DELRAY BEACH, FLA. - Recently, this seaside retreat known as “Florida’s Village by the Sea” was voted the “Most Fun Small Town in America” by USA Today. And, as we discover, the fun in Delray Beach starts at the corner of Atlantic Ave. and Ocean Blvd., where three very distinct restaurants are located under one roof.
“Welcome to the happiest place on Earth,” says the hostess at Boston’s on the Beach, a trendy eatery that offers three dining options in a troika of very unique rooms: Boston’s is a New England-style sports bar; Sandbox next door is a fun, alfresco experience; and the chic upper deck 50 Ocean offers the ultimate in fine dining.
The one thing they all have in common: laughter fills the air in each.
The walls at Boston’s are lined with sports memorabilia — Bruins and Red Sox sweaters dominate — and the bar and tables are occupied by lots of people wearing ball caps whose eyes are glued to a bank of TVs.
There are plenty of Canadians in the crowd — Delray Beach is a favourite vacation destination for French Canadians — and good cheer flows from the Sandbox, where bathers retreat after a day of sunning themselves on one of the most spectacular stretches of beach in the world.
Left: Chef Blake Malatesta rules the kitchen at 50 Ocean in Delray Beach.
Seeing we’re a bit overdressed for Boston’s or Sandbox, the hostess suggests we may want to “go upstairs to 50 Ocean where you’ll get some romantic views of the Atlantic.” The upper-floor restaurant, which features an outdoor balcony, is a contrast to its playful lower floor cousins — elegant, but no less fun. Patrons huddle around a long bar enjoying pre-dinner “Happy Hour” treats before being seated in a dining room that comes with a priceless ocean view.
We see customers admiring a group of black-and-white photographs hanging on a wall opposite the bar and our delightful server tells us, “They’re looking at some original photographs of Ernest Hemingway which the restaurant acquired a few years ago. The photographs always attract a crowd.”
The 50 Ocean menu is spiced with lots of southern and Cajun specialties and fish, most of which is caught fresh daily near the restaurant, is the dominate offering here.
The kitchen is ruled by Chef Blake Malatesta, a New Orleans native who has lots of European training and some high-profile celebrity chef friends; Food TV favourites like Emeril Lagasse have been spotted working their culinary magic alongside Malatesta at 50 Ocean on occasion.
While working in Europe, Malatesta honed his skills in baking — 50 Ocean’s bread is Paris-restaurant worthy — and his sauces would make a French chef envious. Malatesta’s New Orleans roots come through in the spicy fish and meat dishes he’s become famous for and diners usually end a meal with his signature beignets, which are just as good as the ones we enjoyed at New Orleans’ famed Cafe du Monde.
Diners at 50 Ocean are presented with starter options like blue crab puffs, spicy tuna tartare, duck quesadillas and a ceviche appetizer that has our taste buds thinking they’ve been transported to South America.
Main dishes highlighted with snapper, swordfish, tuna and grouper (they all swim in the azure Atlantic surf we are looking at from our table) and my “Top Hat Ribeye,” an herb-infused cut that comes garnished with Yukon “smashed” potatoes and a reduction of caramelized onions, are just some of the favourites our server suggests we try.
But the main ingredient in Malatesta’s food is fun.
“We always want diners to have a good time when they visit us,” says Malatesta.
After our delightful meal, we decide to kick off our shoes and stroll along the town’s magnificent coastline before heading to the “downtown” area to sample some of Delray Beach’s famed nightlife.
Voted the “Best Main street in Florida,” Atlantic Ave., is dominated by award-winning restaurants and bars ranging from chic to cheek and reminds us of Miami’s trendy South Beach. Quaint shops in historic buildings line the brick paved sidewalks of Atlantic Ave., which is shaded by a combination of old oaks and palm trees. Shoppers linger in stores run by eccentric owners who love sharing stories about the town and themselves.
First settled in 1884 by African-Americans, Delray Beach has become one of the most desired holiday destinations in Florida and one of America’s great centres of art. The city’s Art Walk along Pineapple Grove, is one of its biggest attractions and the art shops gathered along the colourful avenue offer some of the finest contemporary works in the world.
Sun and fun is what keeps bringing vacationers back to Delray Beach and Boston’s on the Beach.