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Max's Harvest

169 NE 2nd Ave, Delray Beach,  561-381-9970 


 
 
  

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By Jana Soeldner Danger

photos:  Jana Danger

With the locavore movement going full steam, and more formerly indifferent people developing concern for where their food comes from, it is perhaps not surprising that restaurants are jumping on the trend. Max's Harvest in Delray Beach does a superb job of it.

The  farm-to-table cafe has an ever-changing menu, because Chef James Kammper and general manager Pete Stampone source out produce from local farmers, as well as free-range chicken, beef that is grass-fed only rather than finished on feed lots, and line-caught fish. To make sure customers can check things out, contacts for the restaurant’s sources are posted on its website. This is reassuring news to anyone who cares about eating humanely raised and environmentally responsible food, but it would not be as impressive if everything didn't taste so delicious. The restaurant combines great food you can feel good about eating with particularly attentive service and a pleasing ambience.

Co-owner Dennis Max (his partner is Fred Stampone) has been a player in the South Florida restaurant scene since the early 1980s. His first place, Cafe Max in Pompano Beach, opened in 1984. A string of ventures followed, including Max's Place in North Miami, Maxaluna in Boca Raton, and Brasserie Max in Plantation, places that helped to launch the careers of chefs like Oliver Saucy, Mark Militello and Charles Saunders.

Cozy indoor décor, comfortable patios

At Max's Harvest, dining room décor is casual chic, featuring pine-topped tables and leather banquettes. Framed vintage black-and-white photos of farm scenes from Florida's past line the walls, while the theater kitchen offers a clear view of busy chefs preparing your dinner. Dropped wood panels lower the ceiling, and hanging fixtures cast soft light. The bar on one side of the room is a cozy spot for an after-work cocktail or a late-night glass of wine.

For those who prefer alfresco dining, there's a pleasant covered front patio where you can watch passersby on the sidewalk. In back, there is another patio, this one more secluded and romantic, illumined with colored lights and candles. It is very inviting. On the night we dined, rain prevented its use, but we were told that a retractable roof was coming soon that would allow seating in this beautiful space in any weather.

Upon arrival, our personable server introduced herself and told us that while she would take care of our needs, the staff works together as a team, and if she were momentarily unavailable, anyone else could help us as well. This is a welcome change from some restaurants where servers or managers sometimes stand idle rather than pitch in when a customer is not their individual responsibility.

Appetizers

Our meal began with moist, dusky zucchini bread. There’s a different bread basket every day since all the breads are baked daily in-house. In fact, just about everything served at the restaurant, except ketchup, is made right in Max's kitchen.

It is not often enough that I see pork bellies on a menu, and when I do, I can't wait to try them. The ones at Max's Harvest ($14) were delicious. Perfectly crispy on the outside and wonderfully moist on the inside, the morsels are accented with a maple-bourbon glaze that provides just the right amount of sweetness, while mustard greens are a slightly bitter foil.

The soup (market price) that evening was lobster and shrimp bisque. The shellfish was puréed with coconut milk, vegetable stock, orzo rice, squash, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and a bit of cayenne pepper. The soup was flavorful, with the coconut milk adding unusual tropical flair to this classic, but the fact that everything was pureed meant there were no chunks, or even bits, of lobster or shrimp. We missed them.

Among the other appetizers are deviled eggs ($5); goat cheese croquettes ($6); barbecued short rib ($14); squash blossom ($12); ricotta gnocchi ($16); and meatballs ($8)

Entrées

Pan-seared in butter and olive oil and then skillet-roasted, yellowtail snapper ($34) from the Florida Keys was very fresh, perfectly cooked, and moist, firm and flaky. It was served with the skin still on the underside, something I prefer as it adds a nice crispiness and additional flavor. Lemon caper sauce provided pleasant tartness, and fresh broccoli and peas brightened the plate with color. Stuffing made with shrimp, lobster, scallops and Ritz crackers was short on shellfish and not particularly memorable, but overall, the dish was very good.

Our server warned us that the "moqueca," a Brazilian-style seafood stew with swordfish, clams and Gulf shrimp ($34), was extremely spicy, and she was not making it up. This entrée is definitely not for the faint of palate, but for those who like spice, it is quite delicious.

The hearty dish was thick with seafood, simmered in a rich broth with tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, fresh cilantro, annatto and plenty of chilies to provide heat. For those who prefer an even hotter version, additional sauce is served on the side. The accompanying steamed rice, perfectly cooked, is just right for absorbing some of the burn.

Other entrées include diver scallops ($19/$35); New York strip steak ($39); Parmesan risotto cake ($23); and pork chop ($36).

Desserts

After the main course, our server delivered hot wet towels before tempting us with desserts that are made in-house—so many restaurants order them from suppliers that it is still somewhat unusual to find made-on-the-premises final courses. I am glad we didn't pass up dessert as we had fully intended to, because the flourless chocolate cake ($9) was heavenly. Rich dark chocolate, milk chocolate and creamy caramel combine in a mix of textures and flavors that should make any chocolate-lover giddy with delight.

The crostado $11) was also good; a flaky, tasty pastry dusted with cinnamon,  topped with rich whipped cream and fresh strawberries and mint, set on a puddle of caramel sauce.

Other choices are freshly made donuts ($11) and crème brûlée ($13).

Max's Harvest is a winner in several ways: memorable food, attentive service and a pleasant, chic-casual ambience. It is also a place where diners can feel good about indulging in food that is locally sourced and humanely raised.

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Max's Harvest

169 NE 2nd Ave, Delray Beach, FL 33344  561-381-9970

Hours: Mon-Thu 5-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 5-11 p.m. Brunch Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $5-$16; entrées $21-$36; desserts $9-$13 

 Ambience: Casual chic

 Liquor: Full bar and varied wine list