Ten Bucks, Good Food
Ten bucks will buy three pairs of multicolored clown eyelashes or two bargain-bin "best of" CDs by your favorite Sixties bands or a used copy of The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana (spend $30 on all three and have a fun night!). But what will $10 procure for the savvy spender with an empty belly? Well, for one thing, a bucky (which is the proper pronunciation of what really is a South African-inspired "bakkie"), found locally only at Piri Piri Grill in Surfside. This newcomer has the same owners and address as the former Bianca's Gourmet Shop on Harding Avenue. The same sandwiches, salads, burgers, and wraps, too, but emphasis has shifted to grilled chicken and ribs, as well as the signature bakkies (one of two owners is South African).
A bakkie comes in a clear 16-ounce plastic beverage container. On top is bunny chow — a coarsely chopped coleslaw — and the rest of the cup is packed with white/wild rice mingled with choice of chicken ($6.99), steak ($8.49), shrimp $7.49), salmon ($7.69), or veggie burger ($7.69). A triangle of pita bread is also wedged in, but take it from me, you can't get it out until you've eaten about a third of the bakkie — at least not without spilling rice all over the place. The meal-in-a-cup comes aromatically seasoned, with a slight brown sugar sweetness, and is ever so mildly piquant owing to a pinch of the namesake piri piri, also known as the African red devil pepper. Legend has it (or, more accurately, a story on the back of the menu has it) that in 1600, the pepper was brought from Africa back to Portugal, where it had originated, and reintroduced as piri piri.
The pepper is used parsimoniously in piri piri chicken ($8.99 for a half bird), which doesn't differ much from those proffered at other chicken kitchens around town — nicely marinated and moist. You can get more bite via a vinegary dip or barbecue sauce that come alongside (offered medium or hot). Ribs are $11.99 for a half rack, thus disqualifying them from current consideration, but they were tender and meaty. Two side dishes accompany all grilled items.
What else can you snare for a mere sawbuck? One of 10 types of petite 10-inch pies from La Boîte à Pizza (lah bwat ah) on Alton Road in South Beach (each is $9.99 or less; for the sake of reason, we won't be including tax or tip in this 10-spot spotlight). These include "traditional" toppings such as chicken-pineapple-barbecue, burger-sour cream, and onion-bacon-egg. La Boîte's pies are different from most pizzas, but satisfying once you accept that the crusts are puffy-soft and the toppings sauce-less. The onion-bacon combo, for instance, featured a quichelike custard between the crust and main ingredients. A few fat French fries came scattered on top as well, and who can argue with eggs, onion, bacon, potatoes, and bread? If you're thinking breakfast, the joint opens at 11 a.m.
The point of Boîte, a franchise with 101 outlets in France, three in Shanghai, and one on Washington Avenue, is to offer an extensive array of pizza garnishes. The more unusual ones are listed under "haute cuisine" pies. One of the hotter-selling hautes is a Brie-walnut-truffle oil pizza; another is the foie gras-duck-mozzarella-porcini medley. I have to agree with my wife's assessment of the "Indian" pie with sour cream, curry sauce, mozzarella cheese, onions, chicken, pineapple, almonds, honey, and raisins — "I think I'll leave pizza to the Italians" — yet as a bready, nonpizza-related snack, this curried concoction was lip-smackingly tasty. Alas, at $10.99 for a 10-incher, it is beyond our thematic boundaries, as are all the haute pies. But if you go as a pair to share, a special deal brings any medium-size (12-inch) haute pie (excepting those with foie gras or caviar on top), a two-liter beverage, and a pint of Häagen-Dazs for $19.90. And a $9.99 lunch bargain yields a petite pie, 20-ounce soda, and half-pint of Häagen-Dazs.
A half ciabatta sandwich of ham and cheese ($4.95) plus a light, not overly sugary tres leches ($4.25) is my kind of under-$10 meal. So is a big heap of chopped, grilled chicken with curry-mustard dressing, soy-flavored rice and peas, and a salad of lettuce and chopped tomatoes with blue cheese dressing ($7.95). I encountered the former at The Jam Café, which recently arrived on West Avenue in South Beach (across from Publix), and the latter at Big Slick's Deli, which occupies the old Grateful Deli space in North Miami Beach.
Jam is a modern, clean-lined space with low-backed banquette seating snaking through the middle of the room and coffee tables on which food and drinks are placed. It looks like, and serves as, a contemporary, nonchain coffee shop, dispensing fancy, foamy Medaglia D'Oro espresso drinks such as mochas, caramels, iced lattes, and so forth. Jam jams out superfresh salads, sandwiches, panini, wraps, and smoothies too, and everything on the menu will bring change from an Alexander Hamilton — except smoked salmon salad ($10.95). Sandwiches, prepared with ciabatta or whole-wheat bread, include prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, the ham getting sliced per order; and tuna salad, white and pristine. A tenner will also tender an egg-and-smoked salmon breakfast wrap on whole-wheat tortilla ($6.75) with a cafe latte or cappuccino (each $2.95).
Big Slick's is a big deli that serves 16 types of sandwiches: "small blinds" from $5.95 to $6.95 and "big blinds" from $7.95 to $8.95. The menu is playing-card-themed, so a sandwich of honey-maple turkey, melted Swiss, and Russian dressing is "3 of a Kind"; the grilled chicken, bacon, provolone, and pickles version becomes "Two Pair." Besides the aforementioned chicken chop salad, a good under-10 bet is a small blind meatball parmigiana ($5.95) on fresh-baked baguette (rye, onion roll, and whole wheat are also offered) with a pint of homemade soup of the day ($3.95). Or any small sandwich (which should be noted are not at all small) accessorized with a can of soda and choice of potato salad or coleslaw for $1.99 extra.
These eateries have something in common other than good, inexpensive offerings: The owners are on hand, working, at all four spots. It's been said that 90 percent of success is just showing up. The other 10 percent usually involves plain dumb luck, which we wish for these budget-conscious entrepreneurs.
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