BEST MALL 2002 | Dolphin Mall | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
It's only a year old but already the Dolphin Mall has its devoted fanatics. One of the appeals is variety: more than 200 stores running the gamut from low-end to high, from Burlington Coat Factory to Bebe. There are also outlets (Off 5th, Bombay), offbeat gift stores (Exotic Treasures), and standard mall fare (Old Navy). The outdoor area invites you to lounge in the sun with a smoothie in hand. The indoor-minded can play Skee-Ball at Dave & Buster's, sip a café mocha at Borders, or watch would-be rock gods strum guitars at Mars. Clearly this mall wants you to sit down and stay awhile -- then get back up and shop till you drop.
Given the pedigree of the husband-and-wife owners -- 34-year-old Jeffrey Wolfe was formerly general manager of Norman's restaurant, and 29-year-old Christie was marketing manager for Augustan Wine Imports -- we had a suspicion this place would stock some pretty eclectic bottles gleaned from family-run wineries like Napa's Livingston Moffett Winery and Sonoma Valley's Frank Johnson Vineyards. We also kind of thought, since they'd originally wanted to open a café/wine bar along with the retail store, that the Wolfes would be holding tastings, featuring rebels like David Ramey of Ramey Vineyards in Carneros. But who would have imagined the place would be so darn cute, the wine stored in "lockers" rather than formal racks, or that the shop's décor would be more suitable to filming an MTV video than catering to stuffy enophiles? Who would have guessed that many of the tastings, at ten dollars per ticket, include a take-home wine glass courtesy of Spiegelau? And who would've believed that the Wolfes would take a bite out of the cost of collecting wines by pricing many of the niche bottles under $30 and providing a computer kiosk with a CD burner so you can save info about the wines you're enjoying? Well, we did, of course. And now you will too.

The pleasure of shopping at the Shores Publix begins outside, in the ample parking lot, where an empty space can usually be found with relatively little effort (if the lot is full, just take the ramp to the rooftop parking deck; an elevator will bring you to ground level). Before you go in, though, stand back and admire the architecture: the decorative tropical shutters, the arched doorways, the covered walkway illuminated by large, industrial-style lanterns. Once inside, you'll discover what the exterior only hints at: This isn't so much a supermarket as it is a village shopping district, one with its own bakery; apothecary; flower shop; produce, meat, and fish markets; and wine shop. The floral center has bouquets, plants, and even garden sculptures for sale. The bakery section, likewise, is large enough to be considered its own separate shop, filling that end of the store with the divine smell of freshly baked goods. And everywhere there is activity. At the seafood market a sushi chef busily works at his station. Produce clerks constantly replenish the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Can't find something among the luxuriously wide aisles? There's always someone you can ask. And if you can't find something, you really should ask because chances are they carry it. The strength of this shoppers' paradise is selection, from its wide assortment of ethnic foods (including an extensive array of West Indian goodies) to health foods to its glorious wine section: three aisles and two entire walls of fermented grape juice, from $4 to $50 per bottle. No wonder Upper Eastside regulars commonly refer to this place as Mecca.

On Sundays, when everyone is off work, this grocery store looks like the site of a fiesta. In aisles festooned with all-occasion piñatas, shoppers -- many with kids in tow -- load carts with provisions for the week ahead. A lot of socializing takes place here. And eating, too. There is a nacho kiosk by the front door, and back in the corner an in-house tortillería. Few can resist slipping a still-warm tortilla from the bag, adding a dollop of salsa, and savoring a taste of home right there by the economy-size bags of rice and beans. On the shelves: chilies, various types of mole, cases of Tamarindo soda, and an esoteric selection of herbs, including cola caballo (literally "horse's tail," or shave grass), used to make a tea said to cure kidney problems.
At Tenth Street near downtown Miami, Daddy's is presided over by Herman ("Dat's the only name you need!"), a guy who'll purchase your wristwatches ("Rolex is still da best"), AK-47s ("Dat's a lotta money -- I can't quote ya a price 'cause prices vary, ya unnerstand?"), or Sony 30-inch TVs ("Couple hundred if it's good, ya unnerstand?"). The weapons display at Daddy's is awesome. Just inside the door are hung M-16s, Glocks large and small, .45s, "nines" (nine millimeters), and little ladylike pearl-handled derringers. All are secured and all have their firing pins removed for safety, but Herman gets nervous at their propinquity: "Hey, this ain't just a gunshop! Look at these Dell laptops!" And there's a big electronic bolt that lets you in and out of Daddy's. "Write dis: 'Smooth. Fair prices. No bullshit,' unnerstand?" Nine until late.

At this small, unassuming store on the northern fringes of Little Havana, dancers can purchase everything they need to dress up their routine. Danskin unitards that normally sell for $50 or $60 can be had here for little more than $20. On our last visit we came across the most inexpensive pair of jazz boots we've ever seen. The selection is broad enough to include both jingle and straight taps, not to mention every type of tight, even up to the impossible-to-find plus sizes. And although StarStyled is an independent store unaffiliated with any chain (which is nice), it's still established enough to sell the Capezio brand (which is even nicer).

Maybe Miles Davis's Kind of Blue is playing when you walk in. Maybe you spot on the newsstand a literary magazine you've never heard of -- Tin House, for example. Maybe when you're inside the store, slowly looking over the new books displayed on tables and the older stock arrayed on dark-wood shelves that reach far overhead, something reminds you of a long-ago favorite. Maybe it's John Updike's Rabbit, Run. Maybe at that moment a bookstore employee walks by, and you ask about the book, and she says, "Yes, right over here." And maybe, seconds later, she hands you a recent Ballantine Books trade paperback edition, and it is cool to the touch. Maybe you then decide to buy a cup of coffee at the in-store café and walk out into the courtyard to sit at a table under a palm. "Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts," you read. Maybe right then you appreciate how fortunate you are.
I could see this dame was trouble the minute I laid eyes on her. A tough-looking blonde with a hard smile and a bagful of sideways glances. Yeah, I knew better than to ask her for help. So I just browsed the aisles and bided my time. They were all there, 8000 sordid little stories of greed, lust, and dead bodies. The cocky bastards had even left their bloody handprints on the back wall, signing their names, just asking to get caught.
Here is a real find for political-science junkies interested in Latin America. Tucked into a strip mall across from Tropical Park, this Colombian-owned store specializes in a collection of books that concentrates on social upheaval throughout the Americas. Since 1989 its owners, Eduardo and Norma Duran, have imported the latest and most important Latin literature directly from South American publishing houses. Their collection includes titles not normally found in Miami's Latin bookstores. For example, Eduardo says he's proud to carry books and journals written from every side of the conflict in his home country. As a result the shop has become a haunt for academics and curious readers of all nationalities. While the book collection also includes translations of self-help, science-fiction, metaphysics, and best-sellers, the place does live up to its name: magazines and newspapers. The Durans offer hard-to-find copies of Central and South American papers like Argentina's El Clarín and Colombia's El Tiempo and El Espectador. Libreria's popularity among Westchester Latinos could be indicative of Miami's shifting populations: Ever-increasing numbers of Colombianos, Peruanos, Argentinos, and Chilenos are walking through the door.
The word "records" is a bit of a misnomer these days, given that Blue Note owner Bob Perry has transferred the bulk of his store's vinyl to a separate jazz annex a few blocks away. But despite that additional schlep now required for those still, ahem, possessing needles and in need of a twelve-inch fix, Blue Note remains the best one-stop shop in Miami for folks whose tastes run deeper than the narrow offerings served up on the radio. Indeed it's that very focus on the offbeat, the forgotten classic, and the current avant-garde that keeps hip-hop fans, indie rockers, gospel lovers, Philly soul aficionados, and Latin boogaloo freaks alike all poring through Blue Note's aisles. Best of all, if you can sing a verse of it -- no matter how off key -- the helpful staff here will do their best to track it down, and they'll even be courteous enough to wait until you leave before commenting on how you managed to redefine the words tone deaf. Now that's service worth saluting.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®