The place settings at the Office in Delray Beach are littered with profound — or is that profoundly unprofound? — quotes about food printed on them. One line in particular caught my attention: "Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon."
The quote is from Doug Larson, a 1924 Olympic gold medalist who was full of similar witticisms. Although it might read a bit like "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy," this line is apropos at the Office, where the greenest of green vegetable dishes is a bowl of Brussels sprouts bathed in bacon fat and jeweled with lardons the size of a pacemaker (coincidence?). Dig into that bowl, and every couple of bites you might get the hint of vegetable. But on the whole, it's basically just a substrate for smoky, rich pork fat.
The Brussels sprouts are hardly the only offering that trumpets bacon at the Office. A quick glance down the menu reveals bacon in salad, bacon smothering macaroni and cheese, bacon on burgers, and bacon finishing off a tray of souped-up tater tots. You can add to that the various forms of pork and ham employed by the kitchen Serrano-wrapped scallops, Spanish toast with tomatoes and ham, and a retooling of pork and beans where the pork is, in fact, pork belly (read: bacon). And lest you think the bacon bus stops there, for dessert you can order perhaps the restaurant's greatest triumph: a maple-glazed doughnut topped with — what else? — bacon.
There's another quote I quite like from an old Guy Lombardo song, and if that swinging jazz tune were played on endless rotation at the Office, it would never get old. It goes, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think." The 3-month-old joint from restaurateur David Manero (Vic & Angelo's, DeVito South Beach) follows that dictum doggedly. The place is unapologetically indulgent. One might be tempted to call the lipid-filled menu, as concocted by Manero and onetime chef Mark Militello, an ode to America's base obsession with excess. There's no reinvention going on here — shoot, even bacon doughnuts are old hat now. Rather, the place knows all of our buttons and just how to push them — intimately. And to be truthful, it executes nearly flawlessly. The whole experience is as if some man behind the curtain is telling you, "Forget about what's going on out there! Ignore the political corruption and the Ponzi schemers in your backyards. Just eat and drink and live in the moment!"
And nothing else matters.
It's no coincidence, then, that the Office exudes that ethos from the point of impact. For his backdrop, Manero has handpicked the most Romanesque time in modern American history: the rollicking 1950s, when complacency was not to be confused with suburban bliss and the two-martini lunch was as sanctified a pastime as church on Sunday. The décor is done up as a mixture of Manhattan office building and Dick Van Dyke-era home study, with a wide bar stretching across the entire west wall populated by bow-tied tenders. Just sitting in those leather and cowhide chairs in the restaurant's makeshift home study, replete with a collection of books ranging from "Meat" to "Art Deco" to "Ad Hoc at Home," something lusting and powerful takes over. Call it the American desire to have it all and be it all, but it's there in all the brushed metal and bold wood, in the candy-red brick, and in the open kitchen that spews so much heat, you'd think it powers the entire block. This is the 1950s of Don Draper and Mad Men as much as it is the 1950s of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road. Complete, of course, with the tragedy so quietly looming behind it.
What the Office does an excellent job of, however, is making you feel like nothing else does matter. From the instant you walk in, you magically become one of those Madison Avenue bigwigs whose names are engraved on the gold post boxes by the front door. The hostess will seat you either inside or out on the breezy downtown Delray strip, and within moments, one of those dapper waitrons decked in a starched white shirt and long black apron will bring you a picture-perfect cocktail. And you'll be had.
All around you are people doing the same — temporary captains of industry gnawing on $15 burgers, the buns of which are branded with the restaurant's logo (talk about potent imagery on a plate). I stopped in for lunch one day to try one of those colossal "Prime CEO" burgers, and the table next to me couldn't stop talking about my food from the moment it arrived.
"That looks so good!" an older fellow with graying hair said in my direction. "Is it good?"