The culinary scene in Palm Beach County is constantly evolving. As trends and tastes change, restaurants and eateries come and go in the blink of an eye. A prime example of this is downtown West Palm Beach—more specifically, Clematis Street.
The lifeblood of the downtown corridor, Clematis Street is a lively, idiosyncratic block, filled with boutiques and chain stores, nightclubs and bars, and a number of eateries with a truly eclectic flair. From international cuisine, tapas and fusion concepts to fresh fish houses, Clematis has something for everyone.
Recently Clematis shed a few old and played eateries, rebranding itself with some new, exciting tastes. Last time we went on a whirlwind roundup of downtown restaurants (March 2012), we saw the opening of Kabuki, The Wine Dive and Virginia Philip Wine Shop & Academy. Proudly we can say all three are still holding strong. Sadly, one of our favorite lunch and late-night bites, Gratify American Gastro Pub, has shuttered its doors.
Since then, Clematis and downtown West Palm have experienced somewhat of a mini culinary renaissance with a number of casual and quick-bite eateries opening their doors. So in prep for the New Year, here's a look at some standouts as we eat our way through downtown West Palm Beach.
Smoked and Seasoned
Finally, barbecue done right on Clematis. Open since October 2012, Bobbi Sue Bar-B-Que is a marvel of all things pork and open-pit related. Not pigeonholed to one style of barbecue, Bobbi Sue dabbles in little bit of everything, from Memphis-style rubs, North Carolina sauces and Texas-style char. Even the décor—varnished pine, rustic signage and Mason jars galore—is comfortable and inviting. And in the land of corporate chain dining, Bobbi Sue is refreshingly original—this is the one and only.
As I was saying, the place specializes in America’s true original cuisine, Southern barbecue. Pulled pork, smoked chicken, St. Louis spare ribs, beef brisket ... the place is a carnivore’s dream come true. As for sides, the slowed-cooked collards are tops (Who else can say they have collard greens downtown?), and Sherryl Lee’s mac and cheese, well, let's just say there's no relationship to Kraft’s blue box.
The bar is a prime example of Southern hospitality—a down-home Cheers with a stable of signature cocktails to wet the whistle. You can’t go wrong with the Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade (recipe here), while the dessert drinks are essentially adult milkshakes, complete with soft serve and an array of liquors suited for the occasion.
Happy Hour, from 3-7 p.m., Monday through Friday, is an ideal time to give the place a try. Appetizers are $4 (aside from the pork belly) and are full-sized portions (perfect for family-style dining), and the drinks are half price. In that vein, Bobbi Sue is the only downtown purveyor of Batch 19, a pre-Prohibition-style lager that comes by the pint or half-gallon growler. To celebrate, on the 19th of every month, just for coming in, you get a free pint during happy hour—how’s that for Southern hospitality?
- Open for lunch, dinner and late night (kitchen closes at midnight ). 561-838-9099, facebook.com/BobbiSueBbq.
Fish lovers, The Tin Fish has just called your number. A casual eatery located across from the fountain along North Clematis, Tin Fish opened in May, bringing a fresh market-style concept that’s quick and neighborly. Like any good fish market eatery, pretension is left at the door. Diners order at a counter and the eats are served hot and fresh in a basket—clean and simple. Décor matches this mantra: easy going, light and airy, putting emphasis on the food.
The menu pulls from regions all over the map, with chowders, burritos and tacos, fried platters and New England-style crab cakes just to name a few. Fried seafood is the way to go in this joint, though the garlic pots are top sellers, and there are plenty of grilled options as well as some landlubber meals—the 10 oz. burgers are rumored to be outstanding. Tin Fish, a national chain, is known for its tacos, and Clematis’ spot—owned by local father-son trio and fishermen Ray Noonan and sons Andy and Bobby—keeps the torch well lit. From an array of proteins (salmon, mahi, shrimp, calamari, fired lobster and scallop), my personal favorite is the fried cod: golden, light and flaky, served on a bed of shredded cabbage, cheddar and salsa, and drizzled with ranch and hot sauce. But for a place like this, judgment is passed on fish and chips. Tin Fish seems to have written the standard. Golden brown cod served with a side of waffle fries on a mock newspaper: The fish and chips alone is worth a visit.
At the counter-style eatery, an attentive staff keeps drinks flowing for alfresco and downstairs diners, while the upstairs bar, open at 4 p.m., is well staffed. Aptly named Top of the Fish, the upstairs bar is the place to be come happy hour, 4-8 p.m. daily, with half-priced beer and $3 house wine and wells. Tin Fish also encourages local drinking with $3 Florida-brewed beers. Come Friday and Saturday, live bands and karaoke take over, but the best day of all has to be Taco Tuesday—$2 fried cod tacos, $2 Yuengling all day, followed by trivia 8 p.m.
- Open for lunch, dinner and drinks. 561-223-2497, tinfishclematis.com.
The 500-block has gotten a lot sweeter since our breeze-through in March. Open since April 2012, Café Sweets Bakery has given the sweet tooth reason to hang around the tracks. This place is entrenched in the Southern tradition, from the hospitality each customer is greeted with to the recipes for the baked goods. It's the brainchild of Sharlyn Davis, an Art Institute of NYC trained pastry chef, who concedes the flavors behind the glass cases stemmed from family: her mother, Cora, who works with her at the bakery, and her grandmother Emma.
Café Sweets specializes in Southern-style pastries. What’s that, the uninitiated may ask. Short answer: red velvet cake, pecan and sweet potato pies, banana pudding cupcakes, sour cream Bundt cake, and loaf breads, and much more. From cakes, pies, cookies, brownies and cupcakes, Café Sweets dabbles in a little of everything. Davis’ cakes border on art, where the creative and bold design is only topped by the taste. But for the urbanite on the run, it’s nearly impossible to stroll by the bakery without stopping in for a cupcake. With nearly 40 flavors, and more constantly being developed—seriously, give her a suggestion and you just might find it behind the glass a week later—the cupcakes are baked daily and run $2.50 a piece, $13.50 a half dozen. Among the fan favorites right now: red velvet and banana pudding (I implore you to try this one, it’ll make you a believer) are always crowd pleasers, while some of the more adult-themed—strawberry daiquiri, pina colada and mojito, made with liquor—are a hit, but after 5 p.m., of course.
For those yearning for a quick bite to take home, try one of the mini pies ($2.50). The Easy Bake Oven-sized treats come in sweet potato (a must, seriously), pecan, Key lime and apple—they’re as delectable as they are cute. The Whoopie Pies ($1.75)—two slices of cake sandwiching a schmear of creamy filling—are delicious and recommended by four out of five dentists.
Opening at 7:30 a.m., Café Sweets is quickly becoming a favorite breakfast haunt of the city hall gang, with croissants, muffins, cinnamon rolls, palmiers and brioches made fresh daily.
- Open 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Wednesday; 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday, walk-ins are welcome. Cakes require 24-hour notice. 561-249-7167, cafesweetsbakery.com.