Natural disasters -- tornadoes, tidal waves, whatever -- are hardly unique to our little weather zone. Nor is thumbing one's nose in the face of Madre Nature's power-tripping.
But hurricane parties are a form of gallows humor that distinguishes the Tropics from our left-coast and plains-states peers. The main reason: time. Unlike, say, Californians, who know they live in earthquake country but don't know when nature might strike, we Miami denizens can count on broadcasters to start whipping us into a frenzy whenever a tropical system gets within a thousand miles.
So we put up the shutters, gas up the car, and stock up on water, canned tuna, batteries, and the only two real essentials: vodka and a set of dominoes. We finish a good half-day before storm action is due, and there's no work or school to go to, no planes to catch. In other words, we get bored silly. The sane would catch the last comfortable sleep possible before the A/C goes out, but we're Miamians: We call up every friend and get together for a hurricane party.
Miami local dining
But where? It's traditional to pick a rickety venue foolishly close to the water, and on the face of it, you can't get more foolish than Jimbo's Shrimp Village (Duck Lake Road, Virginia Key; 305-361-7026), a colorfully painted collection of wooden shacks directly on the shore of a mangrove-lined saltwater inlet. You can always count on a crowd celebrating downtime over Jimbo's only fare: frosty beer (from low-tech ice chests, hurricane or not) and terrific house-smoked fish.
Actually, when you figure the shacks were originally built by a movie crew in 1980 (and hence have survived numerous heavy-duty storms, including Hurricane Andrew), the place doesn't seem such a foolish prehurricane party spot after all. And Jimbo's hot-smoked salmon, unlike cold-smoked nova, could keep for several days if the power were to go out.
For a more secure waterfront fiesta locale -- nine floors above Biscayne Bay, on the pool deck of the Plaza Venetia condo -- there's the longtime journalists' fave watering hole, Mike's (555 NE Fifteenth St., #935, Miami; 305-374-5731). Sharing the same electrical grid as the Miami Herald building across the street, it seldom suffers power outages, so perfect party fare like Mike's big, meaty Buffalo wings (or bargain-priced steaks, burgers, and daily fresh fish specials, the other best bets on the extensive menu) keeps coming. And revelers can watch weather reports on the seventeen TV screens till 3:00 a.m.
Fashionable waterfront hurricane dining can be found at Bayside Grill, the new outdoor eatery at André Balazs's Standard hotel/spa (40 Island Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-1717). The menu features grilled proteins (meat, poultry, fish, or tofu) with elegant mix-and-match sauces and sides. "We're flexible. We like to have some fun. Though beforehand, it takes us about a day to move everything inside," admits chef Mark Zeitouni. "So people might have to be willing to eat without tables."
And considering the Standard's low-lying Venetian Causeway location, there's flooding to bear in mind. "But as long as we're not breaking any laws, we'll fire up the grill and do a barbecue with whatever we have for people who want to get out of the house," Zeitouni says with a laugh. "If they're willing to walk through water."
Or on it, given that much of Miami's coast is a bare three feet above sea level, making the flooding that accompanies the summer's "wet storms" a bigger hazard than winds. So some might want to consider a hurricane dining venue in slightly higher-elevation (a big fifteen to twenty feet) inland areas -- parts of Coconut Grove, for instance, or Coral Gables.
In the Grove, the newly opened New Orleans restaurant Christabelle's Quarter (3157 Commodore Plaza; 786-517-5299) seems an especially appropriate choice, given that Cajun/Creole chef Alex Patout and his wife/business manager Marcia relocated to Coconut Grove when Hurricane Katrina wrecked business at his famed French Quarter restaurant. Patout's signature seafood gumbo alone is more than enough to transport diners back to carefree times in the Big Easy.
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In Coral Gables, one couldn't ask for more festive hosts than the three sisters who run eclectic Mama Lila's Bistro (1915 Ponce de Leon Blvd.; 305-461-2424). "Because we're in the business district, we've never lost power for longer than six or seven hours," says front-of-the-house manager Rosa Valderrama. "We'll have to come up with something fun for the hurricane theme." With luck, the food will be as amusing as that planned for their July 3 Star-Spangled ElectroFunk event: housemade-from-scratch sliders, corndogs, fries, and apple pie.
The most reliable 'cane dining spots are joints with generators that keep the fridges, hot water heaters, and other kitchen machinery going, such as the pioneering Brickell-area gourmet market/café Perricone's (15 SE Tenth St., Miami; 305-374-9449). Within hours after Wilma departed, power-deprived mainland residents were bringing home the bacon -- and the renowned chicken salad (poached breast chunks with raisins, toasted pine nuts, Granny Smith apples, and fresh basil) and the baked Brie in a crisp puff pastry crust, drizzled with apricot glaze -- from this tech-enhanced transplanted 1700 Vermont barn.
But the top choice for foodies seeking a hurricane home-away-from-home has to be the town's hottest ticket this year: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, in the Design District (130 NE 40th St., Miami; 305-573-5550). With new electrical generators being installed -- and the open kitchen's wood-burning brick oven already turning out possibly the universe's best artisan-raised roast chicken, plus thin-crust pizzas (like one topped with exotic mushrooms, aged Gruyère, caramelized onions, and truffle oil) and many other scrumptious offerings -- chef Michael Schwartz gleefully guarantees, "We'll be the place to be for hurricane parties. It's a concrete building, with hurricane-impact windows. We'll have A/C, cooking equipment, and the full menu. I might even move my whole family in and sleep here."
For partying patrons, he cautions, "We will not provide sleeping bags. Or toothbrushes. But often if you have enough good food and booze, you don't really need those."