The sign on the door of the little storefront window reads, "A Couple of Basketcases." That's the name of Caron Coles's gift-basket company on 151st Street in North Miami that shares space and uses the specialty food products of her larger enterprise, Foodalicious, to fill those baskets. Upon entering the premises, you won't feel as though you're in a gift-basket shop or a wholesale food enterprise but rather in a tiny gourmet food store. Don't be fooled: The front is just a fragmentary showcase for the plethora of gastronomic imports from around the world that take up 6000 square feet in back (and 47 pages' worth of product list).
305-945-0502. Open Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday by appointment only.
Foodalicious started out eight years ago as an Asian specialty-food wholesaler, and that stock remains the most extensive, encompassing misos, sesames, sambals, soys, rices, spices, and most anything you can imagine. But nowadays about 60 percent of the items come from elsewhere -- or, more accurately, everywhere: smoked salmons from Scotland, caviars from Russia, snails from France, teas from Oregon, and cheeses from England, France, Greece, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and here. There are also flours, oils, vinegars, teas, nuts, olives, meats, mustards, mushrooms, sauces, sausages, grains, and pastry products.
Three noteworthy offerings: "Frozen Eclipse" ice cream, handmade locally and available in vibrant flavors such as Jamaican banana rum and ginger-wasabi sorbet; Loboratorio tortellini, a line of fresh-frozen pastas from the Romagna region of Italy -- try the girasoli, a sunburst-shaped ravioli filled with cheese, walnuts, and parsley; and fennel pollen, the latest haute garniture that gets sparingly sprinkled on seafoods or salads (half-ounce tins run from $20 to $32, depending on whether it's domestic or imported).
Because they're primarily a wholesaler, this is probably the first you're hearing of Foodalicious -- their name isn't even posted outside the premises. There's a good chance, however, that you've been purchasing their imports at markets such as Epicure, JoAnna's, and Gardner's, or dining on their wares as prepared by chefs at Miami's high-end restaurants and hotels. Fact is, Foodalicious also sells retail, and while you won't get the same prices as those who buy in bulk, you can still cut out the middleman and vastly increase your selection by shopping directly at the warehouse. Are you knowledgeable enough about gourmet groceries to make going out of your way worthwhile? You don't need to be, as you'll find plenty of familiar products lining the shelves, but test your knowledge anyway with the following quiz:
1. Kefelotiphi is
a. a Greek cheese
b. a Turkish pastry
c. what an old Jewish man might say to a child named Otiphi
The answers: (1) a; (2) b, arbequina is a tiny black olive; (3) c, gjetost is a sweet, caramel-colored Norwegian cheese that I enjoy greatly, although I've yet to discover another living being other than my cat who shares this enthusiasm; (4) a, an ostrich is a bird, not a bean, that you can purchase at Foodalicious, along with a wide array of other wild game; (5) b; (6) d, some may think this an unfair question on the grounds that one can't know what is or isn't available at a store they've never been to, but chocolate-coated herring???
4-6 correct answers: true gourmet
3 correct: sort of gourmet
0-2 correct: consider a trip to Foodalicious as a learning experience