First, the history. Renaissance Bakery, which has scored a bunch of awards from us in the past several years for its outstanding sourdough, olive, and sesame-semolina loaves, was founded by Ron Funt. Now, the present. Funt, along with brother Paul, decided to put Renaissance bread to even better use than selling it out of the back of the bakery and transporting wholesale orders to local restaurants and markets. They opened Upper Crust about a year ago, doing the chic décor -- lots of chrome, glass, stone, and marble -- themselves. So take the name literally. The appearance of this sandwich shop is literally a cut of bread above the rest, as is the Renaissance Bakery itself. The sandwiches are, too, giving a new meaning to portable lunch. Peanut butter and jelly, which is smoothed between two slices of raisin-currant-pecan bread, never had it so good. Now, there really is something better than sliced bread.
And the best part of all, there is always plenty of stuff around to read.
Charcuterie
When it comes to luncheonettes, nobody pays much attention, and that's a darn shame. Some of the best lunch restaurants are downtown and in the Design District, and unless you happen to work nearby, you usually don't hear about them. Such is the case with the Charcuterie, the longest-running restaurant in the Design District. Today the decades-old eatery presents a limited menu with French-influenced deli entrées, such as the salmon mousse and vegetable terrine plate, or the Brie and tomato sandwich. But the real reason it wins kudos is for its hot lunches, posted daily on a blackboard. You just might find grilled salmon with shallot and vermouth sauce, or blackened snapper Louisiana style, or rainbow trout almondine. You get the point: The focus is on fish. Wash it all down with a glass of house white, or an O'Doul's if you're headed back to work. Of course you have to take your chances on the blackboard specials, because what's served depends on what's been caught fresh that morning. But you can bet on the Charcuterie as a hale and hearty standard of the Design District since the days before the renaissance, when the only things caught fresh in the morning were the working girls on their way home.
Chocolate's reputation as a caffeine-crammed, cavity-causing, pimple-promoting, fat-inducing treat has finally turned to mud. In fact the rich creamy substance these days is being touted as an antioxidant that packs a feel-good punch. Scientists are still fine-tuning their theories about phenylethylamine and theobromine (the chemical ingredients that put chocolate consumption on the level of orgasm). So while they're in the lab, you can conduct a little study of your own at Krön Chocolatier. This tiny shop, which spent seventeen years housed in Bal Harbour, has been sweetly ensconced on the second floor of the Aventura Mall for the past two. Chocolate-covered everything -- popcorn, potato chips, Oreos, pretzels, apricots, orange slices, pineapple, strawberries -- is made on the premises. You can mix and match a selection of creams and chews (dark, white, or light) or partake individually of pecan myrtles, rocky road bricks, oversize peanut-butter cups, and Nora's tacos (chocolate shell stuffed with crunchy chocolate, M&Ms, and Rice Krispies). Taste one of Krön's melt-in-your mouth, hand-cut, cocoa-dipped truffles and you'll understand why some addicts claim chocolate is better than sex. The research may be overwhelming, but remember, you're doing it in the name of science.
Doughnuts are sin. You cannot yield to the temptation of a low-fat or sugar-free doughnut. Such abominations are not doughnuts. Therefore, brothers and sisters, he who eats of the glazed, powdered, cream-filled, and all other manner of deep-fried dough, make damn sure it's worth sinning for. Can I get a witness? When you're out there hungering in the depths of your gut for a chocolate frosted, drive thou not into a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, for that way leads to perdition. No, my children! Hold out for the worst sin! The very anti-halo! A still-warm glazed doughnut fresh from the Krispy Kreme kitchen! What is it, you may ask, that the Krispy Kreme people put in those doughnuts to render them so meltingly soft? So dangerously delicious? Oh, ye of little faith! Shut up and start sinning!
Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile
Numerous high-profile restaurants with authentically gifted chefs opened this past year: Mayya (Guillermo Tellez), The Strand (Michelle Bernstein), Ortanique (Mary Rohan), and Bambú (Rob Deer) to name a few. Then there's Mark Militello's latest effort at the refurbished Nash, which not only tops these other topnotch contenders but perhaps even his own prior work. The cuisine is more Mediterranean, less fusion than at the flagship Las Olas restaurant. The savvily conceived combinations and contrasts, however, are as well executed as ever. Witness the crisp-skinned Scottish salmon with soft fondue of leeks and tomato in truffled sweet-pea coulis. Better yet, go taste it. Time will tell if the quality can be kept consistent without the man himself being around, but for now it sure looks like a keeper.
Moises Bakery
As the neon sign reads inside, everything in this bakery is made with "chispa Venezolana." The bread comes to you fresh out of the oven in all shapes and sizes. The cakes are topped with fresh strawberries, kiwis, and peaches. The meat, chicken, and cheese empanadas go a long way. Be sure to wash down the dough-wrapped lunch-in-a-pocket with a Frescolita ( a cherry-flavor Venezuelan soda in a glass bottle). Have a bomba (a pastry stuffed with cooked condensed milk) for dessert, or a flaky mil ojas (1000 leaves) covered in powdered sugar. They even have something to cure the lethargy that comes from eating too much.
When the Portuguese "settled" Brazil and forced African slaves to cook for them as well as work in the fields, the result wasn't completely tragic, at least from a gastronomic point of view. Without native and African influences, no doubt Brazilians would still think salt cod is delicious. Fortunately for the culinary-minded, the folks who got taken advantage of wound up contributing to one of the most interesting cuisines in the world, a mixture of Portuguese, native South American, and African ingredients and cooking styles. And Barroco, a pretty Brazilian restaurant, is perfectly poised to educate our palates with dishes like black-eyed pea fritters with oven-roasted shrimp sauce; shrimp with coconut milk and yuca purée; and adobo-rubbed roast pork tenderloin with aged port sauce and collard greens. The truth is, of course, that you don't really have to know your colonial history to take advantage of supping on this sumptuous fare. There won't be a quiz after the meal. But there just might be some bossa nova.
The mallification of the once-distinctive Road is now complete. Just like every other mall, it has: (1) a Williams-Sonoma, and (2) a food court. Though restaurants are strung along its length, the culinary heart of the Road is at the artificial grassy knoll where skaters and homeless folks rub shoulders with the world's best-looking mall rats. What more could you want in generic upscale eatin'? There's the Joffrey's Coffee shop, the Thai/sushi place, the ... other Thai/sushi place. Okay, okay, there's no Cheesecake Factory, but there's the Nexxt best thing. And for dessert you've got the packed-to-the gills Gelateria Parmalat. All within striking distance of real.life.basic. Coming soon, just down the street: Victoria's Secret! Just like every other mall.
Take a look on the other side of the counter in either one of these locations, and what you see could very well be a picture from a local agricultural promo. The fruits and vegetables are so fresh and ripe they look as though they belong on a billboard rather than in a blender. That's the way it's been for 58 years at the original Athens on Collins Avenue (the second location opened in 1997). As far as smoothies go, forget about the elaborate menus with clever names you'll find at other establishments. When ordering at Athens, simply rattle off whatever combination you want and it's yours, all for the same price: about three bucks for a medium cup. How do they do it? While other smoothie places choose to go with some frozen material or use bottled juice, the folks at Athens get up early every morning and select their produce from a stable of local farmers or the farmers' market in Homestead. But during September, take your thirst elsewhere; that's the low season for most of the local produce, and rather than work with inferior merchandise, Athens just closes shop.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®