To view a slide show of the Living Room, click here.
My friends and I were lounging in cushy, mismatched chairs in our own little section of the Living Room in Boynton Beach. We were full, having just eaten an eclectic meal that included pear and Havarti pizza and a rustic English pie with steak and mushroom, and also slightly buzzing from pints of Starr Hill IPA ($5.50) and glasses of sweet red wine. My friend Cristina decided to get more comfortable, stretching out across the length of a sleeper chair parked in the secluded den. We didn't realize she had actually fallen asleep until one of the waiters came by. "I think your friend is conked out," he said, laughing.
"Oh, that's nothing," Living Room owner Lisa Mercado told me later. "People fall asleep here all the time. We've had women pass out on the couches and start snoring and drooling."
Damn. Maybe it's time to invest in some plastic seat covers.
But if folks are passing out midmeal, it's not out of boredom. It's because the Living Room — a 9-month-old restaurant and bar in a West Boynton strip mall — is really that comfortable. The place looks like a collection of miniature (if mildly schizophrenic) living rooms. Each table in the labyrinthine restaurant is set inside its own custom lounge area. One section has high-backed chairs and a faux fireplace. Another is set off by a shoulder-height wall and features two cushy chairs and a giant chaise lounge anchored by an antique coffee table. Tying the whole homey concept together is a small menu of pub favorites — shepherd's pie and fish and chips, plus lighter fare like flatbreads, fresh salads, and simple pasta dishes.
The restaurant is actually the second of its kind from Mercado, who for 23 years ran the Red Lion Pub in Boynton Beach with her husband's family. Even though she married into the gig, she quickly found she was a natural in the kitchen and the front of the house and parlayed that success into a second location in Boca Raton. When her in-laws caught a whiff of the bad economy and got out of the business in 2006, Mercado bought the Boca space herself and opened Boca Muse, a restaurant that earned great word of mouth for its modern fare and cozy atmosphere. Yet despite its reputation, the Muse simply couldn't keep up with Boca's ballooning rent.
In the Living Room, Mercado has finally found a space that could house her muse. The restaurant, opened last October in the old Lindburger's spot on Congress Avenue, is cozy and warm, lit mostly by desk lamps and dim spotlights. Across its walls are old photos and shelves adorned with knickknacks and books like Sextrology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes. Some of the décor was furnished by Mercado herself. But a lot, she says, came from customers. "We've got everything from gifts from antique shops to a donated mug shot of Frank Sinatra," says Mercado. "I think ultimately people just want a tie to the place."
From our table, my friends and I could rummage through books and games on the nearby shelves. We read each other our zodiac charts and played Connect Four as we shared a whole wheel of baked Brie coated with a sweet raspberry sauce ($13). The platter, one of many easy-to-share appetizers, came with an assortment of fresh grapes and slivers of apple to scoop up the savory melted cheese. Along with that, we tried an order of house-made pomme frittes ($4) touted by our waiter as the best around. The result was less impressive, as the thick-cut fries weren't quite crispy. Perhaps if they were double fried — or at least served with a more creative sauce than everyday ketchup — they might have earned the distinction.
The Living Room hosts live music six nights per week along with group psychic readings and trivia nights. The evening we were there starred Lord Russ, a glammed-out folk rocker who looked like the love child of Neil Diamond and Don Ho. Dressed in a frilly white shirt with a black scarf and tight jeans, Russ gyrated by the bar as we sank into our pub-style meals. For me, that meant steak and mushroom pie ($14), big hunks of braised beef served over creamy mashed potatoes and topped with puff pastry. The tender steak tips were lavished in a rich brown sauce. Meanwhile, my friends were busy with a flatbread pizza made with Havarti, red onion, and pears ($9.50). Everyone grabbed a slice, noting how well the sweet slices of pear tempered the creamy cheese.
Other combinations weren't quite as effective. A well-seared crab cake ($14) was as big as a fist and filled with jumbo lump crab meat. But the raw dice of bell pepper inside had rendered during cooking, marring the cake with a watery, vegetal flavor. I couldn't think of anything more befitting a funky pub like this than a bowl of Indian vindaloo curry ($14) made here with either vegetables, chicken, or shrimp. Unfortunately, this version was too heavy on the trademark Indian spice, garam masala. Every other flavor just got lost.
Still, none of the problems were so big that dessert couldn't save them. Mercado's peanut butter pie ($6 per slice) deserves a permanent spot on each of the restaurant's coffee tables. Creamy and moist with just enough nutty flavor to send it into savory territory, that slice was comforting enough to keep us planted in those chairs for the rest of the night.
In fact, we spent a good five hours in our seats, bullshitting about astrology and chuckling at Lord Russ. Most of the other customers stayed as long as we did. With turnover this low and prices so reasonable, it's a wonder Mercado can continue to make money on the food. Not to mention the casual approach to service may be a little more laissez faire than most diners are used to.
Luckily, the bar scene is vibrant and the beer list has plenty of interesting bottles from breweries like Rogue and Avery. And a list of inexpensive wines coupled with some underproof cocktails (at least until the place gets its full liquor license in October) manage to keep people drinking.
Getting people in to this lovely restaurant shouldn't be a problem — the challenge will be getting them out.