Laurenzo's Itialian Market
Modest little tables with checkered plastic tablecloths. Replicas of meats and cheeses hanging from the ceiling. Classic black-and-whites of Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, and the cast of The Godfather. Slightly tacky paintings of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other famous Italian sights. Cheap food available on a cafeteria-style serving line. Sounds like a cliché to avoid, except that this scene is hidden within Laurenzo's, the Italian grocery and deli that's been a fixture in North Miami Beach for nearly 40 years. Here's what to do: Drop in for lunch, sample from the freshly made and delicious varieties of spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna, then scoot over to the aisle where fresh flour and egg pastas are made several times a day. Maybe now you'll have a better idea what to choose from the impressive array -- fettuccine, tortellini (and oni), ravioli, fusilli, pappardelle, gnocchi. Just deciding among the bright coils of drying linguine is tough. What should it be? Black pepper? Spinach? Wheat? Tomato? Squid's ink? Oh, what the heck. Try 'em all.
A delicate rose fashioned from slender blush-pink slices of tuna. Carefully carved thin strips of cucumber wrapped around crab stick, avocado, masago, and shrimp. Wooden boats bursting with artfully arranged squares of fish. How fresh is it? Take a glance behind the sushi bar. If the huge white tuna slumped across the sink, ready for carving, is any hint, very.
Chocolate is not a bad or dangerous thing. Chocolate is good medicine for the brain, the blood, the sweet tooth. And the Sweet Tooth's chocolate is very good, made on the premises. From chocolate hearts and cherries to truffles and luscious creams, feast your eyes (did we mention chocolate improves night vision?) on the velvety array of goodies at this well-equipped chocolate clinic. The selection is so stunning, especially on holidays, you may be temporarily paralyzed. The Sweet Tooth people know how you feel and have thoughtfully prepared all kinds of beautiful and therapeutic gift baskets and boxes.
If your mother is from Ireland, you know about soda bread, baked daily in many homes both in Eire and abroad. Owners Martin Lynch and John Clarke remember, and that's why with every meal at this venerable pub a basket of the tasty quick bread is set down on the table just after the pint of Guinness. The formula is simple: flour, salt, soda, buttermilk, and a handful of raisins. And you don't have to be Irish. Lynch says people with surnames like Castillo and Cohen come in all the time just for the bread. You can carry some home, too, for $3.50 a loaf.

In theory the cheapest lobster is the one you pluck from the ocean floor during lobster miniseason. But when you factor in the cost of the boat, the gas, the gear, and the beer, the total looks like a $5000 meal. No, the truly frugal eat their bugs on Tuesday nights at Tobacco Road. Just under ten bucks gets you a decent-size, nicely prepared crustacean, potatoes, and all the napkins you need. The Florida lobster is fresh, delicious, and relatively speaking it costs next to nothing. This is a great deal, just slightly better than the Road's rib night. Or the Road's T-bone steak night. Or the Road's....

Deli Lane's Swiss apple melt sandwich ($6.95) takes three ingredients that have no business hanging out together and proves the old adage about the whole being greater, and tastier, than the sum of its parts. The apple wedges are glazed with cinnamon and grilled to gooey goodness. The bacon is lightly fried. Melted Swiss holds them together, between two slices of raisin pumpernickel bread. Eat one and you'll wonder why this concoction isn't up there with the Reuben as an American deli classic.
When it comes to gelato versus ice cream, it's the air, stupid. Gelato doesn't contain as much of it as its American cousin. The result is a denser, richer texture, a creamier, dreamier version of one of life's singular pleasures. Okay, you say, but what about selection? Surely there's no gelato parlor offering 31 different flavors. Well, we didn't exactly do the math, but if Coco Gelato's choices -- which include lemon champagne, almond cream, key lime, mamey, dulce de leche, and a half-dozen varieties of chocolate (to say nothing of tiramisu) -- leave you cold, you've got a hole in your head. Or air between your ears.
About as appealing as the milk and raw eggs cinema prizefighter Rocky Balboa ingests before each workout -- that's flan to many people. Slimy, rubbery, rich to the point of nausea. But flan is a dessert, like Shakespeare said about Cleopatra, of infinite variety. The classic milk-and-egg concoction doused with caramel may boast coffee, chocolate, mango, and even coconut flavors. Cream cheese can also form its base. A mighty fine flan of the last type is served at Joe's, venerable home to famed crab claws and celebrated key lime pie. Velvety, dense, voluptuous. The confection's high calories come at a rather high price -- nearly four bucks a slice. Perhaps that's a good thing. Eat it too often and you're liable to become a heavyweight of a different kind.
While many of La Brioche Doree's fancy little pastries are beautiful to behold, the croissants take the cake, as they say. Why? Because Edouard Maillan, owner of this venerable boulangerie et patisserie, makes his light-layered treats, as he always has, with premium imported French butter. This stuff blows away the mass-market domestic butters used by less discerning croissant purveyors. A no-brainer involving high butterfat-to-water ratios, French butter seems to have been discovered by national food publications only recently. Maillan's secret, however, has been known for years by legions of devoted patrons. In fact the place is so popular you'd better get there early to score any of the favored minicroissants. If that bin has been plundered, try the equally delicious regular-size croissants, which include almond, cheese, chocolate, and seasonal fruits. Like many businesses in this largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, La Brioche Doree is closed Saturday. But it opens again Sunday morning at 7:00. Don't be surprised to find a knot of pastry addicts waiting outside as Maillan unlocks the door.
When Rashné Desai took over Stephans in March 2001, she immediately updated the heavily Italian menu of her predecessor. Her idea was to offer presentable gourmet food and sell it fast as take-out or eat-in. (Located in Miami's Design District, Stephans has 30 Berliner-style tables on the second floor and sidewalk.) A delicious sandwich, drink, and cookie; or soup, quiche, and side (try the rosemary-roasted vegetables and fresh bread from Spain) should price out at ten bucks or less. Rashné learned her stuff at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo before that food-and-wares store went corporate and lame, and is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, where she studied with Gaulist master Jacques Pepín. After that kind of training you know the rules so well you can break them. So Stephans presents the best of various culinary disciplines: a black forest ham sandwich on a baguette with French Brie, crisp lettuce, tomato, and olive oil; pasta with roasted chicken, fresh basil, garlic pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and shaved Parmigiano; the Ultimate Supremo of imported prosciutto, Genoa salami, hot capicollo, and fire-roasted peppers; or curried turkey chili. Presentation is half the battle. "When you work in restaurants," says Rashné, "you're down in some basement kitchen with a lot of smelly people. Here we make food meant to be consumed fast and that looks really good." Call it eat couture.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®