The Coastal Star

Dining: M.E.A.T. founder works to open Union 27 in downtown Boca

By Jan Norris

George Patti is on the move — literally. Bouncing between M.E.A.T. in Boca Raton and the one in the Keys, he now has a third spot in Boca Raton he’s working on feverishly to pull together before September. 

“Rent,” he explained of the rush, “there’s a monthly rent.”

The new Union 27 — representing a union of cultures, and 27 for Florida’s spot on the statehood chart — is the work in progress in the former 13 American Table on Palmetto Park Road.

“A lot of people on the street are already asking about it,” he said. “It’s been a year coming. There are all these high-rises going up around us. There’s going to be an extra 20,000 people here. I don’t know where they’ll park, but you really don’t have to drive within a 2-mile radius here. You’ve got everything right here.”

Patti is executive chef and the “sweat equity” in the multi-partnered restaurant, which has been gutted and completely redesigned.

He describes the cuisine on the new menu as seasonal and artisanal: “We’ll try to do as much as possible from the area, but we know the limits of what’s available realistically.”

He has a menu worked up — subject to change, he says — that includes starters of shrimp with jalapeño cream and grits with manchego cheese, and a roasted gulf oyster with blue crab, olives, kale and mascarpone.

Entrees are a whole fried fish — yellowtail or hogfish, or pan-seared snapper with mango-datil pepper relish. A filet with Pumphouse Coffee rub is for steak lovers, and the menu has chicken, pork, vegan and vegetarian dishes as well.  Patti mentioned sprouts and cauliflower with a sprinkle of maple sugar, tossed in a lemon aioli with fried capers. 

He said he doesn’t want anything “out there” on the menu, nor a description that must be deciphered by a server.

“I did all that. Diners want approachable foods today,” he said. “Simple and seasonal.”

Working with him as general manager is Krystal Kinney. She comes from the Deerfield Beach restaurant Chanson at the boutique Royal Blues Hotel.

Patti hopes to open in late August or possibly early September. “September is a good time to open, shake things out and get ready for the season,” he said.

Union 27 will be at 451 E. Palmetto Park Road.

                            

A burger from The Locale in Boca Raton. Photo provided

A host of Boca restaurants are gearing up for September, marking the 2018 Boca Restaurant Month, now in its second year.

Final participants weren’t in as of press time, but several have signed on as repeat or newcomers to the program. Diners who go to the listed restaurants get a choice of a special prix fixe menu offering three-course meals from $36 to $40. (Tax and tip not included.) Lunches, if offered, are three courses for $21-$25.

It’s a chance for diners to try new restaurants, and for new restaurants to introduce themselves to the community. One of the recently opened is The Locale, which took over the Little Chalet spot on South Federal. The casual spot encourages diners to stretch their culinary chops with Latin-inspired foods familiar to most Americans.

A Brazilian-born restaurateur offers empanadas, croquetas, patatas bravas, coconut ceviche or octopus plantains — fried green plantains with sliced octopus and avocado salsa — as but a few of many starters. 

Pizzas, salads, sandwiches and tacos also are on the menus. Picanha steak — the rump cut specialty of Brazilian steakhouses — is served with farofa, a toasted cassava flour mixture, and chimichurri sauce. A bucatini is made with untraditional yellow chili sauce, with a choice of protein, onions and tomatoes.

Ouzo Bay, a sophisticated Greek kouzina, is among several choices for Mediterranean food lovers. Go here for octopus carpaccio, a mezze sampler, keftedes sto fourno (lamb meatballs), or shrimp saganaki.

Another choice is Sardinia, making waves with critics. Not technically in Boca Raton, it has a become a local favorite for its sizable menu of Mediterranean dishes with Old World flair.

What to look for? Foods you don’t see elsewhere: animelle (veal sweetbreads with pancetta, sage and Brussels sprouts) and veal tonnato (tuna, anchovies, mayo and capers).

It’s a sharing kind of place: A mozzarella bar has choices of six cheeses and seven sides; a salumeria has a list from which to choose three for a plate to share. There are four paellas, 11 pastas, pizza selections and a long list of meats and fish. 

Expect lines at Ramen Lab, a hip restaurant that’s cousin to one in Delray Beach. It’s from the family of owners who run Lemongrass Asian Bistro, a familiar chain around South Florida.

Homemade ramen noodles and dumplings are prepared by the moms and grandmothers of the staff. Slurpy bowls of noodles, with a variety of protein and broths, are mix-and-match; try the Chasu pork belly or Korean short ribs atop the Shoyu ramen. There’s a menu of extra toppings.  Try the Bao Bros buns off the tapas menu — again with choice of stuffings. Don’t miss the pan-seared gyoza (lobster and shrimp or traditional pork favorites).

Other restaurants participating include Apeiro, Boca Landing, Brio Tuscan Grille, Café 5150 in the Marriott, Henry’s, Louie Bossi’s, Kee Grill, Matteo’s Trattoria, Max’s Grille, Prezzo, Rocco’s Tacos, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Saiko-I, Seasons 52, Tanzy at iPic Theater, Tap 42, Temper Grille, The Melting Pot and True Food Kitchen. For a complete list of restaurants and menus, go to www.bocarestaurantmonth.com.

                            

Uncle Tai's has closed after more than 30 years in Boca Raton. Photo provided

Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan, a mainstay in Boca Raton for 32 years, closed last month.

Two of its biggest fans were on hand for the last meal served July 21.

“How can you quote me crying?” said Steven Abrams, Palm Beach County commissioner and longtime fan of owner Howard Tai’s cuisine.

“The mayor [Scott Singer] and I interrupted the diners for a toast to Howard and to commemorate the final meal. We both thanked Howard Tai, not just for a lot of great food but a lot of great memories,” Abrams said.

The restaurant serving Hunan Chinese food meant a lot to the community — many of whom have ties to New York. Uncle Tai’s came on the scene in the late 1980s offering the experience of a New York Chinatown restaurant just as Boca was gaining a reputation for better restaurants. Uncle Tai’s opened near Max’s Grille.

“My favorites? Crispy beef, but I could say something about everything on the menu. I was more of the shrimp and black bean sauce — or wait, the duck … oh, it’s all good food,” Abrams said.

A potential rent increase that was substantially higher than the current one was allegedly proposed by the landlord. Tai was ready to retire anyway, Abrams said, so the restaurant was closed.

“I’m a Philly guy, and we survived the closing of Horn & Hardart, and I guess other cities survive iconic restaurants closing. Life goes on, but the pressure is on to find a new Chinese restaurant.”

It was the only one Abrams visited, he said. “It was really a place where a lot of families had special occasion dinners and brought out-of-town guests. It was a big part of the community.”

                            

Another longtime favorite, Henry’s, on Jog Road at Morikami Park Road, has changed hands. Burt Rapoport has enough on his plate, he said, and after a 17-year run, it’s time to let it go.

“I felt I couldn’t do that much more to build sales. I got it to a point where it kind of reached a plateau,” he said.

Rapoport is well known in the area for collaborations with Dennis Max, as well as his own restaurants, including Deck 84 in Delray Beach, Burt and Max’s in Delray Marketplace and Max’s Grille.

It’s his latest project that brought him to sell Henry’s. “I was about to start getting involved in Max’s Grille. I recently took it over. Someone made me a nice offer on Henry’s. I accepted.”

The duo behind the Kee Grill now will run Henry’s — and they’re keeping it pretty much intact, Rapoport said.      “The guys who bought it are keeping the entire staff, keeping the menu like it is. I don’t think there are going to be any major changes,” he said. “They’re keeping the name — everything will be seamless just as when they bought the Kee Grill.”

He’s bittersweet about it. “I kind of thought I’d have Henry’s forever, but you can’t be married to a business.”

At Max’s Grille, he will implement his style of management and change the menu to lighter dishes and more healthful ones, taking off some that are not selling.

“The menu’s been the same for so long, it’s time for a change,” Rapoport said.

He’ll also implement an all-day menu instead of separate lunch and dinner lists. “We’ll have lunch specials, 12 items for $12, that include a beverage.”

Look for more vegan dishes, an updated brunch menu and more sharing items. 

“With our outdoor bar, we get a lot of groups who come in, sharing items to have a good time,” Rapoport said.

Other restaurants in the works for the guy who never stops? Rapoport laughs. 

“I’d never say no, but I just want to focus on what we’re doing and improve it. I can’t believe Max’s Grille has been there 27 years.”

It’s a keeper, he thinks.

                            

In brief: You can still get in on Delray Restaurant Week, which runs through Aug. 7. A number of restaurants in the downtown area are participating in the dine-out plan. Go to www.downtowndelraybeach.com/restaurantweek. …

Max’s Harvest in Pineapple Grove closed last month. Dennis Max and Burt Rapoport opened the farm-fresh cuisine restaurant with partner Fred Stampone eight years ago. An explosion of restaurants and bars along Atlantic Avenue has changed the dynamics of the food scene there, but Max said the restaurant had run its course. “The restaurant market has gotten older, and they’re not being replaced by younger ones. I’m not sure what they want,” he said. The property may or may not become another restaurant, he said. ...

MIA, the west Delray restaurant founded by chef Blake Malatesta and his wife Anna, has changed hands. The chef said it was a hard decision but is looking at other possibilities and plans to stay in the area.

Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at nativefla@gmail.com. Thom Smith is on vacation and can be reached at thomsmith@ymail.com.

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