When you hear the name mussel beach, the first image that might pop into your head is a swath of oceanfront sand occupied with a dozen or so tanned, oil-slicked men clad in nothing but Speedos and Ray-Bans. OK, you might not -- but we do.
Rest assured that's not what you'll get at Mussel Beach, where owner Mark Mezzencello has partnered with Rotelli CEO Joseph Bilotti to revamp a wonderful corner spot at Federal Highway and Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach into a swank shellfish and seafood concept.
The restaurant takes the place of Bilotti's former Delray Beach Rotelli location, which dazzles with a custom buildout by local architect Steve Siebert featuring a white-tiled open kitchen, dark cherry hardwood floors and spacious booth seating. From the outside, it's hard to miss, vivid blue-and-white awnings providing a reprieve from the sun for a handful of outdoor sidewalk tables.
The menu is by chef Aaron Bender, a Florida Culinary Institute graduate who began his career at Dan Marino's Fine Food and Spirits in Coral Springs before moving on to become executive chef for the Beach House Hotel in Miami. For a chef who enjoys working with seafood, Mussel Beach was a perfect fit.
As the name suggests, Bender's menu centers on Prince Edward Island mussels, served in a variety of flavors by the pound in wooden buckets. Of the 15 options, the classic garlic, shallots, white wine, and butter is a top pick. However, more exotic offerings like creamy lobster bisque, spicy Fra Diavolo, Thai curry -- even a Mexican take with chipotle, chorizo, caramelized onions, squid, and lime -- demand a second-round try.
Not in the mood for mussels? The menu offers plenty of appetizers, salads, and sandwiches that don't include the mollusk -- as well as a few dishes that steer clear of shellfish altogether. A highlight is a red and golden beet salad with goat cheese fritters, while honey-glazed chicken and rib eye fill-in as entrees alternatives.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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