By Paul Reid, Palm Beach Post Restaurant Critic
Friday, August 16, 2002
Abaco's serves darn good food, period.
You'll find fat, fresh oysters -- on the half shell, fried golden, poached in subtle citrus broth. You'll find juicy burgers, outstanding whole racks of tender ribs, crispy sweet potato fries. The beer-battered fried seafood platter is as good as you'll find in the county. The filet mignon and grilled shrimp dish should sate any appetite. Darn good food. Period.
Abaco's is at the corner of Rosemary and Clematis. This appears to be a great location, and may yet prove to be just that. The trolley to and from CityPlace stops right here. The Clematis crowd is down that-a-way, the CityPlace crowd over there. The trick will be for both crowds to discover Abaco's. And, for people who live outside of West Palm Beach to make a trip downtown solely for the dining experience. I like the place so much I'll try to do my part, become a regular for those fried oysters. Probably gain weight in the process, but it's for a good cause.
It's a new place: two cavernous stories, a post-modern industrial decor -- large, painted air ducts, soaring ceilings, simple overhead fans, muted tones. Yes, it's a bar that serves food, but it's more than that. The food end of the business is not a sideshow, but the main show. Late night you'll find live entertainment, a more limited menu, bigger bar crowd. But fact is, the food at Abaco's is as good as you'll find anywhere downtown.
Let's start with those oysters.
Take 'em raw, poached or take 'em fried, but by all means, take 'em.
Crispy fried oysters ($7.50) found six lusciously fat and fresh fellows wrapped in just the right amount of batter, made crackly with Japanese bread crumbs, then quickly fried and served in shell atop various sauces -- fresh scallion tartar sauce, a pink sauce reminiscent of Russian dressing and a horseradish-tomato number.
Or, try the citrus-grilled offering ($7.50): half-dozen oysters fast grilled in the shell to the point of poaching, moist and plump, seasoned with a citrus vinaigrette, a hint of citrus throughout. A light and lovely dish. Wash them down with cool pints of Killian's or Guinness.
These people know fish. Our beer-battered fried platter was the bee's knees of fried platters -- (grouper, oysters, conch, $12.50; shrimp, $14.50; combo, $16.50). The batter is light, crisp -- and within lie treasures.
The grouper was a nice big fillet, white and moist, poached in its own juices within the batter. Perfect. Ditto the oysters, shrimp and conch. Shrimp were large, firm. Oysters were small but fresh, big taste. Conch, two pieces, was tenderized and tasty, though not as flavorful as all those other seafaring goodies. Served with huge steak fries made from baked potatoes, sliced thick and deep-fried.
Beef, chicken and pork get respect here, too.
The mango barbecue baby back ribs ($18) found a whole rack of moist, thick ribs delicately seasoned with mango, beautifully done. Those accompanying sweet potato fries are not to be missed -- crisp out, tender in, fried and served right on the spot. Island slaw was cool, fresh, studded with bits of mango.
My reef and beef ($28) was the costliest item of the night, but the filet mignon was as tender and tasty as you'll find. The reef portion consisted of several fried shrimp. Served with freshly steamed carrots, seeded zucchini, yellow squash and broccoli. These veggies had obviously been cooked about one minute before I saw them.
Finally, our Bahamian beef kabobs ($14) offered a light repast -- a single skewer of tender beef chunks, red onions, fat mushroom slices, red and yellow peppers glazed with a light pineapple teriyaki sauce, then grilled. Served with lightly seasoned rice and pigeon peas, fresh steamed broccoli, squash and zucchini.
We also sampled the burger, because we are dedicated burger samplers. The Abaco's burger joins Roxy's, O'Shea's and Rooney's in the pantheon of Clematis Street burgers.
Well, we had enough room for the ice cream sandwich ($4), a crisp chocolate cookie layered with vanilla ice cream and caramel. A fine treat on a muggy night. Overhead, the Red Sox were winning on one of several TVs. A group at the bar were toasting each other with Guinness. Upstairs, a party of six was dining upon those fine fish dishes.
The acoustics are customer-friendly, not overpowering to your table talk, a perfect balance of background music and conversation. Maybe when the crowds come, and the live music kicks off, it will be noisier. But the increase in decibels will only signify that Abaco's has been discovered. As well it should.
R E V I E W
Abaco's Downtown Inc.
ADDRESS: 539 Clematis St., West Palm Beach
PRICE RANGE: Moderate
HOURS: Daily, food served 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. ('bar food' served until closing)
CREDIT CARDS: MC, V, Am Ex, DC & Disc.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: yes
NONSMOKING AREA: yes
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A -- Excellent
B -- Good
C -- Average
D -- Poor
F -- Don't bother