Can a restaurant be all things to all people? Max’s Grille tries and, for the most part, succeeds.
Launched in 1991 in Boca Raton’s newly opened Mizner Park, Max’s Grille was not intended to be the most revolutionary or inspirational restaurant in the Max Group family. It was created to be a safe harbor, a place where people could go for comfort food with a twist. It has survived for more than two decades, flourishing in a tough South Florida environment that doomed its more avant-garde siblings one by one.
|Max's Grille's chopped salad has developed a cult following in its own rght.|
The restaurant went through a total makeover last year, although you have to look closely to see the results. The kitchen is still open, the dining room still composed of a mix of tables and booths, and an alfresco bar has augmented the outdoor terrace. While the interior has been spiffed up, the decor is what it has always been—a cross between a steak house and a sports bar, a place that informs customers they can relax while they eat.
Begin with a flatbread such as the roasted mushroom pizzette ($14), a thin and crispy crust layered with melted fontina cheese and Parmesan-garlic cream, braised leeks, a trio of wild mushrooms and a sprinkling of truffle oil. The shrimp mac-n-cheese ($8) is equally rich and satisfying, composed of baby shrimp, ditalini pasta and Parmesan breadcrumbs baked into a casserole. You won’t want to order either dish if you are on a diet, but you’ll likely remember both for some time.
|The radiatore chicken pasta is a must-order at Max's Grille.|
Among the entrees from the wood-fired grille, the maple-bourbon glazed baby back ribs ($27) are memorable. The meat is succulent, tender and falling off the bone. The maple-bourbon glaze is distinctive but not overpowering, permeating the meat and enhancing the flavor; the dish is garnished with remarkable sweet potato fries. My companion pronounced them to be the best ribs she had ever eaten. A daily special of branzini ($28), or Mediterranean sea bass, is carefully prepared. The thin fillets are artfully grilled, remaining moist and juicy, accompanied by toasted orzo and wild mushrooms.
For those watching their weight (this is Boca Raton, after all), there is a selection of main-plate salads such as the Southwestern cobb and oak-grilled chicken Caesar. The Asian-glazed Scottish salmon ($19) is crunchy and appetizing, with baby greens amplified by cabbage, scallions and toasted cashews.
|Challah French toast, served during brunch, is topped with berries, crème fraîche and warm maple syrup.|
The wine list is as comforting as the menu, featuring a roll call of familiar names: Sonoma-Cutrer, Franciscan, Beringer and Cakebread. You won’t have a life-changing wine experience here, but you won’t be disappointed, either. In addition, there is a respectable list of cocktails and craft beers.
Service is friendly and accommodating; staff members know the menu inside out, offer recommendations willingly and are eager to please. But this is a very busy place, and the pace of the restaurant sometimes overwhelms them. Things are forgotten, orders misfire and mistakes are made. Fortunately, the watchful management team has their backs and is on hand to resolve issues and smooth over problems.
Given the broad appeal of Max’s Grille, it attracts a wide cross-section of humanity on any given evening—everything from texting 20-somethings to octogenarians who have difficulty walking to their table. This makes for interesting people watching, provided you have a reservation. You’ll need one.
|Max’s Grille’s renovated bar.|
WHERE: 404 Plaza Real, Boca Raton (in Mizner Park); 561-368-0080, maxsgrille.com
OPEN: Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
ATMOSPHERE: Crowded but congenial
FOOD: American eclectic
SERVICE: Friendly, sometimes overwhelmed
RESERVATIONS: Essential DRESS: Casual