Bill Boggs Corner Table: 21st Century American Food at Max’s Harvest in Delray Beach, Fla.
After several outstanding meals at the friendly, accommodating, and innovative Max’s Harvest, in the artsy downtown Pineapple Grove section of Delray Beach, I’ve concluded that this excellent restaurant is serving what deserves to be called “21st Century American Food.” The menu is at the forefront of the continuing evolution of restaurant cooking in the United States. Dishes with the flavor combinations displayed at Max’s Harvest did not exist in 1994 when I began work at Food Network the night it was launched.
The place is run by an astute general manager, Peter Stampone, who is also a CIA-trained chef, who once served as manager of the hit Philadelphia restaurant Buddakan. “Our objective is to provide high quality food and a high level of service in a relaxed atmosphere,” Stampone told me. The executive chef at the helm in the kitchen is Eric Baker, who’s had extensive experience in the Florida restaurant world, including a stint at Café Boulud at the Brazilian Court in Palm Beach.
Stampone and Baker work closely to carefully craft what Stampone calls “the flavor development” of each dish. The ingredients are all local, seasonal, and sustainable.
Produce comes from farmers within a one hundred mile radius, and most of the fish from a group of three local fishermen. From your first bite, you’ll appreciate how the high standards and experimentation of the Stampone and Baker pay off.
For example, just when you’ve thought nothing else could be done to a Caesar salad, (except to return to making them tableside) they introduce one that requires a knife ― a “grilled Caesar salad” ― composed of gem lettuce, confit tomatoes, white anchovy, and quinoa. Can you imagine squash blossoms with hush puppy filling and jalapeno jelly (below), or zesty goat cheese croquettes with an exterior that’s so thin and crispy the croquette melts in your mouth? Or try to savor the thought of another adventurous appetizer, grilled octopus with ‘dirty’ wild rice, local datil pepper sauce, and pickled green strawberries.
Among all of the choices to start your meal, my favorite is the “crispy mushroom,” composed of Hen of the Woods mushroom, salsa verde, and Boursin cheese; each forkful offers the outstanding texture of the large, crispy mushroom, the tang of the salsa, and the rich zest of the cheese.
The menu is arranged to be economically accessible, with large and larger portioned appetizers that are priced reasonably enough to be combined for a full meal. The entrees are all generous portions, and they are priced between $21.00 and $42.00. So you’re able to dine economically, or really dig in and go for it.
Among the entrees to go for is the show-stopping tomahawk pork chop with goat cheese polenta, roasted pear, and a balsamic-braised radicchio that is so alive with flavor it practically jumps off the plate. Moist, perfectly cooked swordfish is presented with beluga lentils, heirloom carrots, beets, and sunflower seed-date gremolata. Diver scallops find themselves composed with Thai yellow curry, forbidden black rice, and Brussels sprout leaves. It’s a wonderful combination of flavors that never eclipses the delicacy of the scallops.
Max’s Harvest includes an active bar that serves small batch artisanal spirits and infusions made with organic juices that are all part of a seasonal drink selection. My favorite among the House Cocktails is the Everything Happens for a Riesling, a blend of Hangar One vodka, riesling, Dolin vermouth, grapefruit, and thyme. There are also ever-popular 4pm to 7 pm happy hour specials, which include half-off drinks and five dollar snacks. A very appealing deal is their Sunday brunch, with an unlimited $15 Bloody Mary and Champagne deal.
The lighting throughout the three areas of the restaurant is muted, and the sound level provides a buzz (but not a buzz of the leaf-blowing variety that in less well-designed restaurants limits your conversation to screaming across a too-long two top).
Max’s Harvest has been named the best restaurant in Palm Beach County by the New York Times, and my guess is it will continue to grow and be a leading influence on the cuisine of Palm Beach County and beyond for years to come.