Openings: New York’s chic Sant Ambroeus debuts in Palm Beach

The long-awaited Palm Beach outpost of Sant Ambroeus, the Milanese restaurant and pasticceria with locations in New York City and Southampton, will debut at dinnertime Saturday, according to a publicist for the fashionable spot. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Pastry palace: Sant Ambroeus, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is beloved for its sweet tooth. (Credit: Sant Ambroeus)
Pastry palace: Sant Ambroeus, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is beloved for its sweet tooth. (Credit: Sant Ambroeus)

The pretty-in-pink ristorante has slipped into the island’s newly renovated Royal Poinciana Plaza, which is home to Hillstone’s popular Palm Beach Grill. It inhabits part of the space where Del Frisco’s Grille operated from 2013 to 2015.

Beloved for its espresso bar, pastries and gelato selection, Sant Ambroeus brings wide-ranging menu options and extended hours (by Palm Beach standards) to the plaza. The restaurant will open every day from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

On the menu: classics including Vitello Tonnato, saffron risotto, Cotoletta alla Milanese, plus dishes inspired by Florida’s coastal ingredients.

Classics at Sant Ambroeus: Spaghetti all'Arrabbiata. (Photo: Nicole Franzen)
Classics at Sant Ambroeus: Spaghetti all’Arrabbiata. (Photo: Nicole Franzen)

“The menu will focus on seafood and will incorporate local citruses and herbs to accentuate the fresh, luminous surroundings that encompass Palm Beach,” said Executive Chef Marco Barbisotti via news release.

Desserts will include Italian pastries as well as homemade pies and cakes. The drink selection is varied as well, thanks to a full bar: regional wines, cocktails, specialty coffees and teas.

All this in a setting inspired by Italy’s vintage caffe culture. The 174-seat restaurant will serve various roles during the day: It’s a fine dining restaurant in the principal dining rooms, but at the bar it transitions into coffee-bar and cocktail mode.

With roots in 1936 Milan, Sant Ambroeus has seven locations: the original Madison Avenue restaurant, locations in SoHo, the West Village and Southampton. The SA Hospitality Group also operates Sant Ambroeus coffee bars at New York’s Loews Regency Hotel and Sotheby’s. Another coffee bar is planned for the Hanley Building in New York’s Upper East Side.

SA logo
The restaurant has its roots in 1936 Milan.

Now there’s Palm Beach. The location made sense, according to restaurateur Dimitri Pauli, a partner at SA Hospitality Group who owns a home in Palm Beach County.

“We had long considered opening out of New York, but nowhere resonated with our brand until we saw this opportunity at The Royal Poinciana Plaza,” he said via news release.

Sant Ambroeus already has something very Palm Beach-y going for it. It’s pink and gold branding. Think flamingo, with sunscreen.

Sant Ambroeus: Opens at 6 p.m. Saturday at 340 Royal Poinciana Way, Palm Beach

 

 

 

 

BEST GUIDE: What’s hot on West Palm’s Dixie Dining Corridor?

Move over, Clematis Street. The hottest new thoroughfare near downtown West Palm Beach is South Dixie Highway, from Flamingo Park to just past Antique Row.

This is where a string of chef-driven, indie restaurants have opened in the past three years, adding eclectic notes to the street. They join a few of the city’s iconic restaurants in what is now dubbed the Dixie Dining Corridor.

Here’s a north-to-south guide of The Corridor:

Table 26 is named after the latitude of Palm Beach. (Contributed by Table 26)
Table 26 is named after the latitude of Palm Beach. (Contributed by Table 26)

TABLE 26

1700 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-855-2660

If you wonder why this sophisticated spot has drawn so many regulars to its doors, the answer is simple: They serve simple, delicious food, and they treat you like family.

The power duo behind Table 26, Eddie Schmidt and Ozzie Medeiros, were pioneers of sorts on The Corridor. They opened the nautically themed place in the summer of 2012 and the valet attendants have been busy ever since.

Best reason to go: The place is lovely. It makes any night feel like a special night on the town.

Coming next year:

Patina – The husband-wife duo behind Kitchen plan an upscale spot serving Greek and Israeli dishes. Expected to open in fall 2017 at 1817 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach

Paccheri with herb ricotta, Parmesan and "Sunday gravy" with braised pork shoulder, short rib and Italian sausage. (LibbyVision.com)
Grato’s paccheri with ‘Sunday Gravy’ and herb ricotta. (Photo: LibbyVision.com)

GRATO

1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-404-1334

This local trattoria has earned a following by offering outstanding brick-oven pizza, house-smoked meats and homemade pasta in an accessible setting with just the right amount of vibe. Success is not an alien concept to the powerhouse team behind Grato: Chef Clay Conley and his Buccan Palm Beach partners. In August, Conley brought in a new executive chef, a rising star named Jimmy Strine, former executive sous chef at Café Boulud Palm Beach. Strine has notched up Grato’s smoked-meat game and introduced some exquisite seasonal dishes that showcase his balance of refined and rustic.

Best reason to go: There’s handmade pasta for lunch; a late afternoon drink at the bar can easily segue to dinner; Sunday brunch is sublime.

Lodge-y vibe: Jereve at EmKo. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)
Lodge-y vibe: Jereve at EmKo. (Damon Higgins/ The Palm Beach Post)

JEREVE at EmKo

2119 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-227-3511

There’s a restaurant in this hulking structure that presents itself as an artist hub. Restaurant is not the word used here – they call it “culinary studio.” They do serve lunch, dinner and cocktails.

Best reason to go: There’s half-priced wine (by the glass) during social hour, which goes from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Chef Matthew Byrne's fave: Kitchen's chicken schnitzel. (Photo: LibbyVision.com)
Chef Matthew Byrne’s fave: Kitchen’s chicken schnitzel. (Photo: LibbyVision.com)

KITCHEN

319 Belvedere Rd. (at S. Dixie Hwy), West Palm Beach; 561-249-2281

Chef Matthew Byrne once served as personal chef to golf superstar Tiger Woods. At Kitchen, the restaurant he opened with wife Aliza Byrne in the fall of 2013, he serves as personal chef to a loyal crowd that includes many a visiting celeb. This is how the couple like to describe their intimate and gradually expanding restaurant: It’s like a dinner party.

Best reason to go: Chef Matthew’s simply prepared yet sumptuous dishes.

Not so new, but noteworthy:

  • City Diner – A retro diner that’s always hopping, at 3400 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-659-6776
Mexican street corn at Cholo Soy. (Photo: Alex Celis)
Mexican street corn is on the menu at the new Cholo Soy. (Photo: Alex Celis)

CHOLO SOY COCINA

3715 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-619-7018

Chef Clay Carnes ventured east from a spacious Wellington restaurant to open a tiny, neo-Andean spot. He makes his own tortillas and fresh ceviche, and roasts and smokes his own meats. There’s not much seating, but there is a sweet patio out back.

Best reason to go: Those tortillas, they’re made of organic corn grown in Alachua County.

Not so new, but noteworthy:

  • Belle & Maxwell’s – Quaint café that’s popular at lunch, at 3700 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-832-4449
  • Rhythm Café – Neighborhood favorite, serves eclectic mix of bites and main plates, at 3800 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-833-3406
  • Dixie Grill & Bar – Offers large selection of excellent craft beers and pub fare, at 5101 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-586-3189
  • Howley’s – A diner that burns the wee-hour oil (so to speak), serving comfort grub, at 4700 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-833-5691
Buffet at El Unico: Consider it a Latin 'meat + 3.' (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
El Unico’s Buffet: It’s a Latin ‘meat + 3.’ (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

EL UNICO

6108 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-619-2962

She’s Cuban-American; he’s Dominican. Together, husband-wife duo Monica and Enmanuel Nolasco have created a cozy spot for authentic island cooking and weekend get-downs.

Best reason to go: The lunch buffet is unbeatable. Friday night music and dancing kicks off the weekend with hot rhythms. 

Not so new, but noteworthy:

  • Marcello’s La Sirena – World-class Italian cuisine, a wine lover’s destination restaurant and multiple winner of Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award, at 6316 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-585-3128
  • Havana – This authentic Cuban restaurant just got an exterior makeover, at 6801 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-547-9799
  • Don Ramon Restaurante Cubano – Cuban classics served with a smile, at 7101 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-547-8704
Chef Michael Hackman kneads sourdough for bread. (Photo: LibbyVision.com)
Chef Michael Hackman kneads sourdough for bread. (Photo: LibbyVision.com)

AIOLI

7434 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-366-7741

This daylight spot is no ordinary sandwich shop. Chef Michael Hackman and his wife/partner Melanie approach their menu with fresh, seasonal ingredients and a lot of soul. “We love to make stuff from scratch here,” says Chef Michael, who bakes the shop’s breads daily. He uses the fresh loaves – sourdough, seven grain, semolina, and more – in Aioli’s sandwiches. The shop also sells the loaves retail.

Best reason to go: After your scrumptious lunch, you can take one of Chef Michael’s prepared dinners to go. Multitasking!

Openings: Hey, Boca, there’s a new cheesecake in town

Buckle up, Boca. There’s a new cheesecake in town – and we’re not talking about Junior’s.

Amazing as it is, Junior’s fluffy, cake-crust, New York cheesecake will meet its match Tuesday, Dec. 6. That’s when Rappy’s Deli opens at Boca Raton’s new Park Place plaza.

Rappy's vintage New York cheesecake has Swedish roots. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)
Rappy’s New York cheesecake has Swedish roots. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)

We had a taste of the dessert at a recent preview lunch. Restaurateur Burt Rapoport, who created the Rappy’s concept as a tribute to his late grandfather’s New York Jewish deli, offered the cheesecake without much commentary at the end of a multi-dish lunch.

The cheesecake recipe was brought to Rapoport’s, his grandfather’s lower east Manhattan deli, by a Swedish pastry chef. It was the first cheesecake served in New York, says Rapoport, who grew up in an apartment above that long-closed deli.

The cheesecake: a fluffy, cream-cheese intense filling atop a thin cake crust. It’s divine stuff.

Rapoport is not making a big deal of it. “When something’s good, people will find it,” he says.

Brined, smoked + steamed: Rappy's pastrami. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)
Brined, smoked + steamed: Rappy’s pastrami. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)

The rest of the menu is just as rooted in the New York deli concept, but presented with a modern spin.  A Reuben is turned into a spring roll for Rappy’s Pastrami Spring Roll appetizer, which is stuffed with caraway-scented braised cabbage, Gruyere and Thousand Island dressing. Don’t fret, traditionalists, there’s a classic Reuben as well.

As delicious as the cheesecake: Rappy’s classic pastrami, to be made in-house. The meat is brined, smoked over a mix of hardwood, then steamed. The result is layer upon layer of flavor, a stack of pastrami that needs only a couple slices of rye bread and a smear of coarse-grain mustard. There are healthy offerings: chicken soup, health slaw, veggies.

Even the health slaw at Rappy's is sinful. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)
Even the health slaw at Rappy’s is sinful. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)

The menu is extensive, with offerings for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner: caviar, shareable “noshes,” soups, entrée salads, large plates, blintzes and latkes, a mountain of hot/cold sandwich options,  dogs and wursts (hello, pastrami-wrapped dog!), burgers and melts, Reubens and Rachels, “Bubby’s chicken in a pot,” shakes and desserts, plus a full bar.

Well dressed dog: Rappy's pastrami-wrapped frank. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)
Well dressed dog: Rappy’s pastrami-wrapped frank. (Photo: Emiliano Brooks)

Rappy’s will first open for lunch and dinner next Tuesday. Brunch begins on Saturday, Dec. 10. Breakfast will be served starting Monday, Dec. 12.

Rappy’s: Opens Tuesday, Dec. 6 at Park Place plaza, 5560 N. Military Tr., Boca Raton; RappysDeli.com

 

 

 

First look: New restaurant Newk’s Eatery hits the spot

Each time I passed the prime, long-vacant space at Legacy Place, I would remember a horrible cup of coffee. It was served a decade ago at a café long gone from there. And it was served with a bad attitude.

What a waste of space, I’d think each time I passed the spot. Here’s a lovely, fountain-side space in a busy plaza in Palm Beach Gardens, and it’s empty.

Thanks to Newk’s Eatery, which moved in earlier this month, the space is empty no more. More importantly, it’s well occupied.

Legacy Place: Newk's first southeast Florida location. (Contributed by Newk's)
Legacy Place: Newk’s first SE Florida location. (Contributed by Newk’s)

Newk’s is no fancy joint. It’s a fast-casual chain restaurant, the first of 10 planned locations for southeast Florida. It was brought to the shopping and dining plaza by the local family behind eight Five Guys locations in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

The place offers hearty, generously portioned soups, toasted sandwiches, interesting salads and personal-size pizzas. Just as importantly, it offers excellent service.

Toasty edges: Newk's pepperoni pizza. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Newk’s pepperoni pizza. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

I dropped in for a quick, late lunch recently and enjoyed a bowl of Newk’s Loaded Potato soup (large, 16-ounce, $6.99), a special served on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I was not disappointed: creamy, lots of flavor, smoky bacon hints, filling. The soups, which are rotated daily in selection, are offered in 8-ounce, 16-ounce, and 32-ounce servings. The 16-ounce proved to be entrée sized.

I found the perfect soup accompaniment on Newk’s large round condiment table: thin, Italian-style breadsticks.

Hits the spot: a large (16-ounce) potato soup. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Hits the spot: a large potato soup. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

Days later, we returned to sample other items. Newk’s Club ($8.19), a pretty straightforward rendition of the classic, was stacked with smoked ham, (nitrate-free) turkey, Swiss cheese, thick-cut bacon, romaine and sliced tomato on Newk’s lightly toasted “French Parisian” baguette. As a side, we chose a pimento and bacon mac-and-cheese ($3.79 as a side) – it was tasty, though a touch oily.

Newk's club sandwich is served on a toasted baguette. (Contributed by Newk's)
The club sandwich is served on a toasted baguette. (Contributed by Newk’s)

A half-order of Caesar salad ($4.49) was quite delicious, a toss of fresh romaine with plenty of garlicky dressing, shredded Parmesan and buttered croutons.

We also tried Newk’s pepperoni pizza ($8.19), a 10-inch pie topped with pepperoni, thinly sliced Roma tomatoes, shredded mozzarella and provolone cheeses and fresh basil. The toppings proved quite delicious, but the crust didn’t hold up. While crispy around the edges, the crust sagged in the pie’s middle, forcing us to use a fork and knife.

Well dressed: half Caesar salad at Newk's. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Well dressed: Newk’s half Caesar. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

For the sipping, there are plenty of fountain drinks and a small selection of beers, which include Der Chancellor, locally brewed by Tequesta Brewing Company. (Wine is not offered.)

Newk’s is an ideal stop for a filling lunch or casual, fuss free dinner. No item is priced higher than $13. (There’s a kids’ menu priced between $3.75 and $5.50.)

And, yes, there’s coffee. But this one is served with a smile.

Newk’s Eatery: at Legacy Place, 11345 Legacy Ave., #100, Palm Beach Gardens; 561-626-3957; Newks.com

Hours: Open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

 

Openings: Trump’s former chef debuts Abacoa restaurant

For days now, friends and locals have been shuffling into Aaron’s Table & Wine Bar for a sneak-peek taste of the new Abacoa restaurant by Mar-A-Lago’s food and beverage director.

Aaron Fuller’s restaurant officially opens to the public at 4 p.m. Saturday. That’s four days before the presidential election that pits Fuller’s Mar-A-Lago boss, Donald Trump, against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On the menu at Aaron's: pan-seared branzino with lemongrass-infused butter. (LibbyVision.com)
Aaron’s branzino is pan-seared and served with lemongrass-infused butter. (LibbyVision.com)

But Fuller says he prefers not to talk about whatever happens or doesn’t happen on Tuesday.

“I stay out of those conversations,” says Fuller, who served as executive chef at Trump’s Palm Beach estate and club before his present role as food-beverage chief there. “My big goal here is to do the best I can at my new restaurant.”

That’s not to say he’s secretive about his political loyalties. On his Facebook page, Fuller roots for his boss and posts items consistent with Trump’s more fervent supporters.

Still, he must stay mum on far lighter topics – like the boss’ food preferences.

“I signed a confidentiality agreement here,” he said this week on a call from Mar-A-Lago, where he has worked for seven years.

Aaron's port poached pear salad. (LibbyVision.com)
Aaron’s Table’s port poached pear salad. (LibbyVision.com)

What Fuller is eager to talk about, however, is Abacoa, the newly energized district near his home in Jupiter. This is where he chose to open Aaron’s Table and where he’s hoping to add his flair to the eclectic district.

“We live literally two blocks away, my wife and kids and I,” says Fuller, who hopes to attract a mix that includes families, date-night couples, casual groups and ladies’ night revelers.

He’s hoping the “farmhouse chic kind of feel” of Aaron’s Table will make diners feel welcome and comfortable, despite the menu’s swanky terms.  To drive home this wish, he notes that his braised lamb shanks are simmered in Civil Society IPA – that is, beer brewed directly across the street in Abacoa.

Duck confit flatbread with arugula, fontina, almonds and dried cranberries. (LibbyVision.com)
Duck confit flatbread with arugula, fontina, almonds and dried cranberries. (LibbyVision.com)

Upholding the “wine bar” part of the restaurant’s name, Fuller lists 22 wines by the glass on the menu. And Thursday nights from 6 to 7 p.m., he hosts wine tastings with passed hors d’oeuvres.

“We’re doing some fun things, without being too snobbish,” he says. Fuller says he’s pleased at the early response to the restaurant. “The feedback has been fantastic.”

Man in charge: Aaron Fuller at Aaron's Table in Abacoa. (LibbyVision.com)
Man in charge: Aaron Fuller at Aaron’s Table in Abacoa. (LibbyVision.com)

Although he has a chef de cuisine at Aaron’s (his Mar-A-Lago protégé Marc Cela), Fuller crafted the menu himself and took inspiration from his own wanderings. So, there’s a little Palm Beach, a little global in it.

“The menu itself, the only reasoning behind it is my experiences at different places in the world. I could call the lumpia ‘spring rolls,’ but my wife is from the Philippines and we know them as lumpia. The items like the langoustine – that’s from the Palm Beach side of me,” says Fuller of his sautéed langoustines in a sweet corn sauce.

Sautéed langoustines in a sweet corn sauce. (LibbyVision.com)
Sautéed langoustines in a sweet corn sauce. (LibbyVision.com)

Of course, inquiring minds want to know: Would his Mar-A-Lago boss order those fancy langoustines? Or would Trump request a well-done burger instead, as other past staffers have reported?

Fuller says only this: “He expects perfection. We do our best to do that for him and for everybody we serve. He’s known for quality and that’s what we try to give him.”

We asked one final question, one not covered by that confidentiality agreement:

What would Fuller serve Hillary Clinton?

“I don’t know,” he says, taking a measured Mar-A-Lago moment. “That one – you’re making me laugh with that one.”

Baked Alaska a la Aaron's Table in Abacoa. (LibbyVision.com)
Swanky stuff: Baked Alaska at Aaron’s Table, Abacoa. (LibbyVision.com)

Aaron’s Table & Wine Bar: 1153 Town Center Drive, Jupiter; 561-855-2628; AaronsTable.com; hours are Tuesday through Sundays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., with happy hour offered from 4 to 7 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays starting Nov. 11, there will be live music.

‘What is a Cuban pizza?’ New WPB restaurant answers that question

Xiomara Aguilera can’t help but laugh while describing how she met the love of her life.

“The first thing I asked him was: ‘Do you cook? Because if you don’t, you’re disqualified,’” she says.

Luckily, he did. And Eddy Tapia’s intentions were far greater than she expected. Not only was he a great cook, but he was the missing piece she had been looking for.

Related: Readers’ Choice for ‘Best Pizza in PBC’

Eddy Tapia kisses his girlfriend Xiomara Aguilera inside their new Cuban Pizzeria in West Palm Beach. October 2016. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)
Eddy Tapia kisses his girlfriend Xiomara Aguilera inside their new Cuban Pizzeria in West Palm Beach. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

“It was love at first sight,” says Aguilera. 

Aguilera had been working as a baker for the past 25 years in West Palm, but she didn’t want to work at a supermarket forever. Eddy worked in construction since moving to the city in 2008, something he did make a living, not something he wanted to do. When they met in 2010, everything came together.

“We unified our ideas and we were able to open something we both love,” says Eddy.

Eddy Tapia and Xiomara Aguilar working behind the counter at their new Cuban Pizzeria in West Palm Beach. October 2016. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)
Eddy Tapia and Xiomara Aguilar working behind the counter at their new Cuban Pizzeria in West Palm Beach. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

The Cuban lovebirds — Xiomara from Las Tunas and Eddy from Pinar del Rio — opened their Cuban pizzeria and bakery in West Palm Beach in August. They called it Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery.”

Xiomara Aguilera, the owner of "Mi Isla Cuban Pizzeria and Bakery" makes the desserts at the restaurant.
Xiomara Aguilera, the owner of “Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery” makes the desserts at the restaurant. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

Aguilera admits that she never liked cooking, hence why she wanted a man who cooks. Her passion is making desserts, namely Cuban pastries and the undeniably-sweet café cubano, something she offers with a smile to every customer who walks in because “that’s just Cuban courtesy.”

Tapia, who’s a bit more timid, has always loved making Cuban pizza for his family. Now, he’s the guy in the back of the kitchen making the seasoned-magic happen for an entire community.

"Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery" in West Palm Beach
“Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery” in West Palm Beach (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

“You must try it,” says Tapia confidently. 

That’s exactly how Tapia answered when asked, “What the heck is a Cuban Pizza?”

It goes like this: He makes sure the dough it just right. He says it’s a thicker bread that’s fully cooked, yet it’s chewier and fluffier than a traditional Italian pizza.

La salsa es divina! (The sauce is divine),” says Aguilera.

Any Italian would tell you that the secret in a great pizza is the sauce. This Cuban twist is no exception. Tapia says the sauce is still tomato-based, but it has all kinds of Cuban seasonings that make it a lot more flavorful. He guarantees you’ll love it. But, like most true chefs, he won’t share more of the secret.

“It’s a recipe we both created. It is intimate,” says the Cuban gentleman.

Any guy that abides by the “don’t-kiss-and-tell” rule must be a keeper.

Eddy Tapia and Xiomara Aguilera, the owners of "Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery" in West Palm Beach. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)
Eddy Tapia and Xiomara Aguilera, the owners of “Mi Isla Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery” in West Palm Beach. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

Both Tapia and Aguilera spent the past year perfecting the taste that would get people coming for more. In December 2015, Tapia traveled to all parts of Cuba to sample native pizzas, different tomatoes, spices and learn different cooking methods. It was Aguilera who would sit at the table and try all of his sauces.

“She is the tasting queen. She hates the kitchen, but loves to eat,” jokes Eddy while serving a Cuban espresso. A few months ago, they locked down a recipe they both love.

A Cuban Pizza made by Eddy Tapia. thicker cuban-style dough, secret-recipe sauce a-la-Cuba, mozzarella cheese, ham and pineapple. October 2016 (Julio Poletti/ the Palm Beach Post)
A Cuban Pizza made by Eddy Tapia. thicker Cuban-style dough, secret-recipe sauce a-la-Cuba, mozzarella cheese, ham and pineapple. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

The toppings on these pizzas are both Cuban and traditional. You can choose from regular ham, pineapple or pepperoni to more Cuban ingredients such as chorizo, lechon asado (roast pork) or even guayaba con queso (guava with cheese.)

“We have a good balance,” says Aguilera. “He cooks and I make desserts.” 

Eddy Tapia makes Cuban Pizzas while Xiomara Aguilera makes the desserts. (Julio Poletti/ the Palm Beach Post)
Eddy Tapia makes Cuban Pizzas while Xiomara Aguilera makes the desserts. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)

The Details:

What: “Mi Isla—Pizzeria Cubana and Bakery”

Where: 1209 S Military Trl., West Palm Beach, FL 33415

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Phone: 561-310-7286

Wonder where Mi Isla would rank in our Readers’ Choice for Best Pizza?

The Regional Kitchen heats up CityPlace — is it worth the buzz?

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.

Chef Lindsay Autry addresses the troops at The Regional Kitchen. (Contributed by The Regional)
Chef Lindsay Autry addresses the troops at The Regional Kitchen. (Contributed by The Regional)

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 Regional's Tomato Pie is a top-seller. (South Moon Photography)
The Regional’s Tomato Pie is a top-seller at the month-old restaurant. (South Moon Photography)

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.

And there’s timing: The Regional debuts as West Palm Beach rises to prominence as a new hub for indie, chef-driven restaurants. It also opens as the CityPlace area awaits the arrival of a mega Restoration Hardware showroom, which will serve as a formal entrance to downtown West Palm Beach.

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.

Pimento cheese is jazzed up, table-side. (South Moon Photography)
Pimento cheese is jazzed up, table-side. (South Moon Photography)

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 Regional's walls reflect the chef's North Carolina childhood. (LILA PHOTO)
The Regional’s walls reflect the chef’s North Carolina childhood. (LILA PHOTO)

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.

Chef on the rise: Lindsay Autry at The Regional's "housewarming" party. (Contributed by The Regional)
Chef on the rise: Lindsay Autry at the “housewarming” party. (Contributed by The Regional)

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.

Country flavors, big-city vibe at The Regional Kitchen. (LILA PHOTO)
Country flavors, big-city vibe at The Regional Kitchen. (LILA PHOTO)

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?

The Regional Kitchen & Public House: 651 Okeechobee Blvd. (CityPlace), West Palm Beach; 561-557-6460

Openings: Cheesecake lovers, Junior’s is open in Boca Raton

New York cheesecake lovers, your reward is as near as Boca RatonJunior’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.

READ: JUNIOR’S BACKSTORY 

juniorscheesecakeOn 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.

What makes that cheesecake so good? Glad you asked. Here’s our riff on the guilty pleasure.

Junior’s Restaurant and Cheesecake: 409 Plaza Real (Mizner Park), Boca Raton; 561-672-7301; JuniorsCheesecake.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Openings: Newk’s Eatery soon debuts in Palm Beach Gardens

UPDATE: The planned Monday opening of Newk’s Eatery at Legacy Place has been postponed, a restaurant publicist told The Post, citing “inclement weather.” A new opening date has not been announced.

ORIGINAL POST: If Hurricane Matthew treats us kindly, we can expect a brand new restaurant to open Monday in Palm Beach Gardens: At long last, Newk’s Eatery is set to open at the Legacy Place shopping plaza.

Newk's is located at the Legacy Place shopping plaza. (Contributed by Newk's)
Newk’s Eatery is located at the Legacy Place shopping plaza. (Contributed by Newk’s)

The new restaurant debuts in the prime, long-vacant, fountain-side space once occupied by the Java Moon café. And the casual spot’s first order of business is to offer this hot deal:

The first 50 people in line at 11 a.m. will get a free $100 gift card, plus various other prizes, to use on their next visit. The next 50 people will get a variety of Newk’s branded items.

Plus, leading up to the grand opening, Newk’s is offering special preview tastings to anyone who signs up via this link.

Newk's ahi tuna salad, and its shrimp/avocado salad. (Contributed by Newk's)
Fresh offerings: Newk’s ahi tuna salad, and its shrimp/avocado salad. (Contributed by Newk’s)

Newk’s, which gets its name from its founding family (the Newcombs of Jackson, Miss.), is a fast-casual spot serving salads, toasted sandwiches, soups, pizzas and desserts. The upcoming restaurant’s 4600-square-foot space allows for indoor and outdoor seating for 140 diners.

On the menu at Newk's: stacked club sandwich. (Contributed by Newk's)
On the menu at Newk’s: this stacked club sandwich. (Contributed by Newk’s)

The Gardens location will be the first of 10 planned for southeast Florida by the Tracy family of franchisees (led by Pat Tracy, his father Tom and brothers Matt and Ryan). Before venturing into Newk’s, the family opened eight Five Guys locations in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties as well as an independent restaurant in Virginia.

The Newk’s national chain has 103 locations in 13 states and expects to open more than 200 others by 2019.

NEWK’S EATERY: 11345 Legacy Place Ave. (at Legacy Place plaza, off PGA Boulevard), Palm Beach Gardens; 561-626-3957; Newks.com.

Open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Swanky new restaurant coming to downtown Abacoa

Downtown Abacoa, home of frosty beer and comfort grub, is about to welcome a swanky new restaurant with a menu that includes epicurean terms like “verjus” and “nage” and “confit.”

Aaron’s Table & Wine Bar will debut Sat., Nov. 6, in the former Rooney’s Public House location.

Aaron's sauteed langoustines in a sweet corn sauce. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)
Aaron’s sauteed langoustines in a sweet corn sauce. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)

It is the namesake of Aaron Fuller, a former resort and private club chef who was most recently executive chef at Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach. An Abacoa resident, Fuller aims to bring globally inspired dishes prepared with a refined touch and often a dramatic flair.

But despite the Baked Alaska dessert that’s flambéed at tableside, Aaron’s setting will be more “farmhouse chic” than opulent.

Baked Alaska will be flambeed tableside at Aaron's. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)
Baked Alaska will be flambeed tableside at Aaron’s in Abacoa. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)

“I think this community is starving for a new experience that focuses on fresh, interesting and high-quality dishes without having to travel too far from home,” Fuller said via news release. He called the restaurant “an extension of my own kitchen and family.”

Fuller has named his Mar-a-Lago protégé, Marc Cela, as Aaron’s Chef de Cuisine. Cela hails from a restaurant-industry family – his father owned and operated the now-closed L’Anjou in Lake Worth.

On the menu at Aaron’s: bar bites ($5 and up) like avocado fries, Philippine chicken lumpia and truffle Parmesan gaufrette (wafer), starters such as port-poached pear salad, truffle-ricotta ravioli, pork belly with Thai peanut brittle and sautéed langoustines in a sweet corn nage (broth), main plates (up to $36) like roasted duck in a dark cherry gastrique (sweet-sour sauce), lamb shank braised in local IPA (by the Civil Society brewers across the street) and pan-seared bronzino with coconut rice.

Aaron Fuller, downtown Abacoa. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)
Aaron Fuller, downtown Abacoa. (Photo by LibbyVision.com)

Several dishes, both savory and sweet, are presented in jars as a nod to Fuller’s memories of his mother’s homemade jellies and jams.

One interesting daily special is one rarely offered to the public at other establishments: the “family meal,” or whatever the chef and his crew are eating that day.

As for the “wine bar” part of the restaurant, Aaron’s will pour a selection of interesting wines by the glass and bottle. The bar has nitrogen-contained wine dispensers to help keep those by-the-glass wines fresh. On Thursday nights, the wine bar will offer wine tastings.

 

Aaron’s Table & Wine Bar: 1153 Town Center Drive, Jupiter; 561-855-2628; AaronsTable.com; hours are Tuesday through Sundays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., with happy hour offered from 4 to 7 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays starting Nov. 11, there will be live music. Dinner reservations will be taken starting Oct. 15.