By Jan Norris
Locals finally get relief on the roads, in shops and at restaurants now that the snowbirds have flown.
They’re the beneficiaries of a city’s or region’s Restaurant Week (or month) — when programs all around South Florida showcase the new eats in town, as well as old favorites dusting things off with new menus or other changes.
Such as it is with Dine Out Downtown Delray, set for Aug. 1-7. More than 25 restaurants or food shops are scheduled to participate.
“That’s the ultimate reason and purpose for this event,” said Laura Simon, executive director of Delray Beach’s Downtown Development Authority. “It gives everybody time to explore the new restaurants and go to established ones they might not have been able to get into. We’re excited — this is the event’s third year. It’s a great summer event.”
Dine Out began as a different program, Tastemakers, in 2009. That program ran its course, she said, and the new one kicked off with a number of restaurants in the downtown area signing on. This year, the list is still growing but already at least 26 are involved.
Scheduled during summer when restaurant business typically slows, the dining program offers preset menus and/or special drink deals meant to give locals a chance to check out what’s new on a menu, or new restaurants such as Ramen Lab Eatery and Che. They’re also rewarded, in a sense, for sticking it out with old favorites such as DaDa and Caffe Luna Rosa, which offer prix fixe menus, sometimes trying out new items, at a discount.
Delray Beach’s restaurant base continues to grow, but more slowly than it may appear, Simon said.
“Within the 24- to 28-block radius, there are approximately 120 restaurants, whether they’re cafes or full service,” she said. The downtown area is considered Atlantic Avenue east of Interstate 95 to the ocean, with four blocks north — Pineapple Grove among them — and three blocks south included.
“They range from Sandwiches by the Sea to City Oyster, and places like the Green Owl (diner) to Prime Steakhouse,” Simon said.
While it seems to some that the avenue is saturated with dining spots, Simon says attrition and a natural ebb and flow keep the restaurant business in check.
“It’s gone through some changes and shifts. There are not any more restaurants than we’ve had, really,” she said. “It’s stayed pretty steady. We’ve had some change owners or new restaurants coming in and older ones moving out.”
She points to the new Ramen Lab Eatery on Northeast Second Avenue.
“The House of Siam had been there 12 years. The owners moved on and retired, and Ramen Lab moved in. On the beach, there’s Caffe Luna Rosa, 50 Ocean and Boston’s on the Beach — all are longtime restaurants, then you have Che, an Argentinian steakhouse new to the area,” Simon said.
Scallops will be on 50 Ocean’s Dine Out Downtown Delray menu. Photo provided
Simon plans to get to many on the list during the Dine Out Delray week, she said, though she wouldn’t name a favorite.
“I do try to get out there and explore and see what’s new. I love how creative they get.”
The program includes new eateries Doughnut Works and Ramen Lab Eatery. Others participating for the first time include Avant, Buddha Sky Bar, The Original Popcorn House, The Grove and Craft Food Tours, a culinary tour company.
The list of returning favorites as of late June included Dada, 50 Ocean, Brule Bistro, Banyan Restaurant & Bar, Caffe Luna Rosa, Che, Death or Glory, Lemongrass Asian Bistro, Max’s Harvest, Mellow Mushroom, Salt 7, Vic & Angelo’s and Prime Steakhouse.
Death or Glory has a drink called ‘At the bottom of the lagoon.’ The spot on Northeast Sixth Avenue is the only bar in Florida nominated for the Best New American Cocktail Bar Spirited award. Photo provided
This year, culinary experiences for all ages offer something different for the diners other than just discounted meals.
Mellow Mushroom again offers its pizza-making class, two scheduled this year, a popular event for families.
Adults will want to get in on the Death or Glory cocktail class, where five seasonal drinks will be created by the mixologist and students, with recipes to take home. It will be followed by a lunch, with the bar’s featured cocktail: a fresh mango shaken daiquiri.
Tours behind the scenes at The Original Popcorn House are given six times during the week. Those attending get free popcorn.
At the Ramen Lab Eatery, a demo and hands-on lessons for both soba and ramen noodle making are scheduled, with details still in the works.
Diners can learn to roll sushi at Lemongrass Asian Bistro.
Other classes on nutrition and juicing, tasting and food pairing dinners are being put together for Dine Out week.
Dine Out Downtown Delray benefits the Delray Beach Initiative’s Living Hungry campaign: “Not One Hungry Homeless Student Delray Beach.” Its purpose is to make people aware of the student homeless population in Delray and showcase solutions and programs designed to help.
To find out which restaurants are participating and get the details on menus, discounts and classes offered, go to downtowndelraybeach.com/restaurantweek.
New restaurants are on the scene around Delray Beach as the summer shuffle begins.
One that attracts many younger diners, and puzzles some older ones, is Ramen Lab Eatery, in the old House of Siam space on Northeast Second Avenue. It opened in mid-June.
“There are people who come in and ask ‘What is ramen?’ Shocking, I know,” said owner Louis Grayson. “Some people ask about udon and soba.”
Others wonder if the noodles are like thin rice noodles served in pho.
“We hope to educate them,” he said.
All of the restaurant’s wheat-based noodles are made from scratch, and the soup broth simmered for hours as is tradition.
“We make all our own sauces, and marinate our own meats,” Grayson said. “We try to do as much as possible from scratch.”
The upscale fast-casual spot is set up as counter-service, with a bar for local craft beers, boutique red and white wines and cold sake.
“We have a traditional Japanese influence,” Grayson said. “And a couple of traditional noodle dishes, but I like to add a little Thai and Korean to the menu; other bits and bobs. That’s the lab — experimental part of the restaurant.”
The brand opened in Boca Raton, where fast-casual isn’t as popular yet, he said. It also has two stalls in the Grandview Market food hall in West Palm Beach, a Ramen Lab and a Poke Lab.
Grayson will step out of the traditional noodle shop format with Asian brunches in Delray, where a pan-Asian spin will be introduced.
“We’re not going to serve till after 2 p.m.; chicken and waffles Japanese style, or a Korean-style dish with Spam.”
His version of a hangover cure — something like the Eggslut sandwich, a honey roll with Spam and egg and house aioli — may be on the menu.
He has other plans, but right now is just tweaking the formula. It’s proven to be a late-night spot and he’s adjusting to that, as well. It rocks till 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Driftwood restaurant, which opened this spring, is making waves in Boynton Beach. It’s in the old Scully’s location on Federal Highway. It’s a Polynesian casual atmosphere, with modern cuisine, craft cocktails and a good brunch in the mix.
Some surprising and not-so-much closures lately: Junior’s Restaurant and Cheesecake in Boca Raton, the classic deli brought from New York to Mizner Park, shuttered after a little over a year and a half. Known for its cheesecake and meat-packed deli sandwiches, it never caught on with its New York base as owners expected. Many saw that one coming. …
Nearby, Truluck’s, a seafood spot, and Uncle Julio’s, a Mexican eatery, also have closed in Boca’s downtown area. …
Down in Fort Lauderdale, Sublime’s exit is making waves. The vegetarian full-service restaurant, a fixture on Federal Highway for 15 years, closed its doors suddenly in May. It hosted the likes of Sir Paul McCartney and other celeb vegetarians over the years.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thom Smith is on vacation and can be reached at email@example.com.