The concept behind a farm to table restaurant (FTTR) makes it extremely difficult to review. Since FTTRs use only what is the freshest available from local farmers, the menu is unlikely to be the same on any given night. For example, the protein in an entrée may remain constant; say a roasted chicken, since most animals, except for some seafood, are available no matter what the season. However, the side dishes usually vary on a weekly, if not daily basis. In the Fort Lauderdale area, we have a few FTTRs that are undeniably excellent examples of farm to table dining.
169 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, 561-381-9970
Delray’s Max’s Table is a true FTTR and one of my favorite restaurants and I’m not alone in that opinion. Just check out Max’s Harvest’s ratings on Yelp, it looks like a cheering section. That’s not a surprise since Max’s Harvest dishes up some truly mouth-watering fare, in chic and comfy surroundings with marvelously attentive service.
Max’s uses meat from animals that were raised humanely and free of steroids, growth hormones & antibiotics. The seafood is caught or raised without damaging the ecosystem and the produce comes from farmers from Delray, Boynton and Loxahatchee, as well as many other vegetable and fruit farmers throughout the state. The beef is Akaushi (related to the Japanese Wagyu) from a ranch in Clewiston, a rancher from Deland raises grass fed lamb and the pork comes from a farmer in Avon Park who raises Hereford pigs, a heritage breed.
That’s all well and good, but the important thing is that at Max’s Harvest, they treat the products responsibly and prepare them in delicious ways that will amaze you. You’ll pay a bit more at a FTTR, but the quality is worth it. Max’s Harvest serves small plates, although there are a few entrees for those who demand that sort of thing. We started with small plates and were so full that we had to make a choice entrée or dessert? Desserts always win.
I started with a crafted cocktail, the Watermelon Patch, a combination of fresh watermelon juice, Svedka Clementine Vodka, ginger liqueur and lemon juice. It was just like biting into a spiked melon. From the starters menu we sampled the deviled eggs with truffle sea salt, which were delish, but could have used a few more grains of salt. Goat cheese croquettes were so yummy we didn’t need the overly sweet red chili-guava jelly. A salad of local heirloom tomatoes featured grilled houlumi “croutons.”
The small plates, while really not so small, included a perfectly grilled Akaushi flat iron steak served with yummy crispy fingerling potato skins. Although gnocchi is one of my husband’s favorites, I’m usually not a fan; the dumplings too often tend to be gummy. Not at Max’s Harvest. The giant dumplings made with local ricotta managed to combine a cloud-like interior with a crisp exterior and, were almost like pot-stickers. A crisp Parmesan risotto cake was perfectly fine, but what could follow those gnocchi? I still dream of them.
Desserts included made to order doughnuts and doughnut holes and, perhaps the best invention in the world; a wedge of Key Lime flavored cheesecake topped with a sugar bruleé. Max’s also serves brunch on Saturday and Sundays until 2:30 p.m. and offers an unlimited interactive Bloody Mary bar and champagne cocktails for$15 per person.
1850 SE. 17th St. Ft. Lauderdale, 954-835-5507
The owners of Market 17 are Kirsta and Aaron Grauberger, a brother and sister team of sommeliers that have created a FTT organic restaurant serving "wine country cuisine." Appetizers are in the $10 to $15 range and might include ceviche, beef tartare, flatbread and a variety of salads. One recent evening the salad offerings included a roasted beet salad and a kale salad with fresh strawberries. Entrees are available in tasting portions, priced from $15 to $25, or as full-sized entrees, priced from $20 to $45.
On that same night the options included seared Florida wahoo served with coconut basmati rice, bok choy, glazed shiitake mushrooms, ginger crème fraiche and fennel chutney. Other fish options were black grouper, shrimp and cheddar grits. Meat eaters had the option of beef tenderloin, grilled antelope loin, pork tenderloin, duck or pan roasted free range chicken served with creamy wheat berry risotto, roasted broccoli, butternut squash and pearl onions. The vegan offering for that evening was smoked tofu with sautéed kohlrabi, rutabaga, pickled pearl onions, grilled greens and roasted beet puree.
Swank Produce, in Loxahatchee Groves, 561-202-5648
For the ultimate in FTT dining, check out Swank Produce, in Loxahatchee Groves. After a tour of the farm’s hydroponic growing houses, guests gather at a table in the fields for al fresco dinners prepared by local and nationally known chefs. Last season, Swank Produce hosted seven such dinners, donating a portion of the proceeds for each dinner to local charities. The season for these dinners is roughly October through April.
Sublime Restaurant & Bar
1431 North Federal Highway, 954-615-1431
While not technically a FTT restaurant, Sublime, the vegan/vegetarian restaurant, must be included for its innovative vegan dining, which has been known to win over even the most ardent carnivores. It is often named as among the best restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, not the best vegetarian or best healthy, just the best. Not only is it nationally renowned and a favorite stop for vegan celebrities such as Paul McCartney, it is reasonably priced, with apps, soups and salads in the $7 to $12 range and entrees priced between $15 and $20. As an indication of the restaurant owner's dedication to animal welfare and the vegan lifestyle she gives 100 percent of her profits to organizations that promote both causes.