This may come as a surprise, but it's not all Elian all the time on the radio. Sometimes there's even talk of food, for instance on Linda Gassenheimer's WLRN-FM (91.3) show, Food News and Views, on which I was a guest the other day. That's when a young woman called in to complain about the state of our restaurants. For one thing, she said, she's a member of Generation X, and the eateries she's been to cater to older people. For another, she just moved down from New York....
Blah blah blah. I think it was at this point my ears stopped working. I could understand her POV about the audiences restaurants are trying to reach (a little). I don't agree that they're "catering" to older folks; if anything the blue-hairs that used to rule the early-bird roost down here have gotten short shrift in the current late-night dining market. But I do think, given the ever-increasing menu prices, that they're expecting us Gen X-ers to be dot.com millionaires.
She lost my sympathy, however, when she mentioned New York. Yes, New York is great, wonderful, superlatives ad nauseum. I'm from the bedroom communities around the area myself. I grew up chowing down on all sorts of yummy treats. I agree there's no other place like it in the world.
Which is exactly the point: Miami is not New York -- a good thing. Who needs another Manhattan when that behemoth is still around, hypnotizing the gastronomically minded? Miami has its own identity, flawed and all. The dining scene, as we know, is hardly perfect (but then neither is New York's; I've experienced rude service and overrated food there, same as I do in Miami). Yet it's ours and by rights of transient, nonnative ownership, we should give it mother love. If you can't do that, stay home and cook.
Okay, sermon over. But now I'll have to admit to one "if we were in New York" turn myself, that one service New York has always provided so well: the pickle on a stick. It's a wormy day in the Apple when you can't score a crunchy, juicy half-sour or pliant garlic pickle speared with a wooden skewer, whether you're slumming around the Lower East Side or striding smartly on the Upper West Side. With the latter, of course, pickles have gone upscale; the guys fishing 'em out of the barrels wear surgical gloves to protect their hands from the brine, and the shops have precious names like Picklelicious. Nevertheless you can still snack on a pickle in public, a boon to salt addicts and pregnant women everywhere.
Occasionally you can find decent pickles down here at flea markets and farmers' markets. A couple of months ago, I encountered an entrepreneur spearfishing for drippy dill pickles out of a huge barrel he had parked on Lincoln Road. He said he was supplying a need and was committed to pickles, but he never showed up again.
I hope Rich Kaufman isn't selling the same empty pickle promises. A minor partner in New York's Picklelicious, Kaufman came down to Florida to expand the business. Now, as of January, Picklelicious has been installed in Aventura Mall, where it's doing a brisk business in brine. Just don't call it a pickle stand: In Aventura, it's a kiosk, of all things. But can you really make a living purveying pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage? Sure, says Kaufman. Although the Aventura Picklelicious has been "just about breaking even," Kaufman admits, the one in New York has thrived for six years. And Kaufman has been invited to several other malls, including Bayside Marketplace, to spread the salt.
As for the product, Kaufman flies his pickles down from the Lower East Side, the same place where Picklelicious in New York gets them (maybe just around the corner from that other pickle guy, the one just across Delancey). In general Kaufman stocks cucumber pickles: half-sours, new half-sours (what some pickle snobs call cucumbers, since they're barely processed), full sours, garlic sours, and hot and spicy. With the exception of the most piquant pickles, I tried them all and was equally and universally fond of the flavors. These briny cukes are no doubt the real thing.
Complementing the field of cucumbers are pickled green tomatoes (a little too fermented for my tastes), pickled red pepper halves, and sauerkraut. Buy them by the pint or the quart; prices range from $3.25 to $5, and Kaufman and his employees tend to stuff the containers as full as they can. You can ask for free samples of any of them. And, of course, with the exception of the sauerkraut, you can purchase any of these pickles on a stick, all the better to horrify Macy's salespeople.
Kaufman's customers include everyone from babies to elderly folks who speak with heavy Eastern European accents, but most of them have one thing in common: They're connected in some way, by birth, relations, or place of residence, to New York. As the snowbirds leave to go back to Manhattan, Kaufman says, they even take the pickles with them on the plane. Kind of ironic, I thought, since the pickles originally come from New York. "Maybe they don't want to have to go down to the Lower East Side," Kaufman shrugs. That philosophy is what drove Picklelicious into business to begin with. But apparently there's more irony to come: As a result of lousy landlords and rental rates, the Picklelicious on the Upper West Side is about to move closer to its source downtown.
Fortunately we Miamians don't have to worry -- or hear -- about the upcoming inconvenience of New Yorkers now that we have an upscale pickle kiosk to call our own. My listener to WLRN take note: Strike one for New Yorkers, spear one for Miamians.