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 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.’”
An outsider may not detect the crisscross of paths at Celis Produce, the tiny shop owned and operated by brothers Felipe, Alex and Camilo Celis. But this is more than a place where one can stop in for a juice or salad components – it’s a place that’s helping to build a community of creative, indie souls in West Palm Beach.
As the shop celebrates its first birthday Friday, it does so as it does its business – organically and with a focus on collaboration with other local, independent enterprises.
All day Friday, the shop will be offering snacks from local vendors and 10 percent off everything in the store.
“Big thank you to all of our customers and friends for the year-long support,” the brothers posted on the shop’s Facebook page. “It’s been nothing short of amazing.”
Owned and operated by the Arruda family for 11 years, this bakery is well known for its freshly baked loaves of pao Frances. But Gabriel Arruda, whose family owns the place, suggests a few must-have bites:
The coxinha (or little chicken drumstick). “It’s the most popular thing here,” he says. It’s a teardrop-shaped chicken croquette that’s filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese, then fried.
The flan. “It’s out of this world,” he says. It’s made in a Bundt pan and it’s rich with heavy cream and cream cheese.
The pao de queijo (cheese bread). Magically, it’s gluten-free. It’s made with yuca instead of wheat flour, says Arruda.
Casa do Pao (House of Bread): 22829 N. State Road 7 (just south of Palmetto Park Road), Boca Raton; 561-852-8390
Picanha Brazil Restaurant
Perched on a corner of the plaza, this casual restaurant sets out a sumptuous buffet daily, complete with traditionally grilled meats, a large variety of salads, sides, entrées and desserts. You pay just under 9 bucks a pound for your buffet selections. Word of warning: It’s easy to load your plate here. It will weigh more than a pound before you know it.
Don’t miss: the array of Brazilian candies available for sale at the cashier on the way out.
Amid the selection of Brazilian canned goods, Brazilian tapioca, coffees, teas, juices and candies, you just may find a bin of jilo, a small green, eggplant-like fruit. You’ll also find house-made Brazilian sausage and charque (dried, salted beef) and other specialties.
Two local eateries are offering all-you-can-eat mussel nights this summer.
At Chez l’Epicier in Palm Beach, the Thursday night mussel special includes endless servings of Prince Edward Island mussels and french fries. Those mussels are prepared any of four ways: with spicy tomato sauce (arrabbiata), with white wine, shallot and garlic sauce, with Dijon mustard sauce or with blue cheese sauce. The mussel special costs $22 per person (no sharing).
Cristobal “Papa” Parrarises before dawn each day with a set of purposes: to cook, to work and to love his family. He’s the “Papa” behind Delray Beach’s popular Papa’s Tapas restaurant and the patriarch of a spirited blended brood.
At 71, he still does the shopping, the prep work, and much of the cooking at the Pineapple Grove eatery. His work ethic has roots in a Spanish port town — and it has spawned roots in his expanded family. Those who call him “Papa” are as grateful as they are devoted to him.
They show this with a weekly round of applause as he leaves the kitchen.
There’s a reason why restaurant servers dislike discount coupons, gift cards and freebie deals: They get shortchanged when the final bill is tallied.
Are you one of those discount-seeking diners who leaves a lousy tip?
Here are a few signs that you just may be one:
1. You use a coupon that considerably lowers the cost of your meal — but you tip on the discounted amount.
2. Your party splits the bill four ways. You pay your fair share of the gratuity, but say nothing when your table mates leave woefully low tips. Did you not all enjoy the same meal and level of service?
3. You pay your bill with a gift card and think it magically covers the tip.
What’s the proper way to tip on a discounted meal or gift card-purchased meal?
It doesn’t have to be Cinco de Mayo week to enjoy a heap of good tacos and a cold Mexican beer. There is no shortage of Mexican and Tex-Mex spots to feed your taco whims.
But because it is Cinco de Mayo week, finding a place to stuff your face with tortilla chips and guac takes on a sense of urgency, one that only happens in the country that holds the Mexican holiday most dear to its heart: the United States. (Not Mexico. The holiday is not a huge deal there, as it commemorates a rather obscure battle that took place in 1862.)