Modern Middle Eastern Cuisine Finds a Home at Florence and the Spice Boys
Well before Florence and the Spice Boys opened in The Landings last year, Florence Schmitt and the “boys” (husband Steven Schmitt and business partner Carl Kolber) had built up a rabid following with their food truck. Somehow, I had missed the opportunity to sample the truck’s acclaimed modern Middle Eastern cuisine, so I knew I had to be at the team’s new permanent spot the second it opened. The truck’s reputation was that strong.
The restaurant offers a hybrid of full-service and fast casual. Guests have the option to order from kiosks (best used for takeout) or a server. Either choice offers a homey experience while you wait to eat. A teal green tiled bar anchors the dining room; it’s lined with award-winning cookbooks that guests are encouraged to thumb through while they linger. Silk lamps and hanging plants punctuate the decor, which feels like an Anthropologie storefront mixed with your favorite groovy thrift shop—the kind of space the coolest girl you know might dream up.
While Steven and Kolber primarily stay in the kitchen, Florence is the cheery face of the restaurant. She glides around the dining room assisting guests at the kiosks, making meal recommendations and delivering food to hungry patrons. She’s everywhere all at once, making newcomers feel welcome and embracing regulars like family friends.
But as friendly as the vibe is, as funky and cool as the interior is, it’s the food that will keep you coming back.
Inspired by trips to Israel, the Schmitts and Kolber built a menu that highlights flavors of the Middle East with flourishes from other regions, too, like the bhel puri ($12), an Indian dish made with crunchy, savory Indian cereal, an Indian spice called chaat masala, coriander chutney, tamarind and yogurt. The result is tangy and crisp, with warm spices that permeate each bite.
Much of the rest of the menu stays closer to the Middle East. Silky hummus is served plain ($9) or topped with a sweet corn salad ($9) or kofta (beef meatballs, $16) and is always finished with a generous helping of olive oil and two soft pitas. Order one hummus to split, and another one (or two, or three, or four) to take home.
The entrées make up the bulk of the menu and are split into two categories: “dishes” and “tacos.” Items on the dishes portion of the menu are larger and more filling, like a turmeric fried chicken sandwich ($15) or the Jerusalem beef pita ($19).
Much of the main menu is flavored with two primary sauces: zhug (a mild herbal condiment) and amba (a pickled mango sauce). They can be found in the eggplant sabich (two warm pitas stuffed with eggplant, sauces, tahini and pickled slaw, $12) and the chicken shawarma ($13), made with chicken thighs and finished with slices of a perfectly boiled egg. Both dishes fall under the taco category of the menu—easy handheld bites that burst with flavor.
Everything at Florence and the Spice Boys is shareable. Bring a friend and order some tacos or a larger dish, and round out the meal with one of their mezze sharing plates, like the corn ribs (curly slices of corn roasted and served with a sweet butter maple sauce, $10) or a side salad with dates, tahini and almonds.
But whatever you do, save room for dessert. Florence herself is the mastermind behind the baked goods. She draws inspiration from Christina Tosi of the famous New York bakery Milk Bar. A simple sugar cookie ($3.50), made with plenty of butter, is given new life with the addition of Goldfish crackers, which provides a mild savory undercurrent that highlights the rich, sweet cookie. The “ritzy corn blondie” ($5) is another example of Florence’s mad genius. Described as buttermilk pie with a Ritz crust and crumb, it’s dense, with a slight chew. Again, that undercurrent of savory slices through a generous dose of sugar.
The Schmitts and Kolber spend much of their downtime experimenting with new dishes, so the menu never feels stagnant. You’ll often find a new dessert or side to sample. And the restaurant always offers freshly brewed tea, kombucha and an array of beer and wine.
Go to the restaurant soon, and be sure to tell Florence I sent you. Prepare yourself for a big, beautiful smile and, if you’re lucky, she may even throw in a big hug.
Florence and the Spice Boys is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call (941) 405-3890 or visit their Instagram.