Sweetwater Grill and Bar

Sweetwater has been in business for a couple of years now and we have been meaning to try it out. Finally we stopped in for a drink the other night and we were sufficiently impressed. First off, the place looks incredible. It is small, maybe seating 75 people or so. There is also a small patio fronting Federal Hwy if you would like to smoke. Half of the room is the bar, which stretches from floor to ceiling with assorted bottles.

Faux brick accents (almost) make you forget that you are in a brand new development on Federal Hwy in (gasp) Florida. Reclaimed elements and an open kitchen complete the “big city” look of the joint. With the high ceilings and open concept you could really be sitting in any “hot spot” in San Fran, Portland, any “cool” west coast city.

The “thing” at Sweetwater is “craft cocktails” with fancy ingredients (think one big ass ice cube per drink). There are about 20 different house concoctions on the menu at any given time and each one will set you back $10-$12. This is not a cheap night out, however, you will most likely only need two of these at most. I drank one on an empty stomach and was definitely feeling the buzz (but I am a lightweight). I asked the bartender what he recommended and he suggested the latest bourbon based cocktail. I don’t think you can go wrong here.

I had what he suggested and Stef chose a different one. They were hard to put down. Really tasty. If you like beer they have some great craft bottles, such as Ballast Point IPA brewed in San Diego, which I have yet to see anywhere else in South Florida. Although we didn’t eat, the menu is full of tantalizing items. Everything looked great and you will certainly find something good to eat. We are happy to have this place in the neighborhood and we will be back again soon.

One note on parking: I was confused (as usual). There are two entrances, one from Woolbright and one from southbound Federal, but they are small and easily missed at night. It looks like the entrance to the residential development and I turned out of the first entrance thinking I was in a private driveway even though I was in the right spot. There is a two story garage directly behind the building where you park. A sign saying “restaurant parking” would solve the problem. Just an FYI-

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Sushi Masa

Sorry guys I have not been writing as much lately as I have been increasingly busy (shocker!) with said food truck. If you REALLY enjoy my blurbs (is that a word) than pony up and pitch me a publishing deal, my people will call you. Only kidding of course! I have no people! I have a black cat that has brought me copious amounts of good fortune, but that’s it….he’ll call you. Anyway, the other night the lady and I went out for sushi. Wow….sushi….(that’s what you’re thinking). WAIT!!! Don’t leave yet! It was really ggggooooooodddd sushi….yeah…that’s right. I actually never crave sushi. I never fail to leave the sushi bar hungry, so I can’t fathom dropping $$$ on a snack.

Sushi Masa in Delray is AMERICAN sushi. Everything here is BIG…and filling. They have several locations in the area and have been in business for 30 years. The decor is 1980’s “Golden Girls” condo meets neon Osaka karaoke bar. There are advertisements for assorted sakes on every table (“Try the Exotic Taste of Pure Sugar..Ecstasy Kool Aid Flavor Sake Bomb.”) Although the movie theater next door is no more, the joint was about half full on a do nothing Tuesday night. The clientele was mostly laid back 30 somethings that didn’t feel like cooking. I saw several people just off work wearing hospital scrubs. The atmosphere here is really comfortable.

The flat screen was showing “World’s Deadliest Sea Creatures” on NatGeo. How appropriate! Seriously. Watching killer whales and sharks tear apart helpless ocean dwellers made me salivate. When the food arrived it was “can’t talk, eating” time. Since by that time it was 8pm and I had not eaten anything but a banana all day, I would have enjoyed a clubbed seal for dinner had it been lovingly prepared by our sushi chef. We ordered the seafood salad, filled with crab, veggies, and tempura flakes, gyoza (fried dumplings), and several giant sushi rolls (and some sashimi), along with a giant Sapporo beer. Everything was delicious, and we ate like kings and queens for about $60. A steal for the sheer amounts we consumed. There is surely a lifeless patch of ocean off the coast of Hokkaido after we were finished with our meal.

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The Ice Cream Club

I have seen these delivery trucks out and about and assumed that the “Ice Cream Club” was a home delivery service. Alas, it is a chain of shops as well, the closest being in Manalapan on A1A. Stef and I stopped in the other night around 8:30 and were thrilled to find that we had just missed the “retiree post dinner rush.” The patio was full, but the inside was empty and we walked right up. The concept is simple. It is old school. It reminded me of a Friendly’s ice cream walk up window circa 1993. I loved it. Pick a single, double, or triple scoop and then choose from about 30 flavors. We tried mint chip, chocolate, heavenly hash, and pistachio. Everything was delicious and exactly what you want in dessert. They also have cones and 3 or 4 “sundaes” such as banana splits and hot fudge. As I said before, very simple concept. Even if you have never been to the “Ice Cream Club” before, you have been to the ice cream club before, unless you have just arrived in America from Benin, in that case, I say..welcome.

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Cafe Prima Pasta

Cafe Prima Pasta is an amazing Italian joint on South Beach. Stef and I visited last week. The place has been around for about 50 years and is currently the number one ranked Miami Beach restaurant on TripAdvisor. Just so you know, it is a solid 20 minute cab ride north of Lincoln Road, in a quiet residential sector of the island. It is not South Beach glitz and glam. It is substance over style. It is romantic. It reminded me of a cafe in Europe. The service is lightning quick, but you will not be rushed. There is a large covered sidewalk patio, and a huge interior that I would say seats about 250.

The decor is mom and pop Italian restaurant, with tons of memorabilia and framed pictures of celebrity diners. The place is dimly lit “red.” Just walking inside makes you hungry. The smell of garlic and fresh bread hits you immediately. Cafe Prima Pasta makes everything in house, from the pasta, to the cheesecake, to the breads. Oh my god, the bread is so good. Hot and crispy right from the oven and served with homemade garlic butter “spread.” This place is unpretentious. It is very reasonably priced as well.

We ordered spaghetti and meatballs, and “Agnolotti Rosso,” an amazing ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach in a pink sauce that was to die for. Seriously. Some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten (and I have eaten a lot of Italian food). We split the cheesecake for dessert and I have to say that it was the best cheesecake I have ever eaten as well. This is the type of place that is definitely off the beaten path and not so much for tourists. On the Sunday night around 8:30 that we were there, the place stayed about 80% full. It’s quite popular. Stop by if you are in the area-

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Millie’s

Millie’s is an Amish (sorry, technically Mennonite) owned establishment in Sarasota that serves up one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten. Stef’s family is in Sarasota, and it has become a tradition that we eat breakfast at Millie’s the day after Christmas. There is a fairly large Amish/Mennonite population in the area, as well as sizable contingents from other Midwestern states as well, as I-75 goes through the region up to Michigan. Most people are familiar with the episode of “Man vs. Food” when Adam eats at Yoder’s, which is down the street, and famous for their gigantic pies to take home. The food at Yoder’s is good, but we prefer Millie’s, because it does not have the “tourist trap” feel of it’s competition. If you have not been to the west coast of Florida, I highly recommend a visit. The people are much friendlier and the atmosphere is very laid back.

Anyway, on to the food. This is the 4th year in a row of our tradition, and every time we have been in, we have been seated quickly (with a large group) and the service has been quick and friendly. We ordered bacon and eggs, pancakes, waffles, eggs benedict, and a veggie omelette. The portions are so huge that it eventually becomes “family style” dining as everyone shares their plates. The interior decor of this place is lily-white lace (and not surprisingly so is the clientele) and you will certainly feel like you are having breakfast at (someone’s) Grandma’s house. That’s that. Check it out if you are ever nearby-

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Dixie Grill and Bar

Dixie Grill and Bar is a West Palm mainstay. It has been located in the same spot on Dixie Hwy (of course) for a long time. Recently, a young couple bought the place, spruced it up, and it has never looked better. If you are a fan of Americana, you will love the decor here. It is covered floor to ceiling in “chotchkies.” The place never feels cluttered though, it is spotlessly clean, and really cozy. The booths are wide and soft. Oh, and they have 30 craft beers on tap, a really exquisite and eclectic selection. This place is seriously comfortable and welcoming, and I am sure you will love it. On Monday night around 7 the place was about half full, a mix of young people and older folks. Really friendly vibe going on here.

They offer different specials almost every night, and popular trivia nights as well. The jukebox plays a mix of almost everything. The other night we heard old country, new country, 80’s pop, and 90’s r&b. Oh, for the food! Well, Stef and I had never been, and in my opinion the best way to judge a joint such as this is to order the burger, and that’s just what we did. The burger was cooked perfectly, char grilled, and served with all the fixins on a toasted bun. The fries were hot and crisp. A really solid burger. This place just may become our new hangout. See you there-

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Pita Pit

Pita Pit is a huge chain of franchised quick service pita joints. The only one in our area (that I know of) is in Boca near the mall. Stef and I arrived the other day around 1pm, and the seating area was almost full (the place seats about 20). They do a great lunch business and a lot of office catering. The location in a bustling center housing high end restaurants, salons, and retail is always packed.

I think this is a great concept, although I feel that the menu could be scaled back a bit. There was a lot to take in for such a small joint. The franchisee who runs this Pita Pit is really friendly, and welcomed us personally to “her” location. She was clearly overseeing every aspect of the lunch rush, and the place was cruising at a good clip. With FAU right down the street, they also do a decent dinner business as well with the post workout/class crowd. Anyway, you order at the counter and then slide down the line (a la Subway) to the girls who dress your fancy pita.

The only equipment that I saw was a big flat top and exhaust hood, and two “sandwich prep” lines for sauces, veggies, etc. This is a VERY simple setup. I did not even notice a fryer (they sell bags of chips). There is a falafel on the menu. Perhaps they have a small countertop fryer? I can tell you for sure that this place is turning a profit. As I said I love the concept. Both times we have been (once for lunch and once for dinner) the place has been very busy.

I ordered the chicken souvlaki pita, which is marinated and grilled to order chicken and a warmed up pita. That’s it. Everything else is customized. I chose hummus, cucumber sauce, spinach, feta, black olives, and red onions. The whole thing is wrapped up burrito style and is perfect for “on the go” types. A combo with chips and a drink will set you back about 10 bucks. I really like this place. When in Boca, swing by and check it out-

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Thinking positively-

As many of you have heard, the city of Boynton Beach has approved food trucks to come back to the city. Unfortunately, the fees they plan to impose on us, the food trucks, and the promoter of the event, Food Truck Connection, are out of reach for us and would not make the event profitable at this time. The city seems to think that we, as food truck owners, are collectively waiting by the phone for them to call. We are not. With other events happening throughout South Florida on a nightly basis, our Wednesday night roundup at Harvey Oyer Park will quickly be forgotten. We need to make money. We will drive elsewhere.

What bothers me (but does not surprise me) is this: Instead of embracing a true neighborhood and community weekly event, the city has wrapped red tape around it and pushed it far out of our reach, financially. This event did not happen overnight. It took several months of planning and back and forth to make it a reality. Marcus and Liz, who organize Food Truck Connection events, made sure that every t was crossed and every i was dotted. It was a painstaking process.

The city had stipulations. No dogs. No litter. No loud music. Extra lighting was a must (paid for by Marcus and Liz). Each truck must be inspected by the city fire department prior to each event. We met these requirements, as well as paid the fees for the special permits needed. Every event went off without a hitch, and the trucks were off property, leaving no trace, by 9pm every week. We also went out of our way to meet with the (mostly elderly) condo owners whose properties surround the park. Not only were they OK with the event, they turned out to be great customers for us. In the middle of the rainiest summer on record, the headcount grew each week.

We chose Harvey Oyer Park because it is the PERFECT spot for this event. It is far from “downtown” Boynton and the restaurants. We don’t want to compete with restaurants. I was in the business for a decade before starting my food truck. I know how hard it is. I would like to someday turn Ps561 into a brick and mortar storefront. I chose to start a food truck because I didn’t have the capital. Plus, it’s a great way to build a customer base and a brand before “diving in” headfirst to the restaurant biz. If someone wants to sit down, have a beer, and order dinner, they are not going to go to a food truck. These are completely different markets. We are only asking for 4 hours per week to “do our thing,” we are not going to park in front of your business everyday.

In other big cities there are designated food truck parking spots. South Florida is so spread out. We are like 3 big cities in one, each separated by 25 miles. We would never attempt to be licensed in multiple cities, it wouldn’t be cost effective when we are constantly travelling. That’s why we stick to events and roundups, and pay our promoters to advertise and pull permits for us.

I hope that although we are not formally organized, my fellow food truck owners will act with class and professionalism (as they typically do) when these things happen. When the cards don’t fall in our favor, always take the high road, and remember that karma has it’s way of coming back around. Remember why we are in this business. Because we love to cook, we love to eat, and we love feeding people. Get back to the basics. Strip it all down. And let everything else fall away.

As a society, we commute to computers (thanks Talib Kweli). We are always hooked up and on the go. What I loved the most about the Boynton event was being close to home and doing what I love to do in an absolutely STUNNING waterfront location. Fisherman arriving at the dock after being out at sea all day. Kids running around on the playground. Families picnicking, having dinner together. Serving people I knew. Neighbors meeting neighbors. The scene at Oyer Park was what we all envisioned when we started this (crazy) business venture. Sounds cheesy. It’s true. Maybe someday the city will come around-

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Where Are The Food Truck Events?

So, you like the food trucks do ya? Me too. But how and where do you track down your local faves? As we get into the cooler weather months (thank god), these locales will surely be the hot spots for street food in our neck of the woods:

1. Wellington Ampitheater (Forest Hill Blvd west of 441): Every Thursday 5-10pm. Check out www.foodtruckinvasion.com for details.

2. Abacoa Town Center (North of Donald Ross Rd near Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter): Every 3rd Friday from 5-10pm 30 food trucks gather, bars and restaurants swing open their doors, and 3,000 people converge for South Florida’s biggest and baddest street food fiesta. See www.foodtruckinvasion.com for info.

3. Young Circle, Hollywood (Hollywood Blvd east of 95): Every Monday night 5-10pm catch 30 food trucks here. See www.burgerbeast.com for details.

4. Cypress Creek Rd. at Powerline, Ft. Lauderdale: Every Wednesday night 5-9pm long standing truck rally hosted by BC Tacos. See www.bctacos.com for info.

 

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5 Things I Loved, and 5 Things I Hated About the Food Scene in Paris:

My lovely wife and I just returned from a trip to France. We had a blast. There are about a million great places to eat in Paris, and I highly recommend a visit. Save your pennies! That’s what we did. For Reals.

I loved:

1. CHEESE: Enough cheese for 6 heads will set you back only about $20. In comparison, the same selection from Whole Foods would be about $60.

2. BREAD: Even if you only order a sandwich, you will get a huge basket of bread. Eat the bread.

3. FISH and SHELLFISH: Fish markets are everywhere, and the fish is line caught. No farmed crap anywhere.

4. BOOZE: It’s everywhere. And open container laws are loose.

5. DESSERT: Butter and sugar are a major food group, correct?

 

I Hated:

1. TINY COFFEE: Thimble sized coffee, no bueno when you are hungover.

2. NO PAPER TOWELS: Restrooms all have “hand blowers” from 1984.

3. NO SODA: Hope you like Coke, or Coke Zero, served lukewarm.

4. NO FAST FOOD: I just want a sandwich, I don’t need a waiter or polished silverware.

5. CIGARETTES: Everyone smokes, all the time. Especially when you are eating. I also love this. I smoked a pack myself, and I am not a smoker. Props!

 

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