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Review: Driftwood in Boynton Beach shows promise | Video

 

★★★

Driftwood in Boynton Beach is the type of restaurant that South Florida needs more of, the type of place that I root for and that I want to see succeed. “A restaurant for regular people,” chef-owner Jimmy Everett says. It is an independent, family-run and fairly priced eatery from a well-trained and well-traveled chef who returned home to open a place of his own.

Everett, 33, and wife Ilia Gonzalez, who runs the front of the house, opened Driftwood in March in the former longtime site of Scully’s restaurant. They want to elevate a comfy, neighborhood spot to something sophisticated and worldly without putting on airs, a place where a paper bag filled with good ol’ Southern boiled peanuts is a complimentary starter (don’t call it an amuse-bouche) and the kitchen follows up with a snapper ceviche ($14) that is a marvel of simplicity and complexity, pristine slices of local fish swimming in a reddish-orange citrus puddle topped with Fresno chilies, smoked avocado and glistening cubes of watermelon and cucumber. It was terrific.

But (and you should have known I was heading toward a “but”), Driftwood’s execution is not fully aligned with Everett’s vision and culinary talent. There were some misfires from the kitchen (an overcooked $14 burger among them), and service was often at sea. Our flustered server could not adequately explain certain dishes or preparations (other than to say “it’s great” or “it’s terrific”), and she inaccurately described a fish collar special ($16) as an entree instead of an appetizer (it was good, but no wonder it was so small). On a busy Saturday night, she also became engrossed with other tables and neglected ours. Fortunately, others came to pick up the slack. A food runner/busser had more personality, and seemed more on the ball.

Everett later explained that there has been some turnover with wait staff and that some may have been in their starting days and were still learning. I’m willing to forgive a restaurant for a shaky server during a weekend dinner rush, but it detracted from the meal. A restaurant with the lofty ambitions of Driftwood needs to make sure servers are capable and well-versed in the language of fine dining even if the atmosphere is casual.

Everett, who grew up in Lake Worth and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., met Gonzalez when they both worked at Marea in Manhattan, chef Michael White’s Michelin-starred Italian restaurant. One of seven children, Everett fell in love with kitchens at a young age, and he went to culinary school after having disciplinary problems in high school. He liked the structure and responsibility of haute kitchens, and after culinary school he blew most of his savings making a pilgrimage to the French Laundry, chef Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley gastronomic temple. He returned to New York, found a cheap apartment in a bad part of town and set about working his way up in some of the better kitchens. He worked at 11 Madison Park, WD-50 and Marea, then went to Hong Kong for a stint as a corporate chef, which he hated.

Everett and Gonzalez returned to South Florida soon after the birth of their son, now 5. Everett worked as chef de cuisine at the highly regarded Valentino Cucina in Fort Lauderdale for Giovanni Rocchio for 2 1/2 years, as he and his wife scouted sites from the Keys to Jupiter to launch a place of their own.

In getting Driftwood open, they have endured the hassles of dealing with banks (they had to buy the land in order to get needed loans), city permits and unscrupulous contractors. They kept Scully’s, a dinerlike restaurant, going after taking possession of the property, then closed it in December 2017 to remake it into Driftwood. There is a relaxed vibe, with a wooden front patio with umbrellas, a comfortable bar up front and a modest-size dining room dressed with reclaimed wood.

Everett uses high-quality ingredients from sources near and far, and prices are reasonable, all things considered. He gets spear-caught lionfish from a fisherman in Naples, and the excellent prime strip steak ($31, the most expensive menu item) comes from Sunshine Provisions of Hallandale Beach.

Some dishes were very good. Deviled eggs ($7) topped with green tomato relish and crisp squares of chicken skin are a comforting starter. Ground lamb skewers ($11) with whipped goat cheese and pickled vegetables are Everett’s creative and playful homage to the shawarma joints he frequented in Hong Kong. Hand-cut spaghetti ($18) with egg yolk and shaved black truffle was rich, decadent and satisfying, although the truffle was not very pronounced.

There were also disappointments. Some dishes needed a shot of salt and pepper, but there were no shakers on the table. The “pastrami’d” chicken breast ($22) sounded better in theory than the reality, with the rub not bold or spicy (Everett explains he tramped the flavors down for the sake of older clientele) and the breast having a soft, mushy texture owing to its sous-vide cooking. (A plea to chefs: Please throw away your sous vide machines. I am sick of them. Yes, the warm-water immersion technique brings proteins to the perfect internal temperature, but it also leaves them lifeless.) Everett says the chicken is supposed to be finished to crispness in a salamander, but my dish bore no evidence of an oven and the Swiss fondue sauce atop merely finished this exercise in meh. The accompanying roasted cabbage, however, was good. (See, roasting!)

Desserts were also hit and miss. Frozen cracker pie ($6), an Everett family favorite made from a Betty Crocker, Depression-era recipe of Saltine crackers and meringue, tasted like sawdust to me, but some patrons love it. A housemade dulce de leche ice cream sandwich ($6), individually wrapped with a Driftwood sticker on it, was much better. “We have a lot of paper bags and sandwich wrappers left over from Scully’s, and we’re finding a way to get rid of them,” Everett explains.

Hence, the boiled peanuts in a bag at the start and the ice cream sandwich in a wrapper at the finish. With resourcefulness such as that and a little fine tuning, I’m hoping Driftwood floats along for years to come.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

Driftwood

2005 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach

561-733-4782 or DriftwoodBoynton.com

Cuisine: Modern American

Cost: Moderate. Snacks and appetizers cost $5 to $17, mains $14-31, sides $5-7, desserts $6

Hours: 11 a.m.-late (midnight or later) Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: For parties of six or more only

Bar: Full bar with craft cocktails ($11), craft beers ($6-$7) and small, standard wine list (all bottles $30 to $50)

Noise level: Conversational with background music

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Free lot

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