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Belle of the Ball

Mark Spivak

   Where are the tea rooms and fern-filled cafés of yesteryear? Many of them have morphed into chain eateries or trendy restaurants, and the solid, comfortable fare of that era has given way to fusion cuisine, designer tacos and Mongolian barbecue.
Pear Gorgonzola salad - Belle & Maxwell's in West Palm Beach's Antique Row   A visit to Belle & Maxwell’s in West Palm Beach is far more than a trip down Memory Lane. Located on Dixie Highway in Antique Row, the restaurant has become many things to a variety of customers in its short life span—a place to stop, snack and recharge batteries; the venue for a light and healthy lunch; the setting for a dinner that is charming and satisfying.
   The decor is straight out of the 1970s, the kind of place with which your grandmother or maiden aunt would instantly identify. A profusion of potted plants frames the cement floor, glass-topped tables and wrought iron chairs. The kitchen is open, but the cooks don’t call attention to themselves—in an old-fashioned way, the customers are the stars here. Owner Michelle Taylor purchased the property nine years ago, when it was still a tea room, and expanded the location into a full-fledged restaurant in 2010.
   Begin with a flatbread, perfectly cooked on a fluffy and firm crust. One selection ($12) features spinach, creamy goat cheese and a mix of roasted garlic and caramelized onion. Two homemade soups are standard items on the menu, and the lentil ($4) is richly seasoned and intense for an offering that is completely vegetarian. During the day, the kitchen offers a selection of main course salads, and half portions of those salads are available as starters in the evening. An assortment of diced red and yellow beets is strewn over arugula and garnished with more of that wonderful chevre, while a combination of walnuts, Gorgonzola and fresh sliced pear is artfully arranged on a bed of field greens (both $6).
Interior at Belle & Maxwell's - West Palm Beach - Antique Row

   Petit filet mignon ($23), a six-ounce cut, is tender, flavorful and seared by the grill, served with garlic smashed potatoes and a medley of fresh vegetables, and bathed in a piquant au poivre sauce. There’s always a seafood special of the day, and on a recent evening we were fortunate to find cobia ($24)—remarkably tender and juicy, served in a sauce of garlic butter and accompanied by grilled asparagus.
Steak au poivre - Belle & Maxwell's - Antique Row - West Palm Beach   Desserts are almost worth skipping a meal for, or at least doing some extra exercise. The roll call of favorites includes blueberry pie, Key lime pound cake and chocolate croissant bread pudding. A daily special of a chocolate walnut brownie ($6), garnished with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauces, is enough by itself to make us want to return.
   The wine list is short and serviceable, consisting of two dozen selections. Bollini Pinot Grigio ($32) provides enough body and acidity to stand up to a range of dishes, and there is also a list of craft beers.
   Belle & Maxwell’s is a find. You may enter with a passion for nostalgia, but you’ll leave realizing the power of fresh ingredients, precise execution and comfortable surroundings.

Arugula, red and yellow beet salad - Belle & Maxwell's restaurant - West Palm Beach's Antique Row

Belle & Maxwell's

WHERE: 3700 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach (561-832-4449, belleandmaxwells.com)

OPEN: Monday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

ATMOSPHERE: retro tea room

FOOD: classic café favorites

SERVICE: cheerful and helpful

PRICE: moderate

RESERVATIONS: recommended

DRESS: come as you are

Exterior at Antique Row restaurant, Belle & Maxwell's

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