A Meal Any Which Way -- Except Late

If a restaurant closes at 8:30 p.m., one counts on being able to walk in and order food until 8:30 p.m. At Miami Juice, diners with such expectations will be disappointed. Arriving one recent evening at 8:14 p.m. with a hankering for MJ's "Special Rice," temptingly described on a menu given to me by a fan of the little eatery, I was informed, unapologetically -- rather curtly in fact -- that only smoothies and sandwiches would be possible, for the kitchen closes at 8:15 p.m.

Admittedly, Miami Juice, whose fare is an appealing cross between Middle Eastern and health food, has a grocery component in addition to its dozen restaurant tables, so the posted closing hour might be meant more for folks in need of a bottle of vitamins or something from the organic produce counter (one hopes it's the tempting bright yellow fresh dates still clustered on their stalks, rather than one of the bags of delicate greens being crushed by the handlebar of a mountain bike thoughtlessly propped against the display). Still, when an eatery's hours of operation are printed not only on the door but also right on the menu, the food should be available through closing time.

Hours aren't the only somewhat misleading thing on MJ's menu. When I returned the next day ("Much earlier!" the same server noted, much more cheerfully than the night before), the rice dish -- nutty-flavored organic brown grains supposedly with imported olives, scallions, red and yellow sweet peppers, tomato, and dulse flakes -- came with nary a sliver of olives. Instead a sprinkling of chickpeas had been substituted -- inexplicably, since, as other dishes made clear, the kitchen had definitely not run out. It's not that I dislike chickpeas, but the assertive taste of the dulse (a red seaweed highly flavored and highly nutritional -- B vitamins and iron up the wazoo) would have been more interestingly challenged by MJ's featured briny black and rich green olives than by pleasantly bland garbanzos.


Miami Juice

16210 Collins Ave, North Miami Beach

305-945-0444. Open Monday through Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Nevertheless, the dish's rather exotic taste was a nice change from hippie-style health food restaurant rice, especially with the addition, for an extra three bucks, of some assertively spiced, greaseless falafel patties. Other nonmeat adds include organic tofu or feta cheese and avocado. And nonvegetarians have numerous other protein options: grilled chicken (plain, rosemary-marinated, or with BBQ sauce), tuna or chicken salad, or the fresh fish specialty including tuna, salmon, or tilapia with various sauces. Given the choice again, I'd try "Brooke's sauce," a sun-dried tomato/herbed mustard; the house red "Turkey sauce" (the country, not the poultry) bore more resemblance to Del Monte than to any of Turkey's taste budtickling tomato preparations.

More unique and most enjoyable was "Isaac's Special." Listed as a pizza, the construction is more a mountain of avocado-supplemented Greek salad (feta, onion, tomato, fresh basil, and a generous portion of the black and green olives missing from MJ's special rice) piled on chewy, warm zahatar-seasoned flatbread. Unlike normal pizza, the high heap of sesame-sprinkled wedges aren't exactly easy-to-manage finger food, but for the cholesterol-conscious, the salad pie is satisfaction without the sin.

Those who favor free choice will be happy to hear that most of the menu is mix-and-match, meaning, for example, the protein additions serve as supplements to MJ's rice, salads, pita sandwiches, and baked tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and boniatos), and for low-carb dieters, as entrée-size portions accompanied by side salads or steamed vegetables instead of starches. Additionally, almost three dozen ingredients and preparations, ranging from cheeses to Middle Eastern dips (including a plentifully parsley-flecked rustic tahini), are available by the scoop or the pound. In short, at Miami Juice you can have your meal almost any which way -- except late.


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