A new season and a new Taste Tour took a busload of culture vultures to some long time established restaurants and galleries as well as some brand spanking new places on November 9th. With wild winds of change hanging in the air the day after the election, it was good to see that some things are still the same – a taste for good food and culture!

Our ebullient hostess Lori Durante greeted us onto the luxury bus with goodie bags filled with coupons and info about the tour. As we cruised to our first tasting, she gave us the colorful history of Florida with its early settlers, Indian wars, multi-cultural and ethnic influences that set the table for the way people live and eat in Florida.

Don Ramon Restaurant Cubano & Social Club in West Palm Beach was our first stop. The site of many of this magazines meetings and hearty lunches, the warm décor, cheerful staff and owners and mouth-watering Cuban cuisine makes it a must stop. Seated at long tables with linen and china, we were treated to a sampler plate with shrimp in red creole sauce, a long fried plantain chip; a sautéed plantain; beef in pepper and onion sauce and some white rice to mix and match it together. Washed down with a café con leche it was truly Havana heaven on a plate.

Food Sample from Don Ramon Restaurant
Food Samples from Don Ramon Restaurant

Next stop was The Sugar Monkey in Lake Worth owned by chef Jennifer Reed who opened the sweet little eatery in 2008 after eight years working as a pastry chef for Daniel Boulud at Cafe Boulud Palm Beach. As Executive Pastry Chef there she received numerous accolades for her work. The raves continue as the sugar monkey infuses classic French training with Jennifer’s playful Midwestern spirit.

We were treated to divine little cupcakes in chocolate and vanilla bean flavors. The Sugar Monkey prides itself on using only the finest all natural products. Fresh seasonal fruits such as mango, the best chocolates and flours, local farm fresh eggs and European style butter combine to produce the most sought after desserts in the area. I liked them so much I sneaked back in line and ate two of the vanilla cakes.

The Sugar Monkey in Lake Worth is owned by chef Jennifer Reed, here standing next to Lori Duarte.
The Sugar Monkey in Lake Worth is owned by chef Jennifer Reed.

The next stop was a surprise to me as it was to The Box Gallery on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach (the ‘cultural corridor’). This new multi-media space functions more like a non-profit with art shows, performances, film and panel discussions. The current show in this vast 4,000 square foot space is one that I curated for artist Don Shearer, a celebrated painter and designer whose refined imagery and curated iconography of angels, boxers, and skulls is splayed on glass windows, chairs, rolls of wallpaper, silk scarves and even leather Eames chairs. After an introduction to the gallery by owner Rolando Chang Barrero, I ended up giving an impromptu talk about Shearer and his art. We also saw a gorgeous glowing selection of art by Gary Kroman whose multi-layered painted plexi-glass work lights up and features pop culture images as well as classical muses and motorcycles.  A poll at the end of the talk and tour had the tour goers favoring Shearers silvery martini glass painting as well as Barerro’s colorful heart and signature birds work.

After all that art excitement we hopped on over to Dontee’s Diner on Belvedere Road. Dontee’s Diner was established in 1990 and is still family-owned and operated by the same family that consists of a mother and her 3 daughters.  The matriarch is Donna Tulp. We sat in classic diner style booths and sampled a generous serving of Greek Salad with feta cheese and black olives paired with Spinach Pie. This is one of my favorite diner meals so I was in heaven. My editor Pedro had never had this before, so it was interesting to get his thumbs up reaction to a brand new type of food.

Dontee’s Diner
Spinach Pie at Dontee’s Diner on Belvedere Rd, West Palm Beach

Habatat Gallery, located in a historic 1921 building in the 500 block of Clematis Street  – a street officially designated the Clematis Street Historic Commercial District by the National Registry of Historic Places, is always a great stop. Owner Lindsay Scott is a tireless purveyor of glass as fine art and her gallery has a truly unique selection of the most ambitious work being done in glass today. Viewers marveled at the complex gleaming pieces, wondering just how such intricate, fragile artworks are even made.

One bakery stop during the Taste Tour is definitely not enough so we hit up Café Sweets Bakery on Evernia Street in downtown. This large space next to The Blind Monk is a unique blend of a traditional Southern-style bakery with a sweet touch of Southern hospitality.  This bakery concept is 3-generations in the making and family-owned and operated. It started with Grandma Emma’s made from scratch dessert delights who passed down her delectable recipes to the next generation, Ms. Cora.  She then turned over the family secrets of Southern-style baking to her daughter, Ms. Sharlyn Davis.

Café Sweets Bakery on Evernia Street in downtown
Café Sweets Bakery on Evernia Street in downtown

Trained at the Art Institute of New York City as a Pastry Chef, Sharlyn combines her Southern-style flair for baking with her skills as a recognized Pastry Chef to create her mouth-watering desserts. I marveled at a Butter Rum cupcake that had an actual little bottle of rum stuck into the top of it for chugging after eating the creamy cake. I also indulged in a tangy lemon bar square and a peanut butter chocolate cupcake. I can die happy now, thanks.

Olivia’s Special Teas in Northwood Village, located in another historic building – the 1926 Pershing Hotel building, was next. Northwood Village, recently designated a Florida Main Street by the State of Florida Division of Historic Preservation, is changing fast and a stop at Olivias shows this path of progress clearly as right next door to her is a large multi-story mixed use building going up. Her shop makes luscious teas as well as kombucha, a tingly fermented tea drink that gets flavored with flowers like roses. It’s healthful and refreshing and definitely different.

Our final Taste Tour stop was down into Northwood at Alicia’s Latin Cuisine where we had some hearty little empanadas topped with my favorite new go to sauce – chimichurri – made with cilantro and garlic and olive oil. Goes with everything from meat to fish to roast vegetables.

Photos Gallery: Taste Tour and venues…

Something new and artful is always happening in Northwood. Pedro and I ducked over to the lot between Northwood Road and 25th Street to watch the local artists painting their murals on large shipping containers for the CANVAS competition taking place this month. I was particularly enamored by Luis Valle’s mural of a black goddess and a swan, a multi-cultural take on Leda and the Swan. He layers a gorgeous dripping paint backdrop with outlined figures surrounded by rows of circles and dashes and other graphic embellishments. He was sweating it out in the sun painting away in his huge straw hat as his snaggle-toothed mutt with a full Mohawk snarled on the back of his pick-up truck. Cheryl Maeder already had her printed Celestial Babies piece done, while Ron Burkhardt’s assistant used a roller to apply large patches of solid color to his triangular container design. We handed the artists copies of the current issue of West Palm Beach Magazine that features them all in a multi-page cover story spread, a nice unexpected surprise to us and them.

All in all a full day with delicious food, eye-popping art and a fresh way to kick off the season. If you feel your tasting bud has activated and would like to join Lori on her next Taste Tour around the Palm Beaches, visit tastehistoryculinarytours.org to find out her next schedule.