Best Of :: Food & Drink
There is one very good reason why Tuscan Steak recovered more quickly than most other Beach restaurants following the economically disastrous 2002 season. And the reason isn't the authenticity of its Florentine T-bone. (Good as it is, true traditional bistecca alla fiorentina would never be served sliced and reassembled.) Nor are the eatery's other cheese-sauced steaks typically Tuscan. No, there's more to a dining experience than food. Great service can make dining out seem worth the expense, especially when money is tight. Here the service makes diners feel special. It's neither too correctly stiff nor too amateur-night friendly. Most important, there's not a hint of that infamous South Beach attitude (Waiter: "I'm just here till my agent calls...."). Credit goes to manager Steve Haas, who has been tackling Miami Beach's service problems in a bigger way as a founder of the annual educational dining and drinking event called Hospitality Employees Awareness Day.
Dogma, a chic little eatery on a rapidly developing stretch of Biscayne Boulevard, is anything but pedantic and boring. The hot dogs are served up in an array of fanciful arrangements, from the health-conscious Athens (which overflows with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, olives, and feta cheese) to the decadent Pomodoro (caked in bruschetta and feta cheese). The waitresses are friendly, the trance music piping out of the kitchen is tastefully low-key, and an array of small tables are located mere steps away from the counter. For frequent visitors, try the rest of the menu, which includes chicken and BLT sandwiches, chili, and a salad incarnation of the Athens.
With this, it's a secret no longer. But truth be told, Boaters' Grill has developed a devoted following over the past few years. It is one of two concessions inside Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, both operated by the David Gonzalez family. First was the casual, open-air, Lighthouse Café, so named for its proximity to that Key Biscayne landmark. The similarly designed Boaters' Grill followed, and drew a more select crowd, mainly because of its location across the island, far from the beach crowds. It overlooks the tranquil No Name Harbor and offers views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami. But then tragedy struck: Lighthouse Café burned to the ground this past New Year's Eve. The Gonzalez family and state park officials responded by extending hours of operation for the surviving Grill. The restaurant also added tables, expanded its wine list (concentrating on Spanish, Italian, and Chilean labels), and created both a lunch and a dinner menu. Lunch or dinner, whether it's one of several paellas, lobster, ceviche, or whole fried fish, the preparation reflects the Latin flavor of the place -- and its kitchen, manned by chefs from Cuba, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. Today the Grill opens every day at 9:00 a.m. Closing hour Sunday through Wednesday is 9:00 p.m.; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it stays open till 10:00 p.m. During daylight hours, diners must pay the park entrance fee, but after sunset there is no charge. So what's the secret? A beautiful setting, a casual and friendly atmosphere, and excellent fresh seafood at very reasonable prices. In fact Boaters' Grill easily could have taken the honors as Best Waterfront Dining, Best Outdoor Dining, or Best Seafood Restaurant. Instead we gave it an award that will be obsolete soon after you've read this.
Chicken wings, before the Atkins diet revolution, were thought to be evil. Munch on them, it was believed, and as sure as the grease on your chinny chin-chin, you'd morph into fat tub. But all that has changed now. Fat ain't all that bad and Fu Manchu's version of chicken wings, fried in peanut oil, are made sans the bready, carb-loaded crust. So here's the skinny. Order the $6.85 appetizer portion of the wings. They are plentiful and served piping -- and we mean PIPING -- hot. Dip them in Fu's superspicy Chinese mustard and you're sure to clear your sinuses and probably burn off a few calories with the heat. You can enjoy your wings in this funky 1930s eatery decorated with cheesy-looking pagodas and murals of gongs and Buddhas.
Despite the hordes of tourists clogging Ocean Drive -- and the tourists traps that have sprung up to serve them -- a few pockets of sanity still exist on that once fabled street. None is more treasured by brunch-seeking locals than the Front Porch Café. While your out-of-town visitors trudge off to the heart of the strip for their obligatory snapshots of the Versace mansion, grab a seat on the outdoor patio here. It's the perfect spot to tuck into a huge stack of pancakes while watching the parade of South Beach humanity traipse by. At $7.65 this meal may be a tad pricier than the fare at IHOP, but these pancakes are twice as big, twice as fluffy, and with bananas, sugar, and maple syrup on top, the ultimate in morning comfort food. If a similarly humongous plate of cinnamon-spiked challah French toast (also $7.65) still seems too self-indulgent, try the egg-white omelets ($6.55), a favorite among the buffed gay crowd that flocks here, many of whom spend more time ogling their own waistlines than those of any passersby. But whatever your tastes, in diet or dates, be sure to reward yourself with a smoothie ($3.95), or as they fashion them here, a "Front Porch Flip." It's a blend of freshly squeezed orange juice, nonfat yogurt, heaps of strawberries and bananas, and a shot of honey. Yes, dealing with Ocean Drive can be a headache-inducing trial, but with Front Porch's menu in sight, you won't mind quite as much.
This posthumous award honors the 55-year-old Surfside institution that closed its doors May 6 after Toby and Ethyl Spector -- son and widow of store namesake Sheldon Spector, who died in 1998 -- realized they couldn't pay their bills. The Spectors had an agreement with their long-time landlord, who gave them a break on rent. But when 9501 Properties bought the building in February, they discontinued the deal. While technically not increasing the rent, Ben Grenald and his partners at 9501 effectively wiped out a priceless piece of beachside Americana when they insisted they couldn't cut the Spectors a break, even for the sake of sentiment. And at Sheldon's, the sentimental menu said it all: "No machine-made burgers made here. Just like the old days when burgers were always great." A living remnant of those selfsame old days, Sheldon's opened its doors in 1948. The linoleum lunch counter and cracked vinyl spinning stools looked like postwar America. Hundreds turned out recently for a last chance to complete the time warp by sidling up to the soda fountain and ordering a malted, a New York egg cream, or a phosphate to go with eight ounces of perfection on a toasted onion roll. There will never be another Sheldon's.
Expecting a baby? Here's a bit of advice: Call Prime One Twelve now to make reservations for the kid's college-graduation dinner. Think that's an exaggeration? This new restaurant from Nemo/Big Pink owner Myles Chefetz has been packed from about five minutes after opening in December -- and not just because it's situated in South Beach's charmingly renovated first hotel, Brown's. The real draw is the selection of USDA prime steaks, dry-aged between 21 and 28 days and priced from $26 for an eight-ounce filet mignon to $72 for a 48-ounce porterhouse for two. The six optional sauces, including an ultra-rich hollandaise, are their own draw. Side vegetable dishes are much more sophisticated than those found at most steak houses: sweet potato-vanilla bean mash, truffled four-cheese macaroni, and chili-garlic-spiked broccoli rabe, among others. Equally sophisticated are starters such as sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras with watercress, spiced pineapple, and candied ginger. Add a top-quality raw bar and numerous cooked seafood creations (seared tuna with avocado, hearts of palm, and Kumamoto oyster sauce), and this is one steak house even a noncarnivore can love.