Grato, the rustic Italian restaurant from James Beard Award-nominated Chef Clay Conley and his partners in Buccan Group, has opened doors at 1901 South Dixie Highway, along West Palm Beach’s up and coming Dixie Corridor in Florida. Grato accommodates 150 guests in a big, open space that encompasses a lively, spacious dining room with high ceilings, a welcoming bar and lounge, and seating along the open kitchen and pizza bar.
It is the first West Palm Beach venture for the Palm Beach-based Buccan Group, which has established Conley as one of the region’s most acclaimed chefs, with kudos from critics and diners alike for his restaurants across the bridge, Buccan and Imoto. The well-seasoned culinary team at Grato also includes Buccan Group Executive Chef Jeremy Shelton and Mike Chavez, who has been brought over from Buccan to serve as chef de cuisine at Grato.
As with his other restaurants, Conley’s skill is on display, as he reinterprets simple Italian cuisine via well-honed technique and high quality, thoughtful ingredients.
Practically everything is made in house, and the kitchen revolves around two central features—a wood-burning brick oven and rotisserie. Price points have been established to encourage families and repeat dining; Conley’s dream is for Grato to become a neighborhood restaurant that the residents of the surrounding communities and downtown West Palm Beach call their own.
“I live in this community, and for a while I’ve dreamed of opening a place that I could bring my family and friends to on a regular basis,” Conley says. “Grato has a warm, gracious vibe. It’s casual and comfortable for everyone who comes in; laidback, but with great food and service.”
Visitors to Grato can start off their dining experience with a number of carefully crafted antipasti and crostini. Antipasti ($8-$14) range from light, bright tuna crudo with tomato water, cucumber and Calabrese oil to addictive roasted garlic and white bean dip with olive tapenade, as well as calamari—flash fried and tossed in a cherry pepper butter with lemon aioli, and mushroom ragu with parmesan polenta, among others. Snack on crostini, ordering one, three or all four ($4.50 to $16 depending on number)—with toppings including beef tartare with horseradish and balsamic onion; chicken liver with pickles and radish; buffalo ricotta with heirloom tomatoes; and parmesan fonduta with grilled zucchini and black truffle.
Pastas are all made in house ($16.50 to $22) with options ranging from simple “pasta red” spaghetti to herbed penne with braised lamb, mint and yogurt, and paccheri with “Sunday gravy” and ricotta to name a few. At the heart of the menu are perfectly roasted main plates and pizzas cooked in Grato’s wood-fire oven and rotisserie. Hearty eaters can opt for roast porchetta, a 16-ounce bone-in New York strip, brick oven roasted daily fish or herb marinated half chicken, all offered with a daily vegetable and starch; while pizzas ($14-$17.50) include a classic margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil as well as more adventurous pies such as the “Hawaiian” with spit roasted pineapple, pit ham and pickled jalapeno; artisan pepperoni, Calabrese chilies, and herbed ricotta, and eggplant parm. A variety of tasty Italian salads round out the menu.
Desserts ($3-$9.50) provide even more opportunity to indulge Italian-style—from caramel panna cotta or fresh berry crostata to refreshing lime curd with streusel, orange and coconut gelato, as well as gelato by the scoop and classic tiramisu.
A full bar offers a variety of local and Italian craft beers as well as beer and wine on tap, in addition to a reasonably priced, approachable wine list, and innovative hand-crafted cocktails. Consciously reflecting the community its serving, Grato will offer a children’s menu, Conley’s first, with options like Fusilli ‘n Cheese ‘n Trees (baked fusilli, cheese sauce, and broccoli), PB&J Panini (coarse ground peanut butter, berry preserves, and banana) and “Spaghetti O’s” (with or without meatballs). All pastas and pizzas are made with organic flours, and gluten-free pasta, and vegan cheese are available upon request.
With soaring ceilings featuring exposed beams, oversized windows, and stained concrete floors, Grato is light and airy. Boston-based restaurant designer Peter Niemitz warms up the restaurant with elements including Carrara marble, dark woods, rattan, handsome leather bar stools, and lounge furniture as well as rustic, hand-hewn touches throughout the space, including stoneware from local artisan potter Ronald Shaw, illustrations from local designer Rory MacKay, and photography from local artists Tommy Morrison and Pamela Jones.
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