Best Of :: Food & Drink
Biscayne Boulevard and Naples, Italy, have a lot in common. OK, there are no cobblestone streets in the Magic City's MiMo neighborhood, but with a little imagination, you can see more similarities than differences. There are ruins of some formerly beautiful buildings, for example, and you're sure to spot more than one scooter whizzing by. Plus, if you're on the corner of NE 69th Street and Biscayne on a weekend afternoon, you'll probably hear some Italian chatter in the air. That's the sound of Via Verdi's extended family eating and laughing on the terrace, enjoying the restaurant's version of brunch. Twins Nicola and Fabrizio Carro, along with partner Cristiano Vezzoli, have opened a charming space filled with rustic woods and modern touches. You can sit on the terrace or in the dining room (perhaps you'll opt for the intimate two-top inside the wine closet). The Aperol spritz ($9 at brunch) — sweet, bubbly, and bitter — is a perfect drink (and a helluva metaphor for life itself). Have some assaggi (small plates) to start. Try the polenta fries (which rest in a truffle Parmesan cream), some ricotta, a polpettine (one large and tender veal meatball), and some olives. Choose any five for $23. Then it's on to a steaming plate of gnocchi topped with Gorgonzola sauce ($15) before ending the meal with authentic Italian cheesecake. Here, as in Italy, the plates keep coming, so you'll get cookies with your check — a dolce ending to your meal.
Cocktails in these heady days are complex magic tricks, summoned from the ether by the showstoppers known as bartenders. But just as there's a difference between a Houdini and the clown at kiddie parties, there's a huge gulf in skill behind all the smoke and mirrors fluffing up craft cocktails around town. That's why the cocktails at Bar Centro are so satisfying. True, they're gorgeous, and there's a fair share of showmanship with liquid nitrogen and props. But the cleverest of cocktails has to be well rounded and delicious. Which is where José Andrés comes in. He's a master at making food that's both whimsical and delicious, and his chef-meets-Cirque du Soleil sensibilities translate to the cocktail menu. Here, a margarita ($16) is kissed by "salt air" (a bit of sea foam floating in the glass substitutes for a salt rim, giving you a more nuanced bit of salt in every sip); a dirty martini ($16) is graced with an olive spherification that bursts briny juice into your mouth when firmly pressed between your teeth; and a caipirinha ($16) is turned into a potent brain-freeze-inducing lime granita when mixed with liquid nitrogen. Each sip? Magical.
From the cash-only status to the friendly faces behind the bar, not all that much has changed at Duffy's Tavern in the past 25 years. Considering that this Red Road institution hits the trifecta of any great neighborhood bar — TV sets tuned to live sports, reasonable beer prices, and, of course, tasty food you can eat with your hands — that's one status quo we're thrilled to see maintained. Duffy's cranks out delicious renditions of all the usual suspects — chicken wings, burgers, and nachos — with some well-known specialties, like the Death Dog, a dangerously spicy frank whose ingredients remain top secret. Don't be too alarmed — wary folks can order the chili cheese dogs, which come packed and weigh a quarter-pound. Pints of beer start at $3 (with pitchers at just $10), and the mugs are always frosted. Duffy's might not be situated at the end of a rainbow, but the ceiling decorated in kitschy posters, the beer bottle chandelier, and the license plate collection on the bathroom walls make this place Celtic gold.
There are many terms for the person who crafts your cocktail: mixologist, bartender, barkeep. But it's best to just call Julio Cabrera a cantinero, the Cuban term for professional bartender. The word is romantic, conjuring up a sepia-toned image of a gentleman who prides himself on making the perfect drink for his guests at the Regent Cocktail Club. A man who believes that working a bar is a noble profession that requires the skills of historian, scientist, mathematician, chef, and psychologist all in one. Julio Cabrera is all of that and more. This cantinero, in the classic sense of the word, is a master of all trades. When he's not posing for GQ or winning awards such as Most Imaginative Bartender from Bombay Sapphire's national competition, he's conducting pilgrimages to El Floridita Bar in Havana, where another cantinero, Constantino Ribalaigua, made daiquiris for a writer named Ernest Hemingway. "Bartender," "cantinero," whatever you want to call him, the dapper Cabrera is the epitome of what a master of his craft should be: a man who elevates his field by paying tribute to those before him and serving as a mentor to those coming up.
Who says that a delicious, well-prepared breakfast need be reserved for Sunday brunch? At Deli Lane, the thick red plates are constantly full of fluffy eggs and perfectly browned Belgian waffles. If Leslie Knope ever left Pawnee, Indiana, for Miami, she would quickly forget about JJ's Diner after a meal at Deli Lane. Operating hours start bright and early at 7 a.m. every day. So you have plenty of time for a filling breakfast before work (or naptime). Tip: Try the power-up breakfast, which includes two eggs, potatoes, toast, two pancakes, and choice of ham, bacon, or sausage for $6.50. It's served Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 a.m. Other breakfast items are served all day long. But don't walk in asking for all the bacon and eggs they have, because they just might abide by that request.
Coral Gables is now a bona fide cool dining destination, and we have Bulla to partly thank for it. The name is pronounced boo-yah, which is Spanish slang for the ability to create a stir. Indeed, everyone is talking about the chic gastrobar's relaxed ambiance and unique take on popular Spanish dishes. Bulla's impressive brunch has also been the source of chatter, and you'll understand why after sampling the cojonudo y cojonuda ($8). It consists of warm toast crowned with quail egg, chorizo, and Spanish blood sausage purée. Like almost everything here, it's deployed with the utmost care and boasts a delicate taste. Meanwhile, classic small plates from the dinner menu such as the croquetas de jamón and the albóndigas (veal and pork meatballs) are available during brunch as well ($9). Got a sweet tooth? There's French toast whose brioche is infused with the Spanish liquor orujo and enhanced with vanilla berry syrup and white chocolate chantilly ($12).