Best Restaurant to Take Out-of-Towners

Barton G.

Barton G. the Restaurant
Max Shapovalov
When out-of-towners visit our restaurants, they want more than good food -- after all, most are privy to fine cuisine where they come from. They desire something they can't get at home. For instance, someone from up north might wish to dine outdoors, in midwinter, amid lush tropical foliage. Barton G.'s lovely orchid garden would do that trick. Perhaps other folks from Peoria or Peru would prefer a pulsating SoBe social scene. They would need to look no further than Barton's bustling bar. A couple from San Jose or San Juan can be titillated by lobster pot tarts served in a toaster; a toddler from Tallahassee will squeal with delight at the make-a-shake dessert that features ice creams, syrups, toppings, and a blender to mix it all up; and when Midwesterners get served a swordfish shish kebab ($31) the size of Sinbad's scimitar, well, they'll know they're not in Kansas anymore. Then again, maybe one of your guests, possibly a faint-hearted dieter from Delaware, disdains the idea of orange-glazed duck dished in a wood decoy. That person could choose from straightforwardly grilled meats and fish (ranging from $20 to $59). Regardless of how you order, everything here is done with panache, and in elegant surroundings. Barton G. is a place your guests will be talking about long after they depart Miami. Which is precisely the point.
With its towering translucent blue columns offsetting imposing crystal chandeliers and an all-white décor, o-R-o looks like a Fifties Hollywood set designer's idea of Heaven. Meaning it is the kind of place where Marilyn Monroe's soul might hover in a sable stole (bleached white, naturally). It does not seem like the sort of joint where you would find simply heavenly soul food. But chef Christopher Sepe's fried chicken is to die for. A whipped egg-white batter makes the coating impossibly crisp yet light, giving all the sinful gratification of normal breading without the burden of the grease. This near-miraculous crust also protects the white meat of the quarter-bird, so the breast portion is as delectable and juicy as the leg and thigh. A mushroom-studded country gravy imparts even more moisture. But be prepared to wait until you have one foot in the grave for your order; it would seem that since opening at the end of last year, o-R-o has hosted a considerably larger crowd than anticipated and servers simply can't keep up. Fortunately the tag for this entrée is down-to-earth -- just eighteen bucks -- so while you're waiting in limbo, it's easy to blow the bank on something more typically Hollywood-heavenly, like a little spoon-size $250 portion of Iranian caviar served in a crystal Fabergé egg.
El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Jacques Pépin's choice for a final meal would be "a good piece of bread and some good butter." Ferran Adrià says he would ask for skillet-fried asparagus with olive oil and sea salt. Our ideal last supper involves indulging in anything our heart desires at El Palacio de los Jugos. We would begin with a batido from the jugo portion of the premises. Maybe coconut-mango-guanabana. No need to sweat calories. The juice counter also dishes out greasy, meaty chunks of chicharrones. Make it a double portion. We would take a triple even, except then we wouldn't have room for our appetizer of thick, cheesy arepas. Next stop: The plantain station, where the sturdy bananas are peeled, sliced, and fried frantically, flawlessly, nonstop -- in a closet-size, glass-enclosed room. Best platanos in the city. Plus it's entertaining to watch them being made, and the idea of being entertained at one's last meal is appealing. Juicy lechón asado, oozing full, robust roast pork flavor, would be the main course, which we would carry to the outdoor tables out back -- along with some yuca in citrus mojo sauce, black beans and white rice (moros y cristianos), and heck, throw in some oxtail stew. We would eat slowly, savoring every delectable bite, just as a host of Cuban families would be doing at the other tables. They know El Palacio de los Jugos is Heaven on Earth -- and thus a perfect setting for our last meal here.
El Pollon Grill
It slowly turns, browning to perfection, becoming so tender it falls off the bone. The chicken at this Peruvian grill will take you back to the glory days of Lima's La Granja Azul. And though no chicken outside Peru could ever match what you got in Santa Clara, El Pollon makes for a tasty alternative. And it beats getting on a plane or trying to go back in time (especially since a whole chicken with a side costs just about $10 here). Be sure to ask for fries too. They're the hard-to-find real-potato kind, and they come with traditional dipping sauces, such as huancaína and aji. Order an Inca Kola and reminisce or simply enjoy your meal.
The Knife Argentinean Steakhouse
Each diner begins with a bottle of red or white wine, or two glasses of soda, or two beers. Warm, soft baguettes are promptly brought to the table. Oink. A salad bar well stocked with greens, vegetables, appetizers, and just about any refrigerated item imaginable stands ready to be ravished. Oink-oink. A grill almost as long as the Great Wall of China sizzles and spits out beef brochettes, crisp sweetbreads, spicy chorizos, blood sausages, churrasco steaks, New York strips, flanks, rump roasts, short ribs, stuffed pork loin, bacon-wrapped chicken ... oink-oink-oink! French fries, mashed potatoes, or rice are offered as sides. Desserts include treats such as rice pudding, profiteroles, chocolate mousse, and dulce de leche cr?êpes. Oink-oink-oink-oink! Now add a cup of coffee. All this for $23.85 on weeknights, $25.95 weekends, and even cheaper at lunch. You don't have to be piggish to take advantage of this deal. Just smart. And very hungry.
Fact: Our planet is home to more chickens than people. And just as all men are not created equal, neither are all fowls. Don't believe us? Strut over to Sports Grill and order a platter of wings (10 pieces for $7.50; 16 for $10.80; 25 for $16.25) and then say we lie. One look at these monstrous, plump limbs and you would be forgiven for thinking the owners of this eighteen-year-old Kendall eatery had a full-time clucker-squad scouring the globe in search of the fattest birds alive. Okay, size isn't everything (yeah, right!), but these beasts also taste as succulent as they look. Wings are plain grilled -- so not dripping with grease -- and served unadorned. Simple yet, ah, so delicious! Sink your gnashes into the Grill's ever-popular "special grilled," or get saucy with the likes of Buffalo, barbecue, or garlic flavor. To those who rarely leave the Beach, Kendall might seem like a world away, but then Sport's Grill's wings are a world away from ordinary.
Walking into the Gables Juice Bar feels like stepping back in time. Most stores nowadays go for a cool, modern look, or attempt some kind of cohesive theme. Not this one. The walls are eclectically decorated with brightly colored paintings created by owner Fernando Lopez, accented with framed posters from gangster flicks like Scarface and Goodfellas. A row of colorful, twirling mobiles hangs from the ceiling, and hand-painted glass bottles line the front window. From the kitschy, cozily cluttered vibe, it's evident the place has been open for a while -- twelve years, to be precise. "When we first opened here, there was nothing," says co-owner Belkys Lopez. A steady stream of white-collar customers stops at her counter for low-carb, protein-rich "power pizza"; delicious wraps made with good-for-you ingredients such as brown rice, hummus, and falafel; salads (FYI, the Exotic Honey Ginger Salad is to die for, and a real deal at $5.25); and low-fat soups. But at the end of the day, this is a juice bar. And no fancy-pants chain establishment can hold a candle to the delicious smoothies and healthy beverages concocted here. When the lovely Lopez admits she's about to become a grandmother, it comes as a real shock. Perhaps all that sipping freshly squeezed vegetable/fruit elixirs has preserved her sexiness. A glass of fresh-squeezed OJ will set you back $3.50. Concoct a jumbo twenty-ounce combination of carrot, spinach, ginger, and apple juice for $3.75. The smoothies are made with your choice of sweetener -- sugar, honey, Equal, or Splenda -- and come with amusing car-theme names. The Co-Co-Vette is a mix of pineapple, coconut, and banana. The Beemer blends apple juice, peanut butter, and strawberries. No, the PMS smoothie isn't meant to alleviate the syndrome. It's made of pineapple, mango, and strawberries. But it's sweet enough to sate even most monthly cravings.
Sung to the tune of "Penny Lane":

At the tables are some diners on their way to work,
And in the kitchen is a cook without a toque.
Still he manages to cause some smoke
With his frying pan. What a man!

Over-easy, hash browns, bacon, and a side of toast,
With fluffy pancakes that won our flip-off years ago.
And the waitresses come and go
With a pot o' Joe. Hello, Flo!

Chorus: Deli Lane, we love you so, at breakfast time,
Waffles, French toast, omelets are all prime.
And dining outdoors is sublime....

Deli Lane's Power-Up breakfast brings two eggs any style; potatoes; choice of bacon, ham, or sausage; and two pancakes for just $3.95. That will get you singing in the morning.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®