By Jan Norris
August is Restaurant Month in Delray Beach, a promotion set up by the Downtown Development Authority to fill empty dining rooms during a usually slow season.
That’s not the case this year, as diners are often seeing long waits at restaurant doors — even with reservations.
Laura Simon, executive director of the DDA, points to an extended season, saying Delray Beach is marking higher tourism numbers this summer, long past the usual time for both visitors and seasonal residents to head North.
“We’re fortunate to live in Delray and with the great work we’re doing together to promote the city, we’re seeing higher hotel occupancy than usual this time of year,” she said.
“It’s also a combination of things that are contributing to the wait times.”
These include good weather, plenty of outdoor seating — still popular with diners — and the variety of choices available within the downtown area.
Simon also acknowledges the diminished workforce, as many hospitality workers go North in summer to work in resorts or sister restaurants. Others changed jobs altogether during the pandemic. That has created a dwindling pool of servers as well as kitchen staff in Delray and across the country.
Some restaurants have begun parsing out seating during busy times to accommodate diners according to their serving capabilities; others are shrinking operating hours.
Ali Carr, who handles the host station and reservations at Lionfish, said early diners have the best chances at snagging seats, while those who prefer to eat at 7 p.m. or later may have an hour or more wait. Large parties are advised to book well in advance.
Popular spots like Elisabetta’s, Rocco’s Tacos, Rose’s Daughter and Caffe Luna Rosa also have long waits, especially on weekends, but they provide a check-in so diners can stroll around the area until they are notified by phone that their table is ready.
“Restaurants are trying to be creative, and encourage reservations well in advance,” Simon said.
The restaurants that are signed up for special prix fixe lunch and dinner meals for the Restaurant Month program have partnered with Open Table to secure reservations for their diners wanting the specials.
Restaurant Month, which offers special menus or discounts for three- and four-course meals, expanded from a weeklong program in years past to a monthlong affair last year, Simon said. Owners whose restaurants had been closed or had implemented restricted capacity appreciated the extra time to showcase their specialties.
“The community likes the opportunity to have that time to explore smaller restaurants or those that aren’t usually in the spotlight,’’ Simon said.
More than 30 restaurants were on the list to participate before Aug. 1, with more being added to the website (www.downtowndelraybeach.com) as word gets around. Newcomers Amar, Lionfish, and Avalon Steak & Seafood are joined by old favorites such as The Office, The Wine Room, The Grove, Rose’s Daughter, Dada, Death or Glory, Deck 84, the Atlantic Grille and Caffe Luna Rosa.
Diners are encouraged to give feedback, and return to support the restaurants they discover in the program.
New at the Waterstone
Many restaurants used the downtime in the last year to renovate or redesign. At the Waterstone Resort in Boca Raton, a $500,000 renovation led to a redo of the site’s restaurant, now called the SeaSpray Inlet Grill, along with the addition of a marina.
It’s now Boca’s only restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway with docking. Boaters can tie off there and choose from an American grill menu or come for happy hour and eat at the bar. Serving the resort, the al fresco SeaSpray is open for breakfast through dinner daily.
Chef Kelley Randall, who cooked at Venu, The Office, and Vic and Angelo’s, keeps the menu tight with crowd pleasers. Grilled octopus, a mahi Reuben and frutti di mare are among the seafood offerings. The menu has skirt steak, chicken paillard and a pear tortellini in a truffle cream sauce. Several sandwiches fill out the list, as well as a few vegetarian options such as sticky cauliflower appetizer with a sesame-soy glaze.
The waterside brunch has become the place to be on the weekends — expect a wait.
SeaSpray at the Waterstone Resort, 999 E. Camino Real, Boca Raton. Phone 561-368-9500; www.seasprayboca.com.
Fine dining at Boca resort
The Boca Raton, the recently transformed resort, now has the Flamingo Grill as its signature restaurant.
New owners of the 95-year-old property, MSD Partners, L.P. and Northview Hotel Group, are calling the $175 million Phase One upgrade “A New Golden Era.” They joined with Major Food Group to create a restaurant evocative of the fine dining prevalent in the mid-1900s.
The menu created by Mario Carbone and executive chef Will Cox highlights foods familiar to diners but with contemporary twists. Dressed lobster is napped with a French curry aioli and served with pickled green apple, while tomato gazpacho includes watermelon. Entrees include whole branzino and prime steaks along with a half zesty chicken with roasted garlic vinaigrette.
Traditional service includes dinner captains in the main dining room, which is decorated in a tropical theme by the Rockwell Group. Al fresco seating on the veranda, as well as at the bar, is available. An outdoor terrace has a bar with a lighter-bites menu and signature cocktails.
Other restaurants will be added as the resort continues renovations. During the winter season 2021-2022, MFG management plans to open Sadelle’s, a popular brunch eatery with locations in New York and Las Vegas, and others focused on Japanese and Italian fare.
Currently, the Flamingo Grill is open to hotel guests and members of the resort for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday. Lunch is expected to launch by summer’s end.
The Flamingo Grill at The Boca Raton, 501 E. Camino Real, Boca Raton. Phone 561-447-3000; www.thebocaraton.com.
Pizza goes and comes
The closing of Mellow Mushroom in Delray Beach had some pizza lovers feeling not so mellow, but the space will see new pies soon.
Nick’s New Haven Style Pizzeria and Bar in Boca Raton's Glades Plaza signed on to lease the place at 25 SE Sixth Ave. as soon as the ink dried on Mellow’s exit contract.
Nick’s is known for thin crust, coal-charred, Neapolitan pies, as well as white clam pizzas — and they’re pronounced colloquially “apizza.’’
Loyalists of the coastal city and the unique style with plenty of sauce have kept Boca’s locale busy; the owners are banking on even more exposure close to Atlantic Avenue.
No opening date has been set.
More pies for the Grove
The opening of Izza Pizza in Pineapple Grove has others, notably the vegans, doing a happy dance.
Izza Pizza has both conventional and vegan pies, as well as gluten-free. Plant-based meatballs and cashew ricotta along with cauliflower land on the animal-free list, while the omnivores can relish specialty pizzas such as bulgogi and kimchi, or bacon and onion jam, or pineapple, prosciutto and jalapeño.
Described as a cross between New York and New Haven style, with a thin, crispy crust, the conventional pizzas offered include traditional pepperoni and mushroom. You can mix and match. Order plant-based cheese with the sausage if you choose. They don’t judge.
This is one for the night workers, too. Izza Pizza says it is open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
Izza Pizza, 25 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Phone 561-455-2442; www.izzapizza.com.
Vegan smoothies in Delray
A talent executive who helped launch Lady Gaga’s career has opened an outdoor vegan smoothie spot behind a hot yoga studio in north Delray Beach, and is getting rave reviews from her followers.
The products at Joyfull, ranging from a soft-serve dessert to smoothies and lattes, also are organic, dairy- and gluten-free.
Leah Landon, a former smoothie chain vice president, opened the tropical, sand-covered yard this summer. It’s studded with bright benches, chairs and tables, and shaded by poinciana and cassia trees and a few palms.
Joyfull is aligned with Anuttara Yoga Shala in a health and wellness partnership.
Smoothies have oat milk and coconut milk bases. A variety of fruits, berries, plant powders and spices are added for flavors. The soft-serve dessert is oat-milk based and available in house-made waffle cones.
Add-ins for protein and energy boosts and beneficial antioxidants are on tap.
Joyfull, 2219 Seacrest Blvd., Delray Beach. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. www.choosejoyfull.com.
• Talk about pivoting: Burt Rapoport of Delray Beach’s Deck 84 has offered up a number of restaurant concepts over the decades, from American grills to Mediterranean and Italian. The latest in the works is a new homestyle Chinese called Pagoda Kitchen. It is scheduled to open in the Delray Marketplace on West Atlantic Avenue sometime in October.
Rapoport has based it on his former San Francisco Chinese restaurant, Betelnut. Peking duck, bao buns and lo mein will be on the menu, which is described as “comfort” and “neighborhood” Chinese fare.
• New England restaurateurs are buying up space to open eateries in South County. Among them is Meso Beach House, a New York Mediterranean seafood restaurant expected to open in November. It will take over the spacious former Che!!! Argentinean chop house on the Intracoastal off Atlantic Avenue. Che!!! closed in June.
Owner Bobby Khorrami, a part-time Delray resident, closed two restaurants in New York because of lack of business during the pandemic. The Big Apple was particularly hard-hit, with tourism at a standstill and severe restrictions. South Florida, in contrast, is attracting visitors, has low taxes and welcomes businesses. Meso Beach House plans to offer a trendy, modern seafood menu that also includes land fare and vegan offerings.
• Flavor Palm Beach returns after a year’s hiatus in September. The monthlong restaurant program with a fixed-price menu for participating restaurants was slow to take off, said Briana Beaty, the program’s founder.
“The restaurants were reluctant at first because they said we bring so much business, they were afraid they won’t have enough staff to accommodate all the diners,” she said.
They’ve come aboard, she said, with newcomers such as La Goulue and Almond in Palm Beach, True Food Kitchen in Boca, Amar in Delray Beach, and in West Palm Beach, the new Planta. In all more than 40 restaurants have signed up with up to 50 expected. The program benefits the Palm Beach County Food Bank this year. Find the list and information at www.FlavorPB.com.
• Jason Emmett stepped down as president of the Duffy’s Sports Grill chain, and partnered with Carl Berry and Amy Siegel to create Paradigm Hospitality Group. They’ve acquired three restaurant concepts during the pandemic. They own the American Icon Brewery in Fort Lauderdale and Vero Beach, the Agency Kitchen & Bar in the Delray Marketplace, and have taken over the Sundy House in Delray Beach. Expect more from the group, now that the dust seems to have settled.
• Coming to Mizner Park this fall: Pure Green, a smoothie and bowls meal outlet, and Subculture Coffee, a coffee and sandwich shop owned by Rodney Mayo’s group. Look for other dining and shop additions as Mizner undergoes a redo.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org