By Jan Norris
For a decade, Delray Beach has been blocking off Atlantic Avenue in the tastiest of detours. Savor the Avenue, the five-block-long dinner party staged in the center of the street, returns for an 11th year on March 25, with downtown restaurants showcasing their food, wine and elaborate table displays.
Sponsored by the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority and Boca magazine, the event has garnered national attention and spawned several copycats. It’s all flattery for the city, said Laura Simon, executive director of the DDA.
“We are thrilled once again to bring the downtown to life and our community together with this experiential event in a very social and very Delray Beach way. The restaurants are excited and have created themes for their table décor from fun to elegant as they compete for Best in Show,” she said.
Fourteen restaurants were scheduled to participate, some that have been with the event since the start. Among those are Cabana El Rey, The Office, Caffe Luna Rosa, City Oyster & Sushi Bar, and Vic & Angelo’s.
Others set to participate: 50 Ocean, Che, Death or Glory, Lemongrass, Rack’s Fish House and Gary Rack’s Farmhouse Kitchen, L’Acqua, Rocco’s Tacos and Salt 7.
Nearly all reservations, made directly with each restaurant, were sold out by mid-February, according to the DDA website.
Atlantic Avenue will be closed, and long tables for the restaurants will line the middle of the street from Swinton Avenue to Fifth Avenue, with the railroad tracks the main gap. Each restaurant is responsible for its own table decor, food and paired wines, and service staff.
A contest for best table decor brings out elaborate, creative themes. Guests each leave with a gift bag. All restaurants prepare a four-course menu, though some chefs are known to slide in some extras during the evening.
Chef Ernie DeBlasi of Caffe Luna Rosa says it’s a tricky dinner to cater — especially preparing food in a tent as he does. Caffe Luna Rosa, on State Road A1A, is too far away for hot food to travel for 110 diners.
“A lot goes into it — more than you would think,” he said. “It’s enough of a feat if you’re cooking four courses for 110 people at once in your own restaurant during service. Doing it in a tent with unfamiliar equipment under unpredictable conditions, it’s definitely more difficult. Any number of things can go wrong, and you just have to be ready.”
The restaurants along Atlantic have it easier. “If you’re fortunate enough to have a restaurant that’s on the street with your table nearby, it’s easier,” though still problematic if you’re open for service to other diners, DeBlasi said.
From writing the menu, to planning equipment and prep lists, and pulling the staff to work the street dinner (“I get the guy with the pickup truck who can carry our coolers,” he said), details must be checked off far in advance.
“You have to get there early and check all your equipment. You don’t want to show up and find out your pilot light isn’t working,” he said. “Been there, done that.”
The tent kitchen must be up to code, so city and fire code compliance officers come to inspect for fire extinguishers and three compartment hand- and dish-washing sinks.
The event attracts hundreds more than it did 11 years ago. “We had 30 people the first year, and this year we’re up to 110,” DeBlasi said. “We sell out early. I’d say 50 percent of the people have been here every year, and the other 50 percent just happen in.”
DeBlasi does all this while still running dinner service at the restaurant; a trusted staff helps. “We’re ready to go home at the end,” he said. “It’s a long day.”
The dinner starts with walk-around cocktails provided by the restaurants at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner. A list of the menus and information about the event are at DowntownDelrayBeach.com/SavortheAvenue.
In Boca Raton, they’re preparing for Boca Bacchanal, hailing all things wine and food. It’s April 4-6, with events at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.
Team members announced in February the select pairings for the vintner dinners, the exclusive hallmarks of the event. They’re held in private homes in Boca.
The dinners are designed and executed by noted chefs from around the country. Their four-course menus are paired with a winery whose owner or representative is at the dinner.
This year, Barbara and Bobby Campbell have Craggy Range Vineyards of New Zealand, and chefs Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte, New York, and Justin Smillie of Upland in New York and Miami.
Joyce and Thom DeVita and Joni and Al Goldberg will host representatives of ZD Wines of Napa, with chef Matt Gennuso of Chez Pascal in Providence, Rhode Island.
Maria and Todd Roberti host vintners from Darioush, Napa, along with chefs Brian and Shanna O’Hea of Academe at the Kennebunk Inn in Maine.
Holly and David Meehan host representatives of Silver Oak/Twomey Cellars of Napa, with chef Russ Aaron Simon of GG’s Waterfront in Hollywood, Florida.
Diane and Robert Bok host vintners from Maison Louis Jadot’s Resonance of France and Oregon. Chef Adam Jakins of Hall’s Chophouse in Charleston, South Carolina, will cook.
These intimate dinners are the big-ticket event at the festival, at $350 per person with limited seating in each home. Dinners are at 7 p.m. April 5.
Other events include the new Bubbles & Burgers, April 4 at the Boca Beach Club at the resort. Guests can mingle with others and meet the chefs of the bacchanal. Specialty burgers and Champagne are on the menu. Tickets are $75 per person.
The finale of the weekend is the Grand Tasting, April 6 at the resort. Tickets are $125 per person, with an international representation of wines and winemakers on hand to talk about them. Dozens of chefs from area restaurants will prepare small bites off their menus in a walk-around setting, and more than 100 lots will be offered for bid in a silent auction. For more information and for tickets to all events, visit bocabacchanal.com.
South Florida is getting on the “environment-friendly” train, with cities voting to ban plastic-foam dinnerware and take-out containers, plastic bags and straws. Delray Beach voted in the plastic straw ban in February.
Now Boca Raton wants to recognize restaurants and other businesses it deems eco-friendly by giving out star ratings for their efforts. The symbol for the ratings is a starfish.
Up to three stars can be awarded to each business, given in the form of a certificate to be posted. The rating will depend on the level of sustainability and eco-friendly practices, such as plant-based menu items.
The program is aimed at the reduction of single-use plastics often found on beaches, in waterways and public parks where fish, turtles and birds mistake it for food. With the largest coastline of all cities in the county, Boca Raton has much at stake.
It’s an initiative brought to the city by Lindsey Nieratka, the new sustainability manager. She hopes the recognition for some restaurants will lead others to participate in the program.
It’s part of a larger Coastal Connection initiative, a more ambitious program teaching and encouraging environment-friendly practices by businesses as well as restaurants.
Restaurants can earn one starfish if they offer plastic straws only by request, use biodegradable takeout containers and offer sustainable menu items such as vegetarian dishes.
Two starfish can be achieved if the restaurant adheres to the one-starfish rules and works to conserve water and energy and recycle within the restaurant.
The top rating, three starfish, goes to the restaurants that practice all the above, plus use techniques that reduce light pollution and cut food waste in the kitchen.
These top restaurants also will use sustainable seafood (if they serve seafood), and those fish and shellfish on the Seafood Watch list compiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Seafood Watch program has been around for decades and uses research on sustainability and endangerment of fishes from the aquarium.
In brief: A third Beehive Kitchen, a fast-casual bowl restaurant, officially opens this month in Boca Raton at 1914 NE Fifth Ave. The Florida-based restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, serving gluten-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free menu choices, with an emphasis on vegetables. It’s a cafeteria-style counter service eatery. Call 341-0496 for information.
In a move that has Delray’s food community talking, Bruce Feingold stepped away from the stoves at DaDa after 18 years as chef. He’s moving on to pursue other ventures and spend time with family.
The Delray Beach Wine & Seafood Festival returns to downtown Delray Beach and Old School Square on March 9 and 10. Event-goers can sign up for seminars from top chefs or vintners to learn how to pair wine and seafood. The event will feature live music as well as arts and crafts for sale. Admission is free. For the event schedule or to purchase tickets to food and wine pairings, visit WineandSeafoodFest.com.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at email@example.com. Thom Smith is on leave.