Best Of :: Food & Drink
Connoisseurs of the good greasy stuff usually drive to Hollywood, an area disproportionately blessed with real-deal diners, to get their fix. Meanwhile, back in Miami, there is Airport Diner, a nine-year-old restaurant that fails one test: It is Spartan and spotless, way too clean compared to its peers. What's worse, the food is not nearly as greasy as its competitors'. Make a mess and add your own grease, because this high-flying eatery scores big in other categories: (1) The coffee is robust and delish. (2) The "light and tender" -- as the menu puts it -- pancakes blow away those at the nearby IHOP and Denny's. And you can order them as a five-stack ($4.99), short stack ($3.99), or in various combos with eggs and meats. (3) Waffles. (4) Bagels. (5) French toast. (6) The eggs -- ordered sunny-side-up to judge the cook's skill -- tend toward perfection. Runny yolks, fully cooked whites, firm around the edges. Served with equally perfect hash browns, toast, sausage, and bacon ($4.99), and you can change the starch to home fries or grits. Twenty-one egg combinations are listed on the menu. The cook -- not chef -- griddles eight "steak" and egg meals such as pork chops, burger patty, New York strip, all priced less than $9. (7) The waitresses don't smile much. (8) The owners are of Greek heritage, so one of the eleven renditions of omelets features feta; another also includes tomato and black olives. (9) Yes, they have biscuits with sausage gravy and "chicken-fried steak," which the menu calls "country fried." (10) All the classic entrées are served, from liver and onions ($7.99 with salad or soup, bread, vegetables, and starch) to a twelve-ounce T-bone ($14.99). (11) Four outstanding Greek dinners, less than $9. (12) Pasta. (13) Beer and wine. (14) The dessert list includes baklava, right there next to the key lime pie. (15) Ten breakfast specials offered weekdays from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m. (16) You don't have to go anywhere near I-95 to visit.
In the beer wasteland that is South Florida, Ray Rigazio owns an oasis: the Abbey Brewing Company. Since taking the helm in 1995, he has worked hard to make this microbrewery nothing like a typical South Beach bar. He rid the door of snobbery and, more important, the refrigerators of quotidian beers. In their place chills an eclectic selection of brews from around the world, including the hard-to-find La Fin du Monde. His own recipes are not brewed on the premises but by Key West and Ybor City brewing companies, and Rigazio's calorie-rich assortment of ales packs a punch. His Father Theodore's Imperial Stout won a gold medal at this year's Best Florida Beer Championships in Tampa, and his Belgian-style Brother Ban's Double snagged the silver.
What is your greatest triumph?
I think the greatest triumph Ive achieved is bringing great crafted beer to South Florida. When I came here twelve years ago, the best beer you could get was maybe a common import. Now I see dozens and dozens of restaurants carrying great microbeers and hundreds of thousands of people drinking them.
Nowadays the 210-acre enclave south of Fifth Street, which used to be a no man's land populated by graffiti and panhandlers, is indisputably Myles Chefetz's land. The Miami native has marked his territory with four of the most popular restaurants in Miami Beach -- Nemo, Big Pink, Shoji Sushi, and Prime One Twelve. When Chefetz, a former real estate attorney, opened Nemo, his first South Florida spot, in 1995, it shared space with a boarded-up crack house. The area has improved, but it seems nothing can deter his insatiable appetite for accomplishing what he set out to do. Not even Mother Nature. Even without power in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, his crew was still at it, slinging burgers off a grill set up on a Second Street sidewalk.
What is your greatest triumph?
That's a pretty general question. I mean, there are a lot of them. To be able to loan my family money when they need it. How about to be able to loan my family money when they need it -- without interest!
The Argentines have tasty empanadas, wonderful chorizos, delightful sweetbreads, and charming ceviches. But let's quickly establish one thing: A true Argentine culinary experience is a steak-eating experience. Argentina is, after all, a place where eating a decent rib eye is a birthright. For the penultimate carnivore splurge in South Florida, head to The Knife in Coconut Grove. With its thriving community of exiled Argentines, the Magic City has numerous parillas that serve heaping platters of red meat. But what is extra-special about The Knife -- a bright, airy, no-frills upstairs joint with a giant barbecue pit in the middle -- is the price. For $23.85 at dinnertime Monday through Thursday, and $25.95 Friday through Sunday, or for even less at lunchtime ($17.95 Monday through Friday, $20.95 on weekends), you can chow on as much churrasco, strip steak, and filet mignon as you want. It will tempt you, but don't waste stomach space on the bread: Your meal also includes unlimited trips to the salad bar, as well as a beverage (two glasses of beer or one bottle of wine per person), dessert, and coffee (you will need this, trust us). All in all, for anyone who likes steak, a trip to The Knife is a mind- and stomach-expanding experience. It's open late -- from noon till 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, till midnight on weekends.
Le Boudoir is sort of a stealth bakery. It looks like a café, is self-labeled a tea salon, and has a menu mainly devoted to elegant Parisian-style sandwiches and salads. But the sandwiches' astonishingly good bread serves notice that baked goods are truly taken seriously here. Proprietor Michel Chiche is a master patissier who grew up in France and interned in perfectionist French restaurant kitchens before studying at the famed LeNôtre school. But the real proof of his sweet supremacy is not in his resumé or roster of celebrity clients (ranging from Steven Spielberg to Bill Clinton) but behind Le Boudoir's bakery counter. The selection of pastries displayed daily is small but flawless, especially Chiche's specialty, macaroons -- seasonal fillings sandwiched between a pair of almond macaroons with delicately crunchy shells and a melt-in-your-mouth interior. For those craving something extra-special, custom-catered orders range from elaborate sculptural spun-sugar fantasies to a dozen cookies. And if you are searching for a wedding cake that doesn't look like it was decorated by a baker with all the taste and subtlety of Miss Piggy, Le Boudoir can make you a stylish showpiece cake that tastes even better than it looks.
Although this café/bakery originally opened as part of the Tasti D-Lite frozen yogurt chain, it became immediately clear its main draw was not faux ice cream but the rest of the menu: sparkling, crisp salads; genuinely light yet assertively flavorful spicy sesame linguine; and baked goods. The bagels (95 cents each, $1.75 with cream cheese) are not housemade -- not so surprising considering the small place's commitment to quality: Tasti's owners do not begin to pretend a decent bagel can be crafted without New York City water. Consequently, their bagels -- flavors include plain, sesame, and onion, no chocolate chip/sun-dried tomato sissy stuff -- are flown in from H&H in NYC. Pay no attention to boobs who claim H&H has gone downhill. Jerry Seinfeld refuses to eat any other brand of bagel. And if they are good enough for Seinfeld, they're good enough for us.