Boca district snares two hot restaurants, more on the way

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Chief executive and founding partner David Tornek skipped over southern Palm Beach County when he expanded Meat Market Steakhouse five years ago, choosing a spot on Palm Beach for the sexy Miami Beach restaurant’s first foray north.

Now, with the passage of time and the growth in the population, Meat Market is taking a bite of Palm Beach County: the modern steakhouse restaurant will open a location next year in Boca Raton, near the Town Center mall off of Glades Road, just west of Interstate 95.

Word of Meat Market’s plans to enter the Boca Raton market comes as a long-awaited restaurant taking the former Uncle Tai’s space at Boca Center readies for an opening. Look for Copperfish Kitchen, a seafood restaurant, to open in the summer.

The Meat Market will take space in the Renaissance Hotel, which will undergo something of its own renaissance in the coming year.

Plans are afoot to upgrade the entire hotel and its exterior at 2000 NW 19th St., giving the property a fresh look as it brings in the Meat Market to complement the changes. That’s according to Tom Prakas, a Boca Raton restaurant broker who brought Meat Market to the property after more than a year of negotiation.

Also planned is a redo of the outdoor pool and bar, which will be serviced by the Meat Market and add to the eatery’s vibrant, Miami Beach-y vibe.

Of course, Boca Raton is not Miami Beach, and Tornek said each restaurant has its own style. But the pool is a cool addition, and Tornek is excited about it. “I like the aspect of adding the pool to what we’re doing. It’s a new direction for us, which I think will be interesting,” said Tornek.

Do not expect the dark woods and heavy furnishings typical at other Boca Raton steakhouses, however. “We’re called feminine-friendly,” Tornek said. “It’s not an old men’s atmosphere but a chef-driven menu with a pretty wide variety, including seafood.”

The coyly named restaurant also hints at the property’s happening bar scene, which features craft cocktails and presumably, a lot of the Beautiful People. (After all, Condé Nast Traveler has called the Meat Market on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road one of “Miami’s Buzziest Restaurants.” )

Lunch will be served in Boca Raton and at a Meat Market opening in Tampa this summer.

In the five years since Meat Market opened at the site of the old Palm Beach Steakhouse at 191 Bradley Place on the island, business has been strong. But Tornek said he was attracted to Boca Raton due to its continued growth, including the population bounce the area has seen from changes in the tax law that are driving more residents south from high-tax states in the Northeast.

“Palm Beach County is changing. It’s not like it was five years ago,” Tornek said. In fact, he said he’s been searching for a Boca Raton location for two years, finally settling on the Renaissance Hotel.

The moves come as central Boca Raton becomes an increasingly lively center with new eateries coming up soon, as developers work on long-term plans to add more homes and shops.

In the near term, look for fresh offerings at old centers, such as the Boca Center on 5151 Town Center Circle, down the street from the Renaissance Hotel. Boca Center is owned by Boca Raton-based Crocker Partners, which built the property years ago, sold it, and then bought it back.

At Boca Center, George Anagnostou is bringing Copperfish Kitchen to the former Uncle Tai’s restaurant space, a longtime landmark that closed last year when the owner decided to retire.

Prakas, of Prakas & Co., brought this deal to the Boca Center and is working to bring new restaurants to other Crocker properties, including a planned “Restaurant Row” on land Crocker owns nearby at Town Center Road and Butts Road.

Anagnostou, whose background is in both restaurants and seafood importing, pledges the space will feature only fish that is traceable and sustainable. The species will be authentic, he said, unlike a lot of fish that is labeled one thing at restaurants but really is another.

Copperfish is under construction now, but when finished, the restaurant will feature copper along the walls and atop the bar, according to renderings. The contemporary vibe will be modern but comfortable, with accents of blue above the space and creatively crafted lighting throughout.

The exterior walls of the restaurant are being opened to allow indoor-outdoor dining. There will be a lively bar in front and quiet seating in back, plus a private dining room.

Anagnostou said there will be nothing like it in the area: “I think people are going to be in for a huge surprise.” Lunch and brunch will be offered, as well as dinner. Expect an early summertime opening.

In 2020, also expect to see more destination eateries flourishing in this central part of Boca Raton.

Angelo Bianco, principal of Crocker Partners, said permits have been submitted to the city to build Restaurant Row, a 22,500-square foot dining mecca on the corner of Butts Road and Town Center Road.

Crocker is close to nailing down deals with Mexican, Italian, American and sushi restaurants, plus a coffee/dessert eatery. If all goes well, the building’s shell will be built by early 2020, at which point the restaurant operators will start their build-outs, with expected opening dates for the eateries by the fall of 2020, Bianco said.

Crocker Partners has greater ambitions for its holdings in central Boca Raton. But thus far, it has not won city zoning approval to make changes.

In January 2018, several landowners, Crocker included, asked city officials to allow up to 2,500 apartment units in high-rise buildings in this central Boca Raton commercial district along Military Trail, known as Midtown.

The city council instead called for a “small-area plan” to assess the request, which sparked a litany of lawsuits that claim the study was a tactic to stall or stymie development. Crocker just filed its third lawsuit against the city.

The battles with the city may have slowed the progress of redeveloping Midtown, but Prakas is optimistic that growth will continue in Palm Beach County for the foreseeable future, attracting businesses from across the state and the country that want a piece of the action. “It’s the most vibrant market for restaurants I’ve ever seen,” Prakas said.

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Boca district snares two hot restaurants, more on the way