It's been just over a month since the Office debuted in Delray Beach, the latest restaurant from David Manero and former Mark's chef Mark Militello. And a recent visit showed that the upscale gastropub is starting to hit its stride.
I made the trek to Delray on a recent Friday night with some friends in tow and found the place humming busily around 7 p.m. The joint has a long, walk-up bar along one side that was overflowing with people eating small plates and sampling brews from the extensive craft beer list. Despite it being packed tighter than a tin can inside, we were able to quickly snag a table on the sidewalk just by the front door.
The restaurant's business-casual theme is well-represented in its menu
and decor. Silverware comes in a branded envelope that the waiters
offer to open for you. The place mats, like the walls and glass doors
out front, are full of witty quotations about beer, business, and food. The staff is dressed in old-timey garb with white buttoned-down shirts and clever little black bow ties. Shoot, even the burger
buns are branded with a black-charred "Office" logo. It's all very well
thought-out and manages to stay just this side of over-the-top.
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Instead of going for the rather pricey main course options, we decided to split a host of small plates, appetizers, and side dishes and sample a few of the Office's draft beers. Here's what we ended up with.
Smoked kingfish nachos clocked in at $12 for five fried chips topped with a mound of chilled fish, slightly smoky and savory. That was dabbed with avocado butter and a few sprigs of baby cilantro. A side of jicama slaw with whole coriander was a tart palate cleanser. Not bad, but a little skimpy for the price.
Cheddar jalapeno corn bread ($4) came in a tin can the server removed as he presented. The bread itself was moist and slightly spicy, and crocks of maple-pecan butter and pimiento cheese dip were both fantastic with it. The cheese dip in particular was like the best Velveta spread ever set out at a Texas cocktail party. I drowned a whole pint of Oskar Blues Imperial Red Ale (8.7 percent alcohol) with the corn bread. Easily worth four bucks.
Among a host of a la carte side dishes, these truffled organic deviled eggs caught our eye. Were these half the price they are now ($6 for four eggs), I'd be ordering them by the dozen. As it stands, they're fine deviled eggs, with smoky paprika and a sweet homemade relish inside. But they're too expensive for what amounts to hors d'oeuvres 101.
Honey-braised baby back ribs ($15) were falling-apart tender with a tangy but dull sauce pooled on and around them. My first rib left me feeling a little underwhelmed until I realized that by cutting the two adjoined ribs in half to share with a friend, I had given him all of the sea salt and fennel pollen dusted on top. I made sure to get some of the seasoning on my next rib, and the combo was awesome. The sweet honey, the bitter, licorice-like pollen, the intense sea salt. Great stuff.
These "grown-up" tater tots were another dish -- like the deviled eggs -- designed to tug at the nostalgia strings. But at $1 per tot, they have to be some awesome spuds. Unfortunately, I wish they had the texture of real tater tots. Instead, these tasted mostly like deep-fried mashed potatoes -- or an upscale potato skin. The creme fraiche and minced bacon topping was nifty, but there are no bonus points for trying.
I'm going to wager that about a third of South Florida's pork product is rendered at the Office. Seriously, Mark Militello has a semi for the stuff. That's fine with me, because these thick-cut, bacon-larded Brussels sprouts ($6) are to die for. You can hardly call these deeply caramelized spouts vegetables, all tart and slick with bacon fat so thick that it's nearly creamy. Each bowl should come with a sample pack of Lipitor.
How long has this truffled mac and cheese fad been going now? One thing's for sure: It's not going to stop until we stop ordering it. Alas, I'm not going to be quitting the Office's version ($8) anytime soon, gooey and thick and caked with truffle-scented bread crumbs and (surprise, surprise!) a generous portion of bacon crumbles. Between this and the Brussels sprouts, I'm going to make some lucky cardiologist very happy someday.
Total tab for all this plus a truckload of Oskar Blues, Victory Prima Pils, the Eleven Brown Ale, and Samuel Smith's Brown? $120. Not terrible, but my short conclusion is this: The Office is fun but on the pricey side. Some portion sizes are small. The nostalgic business theme is pretty nifty and jibes with the upscale, retro food. And the beer list is pretty rad. Look for a full review in the next month or so.