Best Of :: Food & Drink
Charm City Burger Co. took home the top award at this year's Riverwalk Trust Burger Battle, its beloved burgers holding sway in a heated battleground for beefy supremacy. But the restaurant deserves another honor, for its creamy milk-shake concoction: the Binge. A genius and outrageously addictive blend of caramel and sea salt, the Binge is made with Blue Bell ice cream, and the quality shows. This is one of the most indulgent sweet treats in all the land (and it's enough to make a vegetarian venture into Charm City's meat-perfumed air on a semiregular basis).
Lauren DeShields is a young chef with discipline. She assembles dish after graceful dish with local products that transform the craft of cooking into an art. An acolyte of chef Dean Max of 3030 Ocean, DeShields is among the most pedigreed young chefs in town. If you've got coin, splurge for the grand tasting menu: a 17-course tour de force full of surprises, from the amuse-bouche teaser down to the whimsy of dessert. You may find the snapper and shrimp ceviche layered with red pepper, lime, and cilantro — a palate cleanser with a bite of heat. Or antelope — a brawny plate, dressed in savory soy and ginger marinade, served over a bed of quinoa. You may wrap things up with a cheese course, with raw-milk blue and Morimoto Soba Ale cheddar. Served with a tangy beet/date chutney and Marcona almonds, they're one of many delicious bites on a memorable journey.
There's a danger in getting too attached to any one dish at Dennis Max's "farm to fork" restaurant in Pineapple Grove. Although one may be tempted to develop a dependency on pan-seared gnocchi spiked with morel mushrooms and truffled fondue, or a tempura-battered squash blossom stuffed with creamy goat cheese, that would be a mistake. With its reliance on purveyors like Green Cay Farms, Heritage Hen Farm, and Farmer Jay Pure Organics, the restaurant's daily menu depends entirely on what is good, fresh, and sustainable. There are mainstays, of course, but dishes evolve with the seasons, following nature's arc of availability. With two outdoor seating areas (one streetside and the other on a quieter back patio complete with a waterfall) and two dining rooms, the environs can vary just as much as the offerings on the table. The kitchen is open, a wise design move that gives diners a bit of a show. Executive chef Chris Miracolo and crew work magic with their fleeting stock, finessing, say, something as flat as microgreens into a vessel that one uses to sop up every last speckle of a guava pepper jelly. If it's something you can't live without, order seconds. Nature is an ever-fluctuating supplier, and Max's Harvest intends to keep up.
Shortly after Tap 42 opened, New Times panned it in a January review, and commenters on Yelp and Urbanspoon went nuts complaining of lax service and uneven food. Some restaurants shutter after such a rough start, but Tap 42 responded by hiring a new chef, a new manager, and a staff that's nearly unrecognizable from opening night. The changes are dramatic. The service is now spot-on, with a staff that's educated about the extensive beer, bourbon, and wine lists. The kitchen is putting out consistently stellar food, from a burger that's among the best around to salads locally sourced at Marando Farms. Then there's the stunning space, including a sweeping bar backsplash made of 15,000 pennies and cross-cut wood beams that are sunk into the back wall. The bar has been crowded since day one, but where you'd once hear grumbling about servers who'd gone missing and food that came out wrong, nowadays the talk is about Tap 42's comeback.
The naysayers claimed it couldn't be done. They sniffed and smirked, saying a noodle bar with an edgy style and fun concept couldn't survive in a brisket-loving city of grayhairs. But more than half a year after opening, this Mizner Park restaurant can thumb its nose at early detractors. The spot is flourishing, thanks in no small part to the challenging but accessible dishes streaming out of the kitchen during a slamming dinner hour and an aesthetic that is simultaneously trendy and unpretentious. The restaurant specializes in steaming bowls of noodles swimming in fragrant broth, but it's the small plates — a sticky bun crammed with smoky mushrooms, hamachi with grapefruit-ginger poached pears — that give one pause. With a young chef eager to prove her chops and a team of experienced restaurateurs to steer operations, it's a story of controlled experimentation — and South Florida diners are fortunate to reap the results.
Angelo Elia has nothing to prove. He has already earned his reputation as a terrific chef, this Florida resident who arrived from the region near Naples, Italy, more than 20 years ago. At his elegant namesake institution and four spinoffs, he offers stunning dishes and graceful service. Humble cuts like osso buco are elevated from simple veal flanks to lust-worthy plates, served with sides of marrow. Carbonara is the perfect combination of egg, cheese, guanciale, and herbs on homemade pasta. Some recipes come straight from Elia's mother's restaurants in Italy, and many of his ingredients are well-traveled too, all the way down to imported yeast. An original DIY-er, Elia makes bread in-house and makes some cheeses too. He employs four pizzaiolos, and his restaurants offer the most extensive wine selections around — some 20,000 bottles. Despite all this, he's prepping for more. Two restaurants will debut in Palm Beach County this year, and a bakery and gelateria is on the docket for Delray. Thanks, chef.