Palm Tree Cafe in Cocoa

If there’s anyone who is adept at culinary styles from all over the world, it’s Amanda Davenport.

The chef studied at the International Culinary Center (founded as the French Culinary Institute) in New York City before moving to Brest, France and working at two restaurants there. She then returned to New York City and worked as a sous chef in several fine-dining establishments. Wanting a slower-paced atmosphere, Amanda decided to cross the Atlantic again, this time to Germany to work as a chef at an Army base hotel. Once her time was up there, she then moved to Washington, D.C. and landed a sous chef position at Legal Sea Foods where, at a wine dinner in 2010, she met David Paul-Rini Morel.

David, who was working as an executive chef at Legal Sea Foods when he met Amanda, has over 25 years’ experience and is known for his contemporary Mediterranean-inspired style of cooking.

Like Amanda, he also has quite a bit of worldly experience under his belt. David pursued his culinary education in France and spent nearly 16 years polishing his skills at fine-dining venues along the French Riviera. He later helped rejuvenate Montecristo Café in Paris and also served as the executive chef at City Lights Seafood restaurant in Baltimore.

In 2011, Amanda and David decided to venture south to Miami Beach to be in a more tropical locale. After a year, they then made their way north along Florida’s East Coast, stopping in Cocoa where, in August of last year, they opened up shop in a quaint highway- side restaurant known as Palm Tree Café.

When sizing up Palm Tree Café, the phrase “looks can be deceiving” certainly applies. On the outside, “it’s a complete dive,” jokes Amanda, but inside it’s a whole different story.

“We love the small setting and how intimate it feels on the inside,” says Amanda, who was a contestant on season 6 of FOX’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” “We have great guests who are regu- lars — that’s the base of our business. So we know most of them by name and we know what they like. That’s the best feeling — knowing that so-and-so will be here on Wednesday and that he will love this (dish). It is wonderful having that closeness with your guests.”

With all of the combined experience between Amanda and David, developing Palm Tree Café’s menu proved to be chal- lenging. “It was created, then re-created a couple more times,” says Amanda.

The finished product is the result of not only Amanda and David’s styles, but also their guests’ preferences. “We found that our guests were seeking ‘farm-to-table’ (dishes) using fresh, local ingredients and different wines that you can’t find anywhere else. So that’s what we stick to. We change the dinner menu once a week or more depending on what is available from local farmers and fishermen.”

For early risers, Palm Tree Café opens at 6 a.m. with breakfast options like Homemade Corned Beef & Hash and Local Shrimp & Grits being served. Lunch items are fairly straightforward and consist of a variety of traditional salads and sand- wiches. During dinner hours, Palm Tree Café steps up the sophistication of its selections with options like Braised Asian Shorts with Candied Walnut Sauce and Filet Mignon with Red Wine Demi making the menu.

Amanda says that Crab Cakes are by far Palm Tree Café’s most popular item. “All I can say is they’re full of crab and just a little filler to hold it all together — the rest is a secret for now.”

Address: 400 N. Cocoa Blvd., Cocoa

Phone: (321) 208-7961

Website: PalmTreeCafe.net

Hours: Monday and Tuesday – breakfast 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday – breakfast 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Features: Palm Tree Café hosts wine dinners once a month and Amanda and David are available for private chef and catering events

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