If it seems like the word "craft" gets thrown around way too much, you aren't alone in wondering when this craze will blow over. We get it: Pretty much every menu in South Florida is offering specially crafted this and that.
But what makes something truly craft? Take a seat at newly opened M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room in Boca Raton and you'll get a better understanding; here, the idea of doing everything in-house goes one step further.
Like its sister establishment in Islamorada, the Boca restaurant smokes and grinds its own meats onsite, cuts and cures its own bacon, and offers house-made sausage and chorizo. Even the condiments -- including a mango chipotle ketchup and caraway and beer mustard -- are made fresh, and from scratch.
M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room is the work of co-owner and executive chef George Patti. Also owner of the Asian-fusion Keys establishment, S.A.L.T. Fusion Cuisine, he teamed with business partner and M.E.A.T cofounder Thomas Smith in 2009 to create Tasters Grille & Market, a gastropub for the locals in the Upper Keys. After much success, the duo moved on to create M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room, what they say is a casual approach to gourmet "fast food."
"We wanted to go against the grain of what the Keys are all about. Everyone does fish and seafood," Patti told Clean Plate Charlie. "We decided to do a meat house."
The original Islamorada M.E.A.T. opened in 2012, situated in a small strip mall at mile marker 88 on U.S. Highway 1. But don't let its quaint exterior fool you -- the humble digs are no indication of the hand-crafted, artisanal fare being crafted inside. And in that same vein, the Boca Raton restaurant is more than just a lunch pit stop for the office building its been built into.
It's also more than just a second location; it's the first of two additional concepts the founders hope to transform into franchise models.
"[The owners] wanted a casual, fine-dining experience to offer next to their first establishment. This is the first of several varying business models the owners are looking to offer franchisees," said M.E.A.T. chef de cuisine Christian Martin. "But, unlike most fast-casual places, everything here is being created in-house."
Located at the back of the new Cendyn Spaces office building off Federal Highway just south of Glades Road, it seems a conspicuous location for the ultra-modern pub. However, it's part of the plan to create a concept that franchise owners can place in office buildings, mall courts or airports, while a final concept would allow for a more upscale, full-service approach.
The restaurant itself is small, just 1500-square-feet decked out in black and red with brick and brushed metal decor. Despite its size, the space can pack in up to 30 at a bar that features 12 rotating taps of craft brew, and a second lunch counter that can accommodate another 20 patrons. The building's interior courtyard expands the service, making way for several additional tables and booth seating for more traditional, sit-down service.
The menu will likely attract in droves, a carnivore's dream that delivers it all, but affordably priced, most dishes priced $8.50-$12. They include duck and pickled blueberry sausage with an apricot, jalapeño and shallot relish; 8-hour, house-smoked pulled pork sandwich; or the Inside-Out Juicy Lucy burger, a six-ounce pimento cheese and bacon-stuffed Angus patty topped with cheese, lettuce and tomato. Patti's signature dish, however, is his own chorizo "Patti" sandwich, a five-ounce chorizo burger topped with American cheese and a lime cilantro aioli. Pair it all with the bistro fries, here fried in duck fat for an extra level of flavor.
Patti says his pastrami is a favorite menu item. It's the exact recipe his father used growing up in their deli in New Rochelle, New York. Every step, from beginning to end, is the same, he said, a way to recreate his favorite dish.
However, at M.E.A.T., it's not all about meat. Although it very well could be.
"Sure, the food is heavy -- which is great if you're on vacation in Islamorada," said Martin. "To appeal to the lunch crowd, we wanted to make sure we had enough on the menu to give some variety."
A section of the menu dubbed "fun items" offers a new steamed edamame side, as well as crispy fried onions, and fresh-made dips like hummus, tapenade, and a house-smoked eggplant caviar ($2.50-$5). The house pork rinds are stellar, a three-day process that culminates with airy, crispy-cracklings that pop in your mouth, served with a chimichurri aioli. A few new salad options have also been added for the Boca location, like the red and gold quinoa salad paired with a grapefruit and ginger mint vinaigrette over shredded Napa cabbage and iceberg lettuce.
If you can fit it, dessert is just as "craft," and extra fun. Homemade vanilla bean and Nutella ice cream are used in a selection of "adult milkshakes" -- beer off the tap blended with the house-churned gelato and heavy cream. Other drinks include micro-brewed sodas created just for the restaurant, made with all-natural flavors and cane sugar.
The restaurant is even open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., offering many of the house meats in breakfast form. Take the pulled pork grab-and-go breakfast egg sandwich; chorizo breakfast burrito with beer-braised onion, scrambled egg and pickled jalapeño; or lobster and broccolini eggs benedict ($5.50-$12).
M.E.A.T. Eatery & Taproom is located at 980 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton. Visit meateateryboca.com, or call 561-419-2600.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.