Sandpiper's Gets a New Name, a New Menu and a New Look
By GERRY and PAMELA BARKER
North Palm Beach Life
For the past several months, regulars -- like us -- have seen the changes taking place at Sandpiper's Bar and Restaurant, the membership eatery located at the Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach.
Since taken over by Safe Harbor -- the largest owner/operator of marinas in the world -- work has been underway to give the waterfront dining destination a makeover. In less than a week, you'll be able to see the changes for yourself.
December 14 is the grand opening of Belle's Bar and Grill. Along with the new name, guests can look forward to a new menu that blends New England classics with Florida flair, and a new design that's both clean and contemporary.
"Belle's Bar and Grill is based off Belle's Cafe in the Newport Shipyard," said Amy Zupan, who manages Safe Harbor Essex Island in Connecticut -- thus the New England connection.
Zupan said the original Belle's -- named after the owner's daughter, Isabella -- started as a cafeteria serving the shipyard employees and then quickly developed into one of the area's most popular dining spots.
"We wanted to continue this type of family restaurant except we wanted it to be a bar and grill and not just a cafe."
Zupan and Stephen Petersen, Safe Harbor Old Port Cove General Manager, gave us a preview of the changes as workers scurried to get everything in shape for the opening.
As you enter, the former Express Cafe now houses the marina offices. Here there will also be a gift shop where guests can find brands like Helly Hansen.
One of the big changes is that the main dining room has moved to the back of the restaurant, occupying the space formerly devoted to banquets, weddings and special events. "We are going to repurpose that space," said Petersen, "and that's yet to be determined."
The walls are fresh white, with new carpet coming, and the new tile floors had just been finished. "We really want it have a community feel," said Zupan. "We're not industrial, and we're not rustic. We're doing something that's a bit more modern."
The former Sand Bar is getting new countertops, and there will be new furniture throughout, still being uncrated. Safe Harbor architect Les Key, on site to supervise the finishing touches, opted to keep only one TV since he didn't want it to have the appearance of sports bar. We have enough of those, right?
In the new main dining room, the north wall has frosted glass. There will be high-top tables down the center and low tops around the edges "so everyone will have a view," said Petersen. In the back will be a Captain's Table. Hand-made from cypress wood in the Newport shipyard, it's 12 feet long and 4 inches thick, and will seat 12. Petersen called it stunning.
Another feature they added were windows that slide open, so guests can enjoy fresh air along with the water views.
For entertainment, they will feature live music, along with another new addition: A 22-foot shuffleboard table. "We wanted to incorporate some fun in the dining area," said Petersen.
What about outdoor seating? Petersen said they are working with the Village of North Palm Beach to develop an area that will feature a fire pit, lounges and decks for outdoor dining. "We want to combine the waterfront location with great food."
Speaking of food, Allen Ferreira, head chef of the original Belle’s Cafe, and Efrain Tirado, a restaurant consultant and head chef, were on hand to talk about the new menu, which has been two months in development. The accent has been on local and fresh, as well as keeping it simple.
"The concept is bring a little bit of New England and a lot of Florida into the menu," said Ferreira. Diners can expect new choices that include lionfish and "creative dishes you're never seen before." One of those is an appetizer called Salmon Pearls. "it's very unique," he said, "a little like sushi meets American." We had a chance to sample it, as well as another menu item, Twin Lobster Rolls. Definitely two thumbs up!
Tirado said the collaboration with Ferreira "has been amazing. I love his enthusiasm." Ironically, he has already run into customers from Newport that have moved their boats to Florida.
Staying with the local theme, they also will be adding new beers sourced from local micro-breweries.
One of the main questions around the changeover is how will the membership program change? Petersen addressed that:
"Since we are under restrictions of the community (Old Port Cove), the minimum fee is $200," he said. "They also require a background check, which is $25." He explained that members who join and pay the annual $200 fee will get $175 credited to their account, with the other $25 going for the background check. Additionally, memberships will start and stop in October, so regardless of when you join, fees are prorated to October.
For members who joined in 2019, those will be transferred over and you won't have to pay the new fee. For people who did not renew in 2019, a background check is required.
Scotty Wen, the new general manager for the restaurant, comes here with a lot of experience. Working as both an owner and a consultant, he has built over 12 restaurants himself, and comes from a family that was in the restaurant business.
"I always see myself as a customer," said Wen. "It makes me a better manager. Listen to customers and see what we can do to improve." He added, "I'm very happy to be here."
As Safe Harbor's second foray into the restaurant business, Petersen believes Belle's Bar and Grill could provide a platform for the other marina properties they own. "Each could have its own vibe but fall back on the original Belle's. It's exciting."
In just a few short days, guests will be able to experience the changes for themselves.
Photos by North Palm Beach Life
The dining/bar area features new tile floors, new furniture and windows that slide open.
Chefs Allen Ferreira left, with the Twin Lobster Rolls, and Efrain Tirado, with Salmon Pearls.
The new office area just inside the main entrance