John Shaw Sundy moved to Delray Beach in 1894, at a time when the town was primarily known for the cultivation of pineapples. He became Delray’s first mayor and served eight terms in office. In 1902, he built the residence that bears his name.
In the midst of a landscape crammed with shopping malls, Sundy House is a welcomed escape. The interior of the property contains a full acre of manicured tropical gardens, dotted with gazebos and intimate dining tables. Not a leaf is out of place—you would not want this landscaping bill, even for a week. Start with a drink at the circular bar, framed in natural light by a ceiling skylight, and proceed to one of the enclaves of peace and sanity within those stunning gardens.
Most diners would be happy with a bowl of cold gruel in these surroundings, but fortunately the food is far better than that. Much of the credit goes to Executive Chef Lindsay Autry, who trained under Michelle Bernstein and appeared as a finalist on Top Chef: Texas. She specializes in creating New American dishes dotted with touches of Southern comfort food—creamy grits here, black-eyed peas there—adding up to meals that are well-seasoned and satisfying.
Roasted tomato soup ($11) is a splendid way to begin. Thick and savory, it is enhanced by gremolata and smoothed out by pulled mozzarella that melts gently into the broth. On the evening of our visit, a special starter of farro “fried rice” ($14) is innovative and striking, with the crunchy grains livened by an assortment of garden-fresh vegetables and wild mushrooms and paired with Key West shrimp.
You make your entrée selection from the eight or nine options on the ever-changing menu, augmented by daily specials. A paillard of Duroc pork ($29) consists of a chop first brined in mustard and cider, then pounded, breaded and sautéed. This is flavorful meat, fork-tender and resting on a bed of those creamy grits. A whole branzino ($32) arrives crispy as advertised—remarkably moist, considering the entire fish has been deep-fried—served with wilted arugula and shaved fennel.
The wine list is just as innovative as the food. The several hundred selections are weighted heavily toward California properties and concentrate on boutique wineries not in general circulation such as Flowers, Tandem and Jarvis. Prices are generally fair. Glass selections are interesting as well, highlighted by items such as Riff Pinot Grigio ($9) and Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay ($10).
Desserts are more creative than at most area restaurants, featuring choices such as berry shortcake and grilled corn pound cake with honey ice cream, blackberry jam and sugared pecans. Our shared dreamsicle ($9) consists of a slice of fluffy chocolate orange mousse, garnished with refreshing orange ice cream and candied almonds.
Service is provided by a coed staff that is friendly and eager to please. Their enthusiasm seems a bit too eager at times, and there are moments when their solicitousness comes close to being intrusive. However, they are well informed on the menu, and their only real concern is to please their guests.
Sitting in the oasis of the Sundy House, it’s hard to believe the bustle of Atlantic Avenue is only a few blocks away. If you don’t want to leave, you’re in luck: 12 guest rooms and suites are available for those who can’t tear themselves away.
WHERE: 106 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach (561-272-5678, sundyhouse.com)
OPEN: Lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 6-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
FOOD: New American with Southern touches
ATMOSPHERE: Stunning garden ambiance
SERVICE: Friendly, if a bit too eager
DRESS: Upscale casual