Chef Allen Susser, one of the original Miami Mango Gang of chefs, so named because of their commitment to using Florida foods, opens in Delray Beach tomorrow with Taste. It's a gastropub, and we chatted with him about this new venture -- far from Aventura's more formal sitdown, Chef Allen's, he's run for 24 years.
New Times: Why a gastropub -- and why Delray Beach?
Susser: I thought it was a great idea. This is undefined territory, and I like new adventures. It's not necessarily predictable, and I like to be able to take a concept and run with it.
As for Delray, I wasn't that familiar with it, but it's such a neighborhood community, I fell in love with it. It had a great feel and appeal to me -- people were walking around, and there were tons of shops -- it was like a real neighborhood. You don't see that down here in South Florida. When I first saw it, I thought, "This needs to be a gastropub." It's community based -- a place people from the neighborhood can meet and have fun.
What do you think about the sudden trend of the gastropub -- is it a flash in the pan, so to speak? We've got several now open in Palm Beach County.
That's the funny thing: This is two years in the planning, and there was no gastropub anywhere down here when I was looking around. Now I'm opening, and I'm shocked as to how many have just popped up. I just hope they all bring justice to the name and be honest with the food as it should be. As long as they're doing that, who cares how many there are?
The menu is comfort food -- with a spin, I presume?
The menu evokes comfort: pot pie, for instance -- we do a duck pot pie -- and lobster mac and cheese and a grilled cheese sandwich with soup -- things to dream back to that you remember as a kid that made you feel good.
Tell me about the Candy Bar.
When I thought about doing the setup of the restaurant and organizing it, I had an open kitchen over here for the hot foods, a tapas bar over here, then the desserts should go here: on a candy bar! It just developed from that point.
I grew up in Brooklyn -- every corner of every neighborhood had a candy store -- or several -- where you got your newspaper, candies... It had a luncheonette for sandwiches and shakes. I figured I'm doing a community thing, so we're doing a little candy bar. Not so much for kids, though; we'll have old-fashioned candy like Mary Janes, Crunch bars, jelly beans available in jars. But we'll do our own homemade Snickers bars, Almonds Joys, Kit Kats, and chocolate peanut butter cups. Then, to connect that up, we'll have old-fashioned pecan pie, Key lime pie, red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.
How's the pricing?
I'm glad you mentioned that. I want it to be very approachable. It will be easy to come in and have a craft beer and a couple of small plates to share with your friends. Not a pressure place. For that reason, I'm really glad it's on a side street -- it's very different than being on Atlantic Avenue. The people in Pineapple Grove live here, they love the idea we're in Pineapple Grove -- it's the community component. We're going to participate in a community garden and have block parties, become connected to the community.
I know that for the long haul, you come in and be where the people are and be a leader in it, not just be here to take the money and run or be a follower. I want to be the leader in the type of food we're doing.
What's the service attitude?
I want it to be flexible and welcoming. My kitchen team is great -- they're set up and ready to be flexible.
When I empower the servers, they can make people happy -- if the people are happy, we'll do great. It's not about the ego of the food or the owner. I'm on the side of "Let's make it happen." Whatever it is, let us know and let us help you through the menu. If you don't eat butter or flour or garlic, we'll leave it out, if we can -- we can do that on the cooked-to-order dishes.
Obviously, there are some things we just can't change -- the duck has been confited for three days -- I can't take the garlic out of it. But I can help you find something else on the menu -- we have enough choices, enough simple food -- we won't have to be bottled up in the kitchen with special requests. The hardest thing is communication between the server and the kitchen. If that's good, we'll do fine.
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We can handle this -- I have a very demanding clientele in Aventura, so I know tough crowds.
Are you going to be behind the stove here?
Oh, yes. I'll be there helping the chef get it up and running and set the footprint for what we have to do. Jamie DeRosa is a really talented guy who worked for me for a long time, then went to California and worked for Wolfgang [Puck] and went to London and spent time at the Fat Duck... I'm thrilled to have him back with me. We're ready to go. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.
169 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach 33444