Bill Boggs Corner Table: Max's Grille, Boca Raton, Florida
Think 'restaurant' and think 'baseball' and you have the analogy that fits Max's Grille: The place has been slugging at a consistently high average for twenty-two years. That's never easy for any restaurant, and in a market like Boca, where places come and go faster than college draft choices for the Miami Marlins, that is truly a hall of fame accomplishment.
Max's Grille carries the name of the legendary Florida restaurateur Dennis Max, who has operated more than forty restaurants over the years. On hand when I visited was one of the three other owners, Fred Stampone, a Philadelphia native with a "brotherly love" vibe on his face, and the serving of good food on his agenda. Fred and his buddies run a large place, three hundred and twenty-five seats indoors and out featuring a vast menu and a page of a dozen daily special dishes as well. So a tip of the hat as he rounds the bases to executive chef Patrick Broadhead. Some chefs excel at large operation cooking and Patrick clearly is one of them.
Our appetizers included a jumbo lump crab cake with cucumber salad, beets and arugula with goat cheese, oranges and pistachios (terrific!), and veal aarpaccio with pickled vegetables. That's the second veal carpaccio in four reviews for me and I think it's a bit of a "trending menu item." The Heritage meatball is worth a try. My all-time favorite meatball as an appetizer is the menacing large one served at Rao's Restaurant in East Harlem. The Max's Grill meatball compares favorably. it's Florida beef and Berkshire pork and comes with roasted peppers and ricotta cheese. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Of course, Joe would never have spent $14 for a meatball, but you do get a second meatball for $4.00. If you eat both you will have had your meatball allotment from now until the All Star Game. There are thirteen "small plate" appetizers ranging from pizzettes to seared rare tuna to shrimp mac and cheese. Three small plate appetizers would constitute an interesting meal.
The Grand Slam home run among the seventeen menu entrees is Max's Radiatore Chicken Pasta, composed of roasted chicken, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, balsamic pan sauce and goat cheese. "We cannot remove it from the menu, we tried a change and we had protestors out front," Stampone quipped. Also "going, going, gone!" are the fish dishes — shrimp and gnocchi, wood grilled mahi-mahi, crab crusted local snapper, maple ginger glazed salmon and simply grilled sustainable fish. You can reverse direction from fish and swing for a pork chop 'scarpariello,' with creamy risotto with escarole, spinach and grana padano, applewood bacon-wrapped meatloaf, or a skirt steak.
Is there an "Early Bird Special?" Why, yes, this is Florida, remember. It's the "Three Course Experience," which gives you a free bottle of wine and five dollar cocktails when you order an appetizer, entree and dessert and you are seated by 6 pm. The place, by the way, is open seven days a week, lunch through dinner. The wine list is large and reasonable and they serve sixteen different beers as well.
The dessert to order appears to be the wildly popular Berry Creme Brûlée Pie. I try to live in a dessert-free zone, but my girlfriend, Lady Jane, is a relative of Willy Wonka. She said the warm flourless chocolate was worth waiting for. I was off having my picture taken with Fred at that point. I liked Max's very much. One potential negative: big noise in the crowed outdoor area, but one person's 'big noise' is other's 'hot energy.'
If you are anywhere near Boca and want dinner, you'll have a good one at Max's Grill.
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