and maple chomeur (or “poor man’s pudding”) served oven-warm with house-made vanilla ice cream. The chef chose this most authentic note to end the meal, as maple syrup is part of the Québécois DNA. The flavors bring him back to Montreal’s “sugar shacks,” where maple sap is boiled, transformed into treats and celebrated.
(In fact, he has plans to bring the sugar-shack theme to the restaurant’s brunch menu closer to spring.)
The restaurant’s chic farmhouse look added a layer of chill to the night, as co-owner Veronique Deneault (who is married to Chef Laurent) warmly greeted guests, who departed well-fed and toting goody bags of freshly made vanilla marshmallows.
It was a sweet night, indeed. Our journey yielded no frequent-flier miles, but it did earn us some worth-it Canadian calories.
Stay tuned for our next installment of The Palm Beach Post’s Dinner Series, coming in early 2017. Follow us on Facebook for updates on foodie events and dining news.
The bash, which benefits the Spirit of Giving Network charity, will feature bites from restaurants including Vic & Angelo’s, Burger Bar, Don Ramon, Longhorn Steakhouse, PGA National Resort, Bolay, Tijuana Flats and Park Avenue BBQ.
The football-themed party, which goes from 5:30 to 8 p.m., costs $30 in advance and at the door. (Members of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches pay $25 for advance tickets.)
Party-goers are encouraged to sport their preferred college jersey or colors.
But here’s an actual culinary star foodies can get excited about: Chef Lee Wolen of Chicago’s Michelin-starred Boka Restaurant recently joined the festival lineup. The James Beard Award nominee will be cooking at the “Rise and Dine” breakfast Saturday, Dec. 10.
Also new to the festival, which runs from Dec. 8-11, is food TV personality Adam Richman, of “Man V. Food” fame, who is scheduled to appear at two prime Saturday events.
Like Coolio, Richman is not without his own controversies. He has now regained status in the food TV world two years after a blistering Instagram rant derailed his Travel Channel “Man Finds Food” series. (The show premiered the following year with a new name.)
Wolen and Richman join a food star lineup that includes nationally acclaimed chefs like Jonathon Sawyer, Daniel Boulud, George Mendes, Ken Oringer, Mike Lata and Anita Lo, TV celebrity chefs like Jeff Mauro and Robert Irvine, and star Miami chefs like Michelle Bernstein, Jose Mendin, Brad Kilgore, Giorgio Rapicavoli and Timon Balloo.
“The festival is continuing to add new and fresh faces and exciting talent,” says festival organizer David Sabin. “We’re now finalizing the participation of other award-winning and notable chefs.”
Add to those Palm Beach stars like Clay Conley, Lindsay Autry, Tim Lipman, Zach Bell, Rick Mace and Julien Gremaud and you have the largest congregation of chefs in Florida in December.
With two months still to go till its kickoff event, the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival has sold out nearly half of its events.
The four-day festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in December, also has sold out of its four offered ticket packages.
Of its 15 scheduled events, top-sellers include the festival’s “Street Food” competition, the “Kids Kitchen” cooking classes (both at the Four Seasons Resort), and the “Chef Welcome Party” at The Breakers. The fest wraps up with a “Grand Tasting” bash and chefs’ throw-down at The Gardens Mall on the night of Dec. 11, a Sunday.
Ticket sales are exceeding expectation, says Sabin.
“It’s a testimonial to the thriving dining culture in Palm Beach County,” he says. “Year to year, festival-goers are growing more familiar with the venues and our staple events. It’s obvious in the response we’ve received to our signature events.”
The folks behind The Regional Kitchen & Public House in downtown West Palm Beach don’t believe in doomed locations. Some months ago, they invaded the cavernous space that once housed a succession of failed restaurants – from Cuban to American seafood to Brazilian spots – and raised a banner there for worldly Southern cooking.
Now, on most nights, The Regional hums with big-city ambiance as the restaurant’s various dining areas are filled with chatter and tables are laden with Executive Chef Lindsay Autry’s jazzed up pimento cheese, country ham carpaccio, fried chicken thighs and pozole verde.
Never mind that the restaurant’s façade is obscured by massive scaffolding as the larger building undergoes renovations. Even the Public House part of the establishment, also known as the bar and lounge, seems to draw its own lively scene.
Why all the buzz – and is it warranted?
Long story, short: Yes.
The reasons extend beyond concept, planning and good intention. Of course there’s a solid hospitality entity behind The Regional – restaurateur Thierry Beaud’s TITOU group, which gave us Pistache on Clematis Street and PB Catch in Palm Beach, restaurants with enduring shine.
But at the core, the month-old Regional runs on soul, excellent food and attention to detail, a trifecta brought to life by Chef Autry, who also serves as the restaurant’s managing partner.
She pulls these elements together with a sense of authority, culled from her eclectic fine dining experiences. Autry is not only a chef on the rise, but a chef coming into her own – and it’s an exciting thing to witness.
Her menu is part memoir: Autry borrows flavors from her North Carolina childhood (hello, country-style sausage with field pea cassoulet), her Greek grandmother’s kitchen (as in veggie Greek salad with charred chickpeas), her days working for celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein in Yucatan and Miami (hola, grilled snapper in banana leaf with salsa verde), and her culinary pop-up explorations.
The menu sparkles with flavor combos that might make no sense in the hands of another chef – and she commands it with grace. Her Berkshire pork shank ($26), perched on creamed hominy and pozole verde, is downright statuesque. Her sweet tea-brined fried chicken thighs ($9) cut to the chase of flavor, focusing on the richest part of the bird. Even a dish as seemingly simple as chicken noodle soup ($8) is exalted by a long-simmered broth (deepened in flavor by heaps of bones), chicken that’s cooked gently in its own fat and hand-cut dumplings. It’s exquisite, this soup.
As does the menu, the décor touches reflect certain soul. Autry and her team doted on table setting details, including a caddy handcrafted by a Regional bartender with woodworking skills. It holds the menus and small bottles of The Regional’s special “house sauce.”
The amber glassware on the table is inspired by Autry’s grandmother’s table. It was “always set with those color glasses and pretty ‘share’ plates that make you feel like you’re dining on something special,” recalls the chef.
The art on the restaurant’s walls reflects Autry’s North Carolina roots in a series of photos she took at her family’s farm, as well as some local farm images. She had a replica of her family’s farm sign made – it hangs above The Regional’s kitchen.
“These personal notes make it really feel like home to me,” says Autry.
Interesting thing: The place feels homey even to those of us not born in North Carolina. Then again, “homey” doesn’t fully cover The Regional’s vibe. The place may pay homage to Autry’s countryside roots, but it is firmly metropolitan. Retro funk beats segue to soul on the soundtrack in the bar and main dining room, while soulful jazz flows through The Regional’s private dining room. Autry’s team spent about four months developing the custom playlists with a New York sound company.
The crisp details extend to the servers, their approach and their appearance in uniforms designed by ChefWorks and, for the women, a certain matte shade of coral lipstick.
Of course, Autry knows such details can be meaningless without drive.
“It takes a lot of time and energy to open a restaurant, and it’s remarkable to see all of the small details come together to make this establishment what I hoped it could be,” she says.
She says she looks forward to seeing “our little community grow.”
It’s an heirloom seed of a wish, but one that’s sown on fertile, West Palm Beach soil. How could it not grow?
This is not where one expects to find a killer egg salad sandwich or belly-warming fish and grits. It’s a diner where you least expect to find one: in an industrial/professional block on a restaurant-free road.
But here it is, Ralph’s Place, humming more than eight years strong on this quiet corner of Palm Beach Gardens – until it closes for good on Sunday.
And Ralph Percy, the diner’s 85-year-old owner, greeter and part-time cook, will be here till the last customer has left, the last dish is washed and the last light is turned off.
The new owners of the plaza that houses Ralph’s Place did not renew its lease, says Percy. So he will close the diner he’s operated for 26 years in three different locations.
“It’s the local gathering place for all the neighborhood and business people. We have regular customers every day. I know them by sight more than by name,” says Percy, who operated Ralph’s Place in one Northwood location, then another, from 1990. He reopened in Palm Beach Gardens in 2008, after his last Northwood lease was not renewed.
On Friday, as Ralph’s Place buzzes with lunchtime customers, Percy is deep into his head count for the day. “We do 200 customers a day. So far today, we’re at 103,” he says.
One of those 103 is Mabel Brinkley, a tap dance aficionado enjoying a plate of fried fish for lunch. She’s a regular here. She comes every Tuesday for lunch with her senior dance group. There’s much to love about Ralph’s Place, she says.
“I like his personality. The service is excellent. I’m going to miss it,” she says.
Her server, Bonnie Sue Fickett, is going to miss the place as well.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” says Fickett, a Maine native who has been a restaurant server for 40 years. She’s worked at Ralph’s for just eight months, but has already collected various customer appreciation letters as well as some job leads. “(Ralph) is just such a nice person. I love it here. I’m gonna cry.”
For most of the past 8 ½ years, Percy has been here at 5:30 a.m. seven days a week, opening the diner at 7 a.m. each morning and closing at 2:30 p.m. He’s done all the food shopping for the diner, and prepared “90 percent” of the lunches, too. On the plus side, it doesn’t take him too long to walk home from work – he lives one block away.
What will he do once Ralph’s Place is gone?
“I’m up there in years and retirement is inevitable,” says Percy.
Retirement is also a fuzzy term. Percy retired nearly 40 years ago from a national shoe company. He had moved to Florida from Syracuse, NY, in 1965 and “retired” 11 years later. He opened a couple of shoe stores and operated them for nearly a decade.
It was after his brother took over the old Albritton’s Drug Store in 1990 (and closed it a few months later) that Percy opened a diner in that 40th Street location. He ran Ralph’s Place there until he moved it to 24th Street, and finally to its final Burns Road home.
“I started out as a novice,” says Percy. “I was new and had no idea. My sister had a restaurant in upstate New York and I would pop in and out and so on.”
But he gravitated toward the kitchen at his first Ralph’s Place, where he had hired an “excellent” local cook. Percy says he would hover over the stove as she cooked, exasperating her.
“She said to me, ‘Excuse me. You can’t stand there and watch me – you’ll drive me crazy,’” he recalls. But he continued to hover until he took over the stove one day. “I’m pretty agile. I play a lot of tennis. I thought, ‘I can flip eggs.’ So I said to her one day, ‘Move over.’”
Many over-easy eggs later, Percy ponders whether the closing means he’ll hang up his spatula for good. Probably not, he says.
“I’ll get bored. I’ll look for something,” he says, referring to another location. “It would have to be around here. I wouldn’t go somewhere else where I’m not known.”
So this may not be a final good-bye to his customers, he says.
“The customers ask me, ‘How are we going to find you?’ I tell them, ‘You’ll have to take a break for a few months at least.’”
It’s hard to imagine a weekend when there was not a celebration of some kind at Avocado Grill, Chef Julien Gremaud’s popular spot in downtown West Palm Beach. Perhaps that’s because the very air in the lively restaurant, which spills onto the sidewalk and side patio, seems to sway.
But as Avocado Grill turns 2 this weekend, the restaurant is cranking its celebratory mode to full blast.
First, there’s a reggae brunch Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., to the live music of Spred the Dub. On the menu: island-y offerings like coconut lobster rolls, jerk shrimp tacos and dirty rice. Five hours later, the vibe turns clubby as DJ Adam Lipson kicks off his set (9 p.m).
Sunday starts with a brunch as well – a ‘70s-style disco brunch. Adding to the mood: music by Mr. Trombone (Wayne Perry), drummer Ryan Anthony and DJ German Garcia. Brunch also features a costume contest. The contestant with the best retro ‘70 attire wins a $200 Avocado Grill gift card.
Chef Gremaud is hoping guests “go all out” on their costume concepts.
“It’s almost Halloween and we want to see what everyone’s got,” he said via news release.
Of course, there are two weeks of potential celebrations to go before Halloween shadows our doors.
And Gremaud admits he “can’t resist a good party.”
New York cheesecake lovers, your reward is as near as Boca Raton. Junior’s Restaurant and Cheesecake is open for business after a wait that surely seemed interminable to fans of its rich, fluffy namesake dessert.
The Brooklyn-based restaurant debuted this week at Mizner Park and is serving lunch and dinner. (Breakfast service starts within a few weeks.)
The debut was short-lived before the threat of Hurricane Matthew came knocking. As most of the restaurants in Palm Beach County’s “cone of concern,” the new restaurant closed Thursday due to the storm. It reopened for business Friday.
Owned by Alan Rosen, grandson of restaurant founder Harry Rosen, Junior’s has breathed retro Deco style into the former Ruby Tuesday’s space, where it can seat 225 diners.
On the menu: deli classics like matzo ball soup, potato pancakes and blintzes, plus charbroiled steak-burgers, sandwiches galore including pastrami, various Reuben renditions, and open-face beef brisket, salads and desserts (hello, red velvet cheesecake!).
Of course, the main attraction is the Famous No. 1 Original Cheesecake.
Thanks to Hurricane Matthew’s bluster, West Palm Beach cancelled its waterfront green market for this Saturday.
But those who flock to Swank Farm’s fresh produce stand won’t have to wait one week for their lettuces and baby greens.
They’ll only have to wait one day. The Loxahatchee Groves farm is hosting its own mini-market on Sunday.
The market will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the boutique farm, which is now harvesting a heap of hydroponically grown greens.
“We’ll have lots of lettuces and lettuce mixes, watercress and upland cress, squash blossoms and squash,” says Jodi Swank, who owns Swank Specialty Produce with her husband, farmer Darrin Swank.
She has invited various vendors to join her Sunday. Among those selling their goods will be Delray Beach-made Pascale’s jams, Koroneiki olive oils and vinegars, and West Palm Beach-based Accomplice Brewery, which will offer flavored ciders.
Swank’s farm market will become a regular event after the West Palm Beach GreenMarket season wraps at the end of April. The Swanks will host Saturday farm markets throughout May and the first two weeks of June. Like this Sunday’s market, the 2017 markets will run from 9 a.m. to noon.
Not everyone in Palm Beach County is a freaked-out mess about this hurricane. The folks at E.R. Bradley’s Saloon plan to party right through the storm. In fact, they’re calling the place “The Official Hurricane Landfall Headquarters.”
They’re taking Hurricane Matthew’s approach as a reason to flip into full, old-Florida-watering-hole mode.
“This is how we’ve always done it. We stay open and service the downtown area. We become a hub to commiserate and celebrate and just gather,” says Nick Coniglio, whose family owns Bradley’s.
The popular pub perched on the downtown West Palm Beach waterfront has no generator to kick in during a power outage. But Coniglio is not worried.
“We’ve got lots of bagged ice and gas burners and we’re ready to go. And we have staff members who plan to tough it out during the storm,” he said, adding that he will have a police officer on premises as well. He says the restaurant and bar will offer a special $5 hurricane menu.
Coniglio’s other restaurant, Cucina Dell’Arte in Palm Beach, will be opened during the storm as well, he says. The windows there are boarded up, but the door will be open for customers who want a nice Italian meal and a cocktail.
The restaurants will also be preparing food for delivery by Cravy. (Meals can be ordered at GoCravy.com.)
“These situations bring back that local spirit. We can have a cocktail among friends, or just stop in if we need ice or something to eat,” says Coniglio.
He plans to visit both restaurants during Thursday, when the hurricane is expected to impact Palm Beach County.
“The last time I did this, it was a real eerie feeling. It’s isolated out and the winds are coming through – and a couple of people think you’re really nuts for being out,” he says. “But it was kind of a proud Floridian moment, too. This is where we live and what happens here.”
E.R. Bradley’s Saloon: 104 S. Clematis St., West Palm Beach; 561-833-3520