SOUTHEAST FLORIDA: NOT JUST FO YOUR GRANDMOTHER ANY MORE

Delray Beach was once a community where those lucky enough to have a house down there during the winter escaped in the summer to their real residences in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Kennebunkport. But now, many of the residents are staying all year round, and have brought a little of that fun and funky flavor down to Southeast Florida

This "village by the sea" as Delray calls itself even has a restaurant on the main drag (Atlantic Avenue) specializing in New England food, called "Boston's on the Beach." But I fell in love with the restaurant next door to that called Caffe Luna Rosa.

The unusual menu offers such "comfort foods" as French toast stuffed with peanut butter and topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips. Okay, that one tastes better than it sounds, but most of the dishes tasted as good as they sounded.

Especially interesting was their "Italian sushi" -which look like Japanese-style California rolls but contain Italian ingredients in the center-which they serve here and no where else outside of Italy. (Well, I haven't tested every single restaurant but…)

Unusual food and atmosphere can be found everywhere in this area. At Sol Kitchen it's "Mexicaribbean." At Jimmy's Stone Crab, there's a giant plasma screen in the high-ceilinged dining room that shows constantly changing (and spectacular) scenes from the Hubble Telescope.

This whole part of Southeast Florida is changing, and it's not your grandmother's Florida any more. The joke about Florida being a place with very old people - and their parents - doesn't work in this area. Delray is becoming the new Fort Lauderdale, where young people like to hang out.

There's always something to do here each weekend from a garlic festival to the trimming of a hundred foot tree. And places nearby also have much to offer. I'm not a sports nut but I couldn't help but be impressed with Pete Rose Ballpark Cafe restaurant in Boynton Beach which had 150 television sets, playing (you guessed it) sports.

I was told that they've even got TVs set up in the men's bathroom but I had to take my husband's word for that. And yes, there were times that evening that I longed for them to change the station to a good Lifetime movie, but the food kept me busy and happy. They also have an arcade here for kids where girls who aren't interested in what their Daddy likes can keep busy.

Hotels are also being upgraded. Everywhere from Jupiter further neorth- where they're completely redoing the famed 20-year old Jupiter Beach Resort so that it's unrecognizable -- right down to Hollywood where they're building a new Marriott hotel, restaurants are being modernized and jazzed up and something different is being offered.

For example: in addition to the Bible, the Marriott Delray Beach, the place to stay here, is putting best-selling paperbacks in people's rooms. (Hey, how about putting some of mine in there!?!?)

Malls down here are no longer the staid strips. In West Palm Beach, which is undergoing a renaissance, the shopping/dining/movie mall, City Place is not only beautiful - there's a bit of Las Vegas in the colored dancing fountains - but has 10 restaurants and 60 shops. (My favorite: Cayenne. For its lobster tacos.)

Every ten minutes a trolley leaves from from City Place for downtown West Palm Beach, which has gaily painted benches and unusual restaurants. For example, Canteen facing the waterfront not only offers great food inexpensively, but Wednesday is martini and manicure night.

The view is wonderful too, and if you squint you can see the Breakers, and if you're farsighted you can see the Palm Beach Yacht Club. For only a thousand dollars (a bit lower than Mar-a-Lago's $150,000 initiation fee) you can even join the Yacht Club.

Further south, but still north of Miami, there are other exciting places and magnificent hotels. For example, Aventura which not only offers one of the best shopping malls in South Florida, but also one of the finest hotels, Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, a delightful alternative to the mega-hotels of Miami.

The hotel has recently been taken over by Fairmont which is putting in a lot of money and giving it a lot of attention that it didn't get from its previous owners. When I tested it out a few months ago with an overnight visit, I was delighted with the luxurious rooms, the attentive service, and the spectacular  food.  

The restaurants are so exclusive, by the way, that they're not even open to the public; only to those staying at the hotel or those who have joined their club, which is practically as expensive as Mar-a-Lago.

They've also put in a Willow Stream Spa there, which I first discovered at the Fairmont Southampton Hotel {LINK: www.fairmont.com/southampton in Bermuda, where the spa has its own outdoor turquoise and white pool area separate from the hotel and so beautiful with such a wonderful view that it's worth the trip to Bermuda just for this. The former manager of that spa is now overseeing Turnberry's Willow Stream Spa, so I expect wonderful things to happen here also.

Yes, this whole area is changing and becoming younger and hipper, But every once in a while down here you see something that reminds you that you're still in Florida, and no matter how hip, it's still not South Beach or Miami. They play music each evening in the bar at the Marriott Delray Beach and I saw a man in his '60's dancing with a woman who appeared to be his wife (you could tell by the way he ignored her when they sat down together) and she was also in her '60's.

If that was South Beach, she would have been 20 and probably not his wife.


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