From a Humble Diner, Oceans 234 Is Still Evolving

Fifty years ago, if you drove all the way east on Hillsborough Boulevard in Deerfield Beach, over the bridge and onto the island, you'd find an oceanfront strand that bore little resemblance to today's bustling beachside business district. No fancy new pier. No beautiful boardwalk. No parking garage, Billabong, or Burger-Fi burger bar. JB's on the Beach was a gas station. Flanagan's was a ramshackle, food-free biker bar. And the Deerfield Beach Cafe was an AC-free concession stand.

In those days, one of the few places to grab a solid meal was at the Ranch House. Located at 234 Ocean Ave., the historic mom-and-pop diner was once nothing more than a simple stucco building located directly on the beach, a quaint spot boasting uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Serving tables at this dinerwas 19-year-old Danielle Rosse's first job after she moved from Philadelphia some 15 years ago. As she matured, so did the restaurant — and the city around it. In 2002, Rosse — at the time a manager — was instrumental in the Ranch House's relaunch as Oceans 234. Today, she is the sole proprietor of the $6 million-a-year restaurant, which reopened early last month after a $1.8 million face-lift.

Other than occupying the same basic footprint, today any memory of the original Ranch House is completely gone. Instead, an open-air patio can seat up to 200, emptying onto the beach just steps from a row of volleyball nets and sand-covered patrons beyond. An indoor/outdoor bar seats 30, and a beach-chic dining room 40 more. It's a bright space, adorned with various oceanic accoutrements, with a view of the water from every seat.

As part of the recent remodel unveiling, five-year executive chef Victor Franco has given the Oceans 234 menu a similar overhaul.

"This menu was always eclectic, but we really wanted to give everything a good polish," says Franco, "to really identify who we are now: a place that's fun, but not too fancy."

Long gone are the Ocean's 234 firecracker tempura shrimp, pulled-pork nachos, steamed clams, and chicken Milanese. Instead, new picks include lobster potato skins, seared pork belly, skillet mussels, and skirt steak.

Those potato skins, filed under "First Things First," read wonderfully on the menu: spinach and bacon poached in a white cheddar cream sauce, finished with truffle salt. But while each skin is topped with a few hefty tufts of lobster meat, the flavor is lost in the other ingredients.

It may be better to go with the plump Prince Edward Island skillet mussels, given a quick sear in a skillet until the mollusks pop open, gleaming shells served still sizzling beneath a dusting of sea salt, plated with drawn butter and lemon.

The sushi section was recently chopped to include fewer options, but after complaints from some regulars, a few favorites returned. That means you still have Sex on the Beach: salmon, cream cheese, and avocado studded with salmon roe and tinged with a hint of lemon juice.

In the same section you'll also find a new tuna stack, Franco's take on tuna tartare, that on one visit during a busy lunch swell was seasoned sweet and again during dinner was too salty. Despite such inconsistency, it's still good, served in a heaping portion, a slick of creamy avocado between layers of diced tuna.

"On a Roll" consists of lighter, lunch-style fare any time of day, from a char-grilled burger or open-faced caprese sandwich to a blackened snapper Reuben or banh mi made with pork belly.

Larger dishes filed under "Land & Sea" are the best bet, however. Here, Franco proves his strongest suit is proteins, seafood that's flaky and moist or meats cooked to tender perfection. Other signature dishes remain from those early days, including a local snapper and pistachio-crusted mahi, both cooked so well that they could have been served stark naked.

The best seafood dish is probably the lobster mac and cheese. Before you roll your eyes, understand it has been on the menu since the Ranch House first became Oceans 234. It has stayed on the menu all this time because it's one dish the place does better than most. What you'll get is past drenched in a mascarpone-based three-cheese sauce, tossed with fleshy chunks of lobster meat, and crowned with an entire roasted Florida lobster tail. It's more lobster than you bargained for, enough for two people to comfortably share without squabbling over who gets the last bite.

In place of a boring, boneless rib eye, Franco has added skirt steak, an inside cut that's dripping with flavor. It's prepared simply, with a salt-and-pepper rub, and grilled until the meat is lip-smacking, buttery soft. The accompanying sides – roasted corn, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes – sit in a puddle of tart lime reduction beside a heap of mashed plantains, a tropical departure from the tried-and-tired potato.For the most part, the new menu at Oceans 234 is what Rosse and her team were going for: more polished and streamlined, another step in the restaurant's ongoing evolution. Once they get the consistency down, it will be even better.

"This area has really grown up," says Rosse. "And we have too. More and more people come to Deerfield Beach every year, and I'd like to think Oceans 234 is one place they will remember."

Oceans 234
234 N. Ocean Blvd., Deerfield Beach. Hours are Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 954-428-2539, or visit oceans234.com.

  • Skillet mussels $14.99
  • Lobster potato skins $14.99
  • Tuna stack $17.99
  • Skirt steak $35.99

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