Max’s Harvest – Delray Beach, FL

Once again I find myself in a new town, with new food to discover. Hopefully this time I’ll stick around a while longer. As always I’ve tried to get out there and see what there is to be had as far as interesting eateries. So far, I’ve visited a handful of places, but none had really caught my eye until I found Max’s Harvest. Well, actually my wife found it, no surprise there since she was the one who rustled up Uni and Sardinia, two of my favorite meals of all time.

Max’s Harvest, the latest venture from the well known restaurateur Dennis Max, is a cozy little storefront just off the main drag that is Atlantic Ave. The area is nice and quiet, the perfect environment to enjoy some of their “farm to fork” fare. This tag always catches my attention because it’s one of those things that other restaurants without the commitment to the principle, will use to get people in the door, only to disappoint them with sub-par dishes. Max’s Harvest walks the walk. Before I even glanced at the food I noticed their list of partners, various local farms, fisherman and dairies that provide them with fresh ingredients each day. As you’d expect, this means their menu changes often, everyday in fact. Naturally they never have any specials because everything is a special! Aw it feels like I’m in elementary school again. But this is no gimmick, from what I experienced, everything is as fresh as possible, most of it procured the morning of, with the menu being written up just hours before service.

MaxsHarvest_Exterior

photo: Max’s Harvest

Speaking of the menu, it’s split in three sections, Little Big Tastes, Start Small and Think Big. If you like you can do a “make your own prix fixe” for $45 and pick one dish from each section, or a small, large and dessert. I love this idea as I usually want to sample one of everything anyway, so this gives me an avenue to do that, while also saving a couple bucks by bundling my meal.

I chose a trio of Italian dishes, starting with the Heritage meatballs with a velvety San Marzano gravy, basil ricotta and Pecorino. It arrived in a piping hot cast iron skillet with a couple hunks of crusty bread as utensils. Absolutely delicious, tender and tangy, there are few things better than a perfect meatball, especially when its made with grass-fed protein. The basil ricotta was a welcome addition, adding a creamy freshness to the powerful tomato/meatball duo.

Heritage Meatballs

For my second course, I chose a natural follow-up to the meatballs, Burrata from Broward County paired with a giardiniera salad of tomatoes, carrots, artichokes, olives, greens and a few slices of salumi. Again the crusty bread joined the party for an added texture. It also allowed me to make mini panzanella bites with the hulking ball of oil slicked burrata. The cheese oozed like a poached egg at the touch of the fork, both my wife and I let out small “ooohs”. We enjoy a good burrata, I mean who doesn’t? The acidic salad was a perfect pairing for the gentle flavor and texture of the cheese.

Broward County Burrata

After two courses, I was sold on Max’s Harvest. When a chef is given amazing ingredients and has a passion to display those ingredients at their full potential, it shows on the plate, clear as day. Chris Miracolo, the restaurants executive chef is clearly enjoying himself in kitchen and the food reflects this. As I was coming down off my burrata high, my third course arrived. Three healthy Maine diver scallops over a bed of golden butternut risotto with peas, wild mushrooms, onions and…diced apples? Yes, apples.

Maine Diver Scallops w: Butternut Risotto

I’m not usually a fan of sweet fruit making its way into dishes like this. It’s as bad as sushi restaurants trying to incorporate strawberries into their rolls. I have to say though, the apple really worked here. It wasn’t overly assertive, the scallops took their rightful place as the star of the dish. I sliced them open with ease, they were well cooked, almost translucent inside. They reminded me of tiny sea-going filet mignons. The apple served to enhance the natural sweetness of the scallop, combine that with the risotto and it was a surprisingly luxurious dish.

All the while my wife was enjoying her own little feast. She chose a nice spinach and brie dip which was the epitome of comfort food. For her entrée, an Akaushi skirt steak with garlicky greens and what I believe was a jalepeño, potato croquette. This dish right here, and forgive me a cheesy cliché, was a flavor bomb. It may have been a touch on the salty side, but it was a hit for my palate. The spicy fried croquette was an enigma, we couldn’t quite decipher if there was some cheese in there or just a very creamy potato/cream mixture. In the end it didn’t matter, it was delicious and was devoured in no time.

Spinach & Brie Dip

Grilled Skirt Steak w: Jalepeño Puff

It’s always a pleasure to enjoy a delicious meal at a newly discovered eatery. The pleasure is enhanced when it’s barely five minutes from your house. I was a little nervous about the food scene in Delray Beach at first, but Max’s Harvest has put my mind at ease. I plan on returning many times to share this wonderful neighborhood joint with family and friends.

Max's Harvest on Urbanspoon

Garde Manger – Montreal, QC

Montreal has only been on my culinary radar for a handful of years now. Ever since I heard about Au Pied de Cochon on No Reservations, the beautiful city just north of our border has been a fascinating curiosity for me. What other gems might be hidden among the art galleries and cafés of old town, or around the corner from indie clothing shops on Rue St. Denis? Well my question was answered during my latest trip to Vermont. Fortunately for me, my parents are also food lovers who relish in discovering an interesting eatery as much as I do.

They had been talking up Garde Manger (literally “keeper of the food”) for a few months, so by now I was chomping at the bit to visit. After landing at Trudeau International, we set a course for old town. The great thing about the new Montreal food scene, at least in my opinion, is its understatedness. These places have no interest in presenting a boisterous image to the public, instead they tend to keep their heads down and create some of the best food in North America. This was made clear when we arrived, had we not already known where it was, we would’ve walked right past it, no sign, no nothing. Upon entering, you realize that they obviously don’t need one, it was packed. Word of mouth is enough to support a deserving restaurant around here.

Garde Manger Exterior

photo: www.crownsalts.com

Garde Manger Entry

The ambiance was cozy to say the least, it was warm and inviting, the perfect place to grab a bite after a cold walk around the city. We were seated in a little niche at the edge of the dining room so we had a great view of the restaurant. They left the kitchen open so you can see the boys hard at work. Another great thing about some of these new Montreal joints, is the informality they bring to fine dining. The servers are all in jeans and flannel shirts, they have classic rock softly playing in the background and even they place the menus on the wall for all to see. It’s a fantastic mix of high-end dining and family get together.

Garde Manger Menu

After perusing the menu for a couple of minutes, we all decided to tag team a mixed bag of dishes. We started with an order of Accra de Morue (salt cod fritters) with creme fraiche and salmon caviar. If you don’t like salt, cod, creme fraiche or salmon roe…get this. Fritters are so often ruined by incorrect frying and lack of seasoning. Not here, the salt is front and center, accentuating rather than clouding the pillowy cod. Each fritter received a dollop of creme fraiche to give lightness and a small pile of salmon roe to bring it all back to the sea with a briny burst of flavor. It was a strong start.

Accras de Morue a Creme Fraiche & Caviar Oysters & clams on the half shell

No sooner had we finished the first pile of succulent seafood, we were presented with a spread of oysters and fresh scallops on the half shell. Small tubs of cocktail sauce with horseradish, and a classic mignonette were stuffed alongside hot sauce and lemon slices. If there are still any oyster haters out there, I implore you to visit Garde Manger, the shellfish here is otherwordly; sweet, smooth and incredibly fresh. On a previous visit, my parents ordered the platter as an appetizer and a second one for dessert, they’re that good.

If appetizers were boxers, our third choice would be the heavyweight champion of the world. Gaufre a Joues de Veau & Foie Gras (waffle with veal cheeks & foie gras). It’s dishes like this that invoke a “are you freaking kidding me?!”, of course I’m going to order this. When you see a dish like this on a menu, you order it, you hear me? As expected it was ridiculous (with me that’s always a compliment). The waffle, despite being surrounded by veal and foie drippings was fluffy and moist without being soggy. A bite containing a cut of waffle, chunks of joue de veau and a slab of foie, is the physical embodiment of happiness. Having that combination of ingredients in my mouth brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart, no joke. If such an insane world existed where one could enjoy this for breakfast, I would happily live there.

Gaufre a Joues de Veau & Foie Gras

This was only the halfway point folks, we rolled with five entrées (for four people I’m not sure how we finished):

  • Côte de Porc a Crème de Mais a Sauce aux Poivrons
  • Shortrib a Spätzle & Cambozola
  • Risotto de Homard
  • Filet Mignon a Oeuf Frit
  • Dorade a Chili de Fruits de Mer

Cote de Porc a Creme de Mais & Sauce aux Poivrons

Shortrib a Spatzle & Cambozola

The short ribs were a great example of that classic cold weather, soul warming cuisine the Quebecois do so well. The deep crimson reduction soaked into the spätzle creating little juicy puffs of dough that paired perfectly with the fork tender short rib. If that wasn’t decadent enough, the whole slab of meat was blanketed with a thick slice of Cambozola, which is a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream and Italian Gorgonzola. A few slices of crispy shallots on top rounded it all out, a great dish.

The lobster risotto kept the rib-sticking theme going. The generous portion of rice had a giant claw draped over it like a hunting trophy. I had never seen a risotto with such a dark red coloring. When I took a bite, I was struck by the strength of flavor. There was a hint of sherry and spices that lead me to wonder if they had used lobster bisque instead of stock to simmer the rice. Thankfully, my parents purchased the Garde Manger cookbook beforehand, so I’ll definitely be sharing it with you all soon.

Risotto de Homard

Not to be out done was the filet. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it may be the best filet I’ve ever had. First of all, I’ve never had a filet cooked like this. I believe they take the entire tenderloin, or a least a good portion of it, and sear it on its side. Then they slice each portion leaving the sides totally untouched by the pan leaving them pink and gleaming. Most restaurants pan sear the steak on all sides which is fine, but this preparation seemed much more refined. It was wobbly to the touch, as it should be, perfectly cooked. The fried egg sat alongside what I believe were fried cheese curds. Are you beginning to see a theme here with all these dishes? We broke the egg to unleash the flood of yolk that coated the filet like a golden blanket. Like the foie dish, the perfect bite here consisted of a healthy slab of filet, slice of egg, a bit of cheese curd and a slathering of the dark gravy at the bottom.

Filet Mignon a Oeuf Frit

Dorade a Chili de Fruits de Mer

We decided to finish with a second platter of oysters for good measure. When the opportunity presents itself to indulge in world-class oysters, you take it, no questions asked. We left Garde Manger satisfied and smiling. Montreal should be proud to have them in town, another feather in their culinary cap. As always, and I can’t stress enough, if you’re anywhere near this city, make a point of stopping in at Garde Manger, it’ll be a memory you won’t soon forget.

Garde Manger on Urbanspoon

Ray’s Seafood Market & Restaurant – Essex Junction, VT

If you’re a regular reader here at Eat a Duck, you can probably rattle off the foods we enjoying writing about most. Pork, duck, foie gras, cheese, wine, steak, sushi, dim sum, the list goes on. Well now isn’t the time to stray from our faithful list of guilty pleasures. I only want to talk about one thing today, lobster, specifically lobster cozily stuffed in a buttered bun. I’m talking lobster rolls.

For many, Maine is the Mecca of the lobster world, others might say it’s Boston. When it comes to lobster rolls though, there’s only one place you need to know about. Ray’s Seafood Market and Restaurant in the humble town of Essex Junction, VT. I know, I know, this is almost as sacrilegious as when I said I found the best pizza ever in Atlanta, GA. I’m sorry but it’s true. I’ll give you a second to wrap your mind around it. Alright…

Ray's Exterior Ray's Entry

This little seafood shack is located just one exit north of Burlington on Interstate 89. If you manage to find it tucked away behind a Tae-Kwon-Do studio and the Go-Go Gas station, you won’t see any flashy signs touting “World’s Greatest Lobster!”, or any goofy quotes from this years Zagat guide plastered on all the windows “So good it should be against the CLAW!”. No, all you’ll see is a comfy looking sky blue eatery with a little lobster cut out above the door, subtly foreshadowing great things to come.

When you come through the doors you’re welcomed by the briny aroma of the sea. Large vats of crustaceans are front and center, proudly displaying the recent catch. A couple of bays devoted to lobster, maybe one for crab, all filled with potential delicacies. The large freezers to the right contain even more amazing seafood from scallops and octopus, to whole belly clams and shrimp, perfect for your fryer at home when you’re hankering for a po’ boy. Now I wouldn’t fault you for raising an eyebrow after taking a first glance around the place, it is a bit kitschy, what with all the fake crabs, fishing nets and glass buoys strung about like nautical Christmas decorations, but after dining here countless times, I wouldn’t change a single thing. In the end, all that matters is the food and Ray’s delivers.

Ray's Seafood Market Interior

So let’s get to it! I take it most of you have tried a lobster roll at least once in your life. No? Well let me lay out the basics for you. The classic lobster roll consists of a buttered bun, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, possibly a dash of Old Bay, and lobster meat, preferably from the tail but a little claw is fine as long as it’s fresh. That’s it, nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Those two things that the Ray’s roll lacks, are the exact two things that have ruined every other lobster roll I’ve tried elsewhere. Everyone seems to think “my god it’s lobster, we must dress it to the nines!”. So they add onions and celery and lettuce and all kinds of other ingredients and seasonings until the lobster gets completely overshadowed. Now if I’m going to spend $12-$20 on a lobster roll, by golly I want to taste my lobster! The folks at Ray’s get this, they dress it as simply as possible, using just enough mayo and spices to bring out the amazing flavors that lobster is capable of.

Lobster Roll & Fries

Understandably, many of you live nowhere near Ray’s, but we here at Eat a Duck are looking out for every eventuality. Say you find yourself on your way to Montreal to check out some of our wonderful Canadian recommendations like Maison Kam Fung or L’Express, but oh no, your plane gets caught in a terrible blizzard and has to divert to Burlington for the night. Well Ray’s is no more than 10 minutes from the airport, ready to supply you with soul warming lobster rolls to cure your air travel woes. Ah, now who’s thinking ahead? You’re welcome.

So if you or a friend or family member or even a sworn enemy (hey everyone deserves a tasty lobster roll) are ever heading to Burlington, and you even slightly enjoy a lobster here and there, make sure you check out Ray’s Seafood Market & Restaurant.

Ray's Seafood Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Food Truck Roundup at Wynwood Art Walk

By now, the concept of a food truck rally is fairly common. These mobile food courts are held often in most large cities and even a few smaller ones. Every once in a while they’re combined with another event like a music festival or art show. In the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, they hold an event on the second Saturday of every month called Art Walk. This normally seedy area of town opens up into a hip smattering of galleries, pop-up market stands, restaurants and of course, food trucks. I’m a big fan of art in all forms, but on this night, I was there for the food.

As with any respectable festival, whether it be music, comedy, whatever, there are always warm-up acts, memorable new discoveries and of course the headliners that usually brought everyone there in the first place. The Food Truck Roundup was no exception with a lineup so long it would take you three or four visits to eat at every truck. We got there just as the sun was going down, before the real crowds showed up so we could get the run of the place. However, with only about $23 between my sister and I, we had to choose wisely.

Dog Eat Dog Ms. Cheezious Gastropod

We passed up Dog Eat Dog and Ms. Cheezious, hot dogs and grilled cheeses, you all know I love ’em, and the food coming out of those joints looked delicious, but with a limited budget, you have to be picky. The fact that the folks at Gastropod retrofitted an Airstream into a rolling hipster eatery (I couldn’t tell if it was a ’64 or and ’81) definitely caught my attention, and as much as I wanted to sample their diabolically tasty sounding fare, I had to skip them as well as they were out of my budget (though I’d like to return and write-up a piece just for them, I mean just look at their menu?!).

At last we made our first stop at the BC Taco truck. I’m a sucker for tacos served out the side of an old UPS van. The main draw here was the simplicity. The menu hit all the right areas, steak, chicken, fish, shrimp, without getting cute with fancy ingredients. We ordered a Missing Link consisting of fried Mahi, green cabbage and shredded mozzarella, and a Gatherer, a veggie taco with fried avocado, lettuce, shredded mozzarella and chipotle mayo. Simple, tasty and well-done. At about $7, it was a great start.

BC Tacos"The Missing Link" taco "The Gatherer" taco

We walked a few yards past the Nacho Bizness despite their admirable enthusiasm, as well as the Waffle Gourmet truck, which, while tempting with its chocolate and strawberry smothered gaufre on the side, had to be resisted in favor of more savory options. We found our next target with Che Grill.

Waffle Gourmet Nacho Bizness Che Grill

My sister, ever the communist revolutionary sympathizer, spotted Che Grill from across the park. This truck may share the name and home country with everyone’s favorite commie, the folks at Che Grill are  more interested in serving up  fresh Argentinian cuisine instead of Coups d’Etat. The first thing to catch my eye was the Lomita Sandwich, fresh-baked bread with thin slices of churrasco  steak, topped with melted mozzarella, ham, a fried egg, bacon, lettuce and tomato! Unfortunately this feast on a bun was out of our budget, so we sprang for one of their tasty looking empanadas instead, spicy beef to be precise. As empanadas go, it wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but the dough was tender and flaky, and the filling had great flavor, so I call it a success and for only $3.

Spicy Beef Empanada

It was time for the main event, the whole reason we came to this food truck rally in the first place. Dim Ssam a G0-G0, Sakaya Kitchen’s mobile platform. For me, this was the headliner, the David Bowie or Pixies of the rally. I’m not alone in my love for this truck, Mr. Bourdain himself visited Dim Ssam a Go-Go recently on his Miami visit for The Layover. Anyway, their truck was situated right at the main entrance, obviously the most prized spot in the sandy lot. I expected nothing less from this hulking matte black truck than I would from the brick and mortar shop in downtown Miami, and I was not disappointed. Two Kurobota pork belly buns for $7 were the order of the day. Perfectly tender pork, a spicy jolt of sweet chili sauce and their awesome quick pickled cucumbers. They disappeared in a matter of seconds but oh how satisfying they were.

Dim Ssam A Go-Go

Spicy Pork Belly Buns

We were left with three dollars, which we had promised to a young lady in a van a while back. Giselle Pinto is the proprietor of the Sugar Yummy Mama cupcake truck and had in her tiny glass case, a cupcake that I had to have. The guava cupcake. It. Was. Awesome. No other words needed, I’ll leave you with this.

Sugar Yummy Mama Wow-Guava Cupcake

Well that was a little long-winded, but the Food Truck Invasion has a lot to offer. These guys move around a lot, so they can be tough to pin down sometimes. If you’re looking to visit a food truck rally here in South Florida, I find that Roaming Hunger is a good website to track down your favorite truck. Of course you could always follow them on Twitter to get up the up to the minute scoop on their next location. It’s all about doing the research!

The Corner Store – Plant City, FL

This might lead to an argument, but it has to be said. My child is not a great eater.

When he was baby, he would eat anything you put in front of him. I remember quite vividly the first time we brought him to have Korean food, he gobbled up all the kimchi at the table. It was kind of ridiculous, since it’s hard for most overgrown adults to fathom eating one bite of kimchi let alone a whole bowl. I knew at that moment, he was my blood (not that there was any doubt).

Sadly though, the tides have changed in the past few years. Gone were the days when he would eat anything we shoved in his face. It has become a much more picky landscape in his food world. The bright, colorful and delicious worlds of banchan and bulgogi have replaced with the brown, repetitive slums inhabited by chicken fingers and french fries (not that there’s anything wrong with those items, just not for every meal).

Then things changed again…

Although he still won’t eat just any old thing you serve him, (sometimes he puts up a fine fight) he began enjoying more of the foods his mother enjoys. They’re both experts on all things rice. They both like their fruit and veg in the form of smoothies, as do I.

If you asked him his three favorite places to get a bite to eat, it would be:

3. Whole foods (specifically for yellow rice. Not the one will the black dots in it. The other kind.)

2. Mega Mercado (two chicken tacos and of course rice. I told you he was a rice fiend.)

1. The Corner Store (By far his most requested restaurant.)

The Corner Store Exterior 2

photo: Pietri Photography

The Corner Store has recently become the go to place when attempting to keep harmony in my household. Never before, and probably never again, will all three of us agree on one single dining establishment.

It started one Saturday morning. Like most Saturday mornings do, I was loitering at the Poor Porker, eating beignets and such. I was asked if I had ever been to The Corner Store in Plant City. I think my reply went something like this which now leaves me with deep shame, “Yeah right, like I’m going to eat anywhere in Plant City.”

I understand now how flawed my thinking was. You can’t judge a restaurant based on your preconceived notions of its location. Bad form on my part, sorry about that. I was ridiculed for the better part of the day until I promised I would venture out to land of strawberries for a meal. I was also promised that the owners were fantastic people and that we would get along really well.

It was an amazing sensation, the first time I found myself walking into The Corner Store. It was as if this place was built for the sole purpose of satisfying the needs of my family exactly. Just about everything sold in the grocery area is organic or natural. The dining area has a little “kiddie kingdom” play area so your spawn can expend some energy while you relax with a nice Cigar City Ale and some grub. It’s so great to have this feature, I can’t think of any other place that has a set-up like this. I swear this could be a franchise. I can just imagine how great it would be to bring a little piece of this brilliant concept to my town! To think that someone told the owners that this would be bad for business. It sure has taken the stress out of dinner time when we go out.

The Italian Job

Greek Salad

photos: Pietri Photography

The menu consists of dips, salads, sandwiches and wraps, with specials that change with the seasons. You’ll find something on the menu to love, and I wouldn’t be shocked if you never wanted to stray from that one thing. That’s how perfect the food is. I beg you, even though it might be hard, please try to navigate your way through the entire menu. You will find little wonders, sometimes by accident, throughout the menu. One time I ordered hummus but they ran out so they brought spinach artichoke dip for me to sample. I would never order such a thing on purpose. However after that one taste I was sold. I’m also completely in love with the muffletta wrap that they have as a special. It comes with a spicy garlic olive tapenade that could solve the nations debt crisis.

Another great choice would be The Gobbler sandwich. It’s reminiscent of Turkey Day U.S.A. with a great combination of sweet/tangy cranberry sauce and smokey provolone, and since America is our hometown, it’s no wonder everyone loves this thing so much.

The Gobbler

photo: Pietri Photography

The single most important reason The Corner Store is so great, is the owners. I’ve had the privilege of becoming friends with them through our network of food lovers. It’s been great picking my friend Cynthia’s brain about cooking technique and sustenance in general. Her philosophy is eat well or die. Her mission is to embrace local farmers by showcasing their goods in her store. Not to mention sharing a cleaner way of living and eating to our community. She does all of this while providing some of the most delicious food you can imagine. If that doesn’t make you want to join her movement then you’re reading the wrong blog.

My wife has a place where she can enjoy a BIG salad and a glass of sangria. My boy has an awesome playground inside the shop where he can freely roam and drink his nutrient and flavor packed smoothies, and I have a place where I can swig on great local beers and eat many thought-provoking sandwiches without feeling like a plate of hot garbage later. And then we can do it all again tomorrow.

The Corner Store has accomplished the incredible task of uniting my family at meal time. We have a special place we all can agree on, which is a first. If you think I’ve mentioned family way too much, you might be right, but then again you might be a heartless Joique (sic).

The Corner Store on Urbanspoon