A vibrant downtown is the Holy Grail of every city. And like the Holy Grail, the wanting it is a lot harder than the getting it. Throw in the continuing effects of our Great Recession and it’s harder still, especially if you’re a city without a clearly defined downtown (and main drag), one that’s battling poverty and crime and other urban woes.
It’s no secret Boynton Beach is one of those cities, which is why the evening’s foodie tour I took last week, sponsored by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, was particularly impressive. Instead of just rolling over or squabbling amongst themselves (here’s looking at you, Lake Worth) or coming up with grandiose plans that amount to nothing, the city is putting its money and effort where it’s mouth is in an effort to attract new businesses and create a thriving commercial-entertainment corridor in the East Ocean Avenue-South Federal Highway area.
It was an eye-opener for me, because outside of a couple of restaurants, I never really considered Boynton Beach when I made my own dining plans. So to recap the tour and plug some restaurants that really do deserve your business, here goes. . .
We started off at The Backyard (511 SE 4thSt., 561/740-0399), a little slice of the Keys in a funky industrial area just off South Fed. I’ve written about it several times before but suffice it to say that as a place to hang out, drink from a long list of craft beers, snarf down some of the best smoked fish dip in South Florida and a thick, juicy burger, listen to live music and channel your inner Jimmy Buffet, The Backyard is definitely where it’s at.
Next we wandered over to Chrissy Benoit’s Little House (480 E. Ocean Ave., 561-420-0573). The 1941-vintage Ruth Jones cottage is indeed tiny, though it’s got a spacious covered outdoor deck. But if you’ve eaten Chrissy’s food at The Cottage or Havana Hideout, you know that while the house may be minuscule, the flavors are big and bold. Check out the butter-tender Indian butter chicken, killer Chinese chicken salad, nifty little dessert “tea cakes” with a variety of fillings and toppings, and wicked-good individual pineapple upside-down cakes.
After that we walked down the block to Hurricane Alley (529 E. Ocean Ave., 561/364-4008) estaurant I’d heard of but never been to. Very cool. . . like a cross between New Orleans and the Keys. Lots of really fresh seafood and strong drink with a real locals’ vibe. Slurped down impeccably fresh Blue Points with a little cocktail sauce, a killer version of oysters Rockefeller made with clams, and a tender, meaty Provencal-style seared scallop. Washed them all down with a piquant jalapeno margarita, one of my new favorite cocktails.
Next stop was another very cool place. Very different, but very cool. It’s Sweetwater Bar & Grill (1507 S. Federal Hwy., 561/509-9277), a new-fashioned speakeasy-slash-restaurant that owners Sean Inglehart and Clint Reed made into the kind of hip, urban hangout you’d expect to see in SoBe or SoHo or SoMa. Great craft beers, boutique wines and mixological cocktails, plus a menu of small plates from flatbreads to Korean tacos to truffled lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. I love the feel of this place and can’t wait to go back.
Finally, we barely managed to waddle in the door to Prime Catch (700 E. Woolbright Rd., 561-737-8822). There’s nothing nouvelle or trendy about this seafood specialist, then again, there doesn’t need to be. When you source really fresh fish and shellfish, much of it local, prepare it simply but properly and serve it at reasonable prices without a lot of bullpucky, well. . . you can’t beat that. I still dream about their fried clam bellies, and we slurped up a version of bouillabaisse that was almost ridiculous in its amount and variety of fresh seafood.
Boynton Beach. Who’d a thunk it? But you might just be as surprised as I was.