Captain's Tavern
Bill "the Captain" Bowers owns and operates this 33-year-old landmark (with the indispensable help of wife Audrey). He'll soon turn 75, but he refuses to retire. "I just can't get enough of the restaurant business," he says. "It's been a great ride and I love what I do." He also loves wine, and can't help sharing his enthusiasm. In that regard, you might say he's been on a mission. Back in 1996 he told this paper: "A bottle of wine shouldn't be the center of the conversation. It should be there for enjoyment. I want people to drink wine at my restaurant every time they come." Judging by his accounting, his loyal customers are doing just that. On average they're spending $1000 each day on wine with their fresh seafood. The money goes a long way, too. Bowers is famous for keeping his wine prices low -- very low. He never charges more than twice the wholesale cost, and that's for the cheapest wine; the more expensive the bottle, the less the markup. (Most restaurants charge at least three times wholesale price.) And consider the unique wine list: a mind-boggling 500 different selections, mainly from California. Some prices: MacMurray Ranch pinot noir $16, Wild Horse pinot noir $16, Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc $14, Canyon Road cabernet $12, Geyser Peak cabernet $14. Some retail stores charge as much.

Brazilian natives Roberto and Tania Madeira opened a health food store in Key West in 1997. "We made the most boring, healthy food," Tania readily admits. That all changed when they won the city's Best Key Lime Pie contest in 1999 with a recipe handed down from Tania's 88-year-old grandmother. Suddenly they were loved. The Madeiras scrapped the tofu and veggies for limes, sugar, and meringue and opened a shop dedicated to the tartest of tarts. Since then they've been steadily marching north, opening another Key West locale, then one in Marathon. Last year they opened their South Miami shop, which is a shrine to the tiny green fruit. In addition to a swooningly good pie, they also sell lime juice, lime-covered chocolates, key lime salsa, and key lime honey-mustard dip. It's a cultural thing. "Brazil is the largest producer of key limes," Roberto says. "We call them limon galego. Our national drink, the caipirinha, is made with key limes." But the pie is the foundation of it all -- $16.25 for a plain pie, $17.25 for a chocolate-covered pie, and $18.25 for the signature, meringue-covered pie. Slices and frozen slices on a stick are $3.75.

Brazilian natives Roberto and Tania Madeira opened a health food store in Key West in 1997. "We made the most boring, healthy food," Tania readily admits. That all changed when they won the city's Best Key Lime Pie contest in 1999 with a recipe handed down from Tania's 88-year-old grandmother. Suddenly they were loved. The Madeiras scrapped the tofu and veggies for limes, sugar, and meringue and opened a shop dedicated to the tartest of tarts. Since then they've been steadily marching north, opening another Key West locale, then one in Marathon. Last year they opened their South Miami shop, which is a shrine to the tiny green fruit. In addition to a swooningly good pie, they also sell lime juice, lime-covered chocolates, key lime salsa, and key lime honey-mustard dip. It's a cultural thing. "Brazil is the largest producer of key limes," Roberto says. "We call them limon galego. Our national drink, the caipirinha, is made with key limes." But the pie is the foundation of it all -- $16.25 for a plain pie, $17.25 for a chocolate-covered pie, and $18.25 for the signature, meringue-covered pie. Slices and frozen slices on a stick are $3.75.

Upon opening in 2002, Bizcaya immediately became the top all-purpose restaurant destination in the Grove. For those looking for a dressed-to-impress place to take business colleagues or conservative visiting parents, the posh Ritz-Carlton setting was sure to please -- as was that portion of the menu devoted to straightforward grilled meats and fish (available with a selection of sauces). For more adventurous diners, there was the menu's other component: Willis Loughhead's culinary innovations. The dramatic division actually made for a slightly schizophrenic identity. No more. Though several staid steaks remain, as do some heirloom tomatoes, the Loughhead has revamped Bizcaya's offerings to focus on dishes reflecting the same creative concept as his wildly popular fresh linguine with Maine lobster Bolognese: updated, upscale continental classics. Beef Wellington, for instance, has been reinvented as wild salmon Wellington, with lobster sauce à l'americaine and a scallop duxelle in place of the old dish's liver pâté. With the substitution of stone crab, veal Oscar has become newly Americanized. Even duck à l'orange has been revolutionized as a three-part dish featuring blood-orange-glazed leg confit, crispy-skinned magret, and Grand Marnier foie-gras mousse -- an exciting journey from the trite and tradition-bound to cutting-edge yet accessible cuisine.

Upon opening in 2002, Bizcaya immediately became the top all-purpose restaurant destination in the Grove. For those looking for a dressed-to-impress place to take business colleagues or conservative visiting parents, the posh Ritz-Carlton setting was sure to please -- as was that portion of the menu devoted to straightforward grilled meats and fish (available with a selection of sauces). For more adventurous diners, there was the menu's other component: Willis Loughhead's culinary innovations. The dramatic division actually made for a slightly schizophrenic identity. No more. Though several staid steaks remain, as do some heirloom tomatoes, the Loughhead has revamped Bizcaya's offerings to focus on dishes reflecting the same creative concept as his wildly popular fresh linguine with Maine lobster Bolognese: updated, upscale continental classics. Beef Wellington, for instance, has been reinvented as wild salmon Wellington, with lobster sauce à l'americaine and a scallop duxelle in place of the old dish's liver pâté. With the substitution of stone crab, veal Oscar has become newly Americanized. Even duck à l'orange has been revolutionized as a three-part dish featuring blood-orange-glazed leg confit, crispy-skinned magret, and Grand Marnier foie-gras mousse -- an exciting journey from the trite and tradition-bound to cutting-edge yet accessible cuisine.

It is hard finding a seafood restaurant that cooks conch fritters actually loaded with conch. But for decades, South Florida's homegrown seafood restaurant chain has been serving up the most delectable conch fritters north of Key West. Unlike most places that serve up the fritters in tiny cornmeal balls, Flanigan's tradition is to deep-fry the shellfish inside in a flat, airy batter that resembles a potato pancake the size of a fist. The result is a crisp and tender fritter that is best washed down with a tall glass of draft ale or pilsner from Flanigan's tap.

Flanigan's Seafood Bar & Grill
It is hard finding a seafood restaurant that cooks conch fritters actually loaded with conch. But for decades, South Florida's homegrown seafood restaurant chain has been serving up the most delectable conch fritters north of Key West. Unlike most places that serve up the fritters in tiny cornmeal balls, Flanigan's tradition is to deep-fry the shellfish inside in a flat, airy batter that resembles a potato pancake the size of a fist. The result is a crisp and tender fritter that is best washed down with a tall glass of draft ale or pilsner from Flanigan's tap.

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

Tree of Zion

With its low ceiling and calming interior, Tree of Zion harkens back to the storefront health restaurants of yore, with the added influence of Rastafarianism abundant but not overpowering. The menu at ToZ is low-tech, handwritten daily on a dry-erase board. The food, however, is strictly modern vegetarian and vegan fare. Included in a typical day's offerings are "raw" pizza with fresh spinach, tomato, and olives; lentil soup; soy burgers on wheat toast; and a selection of meatless, Caribbean-style vegetable patties. Most menu items are priced at about $5.99 or less. This will leave you a few bucks to spare on the not-to-be-missed almond smoothie, a blend of soy milk, bananas, and almond butter served at a flavor-filled, less-than-freezing temperature.

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

Tree of Zion

With its low ceiling and calming interior, Tree of Zion harkens back to the storefront health restaurants of yore, with the added influence of Rastafarianism abundant but not overpowering. The menu at ToZ is low-tech, handwritten daily on a dry-erase board. The food, however, is strictly modern vegetarian and vegan fare. Included in a typical day's offerings are "raw" pizza with fresh spinach, tomato, and olives; lentil soup; soy burgers on wheat toast; and a selection of meatless, Caribbean-style vegetable patties. Most menu items are priced at about $5.99 or less. This will leave you a few bucks to spare on the not-to-be-missed almond smoothie, a blend of soy milk, bananas, and almond butter served at a flavor-filled, less-than-freezing temperature.

Just as Gandhi said you can judge a civilization by how it treats its animals, so we can judge a grocery by the way it treats its pasta lovers. Laurenzo's lacks some items considered standard fare for gourmet markets. Its selection of cheeses, imported chocolates, and prepared foods is a little lean compared with ritzy gourmet groceries like Epicure on Alton Road in South Beach. But take home a batch of Laurenzo's fresh homemade pasta and taste for yourself just how civilized a bunch of noodles can be. Any chef worth his apron knows the trick to gourmet cooking is not expensive-looking packaging, outlandish recipes, or plate layout, but fresh ingredients. The folks at Laurenzo's know this, too. One can create some mighty haute cuisine with the fresh basics this store specializes in. For example, a bag of fragrant basil leaves, a handful of plum tomatoes, a nice onion, any number of fine olive oils, a cut of meat from Laurenzo's fabled butcher shop, a loaf of bread from the market's superb bakery, a bottle or two from an extensive array of wines. Who needs a vast selection of hors d'oeuvres when there are juicy mozzarella balls and deliciously marinated olives like Laurenzo's has? Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday; 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®