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BEST CHILI Miami 2003 - Picnics at Allen's

Cumin and tomato are the starring flavors in the heaping bowls of chili served at Picnics at Allen's, but the atmosphere at this Fifties-style pharmacy and lunch counter steals the show. Owners Marie and Jerry Burg are personable without being obsequious (an attitude mirrored by the waitstaff), creating an atmosphere that seems more like a real neighborhood restaurant than a self-conscious retro re-creation. Jerry, who cooks the chili, says good-quality ground beef and huge helpings make the chili ($3.95 for a bowl with generous portions of onions and cheese on the side) popular. He also admits that even the "spicy" chili isn't firehouse hot. "I don't like to make it so hot you can't taste it -- that's what the Tabasco's for." Tiny Tabasco bottles line the counter, where patrons can sit on spinning chrome and vinyl stools and make like they're headed for the sock hop, or cross the black-and-white checkerboard floor to sit at one of the cushy booths. "The recipe is one of those things that get handed down through the years," says Marie, "although [original owners] the Allens used hot peppers in theirs, and we don't do that." A Picnics at Allen's milkshake (the 2002 New Times Best Milkshake winner) is the perfect cure for Tabasco overapplication.

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