Turns out the funky, kind of charming, mom-and-pop is really mom-and-pop, and mom – Beverly – and pop – Don – both have full time jobs, and both have long commutes. They’re doing this restaurant as best they can, which means it’s only open Wednesday through Saturday. This takes dedication, love, and perhaps hope.
It shows. As this chowhound thread indicates, it has something of a local cult following. And although I’m far from an expert, in fifty years of visiting elderly people in south Florida, Bamboo Fire is the only place I have eaten outside of Miami that I could heartily recommend. If you measure worthiness in travel-time (as in, if money were no object you might fly to El Bulli for a meal, but you might not drive more than a quarter of a mile out of your way for a McDonald’s), I would rate Bamboo Fire at about an hour – and indeed, people are heading up here from Miami, and they don’t seem to think they wasted their time.
Beverly cooks and charms the customers. Don does what Beverly says, and charms the customers. They warn you immediately that it’s just the two of them, and that your food is cooked to order, and that it’s going to take a while. And it can; we were there two-and-a-half hours, and it wasn’t that kind of a meal.
But the chatting is fun, and the place is comfortable enough (barely, but still), and the beer is varied, and the hospitality is amazing. Aware that your waiting is painful, Beverly adds a little eggplant spread and garlic toast (pretty good) here, a few curried meatballs (sensational) there, and, occasionally at least, finishes the meal with a ten-year-old rum from Guyana (that’s where they’re from too) on the house.
Not everything is sensational, but everything is sincere, real, and genuine. Those meatballs are worth ordering; the grilled conch is unusual and outstanding, pounded thin, grilled with garlic, served with lemon. (There are a zillion bottled hot sauces available, but the one Beverly makes herself is by far the best.) Both tostones and platanos maduros are perfect, the first nearly wafer-thin, super-crisp, and greaseless, the second fit for dessert – grilled-marshmallow soft and sweet.
Fish steamed in banana leaves is a good choice, as is curried anything; the dark, rich braised oxtail and shortribs, with soy sauce (I think; or something like it), nutmeg, allspice, thyme is fantastic. I have had better fritters, though those made with salt cod were pretty good. Jerked pork, made with tenderloin, was nicely spiced but ultimately disappointing – largely because the tenderloin itself has no flavor. But Beverly explained most of her guests don’t want to mess with bones (or, my guess, fat), so she does a lot of tenderloin and chicken breast.
Oh well. As the chowhounders say, “the seniors of Boca/Delray are still at the cutting edge of something.”