Paul Berger is a chatty sort. An attorney from Boston with a lot of enthusiasm for cooking but no formal training, he’s appeared on the Master Chef show. Now, he’s at the helm of a restaurant in Boca Raton, Wicked Awesome Snackbar.
“I haven’t got a restaurant background,” he said, in an phone interview in between shifts as chef in the small restaurant. He partnered with a friend from Master Chef – a show he did well in, he says, but didn’t win. “Scott Fischer is from Chicago and he helped create the menu and concept,” Berger said. Family matters have kept him in Chicago for now. “I hope he’s able to come down soon and take a more active role.”
Wicked Awesome – the name comes from a common expression in Boston – has been open about six weeks. “I guess I’d call it a neighborhood eatery, family friendly, part gastropub,” Berger said.
Craft beers a major focus
The craft beer list is growing daily and Berger plans to have 100 on the menu within the next two months. “The craft beer crowd has already found us and we’ve had groups come in by word of mouth,” he said.
Beer also is incorporated into the food menu – several dishes are made with stouts, lagers, IPAs, and fruit beers find their way into the sauces, marinades and even the desserts. “I love cooking with beers – there are so many styles of craft beers and good ones – it’s so much more flexible than wine,” Berger said.
“We make an Asian-inspired rib sauce with Crispin Cider in it. Tonight we’re doing baby back ribs with a Harpoon UFO blended into the sauce.
“For the BluePoint beer-pairing dinner this weekend, we’re doing samosas made with beer batter. I make a starter called Figilicious – it’s a fig jam made with oatmeal stout.” It’s presented on house-made ciabatta with Gorgonzola cheese and sliced apples.
Breads and desserts made in-house
All the breads for the sandwiches are made in-house. And all the produce Berger can get locally, he does – organic is his first choice.
“I guess I’m a real fan of the Slow Food movement. For a place that’s all about good meats and sandwiches, it’s all about the bread. I couldn’t find good bread locally – a bakery I like won’t deliver to Boca. So I bake my own.” He uses a pizza oven to make all his baked foods.
Fresh is key, too, he said. Turkey breast is roasted in-house and sliced, then stacked with avocado and bacon and sandwiched on house-made brioche with house-made cranberry sauce for a “Leftovers” sandwich - an homage to the day-after-Thanksgiving nosh.
The menu of small plates of sandwiches, dips, starters, pizzas and salads is drawn from a number of cuisines – Greek salads and hummus, Vietnamese rolls, Southern barbecued pulled pork. The blackboard menu changes, depending what’s in season, he said.
“We’re getting fresh blueberries and I make a blueberry bread pudding and it’s made with with our homemade brioche. Today there were great organic beets available, and so we’re doing a beet salad with roasted red and golden beets. It’s served with a blueberry sauce – seasonal, too.
“But specials that are here today, probably won’t be next week – it all depends on what’s fresh.”
He’s trying to get in the habit of posting the menu and specials on Facebook, but says he’s both busy, and techno challenged. “My kids are like, ‘Dad doesn’t even tweet!’”
Stuffed meatballs a hit
The most popular dish so far is the stuffed meatballs he’s hit on. “For the beer dinner, we’re doing a reuben stuffed meatball – corned beef, kraut, Swiss cheese and rye bread ground together and stuffed into a meatball. It’s sauteed then steamed in a rye beer. One of the popular ones is On Top of Old Smoky – a meatball stuffed with pasta.”
Everything is made to order in the 35-seat restaurant. “We hope the customers understand it may take 15 minutes to get your order – but we’ll give them a great salad, or sandwich or some other creative thing that’s worth the wait,” he said. “It gives them a chance to sip on a craft beer and relax.”
Saturday night, July 14, he’s hosting a five-course beer pairing dinner using BluePoint Brewery’s beers. It’s $30 a person, and includes a talk about how to pair beer and foods. Foods will be served family-style. “It’ll be like a dinner party at someone’s house. A casual dinner party,” he said.
Wicked Awesome Snackbar
- 20642 State Road 7, Boca Raton (in the Shadowwood Square Shopping Center next to Ritz Camera)
- 561-883-3200; wickedawesomesnacks.com; facebook.com/wickedawesomesnackbar
- Open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; till midnight or later Friday-Saturday.
Bluepoint Beer-Pairing Dinner
- 7 p.m., Saturday, July 14
- Cost: $30 for five courses (not including tax, tip)
- Information and reservations (required): Call 561-883-3200.