Here's an idea: The Chinese Zodiac calendar should rename this year "The Year of the Gastropub." There has been a whole mess of notable gastro-openings across South Florida in the past few months, many of them bringing big names to high-profile locations.
is one of those recent of those openings. It debuted last month in the old Spoto's Oyster Bar spot on Datura (125 Datura St., West Palm Beach). How's it faring so far? Read on to find out.
The whole concept behind the gastropub is a place that focuses on custom cocktails, craft beer, and wine while offering a menu that's more creative than just typical bar food. It's a place to drink, to hang, and to relax but also one where you can be surprised and comforted by the cuisine. There is a host of restaurant/bars that have been doing this for a long time without the label gastropub. Some of them, like Brother Tuckers and Tryst, are among South Florida's most unusual places to eat and drink.
Gratify follows that mold pretty closely. The space has been redesigned to flow around a teardrop bar that extends toward the far wall and overlooks the chef's line. The emphasis is on booze and beer. Although the beer list features a few interesting brews like Arrogant Bastard and Sweaty Betty, it's also fairly small and could use some more depth.
The menu itself has been designed with small plates in mind -- most items top off around $15, with a few more expensive entrées clocking in at just over $20. There's an eclectic spread of dishes that run the gamut: Risotto balls with roasted red pepper aioli, shrimp and grits, and barbecue pork sliders all share spots on the list. This provides a number of different ways to go: Do you want to stick to pub grub like chicken wings and potato skins or go with a vaguely Italian theme courtesy of pizza, salad, and antipasti? Although that may seem attractive at first, it can also lead to a somewhat schizophrenic and ill-conceived meal, especially if diners aren't all on the same page.
I visited over the recent boat show weekend and sampled a few of the items on the menu from each category.
To start out, servers bring over a basket full of housemade, crinkle-cut potato chips. The offering was great, because my companion and I were starving when we walked in. But the chips were also pretty lacking in the flavor department. They weren't well-seasoned and didn't taste freshly fried. Plus, many were very thickly cut to the point of being overly hard. Also, some were not thoroughly fried and thus were soggy. Perhaps if Gratify served a sauce on the side with these chips, they would be more interesting. That, however, would detract from the menu's pub chips offering, which is the same basket served with three sauces for $6. Still, I don't see how anyone would order those anyway after sampling this complimentary basket.
After picking over the potato chips, we received our initial plates. The first was a dish of Florida rock shrimp and grits ($12) with the addition of Manchego cheese. The grits had a lovely, hearty texture and great flavor. Although the sauce accompanying the saute of shrimp was on the watery side, the flavors of garlic, tomato, and bell pepper were nice. I could also appreciate that Gratify chose to steer clear of heavy cream in it as well. Another plus: Those rock shrimp were cooked flawlessly -- tender and sweet and moist.
The St. Louis-style ribs ($12) at Gratify skipped the sticky-sweet barbecue sauce for a tangy, spicy shallot vinaigrette and a mountain of balsamic-covered rice noodles. Although the flavor of the sauce was actually quite appealing, the ribs themselves ranged from slightly overcooked to severely burnt. A couple of the ribs were fine -- smokey meat finished on the grill that pulled off the bone with ease. Others, however, were so dry, they were like shoe leather. Better consistency -- and a slightly larger portion -- would make this dish a winner.
Following up those two starters, we tried Gratify's take on gourmet potato skins ($10). Made with thick skins, goat cheese, and oven-roasted tomatoes, these potatoes offered the kind of slightly greasy satisfaction most bar skins do, only with slightly more refined execution. To go with them, we tried an open-faced turkey and egg sandwich from the entrée menu ($12). To be honest, the dish was sort of odd. The menu didn't describe it as a sandwich per se, but it came on a crusty piece of bread layered with turkey, tomato, arugula, a fried egg, and gobs of Muenster cheese. I found it a little heavy and bland, but my tablemate enjoyed it. "The thing I like about this," he said, "is you can eat it any time of day."
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The total tab for this meal, including three pints of craft beer, was just over $60. Not bad for downtown West Palm, but considering some of the kitchen lapses, not amazing either. Still, the place has been open for only a month and is likely working out those menu kinks. A clearer, more refined vision of the dishes would be nice as well as better consistency and a larger drink menu.
Look for more on Gratify in the coming months.