Restaurant Reviews

Down in the Boondocks

Question: How do you compliment a girl from Loxahatchee?

Answer: "Nice tooth."

Question: How do you compliment ten girls from Loxahatchee?

Answer: "Nice set of teeth."

Now, I don't mean to deride Palm Beach County's less-ritzy towns -- well, maybe I do -- but let's face it: It's Hicksville out there. Ford truck country. The main supplier of rednecks in need of serious dental work to the Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy Raphael shows.

Still, if you're not a snob or you realize that Palm Beach County is as much about regular ol' folks with dirty fingernails as it is about Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago and the Kennedy compound, Loxahatchee has a certain unpaved charm. For one thing, away from city lights, you can see the stars and even track space shuttles as they circle the planet. You can buy yourself a house that sits on actual land -- wooded lots! -- or one that gives you access to a forest. And you can dine at aptly named steak houses like Boonie's.

Located on Southern Boulevard in Loxahatchee, Boonie's really is in the boondocks. Once you walk into the pool table-laden lounge, from which live country-and-western music and cigarette smoke waft in equal measure, you have two choices: You can brush back your bilevel haircut, suck down rotgut on the rocks, and stomp around the dance floor in your cowboy boots, or you can feel woefully out of place.

If the fish-out-of-water scenario doesn't scare you, head to the dining room, which is separated from the lounge by most of a wall. You'll still hear the music and smell the burning butts, but chances are you'll be in good company. Most times the eatery is filled with nonsmoking families, enjoying fairly priced American favorites.

Décor is sparse and seemingly seasonal, with tinsel and other Christmas decorations (yes, it's that time of year already) hanging from the ceiling. Neon beer signs glow steadily in the windows, like lighthouses for the imported-draft crowd (warning: shipwreck site). A beamed ceiling, rather than hinting at trends in design and architecture, merely looks like an unfinished gazebo constructed from two-by-fours. Tablecloths, which cover only some of the tables, are either red-and-white checked or green-and-white checked, harking back to last year, when Boonie's was a pasta joint and pizzeria.

In fact Boonie's still puts out some serviceable spaghetti with huge meatballs and a pretty darn good New York-style pizza with a zesty sauce, barely browned cheese, and a cracklin' crust. Get some garlicky meatballs on your pizza to maximize the good flavors, or try them stuffed into a homemade calzone.

Primarily the restaurant offers steak house dishes like sirloin, prime rib, and filet mignon. We took advantage of a special main course one recent evening, a 20-ounce certified Black Angus porterhouse for $21.95. The steak was just about double the price of anything else on the menu (with the exception of the 16-ounce sirloin for $15.95), and locals might not want to spend this much, especially when the ten-ounce burger with crunchy fries is only $6.99. Too bad for them. The porterhouse was perfect, the meat on either side of the T-bone uniformly cooked to our order. And we asked for it rare, bloody, mooing -- or as my guest put it to the waitress (who immediately understood him), "Shave off the horns, wipe its ass, and slap it on a plate."

Indeed while the servers -- not to mention the customers -- obviously haven't gone to charm school, everybody's friendly and extra helpful. No one seemed to mind that my daughter was toddling between kitchen and lounge (and she got a few dance offers, too, though I had second thoughts about her grabbing some of those nicotine-stained fingers). Our waitress even bought her a toy from a neighboring market, a lovely gesture that almost compared to her bringing a plate of extra tortilla chips with our nacho supreme appetizer, despite the fact that we hadn't asked for them. "Folks seem to run out of chips before they run out of the other stuff," she explained, and she was right. After we depleted the enormous mountain of cheddar-laced chips, toppling the individual hills of chopped tomatoes, lettuce, onions, black olives, jalapeño peppers, sour cream, and salsa, we discovered a wealth of chili on the bottom of the plate. The chili itself was delicious, a tomato-flavored stew of ground beef and kidney beans, flavorful but not spicy. You can get a crock of the chili by itself or as a garnish on the taco salad, which is basically the nachos in slightly different formation.

Other offerings are more eclectic, ranging from a chicken-gizzard starter to a chicken Marsala entrée. If you lean toward the poultry side of things, check out the smothered chicken: pounded, boneless breasts blanketed with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and melted provolone cheese. Each main course comes with a giant baked potato, a vegetable, rolls dripping with a homemade sauce composed of butter and garlic and a little Parmesan, and a choice of house salad or homemade soup (you're in luck if it's beef barley), so ordering appetizers may seem excessive. But the fried mushrooms -- juicy buttons encased in a nongreasy batter, with horseradish sauce -- and the Buffalo-style chicken wings with celery and blue cheese loom large on my current list of favorites.

Perhaps the most unexpected dish on the menu surpasses its counterparts made in the Jewish delicatessens in Boca Raton. The Reuben sandwich here was divine. Meaty corned beef, not fatty but not dry and lean either, was topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing, then grilled between two slices of buttered rye bread. Even the spear of kosher dill pickle was authentic. Flakowitz and Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House, take note: This ain't too shabby for the boonies.

What is bad here are the vegetables; we were served a gray, soggy mess that looked more like brain matter than like cauliflower and broccoli. While not outright bad, a cup of New England clam chowder proved too buttery and barely clammy, and the aforementioned spaghetti, though sauced with an aromatic marinara, was watery. House wine by the glass is screw cap Sutter Home, and if you order white, the server just might ask you if you want chardonnay or white zinfandel. The desserts, a choice of generic ice cream or apple pie, didn't interest us (not that we could have eaten them if we tried). But if you can take a little Southern atmosphere with your certified Black Angus beef, then Boonie's easily proves that, once in a while, the boondocks are the place to be.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick