Sure, country-and-western music gets short shrift among the R&B, jazz, and karaoke easy-listening that often accompanies our meals these days. But if you have a hankering to be a country boy (or girl) while you down an enormous porterhouse steak, take the country road home to Boonie's. With few decorative frills and lots of Marlboro men populating the bar, this budget steak house can seem a little intimidating at first. We say brave it and head straight for the lounge, where some reasonably good live musicians and bands play classics ranging from country-and-western to Southern rock. No sense in not crooning along, either, or in keeping yourself from that dance floor. It's all good clean American fun in a county that's often too ritzy for its own good. Slap some boots on that thar Kennedy, folks, and let's remember what Palm Beach used to be like, when you could still tie a hoss to a hitchin' post.

If your definition of a family restaurant is one where you can take relatives ranging from grandparents to grandkids, fill their bellies with wholesome food like meat loaf and roast chicken, and come out with a bill so reasonable you wonder whether the server included everything, then you're obviously thinking of Penn Dutch. As are we. Not to be mistaken for the Penn Dutch retail center on the other side of I-95, this eatery, where mashed potatoes are served with gravy rather than Gorgonzola, epitomizes the family restaurant. The restaurant opens early (6:30 a.m.) and closes early (8 p.m.), even then serving dinner only four evenings a week, Wednesday through Saturday. That's OK with us and with most of the other patrons, since folks like to cook at home early in the week and eat out later in the week, when everyone's energy has ebbed. At times like these, Penn Dutch provides an infusion of home cooking just like Mom (or Dad) would -- if the restaurant didn't prove that it's actually cheaper, faster, and tastier to dine here than to do so at home.
No doubt we could use some more Southwestern cuisine in this part of the country -- or county, for that matter. But Canyon doesn't take its solitary status for granted. Instead executive chef Chris Wilber continues to reinvent his regional cuisine, providing diners with the likes of smoked-duck nachos, chicken quesadillas with mango-black bean salsa, and filet mignon with poblano-pesto goat cheese. Even more of a draw, Canyon offers a menu of rare, smoky tequilas, either to wash down the peppery fare or to start a fire all their own. In any event diners can be assured of a hot time in the Canyon tonight.
Browsing Batten's gives the fruit-and-veggie savvy a place to meditate. Watch how shoppers glide quietly along while contemplating such seasonal goodies as honey tangerines, acorn squash, and vine-ripened tomatoes. There's a definite reverence toward the bins spilling with gleaming eggplants, plump limes, black radishes, and cactus pears. This open-air market sports the kind of bounty that looks almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. During the months of November and December, Batten's grows its own strawberries, peppers, Kirby cucumbers, sweet onions, and various tomatoes. Step out behind the store and you can see nature in action: Batten's Farm fans out behind the market. If you get hungry while shopping, there's a walk-up window where you can order fresh juices or fruit milk shakes -- "fresh" as in they cut and mix the stuff right in front of you. The market also sells fresh-cut flowers and prepackaged gourmet goodies like pepper vinaigrettes, all-natural spices, coffees, and homemade jellies and jams. And best of all, Batten's is open year-round.

Cheeburger Cheeburger is a hamburger joint, but it's not a fast-food hamburger joint. In other words you have to wait for your food rather than have your food wait for you under a heat lamp. This is a good thing. Everything on the menu is cooked to order, including the French fries, which means that they're made from scratch, not frozen. The fries are sliced from the finest Idaho spuds, fried (with the skin on) to a golden brown in peanut oil, and then sprinkled with what the restaurant insists are "secret" seasonings. If you find yourself on Las Olas Boulevard with some time to kill, stop in and order a basket, and try a burger while you're at it.
Since the average hamburger is made not of ham but of beef, we feel no qualm about awarding the blue ribbon to Shuck-N-Dive's burger, which is neither ham nor beef but buffalo, and there's nothing average about it. Yes, buffalo. Humpback on a roll. The good ol' buffburger. The meat from farm-raised buffalo is generally leaner than beef, but the way chef-proprietor Staz prepares 'em, these burgers are just as juicy as ones made from ground chuck. Toss in a couple of sides of fried okra and fried green tomatoes, and you have yourself a meal so many culinary steps removed from the typical burger and fries that it's almost a shame to finish it. Almost -- because, hey, you can always order another one.
It's a piece of sin in a crisp paper bag. And you can get through the shiny chrome façade's double-barreled drive-through so fast your conscience won't have time to stop you. Then it's a simple matter of snaring one of those 69-cent, melt-in-your-mouth, fat-soaked Kremes and making it disappear. They taste so good that, for at least one mouthwatering, donut-devouring moment, you forget that your choice to be the next President is between Gore and Bush. That's right: Gore or Bush. Sorry, but it's true. Thanks in part to Krispy Kreme, however, America is still a relatively decent place to live. Be thankful you have a Krispy Kreme shop nearby, because, believe it or not, not all locales have these culinary staples. (Try to find one on the other coast in, say, Fort Myers.) What's life without guilty pleasures?

Christina Mendenhall
Ah, ice cream. In this age of diet and fitness, it's almost a taboo to savor a scoop, let alone think about ordering a sundae somewhere. Well, we have the perfect solution. Abandon this age. Go back in time, just a little, to when ice cream was a sweet pleasure too rare to be scorned for its fat content. Got the fantasy set in your mind? Now make it reality at Jaxson's, a 44-year-old ice cream parlor and candy shop designed like a general store. The place even smells like the old-fashioned ice cream-candy emporium that it is, with scents of chocolate and malt mingling with the cool air wafting out of the freezers. With a choice of 60 flavors made right on the premises, it's almost a sin not to ask for the famous "kitchen sink," a sundae that has so many scoops, toppings, whipped cream, sprinkles, and nuts it could feed an entire Little League baseball team. In fact just spooning it up is so much exercise you can practically count the calories you're cutting.

Photo courtesy of Cafe Maxx
The term New World may be heading out of favor, but it's a pretty safe bet that chef Oliver Saucy's innovative cuisine never will. As one of the originators of this style of cooking, which uses local ingredients and incorporates tropical influences from the Caribbean to Asia, Saucy produces an incredible complement of dishes. Because the menu changes daily, you can't depend on any single item being available on any given day. What you can expect is a reliance on regional fish such as grouper or snapper -- for good reason, since Saucy cooks it to flaky tenderness -- and a tendency to encrust it in anything from Vidalia onions to pistachios. A few heartier meat dishes, such as pesto-dusted veal chops, sate the carnivore, and there's always pasta, such as gnocchi or ravioli, on the menu. Go for anything oyster, since buttermilk-bread crumb ones are excellent and raw ones are superior. Since 1984, Café Maxx has been amazing its patrons, who expect -- and receive -- nothing less in the new millennium.
There once was a lass named Biddy,

Who spoke of what she could foresee:

That a pub named for her

Would have the best beer,

And therefore never be empty.

So her prediction came to pass.

The folks came to drink in great gasps

The Irish lager, stout, and ale,

And with each pint without fail

They'd toast: Thanks be to the lass!

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