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2013 -- The Restaurant Year in Review!

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"Another CRAZY Culinary Year.."

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Happy New Year! 2014 should be another good year (restaurant-wise, at least) for us Foodies. We certainly look forward to another year of new culinary adventures – but first, let’s first take a quick look at where 2013, shall we? The big national guns shied away from the Boca/Delray market last year, evidencing the inherent lack of corporate confidence in this still-struggling economy. But instead, several local players, along with a new batch of out-of- towners entered the fray, giving us a whole new smorgasbord of dining options. We got our usual fill of Italian and taste of other ethnic cuisines, plus some cool new trendy foodcentric ventures. But 2013 was more about getting back to basics, and I note a marked return back to good ol’ American comfort food, with the likes of Fork & Knife, 13 American Table, Flashback Diner, Madison’s, Moonshine Molly’s, and True. Of course we inevitably lost many restaurants as well, from fresh-faced newcomers, to long-lived institutions. And so, my fellow foodies, here again is your annual guide to The Restaurant Year In Review.

“NOW OPEN!”

Downtown Boca got off to a swingin’ start, with the launch of Mizner Park’s highly anticipated Jazziz Nightlife. Taking the already-stunning prime endcap space of the ZED 451, Jazziz adds a whole new dimension to Mizner Park -- and to Boca Raton in general, with its alluring roster of jazz legends, lively bar scene with killer cocktails, and top-notch cuisine. Meanwhile, Royal Palm Place welcomed Segreto in January (followed by two subsequent Segretos under new management), along with 101 Cantina (filling the Tex-Mex void left by The Mexican), the (new) Estia (which was also brought back to life), and the short-lived Artizan Flatbread Company. In nearby Palmetto Place, Fork & Knife brought its genuine Midwestern hospitality and innovative take on familiar American food to the former Russia House space, while neighboring L’ Etoile replaced The Spaniard next door, giving us a taste of gourmet French cuisine. East Palmetto Park Road witnessed a minor Asian invasion, including Ninja Spinning Sushi, Kao Tong, and (its replacement) Nori. True Restaurant lived up to its name, with its honest, ingredient-driven cuisine (plus boutique wines and craft beers) reflecting its Baltimore heritage. Spadini's Mizner Pizzeria, 13 American Table (taking the former Lilly’s spot), and Sushigo also now sport a fancy new downtown Boca address.

Heading north, Dorsia presented its top-notch Italian fare on N. Federal Highway, along with fellow Paisanos Italio and Pasta Fever. Fried chicken king Fran’s Chicken Haven also (re-)opened on N. Federal, thankfully reincarnating Boca’s long-standing icon which had recently folded. We can now experience a contemporary taste of “Indian fast food,” with the launch of Kasi on Yamato Road; while the new Darbster on N. Federal showed us how vegan cuisine can be brought to new heights, which even ardent carnivores will dig (and check out its cool outdoor patio!). Flashback Diner then transformed the once-glorious Vivo/Bova emporium on N. Federal into an upbeat rendition of a classic Greek diner. Other new north-of-downtown entries included Firehouse Subs and Players Sports Lounge on North Federal, The Night Owl on 20th Street, Rock N Angels on Dixie, and Sonoma House, a serene private event venue featuring the cuisine of The (Dennis) Max Group. And then Moonshine Molly’s Country Saloon came to N. Federal (replacing Player’s Sports Lounge), giving Boca its only real country venue. Molly’s represents another Boca milestone, is a truly unique, with its unique “suburban cowboy” format, live country music, and signature Moonshine infusions (from Blueberry to Bacon) – plus perhaps the best damn barbecue in town.

Central Boca also got in on the action, especially with the launch of Butcher Block Grill in the Fountains plaza on W. Camino Real, presenting the neighborhood’s only all-natural, upscale steak & seafood house; while Farmer’s Table added a fresh, healthful menu to the Wyndham Hotel’s former Rosso Italia space. Burger lovers (and frozen custard fans) no longer have to schlep down to Miami or up to NYC (and wait in line 2 hours!) to experience the cult-like following of Shake Shack, now that its Glades Road shop (in University Commons) is up & running. Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill introduced its healthful (and delicious!) “Mediterranean quick serve” concept to the Garden Shops Plaza, taking the old Baja Fresh space at Powerline & Palmetto ; and Madison’s opened in late December on Glades Rd, breathing new life into the former Stephan’s/Copper Canyon Grill/Wolfie’s spot. Café 5150 came to the Boca Marriott, replacing the overlooked Absinthe; Tijuana Flats threw its sombrero into the ring at Palms Plaza on Powerline; and Smoothie King blended its fresh, healthful creations into the newly renovated Town Square on St. Andrews. Other new neighbors in the ‘hood include Paulo’s Pizza on West Palmetto, 18th Street Deli in The Boardwalk (f/k/a Wharfside) on SW 18th Street, Jidai Kaiten Sushi in Boca Grove, and some new tenants in Town Center Mall’s recently refurbished “The Cafes” food court, including Butcher & The Burger, Dandelion, Yogen Fruz, and Pummarola Pastificio.

On the western front, Meatball Room opened in Regency Court, converting the former Damiano/Assaggio del Forno space into a sexy new Italian hot spot featuring a variety of its namesake meatballs. Fans of craft beer, homemade sausage, and all things porcine can now pig out at Sybarite Pig, the very cool craft beer haven and gastropub (can you say housemade Lamb Sausage with homemade chutney and yogurt sauce on a fresh-baked pretzel bun?!) in Shadowood Square, while Pizza Chef Bistro and daytime delight First Watch Daytime Café also opened on S.R. 7 (US 441).

Of course Delray’s ever-evolving Atlantic Avenue held its own as well. Ceviche took over the former Falcon House, bringing an upbeat taste of authentic Spanish cuisine to the historic site, while restaurateur Gary Rack opened his new Rack’s Fish House & Oyster Bar. But the big news was farther west along the Ave, with the launch of Delray Marketplace. The new multi-use complex now hosts a slew of new eateries, including Italian standout Terra Fiamma, where fans of Wendy Rosano’s beloved Cucina Mio can now revisit their old (and some new) favorites; along with Burt & Max’s (Burt Rapoport’s and Dennis Max’s latest venture), Cabo Flats Cantina, Red Rock Grill, Japango, Shula Burger, Cinebowl & Grille, Bella Amici, The Grind Coffee Café, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, and The Olive Tap. And after a 10-year hiatus, south Florida’s favorite Dane, Out of Denmark was reincarnated on S. Federal Hwy, under the same loving ownership of chef/owner Jorgen Moeller. Famed chef Angelo Elia of Ft. Lauderdale & Boca landmark Casa D’Angelo introduced his latest creation, D’Angelo Pizza ∙ Wine Bar ∙ Tapas in Addison Place on Jog Road, taking the space formerly occupied by the lovely LOLA. With its contemporary-meets-traditional Italian cuisine (especially the wood-fired pizzas), lively bar scene, cool outdoor patio, and fresh-made gelato, D’Angelo is one of Delray’s definite “must try” hot spots not to be missed. Other new Delray dining destinations include The Sea (also in Addison Place), Zorba’s Taverna (Chef Bobby Orfano’s Greek sensation) on Linton Blvd., 3rd & 3rd , Eclectic Eats, Le Macaron, The Ancient Olive, Magnolia Café, Zona Fresca, and N2 Wine Bar.

“SORRY, WE'RE CLOSED” But as the Restaurant Gods giveth, they also taketh away -- as witnessed by the demise of many valiant contenders, from hopeful newcomers to beloved institutions. Most notably, Legal Sea Foods stood strong in Town Center Mall for over 14 years (long before the big national chains ever set foot), but unfortunately shelled out its last fresh lobster and famous clam chowder in October. Another seafood icon, Jake’s Stone Crab, had to finally fold its hand after staying in the game for many years. And I’ll definitely miss Ovenella, with its fantastic wood-fired Italian cuisine (from the area’s only authentic Italian wood-burning brick oven), which closed its beleaguered Federal Hwy site (Remember Saba? And Chin Chin, Tanzabar, Zara’s, Oceans 11, Campagnola, Cavalino’s, Catch 22, and others before then?). And speaking of Italian, we also lost Rosso Italia on N. Military Trail, a wonderful Italian that just never got a chance to build the local following it deserved. The Spaniard in nearby Palmetto Place was another unique gem that likewise fell victim to the Obama economy, and Boca Raton lost its only authentic Spanish venue.

Royal Palm Place lost a slew of tenants last year, including the aforementioned Jake’s Stone Crab, along with Caruso Ristorante, The Mexican, Fusionarie, Estia (which then reopened), Segreto # 1 and then Segreto #2 (the first two ownerships closed, but #3 is alive is well!), Artizan Flatbread Company, Cyprus Mediterranean, and Earth Café; along with Russia House and The Spaniard in next door Palmetto Place. Downtown Boca also bid adieu to Café Auribeau and Apropo Kafe on SE 1st Ave., Mizner Plaza Pizza (on NE 2nd), and Sultan Express and Kao Tong on E. Palmetto Park Road. Meanwhile, Milos Estiatorio, Bruegger’s Bagels, Jersey Mike’s, long-timer Gary Woo’s Asian Bistro, newcomers Players Sports Lounge and Spicy Ginger, and one of Boca’s longest-standing establishments, fried chicken king Fran’s Chicken Haven (which was also reincarnated under new owners) join Ovenella in the “Federal Highway Closings” club.

Central Boca bid a fond farewell to Nestor’s at Bageland, another long-lived institution, which was once the area’s best known (and perennially busy) NY-style bagel-deli; and Kyojin Japanese Buffet, which likewise stood strong for many years Gelatoheads like me will truly miss the frozen delights of the area’s most authentic gelateria, Gelato Shop Petrini on Glades Road. Other central Boca closings (in addition to Legal Sea Foods and Rosso) include Stephan’s on Glades, Hurricane Grill, Boardwalk Burgers, and Tropical Smoothies Café on Powerline, 18th Street Deli (which lasted only a few short months), Salad Creations in Boca Center, Authentic Brooklyn Pizza and Arty’s Café on W. Palmetto Park Road, Damiano in Regency Court, and the (very!) short-lived Butcher & The Burger, Dandelion, and Pizza Via in Boca Town Center.

Meanwhile, Delray Beach said adios to GOL! The Taste of Brazil, 75 Main, Rotelli, and My Yogurt Café, all on E. Atlantic Ave, along with nearby Casa Di Pepe and Magnolia Café; plus long-time Italian favorite Cucina Mio, and its neighbor Kontiki Too in Addison Place. It’s truly disheartening to see so many long-time friends close shop. But at least they got to stick around a while – many hopeful newcomers never even got to celebrate their first birthday. Among the fallen infants: The Mexican, Rosso Italia, Stephan’s, Russia House, Segreto (and Segreto #2), Artizan Flatbread Co,, Cyprus, Butcher & The Burger, Dandelion, Earth Café, 18th Street Deli, Café Auribeau, Sultan Express, Kao Tong, Spicy Ginger, Players Sports Lounge, Boardwalk Burgers, Rock N Angels, Magnolia Café, Kontiki Too, 75 Main, and Damiano, to name a few. (Whew!)

Yes, 2013 was certainly an eventful restaurant year. And, according to Kenny Spahn, "2014 looks even more promising, with a host of new ventures already on the books." We can’t reveal too many details as this article goes to press, but keep an eye out for some cool new entries with names like Jefe, Luigi, Opa, Camino, Apeiro, Havana, Zinburger, Tilted, Montadito, TAP, Sapphire, Broken, Ichiyami, and Brooklyn, to name a few.

And so, my fellow foodies, here’s wishing you all a great New Year full of health and happiness -- and of course, Good Eatin’!

Restaurant Placement Groupwww.RestaurantPlacement.com

Tags: Boca Raton, Delray, Restaurants, Restaurant Placement Group, Restaurant Happenings

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