"Think about all the places we find propaganda right under our noses," reads a coffee mug for sale in the Wolfsonian design museum's Dynamo Café. "Like coffee cups." It's a reminder of the Wolf's old days. Before heir Mitchell Wolfson Jr. gave his eccentric private collection to the State of Florida (and it became a department of Florida International University) more than a decade ago, the massive Mediterranean Revival warehouse was most generally referred to as a museum of propaganda art.
The Wolf has since been self-christened "the thinkism museum" admittedly kinda cutesy, but fitting for an eclectic compilation of design objects (ranging from paintings, furniture, and rare books to Hitler's silverware and King Farouk of Egypt's matchbook collection). The idea is to stimulate thought about how art in many, sometimes devious forms stimulates societal change, and vice versa.
The Wolfsonian even sneaks some thought-provoking material onto the menu at the year-old Dynamo Café (which is also the museum's gift shop). The Coca-Cola on the list of international favorite beverages, for instance, is imported from Central America. Why? Because, our server told us gleefully, it's reputed to taste superior owing to sweetening with cane sugar rather than the cheaper high-fructose corn syrup used in U.S. Coke. And I'll be darned if, contrary to the Coca-Cola company's claim that the formula is the same everywhere, the Latino Coke wasn't more refreshing sweeter but cleaner and less cloying. I won't go into all the corn lobby conspiracy theories, but it suffices to say they make for stimulating mealtime conversation. Still, best to opt for the lemonade, less of an ice-breaker but housemade from scratch. Wine, several sherries, organic coffee, and an interesting assortment of teas and herbal infusions are also available.
1001 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-535-1457
Open Sunday through Tuesday and Saturday from noon to 6:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday from noon to 9:00 p.m. Closed Wednesday.
As for solid food, there's a small, changing selection of substantial entrées Thursday and Friday nights, when the Wolf is open late, plus a $16 Sunday brunch that includes assorted fresh pastries, a mimosa, and a main dish. But most days the regular menu of lighter bites consists of internationally inspired starters, sandwiches, salads, and sweets. The stylish space is catered by Lyon & Lyon, and with few exceptions, quality is as good as longtime residents would expect from the folks who operated the late, great Lyon Frres market-restaurant on Lincoln Road, back when the Road was a locals hangout.
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Especially recommended is the East Indian chicken salad. Curry is something so easy to overuse I usually avoid Indian-derived dishes in western eateries, but the Dynamo's preparation of juicy curried chicken chunks, molded on top of a couscous salad with a rich mango chutney/creamed curry sauce surrounding the stack, was delightfully subtle. Though the item is pretty pricey, a sparkling-fresh mesclun salad plus pita triangles and a generous green apple/grape tomato garnish made the salad a filling meal.
Of four sandwiches, the vegetarian Californian (avocado, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, and cheddar cheese) would normally have been my last choice, given the other sandwiches' tempting meat options (Serrano or French ham, for instance). But my dining companion, a Dynamo regular, raved about the veggie version. Sure enough, ultraflavorful aged cheese, luscious aioli sauce, and nutty whole-grain bread from Lyon & Lyon's bakery made the sandwich simply marvelous.
A starter of silky-smooth hummus, dressed with fruity olive oil and accompanied by cuke slices and pita, also disappeared fast. Only a rather sodden-crusted pear tart was disappointing (except in size one portion was easily twice the size of two normal desserts). Otherwise, the Dynamo's simple yet stimulating and satisfying food might not be art, but it is beautifully conceived craft.