For chef Marc Henderson, the recent debut of Sky309 as a dining destination is something of a welcome-home present.
The top floor of Roxy's Pub (309 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; 561-296-7699, ext. 222) opened late last year, touting its party-friendly bar, open-air "island" vibe, and panoramic view of downtown West Palm Beach. Former consulting chef Mark Liberman put together an eclectic lunch and dinner menu that was never instituted, but the desire to add fine dining to the mix of building's mix of pub, nightclub, and saloon didn't disappear with him.
Enter Henderson, who after moving to West Palm from Boston in 2004 cooked at several of the area's top restaurants -- Tsunami, Chez Jean-Pierre, L'Opera, and Vic & Angelos -- before heading up the kitchen at the fine but short-lived Beach House Bistro in Palm Beach.
Then everything went to hell -- Henderson's gig at the Beach House, the Beach House itself, the national economy, the local restaurant industry -- and Henderson moved up to the frozen tundra to take over a Legal Sea Foods-type eatery in a mall next to the New England Patriots' football stadium.
When he left the Beach House two weeks before his wedding in early 2008, he could see the handwriting on the wall, and it said, We are so fucked. "That's when the shit started hitting the fan," he says. "The economy was starting to go down the toilet. Clematis Street was dead; two, three years ago, this street was a ghost town. I think if we had opened L'Opera [where Rocco's Tacos is now] last year, it would have been great. It's just the timing."
But the "meat and potatoes" mentality and "corporate environment" of New England's Skipjack's weren't very appealing either, so when the chance came to cook his kind of food -- "simple but very tasty, kind of eclectic" -- at Sky309, Henderson moved back and began putting together a new menu.
At lunch, Sky is pretty basic -- a buffet-style soup and salad bar, plus à la carte burgers and sammies -- all geared to time-starved wage slaves who work in surrounding offices. At dinner, Henderson gets to stretch a bit: grilled caesar salad with white anchovies and shaved Parmesan, organic Irish salmon with green papaya and mango-peanut salsa, New York strip with arugula and charred onion salad and blue cheese beignet.
He's jazzed about his raw materials. "We're using top-of-the-line products -- Walter Ross' Farmhouse tomatoes, Swank Farms' greens and vegetables, Kurobuta pork, Mishima Ranch Kobe, 1855 Angus beef, which is only produced at one farm in the entire country. We're not using any garbage."
He's jazzed about the area too, seeing a lot of progress since he left almost two years ago. "A lot of places have closed, but a lot of places have opened as well. It's still in flux. But I think it's over the hump; things are starting to get better. People are starting to spend money again. It's definitely on the way up."