The Name Game

Cautiously optimistic" is how I would have described my reaction, if anyone bothered to ask, after finding out that Suzanne's Market in South Beach had been replaced by Neam's Gourmet. Suzanne's had been in my neighborhood for quite a few years, so I can attest that as an "upscale" food store and take-out, it was noteworthy only for its worthlessness: Hot and cold foods prepared on the premises were pathetic, breads and pastries brought in from outside not much better. Neam's, on the other hand, is run by Eddie Neam, whose grandfather established the namesake gourmet market in Washington, D.C., whose regulars supposedly have included Jackie Kennedy and Liz Taylor, and which is still going strong after more than 90 years.

After hearing the news, I ambled on over to Neam's the very next morning for a cup of coffee. In retrospect I should have had the cuppa joe beforehand; lacking caffeine as I was, I got a bit disoriented when I didn't see Neam's name emblazoned on the sign outside, or on the workers' shirts, or on the catering pamphlets up front. Everything still read "Suzanne's." The store itself looked the same as ever: shiny metro shelves stocked with neatly arranged and prettily packaged olive oils, vinegars, and the sundry staples of the stay-at-home chef.

"Excuse me," I said to a worker, "but isn't this place supposed to be Neam's?"


Neam's Gourmet

300 Alton Rd, Miami Beach

305-538-3500. Open daily, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

"Yes, it is" he replied, at which point I prayed his explanation would have nothing to do with hanging chads.

Here it is: Neam's took over the space in June, but the new signs haven't yet arrived. Why, then, are Neam's employees still answering the phone: "Suzanne's"? Perhaps to assure past customers that the food selection is as prosaic as ever. Fruit salad of underripe honeydew, red grapes, kiwi, and orange slices with the skin still on? An uninspired combination, poorly executed. I spied pasta and chicken salads with brown crusted tops, which indicated not only that they'd been sitting around for at least a day but that the kitchen staff didn't even have the good sense to freshen and replate them.

The three varieties of olives are insufficient, the cheese selection is insipid, and the breads are run-of-the-mill: onion rolls, hot-dog rolls, loaves of rye and white, baguettezzzzzzz.... The desserts are mass-produced, except for a gloppy-looking key lime pie that not even the sharpest wholesaler could have pawned off on anyone. The produce is expensive but is neither exotic nor high quality.

Sandwiches run the generic gamut from ham and cheese to egg salad. If all this is "gourmet," what loftier word can we think up to describe the deli department at Winn-Dixie?

Management promises changes, notably the addition of a hot-food section and salad bar. Maybe by that time they'll have the new signs up, too. Meanwhile, in case you're wondering, I've downgraded my outlook to "cautiously pessimistic."


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