Tap Tap, the Haitian restaurant that sits at crossroads of the new and old Miami Beach, is nearing its 20th year on earth.
The colorful restaurant is a South Beach anomaly. Neither expensive nor trendy and older than most of its brethren ten times over, it manages to stay busy with a healthy mix of locals and tourists who come for the colorful decor, live music on weekends, and goat, which is served in fried chunks, stewed, or grilled. There's also conch which, on a recent night, was described as "like squid" to a European couple perusing the menu.
But where there's Caribbean food, there are also good vegetarian dishes. Cooks in the small nations that make up this island chain are masters of utilizing both sea and soil in their culinary explorations.
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Tap Tap's legim is a hearty stewed vegetable dish. Made from onions, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, and chayote, it has the depth that comes only from time spent slow cooking for hours on the stove. Served with either white rice with bean sauce or or diri kole (mixed rice and beans), it's a formidable vegetarian meal, perfect for when the weather turns chill (we mean when the temperature plummets below 80 degrees). Carnivores and pescatarians take heart. You can add beef ($3), goat ($4), or shrimp ($5) to this stew for a meatier treat.
Though this meal is filling enough, fall is the time for pumpkin, so try a bowl of soup joumou (pumpkin soup). For $6, this soup is a meal in itself, actually. A rich, slightly spicy soup is filled with carrots and malanga. The flavor took me straight back to the most perfect meal I had in a small family-run Ital restaurant along the docks in St. Vincent. No more than a shack, the small establishment served only one dish each day -- a soup made with root vegetables, coconut milk, and whatever else plant-based that happened to work its way into the pot. It was heaven. Tap Tap's version is the closest thing in Miami.
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To wash it down, order a Soley ($9). It's a blend of Barbancourt Rhum and fresh passionfruit juice, served with a sugared rim. Basically, a trip to the islands in a glass.