Clay Conley's New Italian Eatery, Grato, Opens This Week in West Palm Beach

Grato is a good name for James Beard Award-nominated chef Clay Conley's new restaurant. The meaning — "grateful" in Italian — is exactly how Conley feels about his latest venture, set to open in West Palm Beach January 8. 

"I live in the community [where Grato is located], and for a while I’ve dreamed of opening a place that I could bring my family and friends to on a regular basis," Conley says. "Grato has a warm, gracious vibe. I believe it's casual and comfortable for everyone who comes in — laid-back but with great food and service."

The new rustic Italian eatery will be Conley's third establishment following his well-known Palm Beach restaurants Buccan (a modern American grill that opened in 2011), Imoto (the intimate, Asian-focused extension of Buccan that opened in 2012), and the Sandwich Shop at Buccan, which opened in 2014.

Located at 1901 S. Dixie Hwy., along West Palm Beach’s up-and-coming Dixie corridor, Conley announced plans to open an Italian restaurant last November when he and partners Sam Slattery and Piper Quinn purchased the old Reward Lighting building. Since then, he and the Buccan Group have been working tirelessly to gut and renovate the space, which can now accommodate up to 150 with its open dining room, expansive bar and lounge, and bar seating along an exposed, open kitchen.

As with his other restaurants, Conley is giving the Italian theme his own twist, reinventing simple Italian dishes with an eye for detail using inventive ingredients and prepared using the restaurant's main focal point: a wood-burning brick oven and wood-burning rotisserie. 

Practically everything on the menu will be made in-house, Conley says, including a number of inventive pastas available in half and full portions. Think rabbit ragu over homemade mustard orecchiette; paccheri — a large tube-shaped pasta — with Sunday gravy; and braised lamb with herb penne. All can be made with organic flours, gluten-free pasta, or vegan cheese upon request.

At the heart of the menu are a number of roasted main plates and pizzas cooked in Grato's wood-fire oven and rotisserie. Hungry eaters can opt for dishes like porchetta, a 16-ounce bone-in New York strip, brick-oven-roasted fish, and an herb-marinated half chicken, all offered with a daily vegetable. Pizzas include a classic Margherita pie, as well as more adventurous options like the Hawaiian, made with spit-roasted pineapple, pit-roasted ham, and pickled jalapeño. Desserts such as Conley's tiramisu and caramel panna cotta provide even more opportunity to indulge Italian-style.

And because it's a neighborhood spot, Grato will also have a children’s menu — Conley’s first — with options like Fusilli 'n' Cheese 'n' Trees: baked fusilli pasta topped with a fresh cheese sauce and broccoli. There's even a fancy peanut butter and jelly panini, made extra-special with coarse-ground peanut butter, berry preserves, and sliced banana. Loved SpaghettiOs as a kid? Conley has developed his own take, served with or without meatballs.

Grato, located at 1901 S. Dixie Hwy. in West Palm Beach, opens at 4:30 p.m. and serves dinner seven nights a week. Service will expand to include weekend brunch and lunch. Call 561-404-1334, or visit gratowpb.com.

Nicole Danna is a food writer 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 the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.

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