Coal, Coal Heart

Despite Italian influences, such as a mozzarella-and-tomato salad in the appetizer section and a five-cheese spinach lasagna amid the main courses, Embers remains a steakhouse: steaks, chops, and seafood served without fanfare. (Unless you count the steep prices, which may cause a stir at your table, as they did at mine.) We sampled the combination of barbecued baby-back ribs and duck, one of the revived house specialties. A half-rack of ribs was lightly coated with a sweetish sauce we wished had been lavished on instead of merely brushed. The ribs themselves were spare and dry, as light on meat as they were on barbecue sauce. The half-duck was an even more arid proposition, more like kindling in duck's clothing. A sidecar of uncooked barbecue sauce was off-putting and provided no relief. We had better luck with a pair of broiled Maine lobster tails, the meat proudly bursting from the shells. Only slightly too salty, the tails were tender and juicy enough to make the accompanying drawn butter superfluous. Then again, at $28.95, I'd like to see the claws, too.

Seasoning posed a more serious problem with the "Embers apple fritter," a free side dish served with every meal. Deep-fried and soaked in a rich syrup, the fritters were too salty to eat, the fruitiness of the apples having been completely lost. On a better night, these generous fritters could suffice for dessert, though one is likely to be swayed by a slice of key lime pie or chocolate mousse cake supplied by Simon the Pieman. Or, for that matter, our choice, peach melba. Prepared on the premises, this sugary dessert proved an appropriate conclusion to a meal rife with sweet memories of Miami Beach.

As this review was in progress, so was Embers. The menu has been revised, with some prices -- and some dishes -- reportedly dropping. Gone are the soups, for instance, and the juice-as-an-appetizer motif. The duck has been retooled, and a choice of three salads is offered at no extra charge with each entree.

Like anyone who presents a revival, Lewis, Polisar, and Schwartz run the risk of playing it safe with borrowed material. Once the storm of publicity passes and the thrill of nostalgia pales, Embers will have to succeed on its own virtues, some of which are already apparent, and some of which could use more rehearsal.

Side Dish
Last week was one of those weeks when people were only half-communicating, dropping insufficient hints instead of conversational tidbits, and no one knew what anyone else was talking about. I blame my friend Annabella. She's the one who first mentioned the farmhouse down south, where folks line up for fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. But she couldn't recall the name of the place, or where it was located. Then Ann mentioned Knott's Berry Farm, which apparently has a reputation for its cinnamon rolls. But wait A Knott's is in California. Then I get a phone call from my co-worker Liz, who has heard I know something about the Amish place with the great cinnamon rolls.

Actually, Knaus Berry Farm isn't too difficult to locate. In fact, you could look it up in last year's Best of Miami issue, under Best Cinnamon Buns. Or you could just drive out to 15980 SW 248th St. (Coconut Palm Drive). The farm, which is run by Old German Baptists, not Amish, sells fresh strawberries A the season's first are in A and various products made from the signature berries. Produce as disparate as fresh beets, jalape*os, and red leaf lettuce is also available, depending on the day. But the real attraction is the bakery, which puts out the best cinnamon rolls (35 cents each, $3.80 per dozen) and pecan rolls ($5.90 a pan) I have ever tasted. A variety of breads and the cheese or herb "breadsticks," as generous as small baguettes, also are wonderful, as is a selection of pies and cakes. Only a few miles from Tropical Fruit and Spice Park, Knaus Berry Farm is hardly a well-kept secret: Lines extend out the door and could have you waiting for up to an hour. Be patient. An ice cream stand that sells soft-serve sundaes and shakes helps to pass the time. And the scent of cinnamon that remains in your car even after you take the rolls to neighbors and friends makes it worth the effort. Knaus is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; it closes for the summer after the last Saturday in April. Give them a call at 247-0668.

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