If it seems like the word "craft" gets thrown around way too much, you aren't alone in wondering when this craze will blow over. We get it: Pretty much every menu in South Florida is offering specially crafted this and that.
But what makes something truly craft? Take a seat at newly opened M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room in Boca Raton and you'll get a better understanding; here, the idea of doing everything in-house goes one step further.
Like its sister establishment in Islamorada, the Boca restaurant smokes and grinds its own meats onsite, cuts and cures its own bacon, and offers house-made sausage and chorizo. Even the condiments -- including a mango chipotle ketchup and caraway and beer mustard -- are made fresh, and from scratch.
M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room is the work of co-owner and executive chef George Patti. Also owner of the Asian-fusion Keys establishment, S.A.L.T. Fusion Cuisine, he teamed with business partner and M.E.A.T cofounder Thomas Smith in 2009 to create Tasters Grille & Market, a gastropub for the locals in the Upper Keys. After much success, the duo moved on to create M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room, what they say is a casual approach to gourmet "fast food."
"We wanted to go against the grain of what the Keys are all about. Everyone does fish and seafood," Patti told Clean Plate Charlie. "We decided to do a meat house."
The original Islamorada M.E.A.T. opened in 2012, situated in a small strip mall at mile marker 88 on U.S. Highway 1. But don't let its quaint exterior fool you -- the humble digs are no indication of the hand-crafted, artisanal fare being crafted inside. And in that same vein, the Boca Raton restaurant is more than just a lunch pit stop for the office building its been built into.
It's also more than just a second location; it's the first of two additional concepts the founders hope to transform into franchise models.
"[The owners] wanted a casual, fine-dining experience to offer next to their first establishment. This is the first of several varying business models the owners are looking to offer franchisees," said M.E.A.T. chef de cuisine Christian Martin. "But, unlike most fast-casual places, everything here is being created in-house."
Located at the back of the new Cendyn Spaces office building off Federal Highway just south of Glades Road, it seems a conspicuous location for the ultra-modern pub. However, it's part of the plan to create a concept that franchise owners can place in office buildings, mall courts or airports, while a final concept would allow for a more upscale, full-service approach.
The restaurant itself is small, just 1500-square-feet decked out in black and red with brick and brushed metal decor. Despite its size, the space can pack in up to 30 at a bar that features 12 rotating taps of craft brew, and a second lunch counter that can accommodate another 20 patrons. The building's interior courtyard expands the service, making way for several additional tables and booth seating for more traditional, sit-down service.