Exclusive: Tiger Woods’ former chef to open new restaurant on Dixie dining corridor

The husband-wife team behind Kitchen, the Belvedere Road hotspot popular with local and visiting celebs, are deep into the planning stages for a neighboring restaurant.

Chef Matthew Byrne and wife/partner Aliza Byrne will open Patina, a Greek and Israeli-inspired restaurant, on West Palm Beach’s happening Dixie Highway dining corridor. They expect to debut in the fall of 2017.

“What’s the best place to open a restaurant? Next to a busy restaurant,” Matthew Byrne told The Post this week. “That’s restaurant 101.”

Growing the business: Kitchen's Aliza and Matthew Byrne. (LILA PHOTO)
Growing the business: Kitchen’s Aliza and Matthew Byrne. (LILA PHOTO)

The busy restaurant next to the Byrnes’ upcoming concept? That would be Grato, the acclaimed trattoria opened by South Florida star chef Clay Conley and his Buccan Palm Beach partners 11 months ago.

The Byrnes hope to infuse a Mediterranean feel into the 2500-square-foot indoor space and courtyard. The building’s vintage floors inspired the name Patina, they say.

Matthew’s experience in the kitchen of a longstanding Greek restaurant in the couple’s native Philadelphia partially inspired the concept, as did Aliza’s Middle Eastern roots. (Her father is Israeli.)

“Think lemon, sea salt, rosemary, whole fishes, tons of squid, charred lamb,” says the chef. “I’m really excited about some vegan items on the menu.”

The vegan plates will come naturally to the concept, as will the fish and meat dishes, he says. And while he admits he’s not a disciple of the “small plate-y” approach, he expects to offer some shareable dishes, hummus, baba ganoush and other classics.

“It’s my version of Greek-American and Israeli food,” says Byrne, a former private chef who worked for golf star Tiger Woods.

The upcoming restaurant will have a full bar, unlike Kitchen, which serves only wine and beer, he says.

New item: salmon carpaccio with hearts of palm and cukes in lemon-dill dressing. (LibbyVision.com)
New item: salmon carpaccio in lemon-dill dressing. (LibbyVision.com)

The chef offers a kind of preview of the Patina cuisine on his revamped Kitchen menu. You’ll find hints of it in his carpaccio of salmon, buttery slices of raw salmon served with hearts of palm and cucumber in a fresh lemon-dill dressing ($16). It’s also in the pan-roasted halibut with artichokes in a heady truffle-clam broth ($32).

The prospect of a new up-market spot in the Flamingo Park area will likely intensify the Dixie dining corridor’s heat as a dining destination.

The Byrnes purchased the 1817 S. Dixie Highway space in January from Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Cole’s Blenheim Holdings for $770,000. (Cole is a loyal Kitchen customer.) Until recently, the property housed Solar Antique Tiles.

The couple is in the permitting stage for renovation of the space.

Matthew Byrne's halibut in truffled clam broth. (LibbyVision.com)
Matthew Byrne’s halibut in truffled clam broth. (LibbyVision.com)

The Patina project is underway as the Byrnes’ Kitchen, which celebrated its third anniversary in October, continues to expand. By December, they expect to spread their presence in the Belvedere plaza to include the space where Shoppe 561 now operates. That space will house a wine bar/retail space they call Prep Kitchen.

The 1600-square-foot space would host visiting winemakers, wine tastings with Chef Matthew and other wine-related events. It also will serve as a spillover space for diners waiting for their table at Kitchen. During the day, the space will serve as a retail shop, selling wines as well as grab-and-go items such as salads and Kitchen’s desserts.

Once Patina opens, the chef says he will likely shuttle between the restaurants, located just blocks apart. He says he’s confident his Kitchen crew will keep his current restaurant on point.

“It’s my original team,” says Byrne. “They’ve been with me for three years, since Day 1.”

Kitchen: 319 Belvedere Rd., West Palm Beach; 561-249-2281; KitchenPB.com

‘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?

Hungry? Here’s a trio of good, cheap lunch buffets in Palm Beach County

It’s lunch time and you’re famished. You’re also on a budget and in a hurry. Where to take your growling belly for a boatload of food on the cheap?

We’ve got a few ideas. They fall into our favorite category of good value: “Bueno, bonito y barato.”

That means: Good, pretty and cheap. (Never to be confused with “pretty good” or “pretty cheap.”)

Related: Buzzy Grato in West Palm Beach now open for lunch

El Bodegon's bargain buffet in Lake Worth. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
El Bodegon’s bargain buffet. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

El Bodegon Market #5

1910 Lake Worth Rd. (across from John Prince Park), Lake Worth; 561-967-6999

Attention, hungry shoppers: What’s better than a well-stocked supermarket?

A well-stocked supermarket with a sumptuous buffet tucked inside.

This is what one finds at the El Bodegon #5 supermarket on Lake Worth Road in Lake Worth. Beyond the shelves stocked with a diverse mix of Latin American and Caribbean specialty products, there’s a cafeteria-style area at the local chain’s location that sits across from John Prince Park.

Latin "meat and three" -- pork, rice, tamal, beans. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Latin “meat and three” — pork, rice, tamal, beans. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

Follow the stream of regulars to this flavorful corner where the steam table beckons with various soups, stewed and roasted meats, beans, rice, tamales, plantains and salads.

From Monday through Friday, the buffet runs a $6.49 lunch special: You get the main course, two sides and a soda. And we’re not talking about some skimpy helpings.

We visited on recent Saturday for a late lunch and found an equally terrific deal: a main course with three sides for $7.99. Call it a “meat and three,” Latin-style.

We scanned the buffet table, staffed by various servers ready to spoon out our selections and keep the line moving. We spied: chicken soup, hearty beef soup, creamy seafood stew, beef stew, creamy mushroom chicken, roast pork, two kinds of tamales, among other offerings.

We opted for a freshly roasted pork dish that featured a sprinkling of garbanzos, chunks of sautéed onion, tomato and some raw green onions. Glorious stuff. As our three sides, we chose yellow rice, nicely seasoned red beans (served in a separate dish) and a spicy Mexican chicken tamal that was wrapped and steamed in corn husk. The combo was large enough to feed three people.

Plantain-leaf Guatemalan tamal: $1.70. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Plantain-leaf Guatemalan tamal, $1.70. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

Separately, we also sampled a large Guatemalan tamal that has been steamed in a banana leaf. The stewed chicken filling proved delicious.

On weekends, you don’t get a free soda with lunch. A can of soda will set you back $1.49.

The downside of dining here: Ambiance means bottled water displays and Corona promotional streamers.

The upside: You can walk off all those lunch calories by wandering through the chock-a-block aisles.

El Unico

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

This new-ish restaurant, located just down the street from our office, became an instant staff favorite, thanks to its tempting, generous lunch buffet.

Buffet with bachata beats at El Unico. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Buffet with bachata beats at El Unico. (Liz Balmaseda/ Palm Beach Post)

Owned and operated by a young couple – he’s Dominican, she’s Cuban-American – El Unico serves classics from both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. So, on any given day, you may find the buffet offers fresh, roasted pork (with stellar crackling), stewed chicken, ropa vieja (shredded flank steak in creole sauce), plus your choice of rice, beans (black or red) and plantains.

As in the buffet line at El Bodegon, this is not an all-you-can-eat kind of buffet. You get a choice of meat, plus rice, beans and a side. Depending on the meat, prices range from $4.99 to $9.99.

Staff lunch favorite: El Unico. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)
Staff lunch favorite: El Unico. (Liz Balmaseda/ The Palm Beach Post)

If you’re not in much of a hurry and you’d rather order your lunch a la carte, there’s a full menu of entrees, sandwiches, salads, sides and plenty of favorites (hello, mofongo!) from which to choose.

Enjoy your lunch in El Unico’s cozy dining room, which often is filled with Dominican bachata rhythms. It’s a hard deal to beat, this bachata buffet. Maybe that’s why the restaurant’s name means “the only one.”

The Carving Station

720, U.S. Highway 1, Lake Park; 561-842-7791

This north county favorite is a true self-serve buffet offering deliciously old-school dishes. It’s not huge, but it’s mighty. The buffet line includes a varied salad station, a small soup station, some chilled offerings (egg salad, rice pudding) and a good selection of hearty meats and sides.

You have two options at lunch: Go the soup and salad route for $7.08 (served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) or feast on the full buffet for $9.44.

As its name suggests, Carving Station has plenty of meats. (Palm Beach Post file)
The Carving Station lives up to its name. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

At any given time, you may find baked chicken, Salisbury steak, carved to order meats (turkey, leg of lamb, ham, roast beef), turkey pot pie, chicken Francais, mashed potatoes, mac-and-cheese, baked beans, collards, carrots, corn and rice.

Most desserts are sold separately.

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Less is more in fashion, beauty and… cake?

Less is more when keeping up with the latest social, fashion and food trends these days.

Take ripped jeans, for example. Instead of a subtle rip across one knee on a good pair, everyone from fashionable men to busy, I-just-need-something-to-throw-on moms are exposing an entire knee — and even a little thigh.

Then there are celebrities and beauty influencers posting selfies that embrace their natural skin with hashtags like #nomakeup and #naturalbeauty.

And while women are enjoying the skin they’re in, they also embracing the hair they’re under.

Over the past few years, a vast amount of women have publicly committed to big chops and no-heat hairstyles, encouraging other women to do the same. In most cases, these women have found that their natural hair texture — before chemicals, dye and styling products — is much more satisfying to their taste, looks better and feels better, #NaturalHair.

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Just a little curly motivation for my girls that are transitioning to healthy hair. I've done it all! Different colours, flat ironed without heat protectant for years etc. I've gone from healthy curls back to damaged several times as well. The best tips I can give you are 1) Start with a cut/trim – to me, it does more than start your healthy hair process, it's a psychological move that tells you that you're actually willing to go all in! ( kinda like cutting credit cards to get out of debt! ) even the smallest trim will make a difference! 2) Find inspiration! Look for images of other women with curly hair that is similar to your hair texture, this will keep you motivated ( be realistic! ) 3) Deep condition like it's going out of style! This will help those damaged curls immensely! 4) Enjoy the process! If you do a big chop, enjoy that stage! Trust me, when you look back you will regret not rocking that look as much as you could have..try to own it! If you're uncomfortable with a teeny fro, play with bold accessories to distract a bit until you just don't care! 5) A bun gets boring after a while so keep yourself entertained with different #protectivestyles and try the #wiglife if you get tempted to touch the flat iron or bleach during the transitioning process! Good luck! Tag a friend that needs some inspiration ( I have a natural curly hair playlist on my YouTube channel with my healthy hair journey etc if you want more details and tips 😉 YouTube : MissCharmsie ~ direct channel link in bio ) #naturalhair #curlyhair #damagedcurls #transitioninghair

A post shared by ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀Charmaine 👩🏽‍🦰 (@charmsie) on

So, yes, it was only a matter of time before the “less is more” craze would venture into fine dining, and fine desserting.

We’re in a season of natural beauty exposed, where people are not only appreciating a more unfinished look but paying for it as well. Now, you’ve got the naked and semi-naked cakes. A two, three, four or more tier cake with buttercream filling, some fresh fruit or flower garnishment — and that’s it.

But make no mistake: Just because minimal vibes are trending doesn’t mean people are paying less. Not for jeans, not for hair or skin products, and surely not for the naked cake.

photo: naked cake
Vanilla naked cake with fresh strawberry filling, strawberries and flowers for a Bed and Breakfast in Loxahatchee made by Diva-Licious Cake House in Palm Beach County. Photo provided by The Diva-Licious Cake House.

Pricing may start at about $7.50 per serving but it all depends on what you’re looking for. Will you be including fresh flowers or sugar flowers? What flavor do you want? Will the cake have three layers or five?

“Naked wedding cakes, to the average eye, seem to be something that requires less work, but that’s not it,” Janderyn Makris of Earth and Sugar tells us.

Her naked cakes start at the same price point as any other cake from her bakery because the amount of time spent on it is the same.

You’re probably wondering, “how can that be true if a naked cake has very little or no icing on its exterior?” Well, there are careful skills and techniques to consider, like layering the cakes with particular amounts of buttercream filling so that the final product is not lopsided.

For frosting lovers, this is a good thing. They shouldn’t turn away from a slice of naked cake because there may be even more filling in a naked cake than a normal one.

“The naked wedding cake must be clean,” Marian Meyers of  Diva-Licious Cake House emphasized. But clean doesn’t necessary mean flawless.

photo: naked cake
A naked cake from The Sugar Monkey before it was ‘dressed.’ Photo provided by The Sugar Monkey.

 

It seems the idea of being ‘natural’, or ‘naked’ for the cake’s sake, is more about exposing and embracing flaws rather than covering them up. Are freckles on a nose just as beautiful as a contoured face? Are naked cakes as beautiful as desserts fully decorated in fondant and props? I’d say so.

PB Post Dinner Series celebrates flavors of Montreal in Palm Beach

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 feast at Chez l’Epicier Tuesday night.

Montreal munchies: A server offers minced salmon bites.
Montreal munchies: A server offers minced salmon bites. (Liz Balmaseda/The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Related: Full dining review of Chez l’Epicier

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.

A welcome cocktail to kick off our Evening in Montreal. (Liz Balmaseda/The Palm Beach Post)
A welcome cocktail to kick off our Evening in Montreal. (Liz Balmaseda/The Palm Beach Post)

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.)

Veronique Deneault, co-owner of Chez l'Epicier, zips through the restaurant as guests begin to arrive. (Julio Poletti/ Thye Palm Beach Post)
Veronique Deneault zips through the restaurant as guests arrive. (Julio Poletti/The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Goody bags: homemade marshmallows for 'Evening in Montreal' guests. (Julio Poletti/ The Palm Beach Post)
Goody bags: homemade marshmallows for ‘Montreal’ guests. (Julio Poletti/The Palm Beach Post)

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.  

Chez l’Epicier: 288 S. County Rd., Palm Beach; 561-508-7030; ChezlEpicier.com

Palm Beach Outlets host ‘Chef’s Tailgate Party’ for charity

A batch of local restaurants will pop up Thursday night at the Palm Beach Outlets, when the open-air mall hosts the “Boca Raton Bowl Chef’s Tailgate Party.”

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.

Tailgate for a cause at the Palm Beach Outlets. Frito pies may or may not be served. (Cox Newspapers)
Tailgate for a cause at the Palm Beach Outlets. Frito pies may or may not be served. (Cox Newspapers)

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.

Palm Beach Outlets: 1751 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach; event tickets here.

PB Food & Wine Festival: ticket sales strong, Coolio out, new stars join

Coolio, rapper and unexpected foodie, will not appear at December’s Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival after all, thanks to his recent arrest in Los Angeles on gun charges, organizers say. The 90s star also known as Artis Leon Ivey Jr. was charged with felony firearm possession after a gun was found in his backpack during a security check at Los Angeles International Airport last month.

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.

Star chefs Marc Murphy (left) and Jeff Mauro, beneath the Palm Beach sun. (LILA PHOTO)
Star chefs Marc Murphy (left) and Jeff Mauro, beneath the Palm Beach sun. (LILA PHOTO)

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.)

Before the Insta-rant: Adam Richman on set in 2008. (Cox Newspapers photo)
Before the Insta-rant: Adam Richman on set in 2008. (Cox Newspapers photo)

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.

Refined bites at the festival's "Sustain" event in 2015. (LILA PHOTO)
Refined bites at the festival’s “Sustain” event in 2015. (LILA PHOTO)

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.”

Snack + snap: A Four Seasons Resort cook prepares party food at the fest. (LILA PHOTO)
Snack + snap: A Four Seasons Resort cook prepares party food at the fest. (LILA PHOTO)

Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival

The festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary, runs from Dec. 8 through 11. For information and tickets, visit PBFoodWineFest.com.

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

Avocado Grill celebrates 2nd birthday in grand, funky style party

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.

A local pair enjoy a window seat at Avocado Grill in downtown West Palm Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
A local pair enjoy a window seat at Avocado Grill in West Palm Beach. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

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.

Julien Gremaud is chef/owner at Avocado Grill. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Julien Gremaud is chef/owner at Avocado Grill. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

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.”

Can you tell the chef used to be a DJ?

Avocado Grill's Dulce de Leche Lava Cake. (Richard Graulich/ The Palm Beach Post)
Avocado Grill’s Dulce de Leche Lava Cake. (Richard Graulich/ The Palm Beach Post)

Avocado Grill: 125 Datura St., West Palm Beach; 561-623-0822; AvocadoGrillWPB.com

Swank Farm to host Sunday morning mini-market

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.

Jodi Swank with a bowl of greens at Swank Specialty Produce in Loxahatchee Groves, Florida on June 3, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Jodi Swank displays lettuces at Swank Farm, near Loxahatchee. (Allen Eyestone/ The Palm Beach Post)

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, who also hosts farm dinner events during harvest season, is also expecting a fresh bread vendor and a granola maker, among others. Her full list of vendors will be posted on Swank Specialty Produce’s Facebook page.

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.

Swank Farm: 14311 North Road, Loxahatchee Groves; 561-202-5648; SwankSpecialtyProduce.com