Miami was this close to getting Grato, chef Clay Conley’s new pizza-pasta place, in our back yard. Conley and his partners say they scouted locations in Wynwood and Coral Gables before deciding to plant Grato in Palm Beach County (1901 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach), a few miles from where Conley’s sister restaurants Buccan and Imoto have thrived for several years.
Alas, our loss is West Palm’s gain. Conley and Co. have another winner on their hands with Grato (Italian for “grateful”), located a few steps from the Norton Museum of Art. Open since early January, Grato serves dinner (lunch and brunch coming soon) daily to a packed house.
The menu — if Proof Pizza & Pasta had a baby with Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, hello Grato — centers on the restaurant’s massive dual-fire oven. The rocket-hot, red-brick oven spits out generous-size pies rarely topped with more than three or four ingredients, letting them shine along with the chew of a long-fermented crust. Get the Dak, an homage to the owner of Jerk Oceano (formerly Pizzeria Oceano), topped with sweet, funky ham, onions and hot, creamy cheese.
Conley’s “cacio e pepe” roasted cauliflower, with a throat-tingling amount of freshly ground black pepper, is the best-tasting spin on this trendy restaurant dish that I’ve seen recently. Crostini loaded with smooth chicken liver pate or acid-touched beef tartare would make really excellent Super Bowl snacks; they also make great dinner appetizers.
Housemade pastas can be ordered gluten-free. But for those of us who can tolerate wheat, good lord, the herb-green penne with meltingly braised lamb and a dollop of yogurt is a revelation.
We may not have Grato in the 305, but that’s hardly a reason not to make the drive. Eaters of Miami and Broward, Grato is worth the trip.
Evan S. Benn is Miami Herald food editor: @EvanBenn