Anyone who's ever worked in an office building knows all about lobby restaurants. They're often diner-style coffee shops that operate from early morning to late afternoon, keeping their built-in customer base caffeinated and sustained.
And at first glance, M.E.A.T. — Meat Eatery and Taproom — appears to be nothing more than an amenity tucked into the back of the lobby at the Cendyn Spaces office building in Boca Raton.
Then, you open the menu and start looking around. There are a dozen microbrews on tap, including selections from Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach and Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park. They even have microbrewed sodas. M.E.A.T. is the only registered smokehouse in Boca. They smoke their own bacon and pastrami. Chorizo is made in house. So is the mango-chipotle ketchup and beer-caraway-seed mustard that come with the extraordinary burgers.
M.E.A.T., open since July, is the invention of chef George Patti and sommelier Tom Smith, who've worked at some of the best restaurants in the upper Keys and currently operate another M.E.A.T. location plus a full-service restaurant called S.A.L.T. Fusion Cuisine, both in Islamorada.
Smith says they chose their office building location intentionally. "There are 300 to 400 people in the building," he says. "It gives us a little juice that you don't get when you start a new business."
M.E.A.T. is fast-casual, meaning you walk into the 26-seat restaurant area and order drinks and food. Once your order's been placed, guests can either find a stool inside the restaurant or wander into the soaring, four-story lobby, where there are oversize booths as well as tables and chairs. They've served 150 people at once in that room. Once your order has been placed, it becomes a full-service restaurant with attentive servers coming by to check on beverage refills and other needs.
Who can resist house-made pork rinds ($6) dusted with chili powder and served with chimichurri aioli? Duck-fat-fried french fries ($2.50) aren't as richly flavored as I'd expect, but if you're looking for rich, there is no shortage on the menu.
There's Wisconsin-beer-cheese soup ($4.50), topped with bacon bits and incredible lobster mac-n-cheese ($14), and served in its own baking dish. Bratwurst ($8.50) is topped with sauerkraut.
The burgers, however, will call your name. Most are made with a special mixture of Angus, although there's a half-pound wagyu ($19), served simply with American cheese, lettuce and tomato.
We opted for something called the Cow and Pig Burger ($16), a 5-ounce chorizo patty atop a 5-ounce Angus burger with beer-braised onions, provolone and American cheese. The bun is so thin, it almost doesn't matter. The burger is a mouthful of messy deliciousness. You'll need napkins.
Don't bother with sweet-potato tater tots ($5), served with a cloying marshmallow dipping sauce. Next time, I'll try the house-made sweet-and-spicy pickles (50 cents) or crispy onion strings with beer-cheese dipping sauce ($4.50).
The smoker also produces incredible chicken wings ($13) that are grilled and tossed in honey-chipotle barbecue sauce and topped with blue cheese. There's something about the smoking that changes the texture of the meat to a kind of silky tenderness.
Lest you think M.E.A.T. is all about, well, meat, it's not. The house salad ($10) is a combination of roasted beet, crispy faro and Cotija cheese served over mixed greens with sweet-mustard vinaigrette. The BOCA Burger ($13), made in-house, is a vegetarian combination of faro, quinoa, mushrooms, edamame and beets wrapped in lettuce and tomato.
Smith and Patti rented an apartment in Boca to get this location up and running, but it appears to be in very fine hands after four months. The youthful staff returned to our table time and time again. They tuck lots of great hospitality into a small space.
Desserts include boozy adult milkshakes that combine things such as Guinness and Nutella ($7.75). We ordered a special of the day dessert: bacon, banana and peanut-butter bread pudding with Heath Bar crumbles topped with marshmallow-whiskey anglaise ($7).
The gray bananas were off-putting. But like M.E.A.T. itself, it is not your typical lobby-restaurant fare.
M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom
980 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton
Cuisine: Eclectic American
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Moderate
For kids: Highchairs, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot