By Jan Norris
Only a tiny stretch of real estate, Lantana’s Ocean Avenue represents a broad dining spectrum, satisfying a number of palates and cuisines.
With a relaxed regulation for parking spots on the books, the town hopes to attract even more shops and restaurants to the area.
“I thought we’d be open by Mother’s Day," she said. "Lantana is a small town and they’re looking to keep it that way. They want to make sure it’s a good fit. We just have to sit back and wait. But that gives me more time to shop and play around with decorations."
The former owner of the successful tapas bar the Living Room in Boynton Beach, and the Red Lion pubs in Boynton and Boca Raton, is excited to be back and is keen on the location, though she’s aware of the turnover for restaurants in the spot at 210 Ocean Ave.
“A lot of the restaurants have lasted only a year or a year and a half,” Mercado said. “People have asked, ‘What makes you think you can do it?’ I’ve been in Palm Beach County doing restaurants since 1983. I ran the Living Room for 11 years, and the Red Lion pubs for 20 and 30 years. The difference is being a chef who will work in the restaurant doing it all until it gets off the ground.”
Her fans have followed her, surprising her with their enthusiasm. She’s been in Hawaii for a year, even cooking for the Obamas while they vacationed. She said her fans “found me there. I don’t know how, but they contacted me, wanting to know what I’m doing.”
They have stopped in the new restaurant daily, asking when she’ll open, and promising to be first in line.
Mercado partnered with one of her biggest fans, Arlene Klein, and after scouting locations, found this one.
“There’s such a small-town feel on Ocean Avenue. Because I’m an early riser, I get here early and we have swinging egg chairs. I sit with my coffee and watch the amount of people that walk over the bridge to go to Publix and come back with groceries. It’s kind of cool.”
Ravish has touches of her former restaurant, with a large bar, but several “living rooms,” as well as an outdoor dining room with movable walls and air-conditioning to stave off the heat that’s coming.
Dishes will be both small plates and large, with the addition of Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, and her baked brie and peanut butter pie — both award winners for her. Gluten-free and vegetarian items are also on the menu, with lots of sharables — a trademark to go along with the living room atmosphere.
She’ll soon do a soft opening — one that might last a few days, and with a limited menu she’ll sample for guest feedback.
“We’re just waiting on the town,” she said.
Her neighbor Jeremy Bearman, owner of Oceano Kitchen across the street, also was attracted to Lantana’s small-town feel. With Cindy Bearman, his wife and Oceano co-owner, he took over the restaurant two years ago and they’ve made it their own.
“When you come down from the Northeast, if you’re not used to being in Florida, you’re attracted to quiet, walkable areas,” he said.
“When we turned onto the street for the second and third time, we said this is really a cool little place. It’s not as large as something like Atlantic Avenue, but it has a really good vibe. We liked it.”
The 500-square-foot spot with six seats at the counter —known for its pizza and quirky owner Dak Kerprich — didn’t resonate with them at first. Both are from much larger and higher-end restaurants.
“We weren’t smitten with what we had as far as the space right off the bat. We almost turned it down just because of the size of it,” Bearman said.
“But then it grew on us. We thought, ‘This is a way to connect with the community and make a name for ourselves.’ After we were here for a while, we started to realize the potential of this area.”
The restaurant still has the same amount of seating — six counter seats and two tables inside and 39 outside. The Bearmans just reconfigured it.
Oceano’s proximity to Delray Beach and West Palm Beach diners works well.
“They’ll make the 15-minute drive up from Delray and 15-minute drive down from West Palm,” Bearman said. “They even come from Wellington and farther areas.”
The style of using local products when possible, and preparing them simply, then having a welcoming atmosphere and fair pricing, has satisfied clients, he said.
“People appreciate it. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel,” Bearman said. “They come back. Any given night, we know 80 percent of the people on the deck. We also have a staff that’s been with us from the beginning. That’s a testament to what we do.”
The town’s easing of parking restrictions makes Bearman optimistic that some of the vacancies nearby will be filled.
“The town had one of the most stringent parking restrictions in the county as far as the number of spaces (required) per square foot. Everything depends on parking in Florida. Maybe it’s good that they are starting to think outside the box. I hope it helps spur additional growth here.”
More restaurants aren’t a threat, he said — it’s to the contrary.
“I spoke with Wayne (Cordero), who owns the Old Key Lime House, and he agrees the more business on this street that thrives and does well, the better it is for all of us.”
Growing slowly and not overburdening or saturating a market is wise, as Bearman doesn’t want to see the area’s charm lost — it’s what attracts people to the area.
“The street has character and a great feeling to it,” he said.
The chef is turning his attention to his new seafood restaurant in Rosemary Square, the former CityPlace, in West Palm Beach. High Dive is set to open this fall.
Meanwhile, summer hours are in place at Oceano, beginning at 5:30 p.m., where locals can maybe get in without a wait. Still, no reservations and no credit cards.
The Old Key Lime House, in a historic building, is the choice of lovers of water and Key lime pie; it’s the only Lantana restaurant accessible by boat, and boasts it has the largest tiki bar in South Florida.
Known as much for its rocking outdoor dockside bar with live music as for the quieter dining room that attracts tourists in droves, it’s a longtime fixture in the area. Seafood is a primary focus, but the menu is large, with choices for all diners.
Other options are international in scope. Sushi Bon is in the same building as the dockmaster. It has a wide offering of fresh sushi and sashimi. It’s popular for lunch with its specials board and friendly servers.
Mario’s serves traditional pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and salads and is offering a summer menu from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. — a popular early bird around town. It’s $19 per person for appetizer, soup and entree, cash only, with no substitutions from the menu.
Palm Beach Bakery & Cafe is where people hang out to chat over coffee and Eastern European baked goods every morning and over lunch. Dark rye bread is a favorite for take-home. Friendly hosts explain the different breads and treats.
Just over the tracks in the small plaza next to the U.S. Post Office is Victoria’s Peruvian Cuisine, which features fresh ceviches and anticuchos that win raves. She has a rotisserie chicken shop a few doors down; it’s also great for take-out.
A few blocks away on Lantana Road proper is the iconic Station House — situated in a reproduction of an old train depot and a spot where fans claw their way to the Maine lobsters, especially in summertime. It’s been serving for 26 years.
Tanzy, a hidden find in the iPic Theater in Boca Raton, has added a keto-friendly menu to its lineup. It includes drinks as well, available at the bar and in the theaters, where food and drink service is part of the premium ticket. A new happy hour menu is also in place. …
Locals and tourists are sad to lose Ciao in Delray Beach. The little sandwich shop, open for 41 years in the Courtyard Shops across from the Marriott, announced its closing in mid-May. Known for fresh, healthier versions of traditional sandwiches, it had only two owners over the years, but hundreds of fans. …
Death or Glory Bar in Delray Beach kicks off the Bar Brawls competition on June 12, with 24 South Florida bartenders competing each Wednesday night until Aug. 28 for the title of best cocktail maker. Go to www.deathorglorybar.com for details.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.