David Baglin is on a roll. Earlier this year he won Most Edible Hot Chili at Homestead/Florida City's annual Super Chili-Bowl Cook-Off. Last year he took first place at the Springs River Festival in Miami Springs after securing second in 2003. The 45-year-old Baglin credits his grandmother's secret family recipe for his good fortune. "No one made better chili than my grandma," Baglin brags. "I compete in all the cookouts." Baglin, a part-time airline mechanic, has been competing in chili cook-offs for more than seven years, but he didn't parlay his spicy skills into a culinary enterprise until 2003. "I've been to Chicago, Philly, New York," he reveals. "You can find a great chili dog in those cities. So I decided to start selling my own chili dog." He began with Cheyenne Lee's Food Wagon, working as a vendor at the Dade County Youth Fair, the Air and Sea Show in Fort Lauderdale, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, and other family-oriented special events in South Florida. Today you can sample Baglin's chili at the Cheyenne Lee lunch counter in the food court of the Prime Outlets mall in Florida City. The mall is on East Palm Drive just east of South Dixie Highway where the Florida Turnpike ends. For $4, you can buy a bowl of chili or a chili pie, a deliciously wicked serving of chili piled atop Fritos corn chips. Cough up $6 and you can get a one-pound mound of chili and cheese atop a monster hot dog. Mmmm, good!
X: So what does this big-shot brunch you're always talking about have to offer?
Y: Lush courtyard dining replete with gurgling waterfall. Ten culinary stations. Free-flowing champagne and mimosas. A dessert room.
X: Did you say dessert room?
Y: It's the bar/lounge area at other times, but on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the length of the bar and every nook and cranny in the space are taken up by luscious tarts, fruits, mousses, parfaits, cookies, cakes, custards, napoleons, éclairs, and chocolates, chocolates, chocolates.
X: How can they afford to let people eat all they want of such meticulously crafted pastries?
Y: Well, for one thing the brunch costs $65 ($35 for children under twelve). But more pertinently, most people are fairly well sated by the time they have indulged in oysters on the half-shell, smoked salmon, fresh shrimp, gazpacho shooters, bacalao salad, antipasti, Serrano ham, imported cheeses, omelets made to order, French toast, bacon, roast ham, home fries, housemade sausages, grilled lamb chops, beef tenderloin, baked grouper, risotto prepared in a giant round of Parmigiano-Reggiano, cannelloni of duck confit....
X: Okay, okay, you've convinced me. Let's go. Except if you don't mind, I'm going to begin in the dessert room and work my way from there.
A new McDonald's opens somewhere in the world every six hours, which means there are lots of bad burgers being eaten around the globe. And that makes the big, juicy, nine-ounce Black Angus hamburger at Clarke's Miami Beach all the more special. Just looking at it, coddled in a puffy poppy seed bun with crisp bacon, sautéed mushrooms, melted Swiss cheese, crunchy green lettuce, a bright red tomato slice, and ribbons of red onion, brings a tear of joy to a burger lover's eye. In the age of fast food, sights like this are becoming downright anachronistic. Thin, crisp fries and crunchy homemade coleslaw on the side hit the spot too. Clarke's provides a great backdrop for your burger, the neighborhood pub boasting a big mahogany bar and a cozy array of brick, wood, and mirrors. Can't ask for better beverages, either: Beers include Harp, Bass, Guinness, and Yuengling, a Pennsylvania lager from the oldest brewery in America. Grape lovers can snub the suds and choose from 100 reasonably priced bottles of wine, 17 of which are poured by the glass. Those who think $9.95 is too much for a great hamburger, take heart: If McDonald's current pace of growth continues, there should be a franchise in your living room real soon.
Café Demetrio
George Martinez
Miami is not really the sort of town where disgruntled bohemians in berets linger over cappuccinos, discussing French postmodern philosophy. Usually coffee-drinkers have two choices: a cup of hot-and-sweet purchased hurriedly at a counter (where somehow a thimbleful packs a caffeine punch akin to pharmaceutical-grade amphetamines); or The Franchise, with its uniform couches, preservative-heavy baked goods, and smooth jazz. So Café Demetrio is a unique institution in these parts, with its tarts, strudels, empanadas, sandwiches, and excellent coffee served in cups made from porcelain, not paper. There is live music on the weekends, always a chess game in progress, and never the worry of spending more than $4 on a latte (even a big one). Best of all, you can bring a laptop and use the free wi-fi access.
You have your turkey burger, chicken burger, tofu burger, tempeh burger, Boca burger, Garden burger, soy burger, veggie burger, but it took a creative mind over at Sara's Vegetarian Café to think of substituting falafel for chopped beef. The "burgerito" here features a soft challah bun bursting with a delicately fried, parsley-happy chickpea patty; lettuce; tomato; onion; pickle; sauerkraut; tahini sauce; and a dash of devilish hot sauce if requested. It is kosher, vegetarian, and absolutely one of the tastiest sandwiches you will ever have. And a steal at $4.50. Plus it sounds really neat to say, "I'll have a couple of burgeritos, please."
Icebox Cafe
The Ice Box is a nice box, a big, airy square with colorful prints, hanging lights, and a bright stainless-steel kitchen. The first sight to grab your attention will likely be the glass display cases arrayed with outrageously delectable desserts. Take a mile-high wedge of legendary German chocolate cake, cuppa steamy espresso, and presto, your brunch is set. Actually the options are wider than that at weekend brunch (served from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). The most basic choices would be creamy steel-cut Irish oatmeal with cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts, and cream; crunchy homemade granola with fresh berries; and "the egg box" of scrambled eggs, cheese, sausage, roast potatoes, and a biscuit. Menu specials change often, so you may be offered chive pancakes with smoked salmon, Boursin and lime cream; or tres leches pancakes with crisp bacon and dulce de leche sauce on the side. Either way, they will be fluffy. (À la carte prices range from $10 to $15.) Other noteworthy attractions include the laid-back vibe of a local crowd, creative menu of refreshing nonalcoholic beverages, obligatory mimosas and bloody marys, and free Internet access -- in case you are dining alone. When it comes to brunch, it is clearly preferable to think inside the box.
Bistro Bisou
The perfect French fry is a thing of true beauty. It should be skinny, but not so skinny as to upset its delicate balance of textures. It must be golden, not too pale, not too brown. Of course it must be crisp, typically the result of frying at least twice (once to seal the exterior and mostly cook the inside, the second time to add crispness and color). It must also be creamy on the inside; equally important, it absolutely must not be greasy. It must be fried in clean oil and be properly salted, which is to say aggressively but not so much it obscures the mild potato flavor. The fries, or to be more precise, frites, at this budget-chic Kendall bistro meet all of these requirements. These classic frites accompany, quite appropriately, a slab of grilled rib eye (less than $20), though you could be forgiven for casting aside the meat and concentrating on these deliciously addictive sticks of crisp potato.
Arbetter's Hot Dogs
Photo courtesy of Arbetter's Hot Dog
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans will eat more than seven billion little red tubes of "specially selected meat trimmings" between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Most will come fluffed in the traditional white hot-dog bun that H.L. Mencken once described as being made "of ground acorns, plaster of Paris, flecks of bath sponge, and atmospheric air." We wouldn't have it any other way, because if there is one thing Americans agree on, it's that we like our dogs simply prepared and plopped into a plain white wiener-shape roll. That's how they've been doing it at Arbetter's since 1960 (it moved to the current location in 1972). The lifting of the mostly pork frankfurter from its steamy water bath provides a hot-dog traditionalist with no less mouthwatering anticipation than a fine diner feels when witnessing the removal of his lobster from its tank in a high-class seafood house. The menu is as simple as it gets: hot dog with tangy relish ($1.60), kraut dog with mustard and sauerkraut ($1.70), chili onion dog ($1.75), and "all around dog" with mustard, onion, and relish ($1.45). Don't be shy when ordering -- the franks here are small enough that you can eat up to four in one sitting. The best of all dogs is the hot dog: It feeds the hand that bites it. And the best of all hot dogs are the precious pink pups at Arbetter's.
La Loggia Restaurant
It has a power location, smack-dab across the street from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. A full bar boasts a full breadth of high-octane fuels: brandies, cognacs, scotches, and specialty drinks, such as the Lawyer's Liquid Lunch, a martini glass of Absolut vodka and sweetened espresso. The main dining room's lofty ceiling and frescoed walls reverberate with the click, clatter, and chatter of meals and deals. Old-school waiters are attentive and discreet. The menu is distinguished by no-nonsense Northern Italian cuisine like fried calamari ($9.25), spaghetti Bolognese ($12.95), veal scaloppine ($14.95), and chicken Parmigiano ($14.95), and the fare is so consistently fresh and deftly prepared that even attorneys will be hard-pressed to dispute its merits. Power requires calories, and lunch at La Loggia is a hearty affair. Sirloin steak ($15.95), for example, is served with arugula salad, roast potatoes, and spaghetti pomodoro. You can handle it, and so can an Atalon Cabernet from Napa Valley. If your negotiations go well, celebrate with a puffy, bittersweet chocolate soufflé ($5.95). You need not be a lawyer or power broker to afford the moderate prices, which makes La Loggia a lunchtime deal you can't refuse.
Proprietor Salvatore Squadrito wants to fatten you up. That's the conclusion you reach once you're served any one of his pasta dishes. You get loads of silver-dollar-size ravioli. You get baseball-size meatballs in your spaghetti. You get heaping mounds of baked ziti. All of it made with the sweetest, tangiest tomato sauce this side of Napoli.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®