Whole Foods Market
Cheese and wine can be a match made in Heaven, but only when in harmonious union. Such are the laws of nature. At Whole Foods Market another perfect pair can offer advice on how to achieve this delicate balance. Specialty cheese buyer Claudia Roldan will offer suggestions on choosing and combining just the right cheeses for any occasion, from the grainy Parmigiano Reggiano for an authentic Italian feast, to the drunken goat cheese from Spain. There are more than 35 cheeses from around the globe, and wine connoisseur Marguerite Roldan, related to Claudia by marriage, knows how to pair them with just the right wine from France, Italy, Chile, or Spain. For instance the Pyrenees with pepper, a semisoft rich and creamy cheese with a buttery taste, goes well with a red wine from Chile, offers Marguerite. The sumptuous Belletoile Brie, which Claudia says is perfect with raspberries, should be flushed down with a light red French wine. And Leerdammer, a baby Swiss, should be combined only with a sauvignon blanc. For further education on cheeses and wines, there's even a small shelf with reference books on the subject.
People's Bar-B-Que
People's Bar-B-Que, in the heart of Overtown, dishes up comfort food with a smile. They pay attention not only to the way the food is prepared but also to how it's served. And it shows in the soul-satisfying fullness that sticks with you long after you've gone on your way. The iced tea is sweetened the way it should be: while it's still hot. The cornbread has a nice chewy crust. The greens are seasoned just so. The mashed potatoes are made from scratch. And the chicken, dipped in flour and deep-fat fried, is cooked to order. It comes to the table so hot it's still sizzling.

Best Natural Food/Vegetarian Restaurant

Granny Feelgood's

Granny Feelgood's Natural Food
Contrary to the icon stenciled on the door, Irving Fields looks nothing like an iron Granny bent on reforming the eating habits of a decidedly pudgy nation. To look at his round, avuncular shape, one might not immediately guess that he has operated a health food restaurant in downtown Miami since 1971. But just watch him bustle around the restaurant and store. He's hawking vitamins, mixing strawberry-banana protein shakes, and ringing up the bill -- all the while maintaining a constant stream of banter and gossip directed at newcomers and regulars alike. The restaurant is only a short walk from the county courthouse and county hall, so many of the regulars are a mixed lot of Miami's most famous and notorious denizens. "Mayors, commissioners, judges, lawyers, and cops, I know 'em all," Fields declares. One of his favorite customers is former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who he says confessed that she missed coming into the shop while she served out her term up in D.C. "She said, “Irving, I've got to tell you I fantasized about your fresh fruit and yogurt,'" Fields recalls with evident pleasure. "Fantasized -- that's a strange word coming from her." Oh yes, about the actual food. The menu is large, with well-priced items ranging from tasty veggie burgers and spinach lasagna to chimichangas to a variety of chicken or fish dishes and a selection of salads and fresh juices. The restaurant operates on the downtown's bustle-and-bust cycle, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Titanic Brewery & Restaurant
Kevin Rusk took a risk when he named his brewpub for the doomed ocean liner that sank in 1912, but he's managed to keep it afloat for the past two years. Drawing on his success at Tobacco Road and Fishbone Grille, Rusk has created an eclectic menu that's designed to complement Titanic's handcrafted award-winning beers. Bypassing the uncharted (but tasty) waters of gangplank salmon and steerage skirt steak sandwich, we've found our safety zone in something tried and true: the essential burger. One-half pound of fresh ground Angus beef grilled to juicy perfection, crisp romaine lettuce, and a ripe-red tomato slice sit atop a toasted onion bun and are accompanied by a choice of caesar salad or fries. Extras (add fifty cents to a buck to the ample $5.95 burger) include grilled onion, jalapeños, cheese, mushrooms, and bacon. We'll be enjoying these consistently savory beefburgers until an iceberg forms on the UM campus.
Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant
In Miami Beach there are two kinds of happy hours: the ones that begin at midnight, and the ones that begin at 6:00 a.m. But in downtown Miami, where the business people -- yeah, those with day jobs -- play, there's only one happy hour. That's when work is over, the stuffy execs go home, and the unbuttoned professionals come out to play. And there's no better place to relax than on the patio at Gordon Biersch. Located in the heart of the Brickell streetscape, the brewery has even the sharkiest of lawyers relaxing with a homebrewed lager and a plate of fried artichoke hearts. In the end the crowd here, especially on Fridays, may make it tough to negotiate some space for yourself. But if you consider the salubrious effect of a little cheer on a lot of hard-working suits -- those you're likely to be negotiating with come Monday -- then the order of business becomes clear: Drink up, shut up.
The sun may have set on the British Empire long ago, but one of its key rituals continues weekdays at the Biltmore Hotel. The rapacious guardians of civilization knew that whether it be the languid tropics of the colonies or the drizzly comfort of hearth and home, nothing beats a good cuppa as the day turns dozy around midafternoon. Beneath the vaulted ceilings of this grand hotel's lobby, for an hour and half starting at 3:00 p.m., the tradition continues as high tea is served. It all begins with the raw materials from a 115-year-old English tea company. A gracious attendant wheels in a cart filled with teas accented by exotic flavors that carry names like Imperial Gunpowder, Afternoon Darjeeling, and Tippy Assam. The last of these is harvested each year, between April and June, from the Brahmanputra Valley in northeast India. Off to the side a woman plays piano softly. The server pours the tea into china cups, through silver strainers that are then placed into individual silver bowls. She brings fresh fruit and a selection of crustless finger sandwiches that range from salmon to cucumber. Next come wickedly rich scones made of fluffy shortbread dusted in powdered sugar. A dish laden with whipped butter and a complete selection of fruit preserves complements the pastries. At this point, rather than risk the perils of overindulgence, pause and appreciate the beautiful orchids atop the five tables, the plushly comfortable chairs, and, of course, more of that delightfully calming elixir. The last course arrives as if by magic, a plate brimming with confections: little macaroons, diminutive lemon tarts, and mini-pecan pies. When the $15 check comes, it seems a small price to pay for the burden of being civilized.

It might take a little while to get used to. Here you are, all ready to enjoy the best seafood in town, and not a chair in sight! Yet the place is packed, and hardly anyone is ordering take-out. Amid all the roiling humanity, keyed up further by the salsa music on the radio, giving everything a (very) slight beach-party ambiance, you manage to order. You don't have to wait too long. Pretty soon you're leaning against the counter along with everyone else, diving in, and, you got it, thinking it's fun to eat standing up! Next time, sneakers instead of platforms. There's a brand new Fico on South Beach, and the food is probably just as wonderful, but they surely couldn't improve on the original -- seated, standing, or prone.

At all-you-can-eat buffets of the cafeteria-inspired kind, the urge to gorge overtakes most diners. Maybe it's a Thanksgiving-related syndrome. Get it now or your brothers will be asking for seconds before you've taken the first bite. That experience is the opposite of eating at the Brazilian churrascaria Porcao in the Four Ambassadors Hotel. Although porcao is Portuguese for "pig," and one essential element is the same -- you can eat until you decide to stop -- the experience is more like theater for the tongue. You are attended to by a cast of waiters. There is a constant flow of different foods to sample. The tongue remains surprised. A churrascaria is a restaurant that specializes in meat. The style of cooking is rodizio, Portuguese for "rotisserie." Each table has a card, one side green and the other red, like a traffic light. If you flip up the green side, you will be approached by the phalanx of waiters streaming from the kitchen and fanning out through the dining room. Each waiter carries skewers of fresh-grilled meat. One time it will be pork sausages and grilled chicken. The next, buttons of filet mignon wrapped in bacon, perfectly charred roast rump, salmon with mushroom-butter sauce. If you want time to digest all that protein, flip over the card to the red side, order a drink from one of the carts wheeled through the dining room, and indulge in conversation. There's no rush. Or if you just want to give your taste buds a change, take a trip to the salad bar. The array of choices and the quality of offerings are dazzling. And then there is the dessert cart. Yummy. Gluttony never felt so good.
Baleen
Many Miami brunch venues are beautiful (the Biltmore's spectacular Spanish fountained courtyard immediately comes to mind), with prodigiously packed buffet tables. But few settings are waterfront. And cuisine, no matter how impressive in quantity, rarely is of cutting-edge quality in typical Sunday brunch steam-table settings. Which is why Baleen, whose executive chef is Robbin Haas, beats the competition. Luxuriating at an oceanside table in Baleen's elegant outdoor dining area, separated from the sea by only a few lush palms and a waterfront walking path, brunchers enjoy plate after plate of appetizer items atop several big buffet tables in the indoor dining area: fresh fruit, just-baked croissants and breads, and the usual smoked salmon/cold shellfish assortment, plus unusually imaginative cold salads such as chicken with fresh cherries and walnuts, seafood with impeccably fresh briny clams, and caprese with top-quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Move on to hot entrées: grilled shrimp with citrus beurre blanc and risotto, tiny tender lamb chops with rosemary/ricotta polenta, Belgian waffles with real whipped cream, and smoked salmon as well as standard eggs Benedict. Definitely save room for the hazelnut/mocha cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, mousses, flans, and buttery homemade cookies on the dessert buffet table.
If you judge Haitian restaurants as we do -- solely on the virtue of the lambi -- then you'll agree with us that Le Pavillon is tops in conch. The pounded conch, smothered in a tomato sauce and served so tender you know the chef has carpal tunnel syndrome from all that whacking, justifies the honor alone. Fortunately that's not the only qualified dish at this smartly trimmed eatery, which has been open for several years but is under new management. The beef-vegetables stew and the goat with gravy both rule their categories, as does the rice and peas. And while this eatery clearly is Creole to the nth degree, you won't find better fried chicken -- available every day -- served anywhere in the Deep South. Le Pavillon's motto is "home of many cultures," but really we think it's the place for just one: the culinary society.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®