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Grato Restaurant Interiors Photo Libbyvision
Grato Restaurant Interiors Photo Libbyvision

After a slammed few months since it’s debut in January – you should have seen the stylish mob scene after Art Palm Beach opening night – Grato Restaurant, one of the most exciting new additions to West Palm Beach’s dining scenes along Dixie on the edge of El Cid Neighborhood, has expanded its hours to offer diners an interesting and palate-pleasing Sunday brunch. Since March 6, 2016, the rustic Italian restaurant eatery from Chef Clay Conley and the Buccan Group, has been serving up offbeat brunch items every Sunday from 11 AM to 3 PM.

I hit up Grato brunch recently, taking advantage of the Valet parking and the slower pace of the hood on a Sunday. The corner eatery’s main room is big and high and bright, with a wall of windows facing Dixie Highway, and a large smoky mirrored bar across the Kanuga Drive side. Artwork that portrays Italy adorns the walls – framed images of gondoliers, colorful intricate Italianate architecture and large palms.

Since we were a party of three, we tried several different dishes, starting with Orange Apricot Scones with whipped honey butter and strawberry jam. These were fluffy inside and crisp on the outside and just to die for but we had more food coming so I held off after eating just one.

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There is a huge wood burning pizza oven behind a bar along the other long wall where you can see the hand thrown and crafted pizzas being made. Pizza for brunch? Sure thing, when it’s a Breakfast Pizza made of ham, asparagus, and fontina cheese, topped with sunny side up eggs and baked in the brick oven.

The Bar at Grato Restaurant. Photo Libbyvision
The Bar at Grato Restaurant. Photo Libbyvision

This gooey, cheesy delight hits all the savory notes and went down great with a spicy Bloody Mary – extra olives and celery please with that squeeze of lemon. We could also have chosen from delicious libations like the Frozen Peach Bellini and the Blood Orange Mimosa – a frothy blend of Cointreau and Prosecco with freshly squeezed blood orange. Other cocktails at Grato Restaurant include the Italian Sangria and “Bloody Caesar”.

Feeling adventurous we ordered the Truffled Lobster Fritatta with wild mushrooms and asparagus. This crispy egg pie came topped with the lobster cut into bite size pieces, added with the stir fried mushrooms and asparagus tossed with a creamy hollandaise type sauce. Light and flavorful, this was a real winner.

I’m a pancake fan so ordered the Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry sauce and topped with powdered sugar. The Ricotta, usually only used in lasagana and ravioli type dishes, gives a richer texture to the normally staid pancakes, and the warm berry topping was a nice fruity addition.

The Shrimp & Grits with rock shrimp, polenta, and bacon, sparked a lively table discussion as some of us who grew up in New York had never had grits as part of our diet. It’s a Southern thing. Having grown up in New York but with a mother from Georgia grits were served for breakfast all the time, drenched in butter and seasoned with lots of cracked pepper. Shrimp and Grits is a lunch and dinner variation, using the grits as a starch base for the crustaceans. The Grato version adds polenta which makes it much creamier; and bacon for a smoky flavor.

By now we were getting full but next time we’ll have the Lobster “Benedict” with bacon, fried green tomato and jalapeno hollandaise; or the a Potato & Fontina Fritatta with scallions, and arugula; On the sweet side as an alternative to the Ricotta Pancakes, I’ll try the Bourbon French Toast with vanilla poached nectarines and apricots.

Lobster Frittata at Grato Restaurant
Lobster Frittata at Grato Restaurant

During brunch if it is not your thing, guests can try many of Grato’s dinner menu items like the handmade pastas Paccheri with “Sunday gravy” meat sauce and ricotta and Spaghetti Pomodoro. Savory antipasti, salads and brick oven pizzas are also available, and will be included as part of a limited menu served from 3 PM to 4:30 PM.

“There is a dish for every member of the family on the menu. The Ham & Fontina Crespelle with a poached egg and charred scallion vinaigrette is my personal favorite; it’s got all the classic brunch style ingredients but comes together in a different way,” says James Beard Award-nominated chef Clay Conley, who along with partners Sam Slattery and Piper Quinn opened Grato Restaurant, as a modern Italian trattoria.

The trio presently operate the highly acclaimed Buccan, along with Imoto and The Sandwich Shop in Palm Beach. Grato, which means grateful in Italian, seats 150 in this high-ceilinged open space, with large windows, exposed wood beams, Carrara marble and poured concrete floors.

The day we were there the Italian cuisine and a relaxed ambiance found a mix of large families at the tables as well as young couples sitting at the bar.  An open kitchen with a wood-fire brick oven and a sizzling rotisserie is the center of the restaurant and the menu, with a large selection of pizzas, roasted main plate and house made pastas.

Conley and his restaurants have been recognized in national and international publications including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Travel + Leisure, NY Post, Robb Report, Conde Nast Traveler, Miami Herald, Fodor’s, Boston Globe and USA Today. Buccan is listed as Forbes Travel Guide’s “hottest spot” in Palm Beach and as Esquire’s “Where to Eat in South FL Now,” and has received “Best Restaurant” honors from all area publications. Clay has also cooked on Emeril’s Florida, featured on both the Food Network and Cooking Channel, PBS’s The Victory Garden, The Today Show and Fox and Friends.

Buccan Group is comprised of partners Clay Conley, Sam Slattery and Piper Quinn. They opened Buccan in Palm Beach, FL in 2011 as a modern American grill featuring exceptional cuisine in a casually sophisticated setting. In 2012, Imoto (little sister) an intimate, Asian-focused extension of Buccan opened, followed by Buccan Catering, which caters events both on and off premises. The Sandwich Shop at Buccan opened in 2014. Grato, a modern Italian concept, is the team’s first restaurant in West Palm Beach.

Grato Restaurant serves dinner seven nights a week beginning at 4:30 PM at 1901 South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach. Happy Hour is from 4:30 PM to 7 PM with a late night Happy Hour from 11 PM to 1 AM, Monday through Friday. Sunday Brunch is served Sudays from 11 AM to 3 PM. Reservations are highly recommended and the number is 561-404-1334. For a look at Grato’s menu and more, visit www.gratowpb.com.

Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.