This week Delray Beach welcomed a newcomer to the Atlantic Ave. restaurant row: RACKS Fish House and Oyster Bar, which opened for business on Monday.
Billed as a New England seafood house, the concept is an extension of owner and South Florida restaurateur Gary Rack's RACKS Downtown Eatery Mizner Park. Rack, whose portfolio includes Table 42 Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar, told Clean Plate Charlie RACKS Fish House will be the first of future establishments to bare the RACKS name, although concepts and theme will differ.
"Our purpose is to grow the brand RACKS no matter the tag line, concept or menu," said Rack during a recent interview.
After 18 months renovating downtown's historic 1948 VFW building, Rack's newest seafood-themed establishment has been given a corresponding chic nautical overhaul that is a feast for the eyes first. It begins with the ceiling, covered with woven rope to mimic a fisherman's net, and continues with porthole faux-windows, custom-designed steam kettles and a fanciful, nautical-inspired mural done by a New York artist. Inside white-washed brick walls are offset by a palette of soft brown, taupe and gray, in contrast to outdoor seating accented with a bright coral red. The 32,000-square-foot space is open at all times, the large zinc-covered bar seating patrons both inside and out.
The open plan means plenty of fresh air, especially with the covered outdoor dining area on the sidewalk along 2nd Ave. that provides additional seating for 50, with views of both Atlantic Ave. and the lawn in front of neighboring establishments Salt7 and Park Tavern. For more private dining, the interior oyster bar seats six.
To craft the menu Rack chose longtime culinary director Matthew Danaher, which is executed by executive chef Todd Katz, formerly of Cafe L'Europe in Palm Beach, and Davito's in Boca Raton. The "ocean-to-table" menu offers everything you'd expect from a New England-style establishment, including kettle-cooked and raw bar items, and a few ways to order the fresh catch of the day.
For lunch and dinner the raw bar remains the same, a variety of shellfish including stone crab, Main lobster, clams and -- of course -- oysters (*MP). As the restaurant's name suggests, it doesn't just offer them raw. You can sample a new "oyster of the day" almost any day of the week, or get them kettle-cooked with the oyster stew or oyster pan roast ($12/$13). With the eponymous starter, Oysters RACK-A-Feller, they're served with spinach, fennel and gruyere cheese.
Additional starters include seafood fare like fish tacos, a Creole-style calamari, crispy Ipswich clams and a Maryland crab cake ($9-$15). Salads, which change from lunch to dinner, offer a bit more variety by day with a crunchy trout paired with green beans, radish, apples, tomato and quinoa, or chicken paillard, both missing from the dinner menu. Anytime of day expect to find the house, romaine, arugula or roasted beet salads ($9 to $12) that can be topped with lobster, jumbo lump crab meat, crispy oysters, shrimp or chicken for an additional charge.
Several wood-grilled main plates are offered day and night, and include a fish of the day, filet mignon, a "today's catch" fish sandwich, burger or salmon ($18 to MP). Come dinner, sandwiches from the lunch menu are replaced with larger entree-style New England classics like the traditional lobster roll or oyster po' boy. Familiar plates of seared sea scallops, ahi tuna, and a pan-fried fresh catch fish round out the rest of the options ($18 to MP).
A different twist: each day of the week also features its own special, be it po' boy taco Tuesdays, Low Country Cioppino Saturday, or Cajun Mussel Monday. And -- for once -- every day of the week sounds appealing.
There is one thing you may not expect to find at a fish house, however: a pretty well-equipped cocktail menu. More than a dozen Prohibition-style hand-crafted cocktails are available, priced extremely well at $11, with a special section reserved for shots. For an authentic experience try the "Dickel with a Pickel," a simple combination of George Dickel #12 American whiskey and pickle juice, best served with the option of the raw oyster for an additional charge ($9). There's also a healthy wine list, and plenty of craft beer by the bottle and tap.
"We wanted to offer the locals something different when dining out, to avoid being your typical restaurant," said Rack. "We hope to [become] the local, friendly, seafood haunt."
RACKS Fish House is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information visit the RACKS website and Facebook page, or call 561-450-6718.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter @SoFloNicole.