It's no surprise that South Florida hasn't always been the best place for meat-free eating. From Key West to Jupiter, the area has never had much to offer in terms of healthy, cruelty-free fare, with only a handful of places in Broward and Palm Beach serving the cuisine.
But this month, the local vegetarian and vegan crowd has much to rejoice about: Chef Seth Kirshbaum has announced he'll be returning to one of Palm Beach County's favorite vegan restaurants, Darbster, as executive chef for the Boca Raton location.
Darbster owners Allan Gould and Ellen Quinlan opened their first location in 2010. The husband-and-wife team are now known for revamping the old dive-bar spot at 8020 S. Dixie Highway into an outdoor, tropical-themed vegan restaurant just a few miles south of downtown West Palm Beach. The restaurant is named for their late dog, Darby, an homage that accounts for the establishment's pet-friendly attitude.
Still in its first year, Darbster received rave reviews for its vegetarian and vegan menu and proved to Palm Beach County that eating meat-free could be fun and tasty. It also opened the door to a second location in Boca Raton in 2012.
Kirschbaum, the original executive chef for Darbster's West Palm Beach location, is best-known in South Florida for his work as executive chef at Fort Lauderdale's Sublime and later Palm Beach's organic eatery Da Francecso's. Kirschbaum left Darbster in 2011 to pursue private ventures but said during a recent interview that he is excited to "return home" to the restaurant family.
"After three years I'm coming back," said Kirschbaum in a recent interview. "Our paths met again, and it was just perfect timing. And Boca is a great place to be doing it."
Kirschbaum says he has a few ideas for what's to come at Darbster's Boca Raton restaurant -- namely a focus on creative small plates, weekly specials, and a progressive cocktail program. He plans to leverage a host of meat and dairy substitutes to create a wide-ranging menu and would like to see pairing dinners and a more robust late-night scene.
Several of Kirschbaum's best dishes have remained on the Darbster menu despite his absence, most notably his beloved palm cakes, made from shredded hearts of palm and crusted by panko bread crumbs served as a sandwich or dabbed with pine nut aioli.
"This time around, I'd like to see Darbster become more of a vegan gastropub, with a chef-forward menu and lots of fun stuff to eat," said Kirschbaum. "It's time to start getting people excited about vegan food again."
Visit darbster.com, or call 561-586-2622.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.