Although I've always thought idiotic the theory that formal food schooling should be required of restaurant reviewers (if the same standard was applied to restaurant chefs, South Florida would be minus major self-taught talents like Norman Van Aken and Ortanique's Cindy Hutson), an exchange at the recent overwhelmingly successful South Beach Wine & Food Festival may make me rethink that. An arrogantly ignorant response from one of America's most famous food critics to a quite valid audience question made me wonder if education for restaurant reviewers could have merit.
A cruise-ship executive asked if, since a sizable percentage of cruisers favored snacking all day on varied poolside fast-food offerings to eating formal meals in "real" restaurants, reviewers would ever write about hot dogs and the like? The answer from Mr. Important was: Why would he waste his time reviewing franks, as most come from the same supplier and are therefore all the same?
Hey, on second thought, I say let's skip food schooling after all and just go straight to the dunce cap. Because it doesn't take education, just educated taste buds, to know that even from the same manufacturer dogs differ in texture (depending on whether they're skinless or have a tooth-popping natural casing), taste (depending on both meat and spicing), and topping (Chicago dogs are not Texas wieners). The same principle applies to all quick-gratification casual foods. There are definite differences within each genre -- including quality. Some humble hamburgers are better than others. Plus let's face it, there are moments when even those more accustomed to Nobu crave those humble hamburgers.
Arnold's Royal Castle
12490 NW 7th Ave, North Miami
305-681-5346. Open 24 hours
What you want to do then is drive one block west of I-95's 125th Street exit and gear up for a Royal Castle slider. Actually make it a $3.40 slider six-pack; these thin patties are classic "three-bite burgers," like White Castles except rectangular rather than square, so you can't eat just one. And there are many more gorgeously greasy fried, diced onions on Royal Castles than on White Castles, as well as more complex condiments (mustard as well as ketchup and pickle), so you won't want to limit yourself to just one of these soft-bunned beauties. In fact you probably want one cheese slider with the standard six, just for contrast. Wash it all down with ice-cold old-fashioned birch beer in a frosted mug.
There are plenty of other offerings at this tiny 24-hour dinerette, including the kind of belly-buster breakfasts that seem overwhelming at 9:00 in the morning but perfect at 3:00 a.m.: moist scrambled eggs or mammoth three-egg omelets, truly smoky smoked sausages, grits, hash browns, crisp catfish fillets, authentic country ham. Fried chicken is also gratifying, coated with thin crispy batter that's dark and shiny, almost a burnished glaze; accompanying hot sauce is four-alarm. There's even a vegetarian burger for noncarnivores. Being big, though, the veg version doesn't provide the same sort of psychological gratification that the classic Castle does.
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Frankly, I'm no more likely to give up caviar for Castle burgers than Mr. Important is. Unless one is terminally pretentious, however, when you want a slider mere sevruga will not do.