There’s something disorienting about the Coolinary Café in Palm Beach Gardens, and it takes a few minutes to figure it out: Everyone is having fun.
The customers are enjoying themselves, as they are supposed to, but in addition, the kitchen crew and service staff seem to be having the time of their lives. Much of the merriment is traceable to Tim Lipman, the owner and chef, who mans the open kitchen in the small dining room. A former head chef at Leftovers Café (part of the Little Moir’s Food Shack empire), Lipman opened his own establishment in March and never looked back.
The space is long and narrow, sleek and modern, dominated by the kitchen on one side. A few dozen counter seats surround the cooking area, along with another 10 at the wine bar, and a row of tables anchors the other side of the room. The vibe is friendly, high-energy and hip. The establishment would fit nicely into SoHo or L.A.
To get a sense of Lipman’s culinary wingspan, try an appetizer such as the pan-roasted wild mushroom salad ($12). The assortment of mushrooms is sautéed with beet greens, which provides a nicely bitter counterpoint, and the dish is rounded out with a base of “cheesy polenta” that catapults the combination into the realm of gourmet comfort food. The crispy fried Florida rock shrimp ($12) is equally satisfying. Chunks of fried artichoke alternate with the lightly battered shrimp; both are garnished with a mildly spicy chili aioli and studded with pieces of creamy goat cheese. Even the humble flatbread ($12) gets star treatment here, covered with cheese and chunks of fresh tomato, and highlighted with spicy soppressata.
A battery of changing daily specials complements the regular menu. On the night of our visit, a seafood chowder ($23) is rich and delicate. Featuring pieces of local fish, wild caught shrimp, Florida clams, white eggplant and calabaza squash, it is presented in a lively broth of garlic and coconut milk. Braised Berkshire pork shoulder ($21) is meltingly tender, bathed in a coconut curry and garnished with cauliflower salsa.
There’s a respectable selection of craft beers to wash all of this down, along with a short but serviceable wine list. Glasses of Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc ($11) from the Stag’s Leap District and the rich, buttery Talley Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande ($12) are a nice complement to the assertively seasoned food. If you’re feeling adventurous, the house makes its own sangria daily, and it looks tempting.
Service is friendly, relaxed and well-informed. When glitches occur, as they inevitably do, they are dealt with quickly. Lipman is the glue that holds everything together—joking with the wait staff, keeping the kitchen running smoothly and bantering with regulars in his spare moments. It’s an example of exactly how well a concept can be executed when approached in the right spirit, without attitude and with a sincere desire to please.
The Coolinary Café is a delight, and hopefully it won’t change. No reservations are taken, except for large parties; the place fills up quickly on most evenings, but the experience is more than worth the wait.
WHERE: 4650 Donald Ross Road, Suite 110, Palm Beach Gardens (561-249-6760, coolinarycafe.com)
OPEN: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
FOOD: Eclectic, chef-driven
ATMOSPHERE: Crowded and happy
SERVICE: Friendly and well-informed
RESERVATIONS: Accepted for six or more
DRESS: Come as you are
*Photography provided by Jessica Lorren Photography