10 great bites
We share some favorite local dishes that are worth seeking out.
With its sunny, coastal lifestyle and sunny mix of flavors, Palm Beach County has no shortage of good bites.
It’s no secret that the county’s diverse dining districts are rising to destination levels. In south county, the Atlantic Ave. and Pineapple Grove dining districts have transformed downtown Delray Beach into an utterly crawl-worthy destination. In central county, downtown West Palm Beach is abuzz in new restaurants and bars. In north county, diners flock to the PGA Boulevard corridor for good eats and a lively scene.
Of course, too many options can boggle the senses, especially when there’s always a risk any one dish may not survive a picky chef’s menu.
With that in mind, we share some favorite local bites that are worth seeking out:
City Cellar: CHARCUTERIE AND CHEESE BOARD
Welcome to the age of charcuterie, the communal starter that has replaced spinach-artichoke dip in our indulgent hearts. A growing number of local eateries serve their own renditions of the cured meat boards and garnishes. Few surpass City Cellar’s offerings. This board is no random array of cold cuts but a cheese and meat plate you design yourself. Choose from a superbly curated selection of cured meats and cheeses, meats like Italian speck and Spanish chorizo and even truffled salami that was cured in-house by executive chef Kevin Darr, who also lists the super-premium Jamon Iberico Pata Negra Spanish ham among the options.
Or select only cheeses, as in blue cheese, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or cow’s milk. Your custom-designed appetizer pairs nicely with one of City Cellar’s wine flights. Add to that a basket of fresh-baked bread and it’s a feast.
Food Shack / Leftovers Café:
SWEET POTATO-CRUSTED FISH
Behold north county’s hallmark dish, the crispy fish so popular that it is replicated all over town. No place does it better than chef/restaurateur Mike Moir’s mainstay Jupiter restaurants, Food Shack and Leftovers Café.
He and his fellow chefs take any of the day’s fresh-catch fillets, fry it in a shredded sweet potato crust and serve the fish over greens that are dressed with a spicy fruit salsa.
The dish is so popular — and deservedly so — that Moir calls it “our Big Mac.”
Grato: Bucatini Carbonara
When chef Clay Conley (of Buccan Palm Beach fame) and his partners opened a casual neighborhood trattoria near the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, he zeroed in on two specialties: pizza and pasta.
Watch Chef Clay Conley prepare ceviche:
For the thin-crust pizza, there’s a glowing, wood-burning oven. For the pasta, there’s a nifty brass-die pasta extruder. This is the contraption that gives the pasta’s surface a kind of matte texture that helps sauce adhere.So this hearty tangle of thick bucatini is no average pasta. The carbonara coating is smoky with ham and bacon and made unctuous once you break the egg yolk that crowns the dish. Bright pops of green peas and chopped basil complete the bite.
Grato: 1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; 561-404-1334.
Bay Bay’s: FRIED CHICKEN
Spicy. Crispy. Delicious. That’s the chicken at Bay Bay’s, the casual eatery with two locations in West Palm Beach and one in Boynton Beach. The concept here is chicken and waffles, but, really, the waffles are just an afterthought.
The chicken is everything. It’s moist and juicy and deeply flavorful beneath a dark-gold crust. And it’s packing heat — just the right amount of spice to keep you coming back for more.
Ristorante Santucci: CARPACCIO DI POLPO
You might find this octopus carpaccio too pretty to eat. The dish is a work of art at Santucci, the sleek Italian restaurant that sits on the 600 block of Clematis Street.
The carpaccio is razor-thin, faintly pink veils of “polpo.” On the plate, it’s a kaleidoscope view that pops with petite, impeccably diced tomato and scallions. At center, a cherry tomato opens like a flowering bud. On the palate, the dish is light and lemony beneath the occasional crunch of coarse salt flakes.
Cut 432: STEAK TARTARE
If you’re going to have raw, minced steak, you want to have it at a restaurant that knows its beef. Cut 432 is such a spot in south county.
Downtown Delray Beach’s best steakhouse serves a lovely take on this classic bite. Thanks to chef Jarod Higgins skills with premium meats, the dish is both simple and refined.
It’s delicately seasoned and beautifully presented, a neat, raw drum nestled with a quail egg. Simple and sensational.
La Sirena: RISOTTO
The story of Marcello Fiorentino’s success as a chef and restaurateur is told in a simple, gorgeously classic serving of risotto.
A chef of his caliber has no need or desire to bedazzle this dish, nor is he tempted to overwhelm it with truffle oil. Instead, the risotto he has offered in special wine dinners and local charity affairs carries the subtlest aroma of white truffle and a crown of black truffle shavings.
It’s the work of a true star chef who has nothing to prove, a dish that’s understated and utterly delicious.
Avocado Grill: DULCE DE LECHE LAVA CAKE
It’s a demure disc of a dessert, a cake that conceals a decadent secret. It’s revealed once you dig a fork into its heart: a swoon of warm dulce de leche.
The cake is served warm, just enough to ensure an oozy middle.
What could be more perfect and unique than chef Julien Gremaud’s molten lava creation? While chocolate lovers about town have plenty of chocolate confections from which to choose, the same is not true for die-hard dulce de leche fans. We thank Gremaud for this tribute to dulce decadence.
Kersmon Caribbean Restaurant: CABBAGE MEDLEY
Yes, there is jerk chicken and brown stew chicken and braised oxtail and curried goat at this tiny, beloved Jamaican restaurant. And any of those dishes could have made this good-bites list. But what is unique about this cabbage is that it’s unexpectedly vibrant to the eye and the palate.
Related: Kersmon Caribbean is one of the top restaurants on YELP
Owner and chief cook Althea Drummond sautés chunks of green and deep red cabbage with onions, garlic and bell peppers, in spice-seasoned oil. The result is a dish that could stand on its own. Add a side of peas and rice, a Red Stripe and a reggae soundtrack and you will be transported.
Kersmon Caribbean Restaurant: 4622 Jog Road, Greenacres; 561-968-5656.
PB Catch: OYSTERS
Oyster lovers, welcome to your sweet spot on Palm Beach island. The raw bar at this stylish, seafood-centric restaurant is a virtual bivalve bonanza. Here, with a wide range of varieties offered at any one given time, you can explore the sweet and briny depths of your oyster love.
Request an “oyster flight” at the bar (or at a table) and you’ll get a selection of oysters arranged from briny to sweet, like a wine flight, but in reverse. Wine flights scale upward toward the fullest-bodied wine. Oyster flights at PB Catch play to the palate’s natural whim to follow briny notes with more delicate notes. It’s brilliant, really.
Add to that a glass (or flight) of crisp wine and you’re living large.