Critic’s Choice: Which bar is the best in Palm Beach County?

photo brule bistro
A view before the rush: The bar at Brule Bistro, in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove district, is an intimate spot that’s popular with locals. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

An excerpt from our Food Editor’s 2015 Critic’s Choice Awards:

Best bar in Palm Beach County: Brule Bistro in Delray Beach:

photo braised beef short ribs
View of Braised Beef short Rib, creamy mascarpone polenta, sauteed spinach, natural red wine reduction at Brule Bistro in Delray Beach. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

Belly up to the intimate bar at this Delray Beach bistro, or grab a seat at the adjacent long high-top table and enjoy the charms – and delicious bar bites – of Brule. You won’t find a staggeringly long cocktail list, but some notable, locally inspired updates on classics, a respectable menu of

wines and a small but well-curated list of craft beers.

Related: Full review – Brule Bistro in Delray is lively in both atmosphere, food

But you will find it quite easy to segue from happy hour (3 to 6:30 p.m.) to dinner service here, as regulars populate the indoor and outdoor tables and raise the volume to lively levels. Blocks removed from Atlantic Avenue and its traffic, this Pineapple Grove bar/bistro has established itself as a local favorite.

Brule Bistro: 200 N.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach; 561-274-2046;BruleBistro.com

Related: Our full list of the 2015’s best restaurants, food in Palm Beach County

Dining review: Follow the buzz to Brule Bistro, Delray Beach

Brule Bistro's chef de cuisine is Jason Binder. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)
Brule Bistro’s chef de cuisine is Jason Binder. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Brule's braised beef short rib with creamy mascarpone polenta and sauteed spinach in a red wine reduction. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)
Brule’s braised beef short rib with creamy mascarpone polenta and sauteed spinach in a red wine reduction. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Chef Binder's crispy Duroc pork belly is served with rustic sweet potato, a fried organic quail egg in a lemongrass-game reduction with pistachio crumbs. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)
Chef Binder’s crispy Duroc pork belly is served with rustic sweet potato, a fried organic quail egg in a lemongrass-game reduction with pistachio crumbs. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Before the rush: Brule Bistro's bar. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)
Before the happy hour rush: Brule Bistro’s bar. (Bill Ingram/ The Palm Beach Post)

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

Brule Bistro

FOOD: B+

SERVICE: A-

ADDRESS: 200 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach

TELEPHONE: 561-274-2046

WEBSITE: BruleBistro.com

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

TWITTER: @LizBalmaseda