Norman Brothers Produce
Alex Broadwell
Norman Brothers Produce is like a candy store for gourmands. Oh, you can actually get candy here too — the display cases along the store's left wall are filled with fancy chocolates, cookies, and jimmy-covered pretzels in all shades of brown and cream. But for people who love to cook and eat quality, beautifully presented fruits, veggies, meats, and baked goods, Norman's can't be beat. The store adheres to the textbook definition of a gourmet grocery — high-end products, a range of precooked dishes, and a well-earned rep for quality. Near the cash registers at the front, a cooler is filled with prepackaged dips that sound delicious — creamy sundried tomato, guacamole, and Mexican caviar made with olives, tomatoes, onions, garlic, red wine vinegar, and pepper. Yum. The produce is photo shoot quality. The fruit selection includes everything from Thai guava and tangelos to Homestead's first mameys of the season. Eggplants range from deepest purple-black to translucent white. Potatoes, too, come in all shapes and colors, including red creamers and purple taters. Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) will cost ya $4.99 a pound, while loose kohlrabi costs 99 cents. The bakery sells incredible-looking cakes (we'd get the "mudd cake" for $19.99), alongside bagels and muffins and rugelach and breakfast pastries. If you're looking for dinner to go, Norman's is the place for healthy choices like apple-stuffed acorn squash ($5.99 a pound) and stuffed cabbage with picadillo — a healthy and filling delight at $11.29 a pound. Grab some lunch — there are excellent sandwiches, and you can get a small cup of the most amazing mushroom and brie bisque for $1.79. Venture over to the meat aisle, past enough spices, pastes, sprouts, and exotic herbs to rival an Asian mart. The meat looks fresh and is expensive for a reason — but even though those gorgeous veal cutlets cost $23.99 a pound, you know they're worth it.
Farm-fresh sno cones, anybodyç Not really, but at most of South Florida's so-called farmers markets, even imported South American produce generally takes a back seat to booths offering processed fast foods, incense, jewelry, sunglasses, even massages. Where to go if you are seeking locally grown fresh produce that's never seen the inside of a cross-country refrigerated truckç When pioneering regional foods booster Alice Waters flew in to be honored at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival several years ago, she went straight from the airport to the South Florida Farmers Market, which takes over the Gardner's Market parking lot (off US 1) on Sunday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. And the sparkling, watermelon-size head of local frisée that she displayed at a seminar that afternoon was alone ample proof that at least one farmers market here is, if not Union Square, more than a flea market. Booths sell a full range of just-picked seasonal fruits and veggies — corn so sweet and tender you'll think you're in New Jersey on the Fourth of July; tomatoes that are genuinely vine-ripe rather than supermarket-ripe; exotica like mini veggies and edible flowers— plus local wildflower honey ($3 for eight ounces) and other farm products from Homestead/Redlands growers. Prices vary (three ears of corn for $1 at one booth, five ears for $3 at another), but there are some real bargains, like a four-pound basket of falling-off-the-vine-ripe tomatoes for $2.50. While the market runs only from January through April, one of its objectives is "creating a dialogue between consumers and growers." So dialogue, already, about where your favorite growers' goodies are available during the rest of the year.
North One 10
When VIPs such as Tony Blair and his entourage dine at North One 10, chef/proprietor Dewey LoSasso comes out from the kitchen to greet them and accept kudos for his luscious New American cuisine. Sous chefs Christopher Woodard and Paul Malonson will meanwhile be sweating away, keeping the rest of the restaurant's dinners flowing out as LoSasso takes his bows. It is understood that while the executive chef's responsibilities require all manner of promotional/managerial work, the sous chef must take command of minute-by-minute food production and supervision of the kitchen staff. Think of it as an executive chef being the coach, a sous chef the quarterback. And think of Dewey LoSasso as one of the bigger pains in the ass to have to serve under as sous chef. One week he'll put out a Godfather dinner with "Sonny Corleone's Bullet-Ridden Swordfish" (gremolata and tomato-caper ragout); the next week he'll have a Passover dinner with chopped liver toast and three colors of potato kugel; the week after that a "Wines from Washington" event. "I change the menu so often, they tell me it's like Iron Chef when they walk in the kitchen," says LoSasso. "It is a testament to their talent that they can adapt and collaborate with me on these constantly changing themes." It helps that Woodard and Malonson have professional schooling behind them (the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales)."Customers should never know when the chef is off. Rather, the cuisine should even be better. That is the sign of a great sous chef," LoSasso says. While Dewey was expounding upon this subject with us, no doubt Woodard and Malonson were somewhere in the kitchen, busily chopping away.
Hotel Astor
He gained fame in the mid-Nineties as a cutting-edge American chef with a fondness for big, bold, barbecue-ish flavors brightened by tropical island accents. Back then Johnny Vinczencz (aka "the Caribbean Cowboy") ruled the roost at the Hotel Astor. One day the irrepressible chef packed his knife kit, picked up his South Beach stakes, and rode off to Delray Beach and De La Tierra at the Sundy House. Laid low, you might say. After some years he ambled down to Fort Lauderdale and opened a place of his own, Johnny V Las Olas, which was, and still is, successful enough that folks in Miami Beach just assumed that they'd never see V in these parts again. Old cowboys never die, though, they just become a little less Caribbean and a little more Latin as they grow older. Or at least that's the case with Vinczencz, who after seven years away has come full circle with a return to the Astor, where this time he is proprietor as well as chef — and is calling his cuisine "nuevo American." Can he reclaim his spot on top from all the new kids in townç Stay tuned.
Home Grown U-Pick
"Strawberry fields are not forever, at least not in Kendall, anyway," chuckles Bill Taylor, as he points to the Publix across the street with his large, calloused hand. "Those chain stores pick the tomatoes when they're green, and they sit in a cooler somewhere to ripen. If you pick them out here they're juicier, they taste fresher, sweeter; and it's fun to pick your own."Behind Bill and his little white shed is a large green field with rows of sweet luscious strawberries, big red juicy tomatoes, plump green peppers, and tall yellow sunflowers waiting to be picked. The scene resembles a Van Gogh painting.Bill has been working at U-pick stands in Kendall for more than fifteen years now. "The last U-pick where I worked was 42 acres," he says, "and now it is another Costco shopping center." He takes a handful of delicious-looking red tomatoes from the scale. "Kids do not even know what a tomato plant looks like anymore." Carol, who has been working at this stand with Bill for more than five years, adds, "People need to come out and pick their own flowers and vegetables at least once in their life."There is no electricity or telephone at this U-pick stand. The cash register runs on 4C batteries. Sweet peppers and tomatoes are 65 cents a pound and strawberries are $2.50 a pound. Sunflowers are $1 each, and snap dragons are $3 a dozen to pick. There is also cilantro, basil, dill, and flat-leaf parsley, all $1 a bundle. The stand is open every day from December through May, 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m
Gather round, kiddies. Gramps is gonna tell ya a story about the good old days on South Beach. See, there was this place called Colony Hotel on a glorious street called Ocean Drive — what's thatç Oh, very well, glad to see it's still around, but back in those days, the Colony was, as we liked to say, "the grooviest spot to be in with the in crowd." Or something like that. Oh, wait, no, this was the early Nineties, not the Sixties. Anyway, Robbin Haas was the talented young chef there, and it was the hottest restaurant in town, and the weather was hot, too. Which reminds me — it's a little drafty in here, noç What was I sayingç Oh, yes, thank you. Mr. Haas was a wild one all right — rarely got enough sleep, if you know what I mean. But he was talented, and the flavors of his food jumped off the plate like a frog from a frying pan. I haven't the foggiest idea what it means, it's just an old saying, now don't interrupt me like that. What was — oh, Bang was the next place he worked, and then that was the best restaurant in town. Next came Spleen, which was a great Grove Isle steak and seafood house when it first opened with Haas at the helm. Ehç Baleenç Yes, I suppose it could be — well, either way, Haas made it happen, and after that he put the spark in Chispa, and was consulting with restaurant groups all over the country. Then he went to Costa Rica, on vacation I think, and he came back ranting and raving about all the great foods and beautiful foliage and whatnot and then he moved there and we haven't really heard from him since. What's thatç Yes, you can all go now.
St. City Church of God
That's right, it's a church. As a way to raise money for the small congregation, St. City has been selling barbecue chicken and pork out of a little street-side stand for years. You can probably smell the parking lot-hogging barbecues (old steel barrels) from heaven. People line up just to buy the signature not-too-sweet tangy sauce. Jesus would get the rib sandwich (basically a hill of ribs with bones in and two slices of white bread)— $5.50 and worth every penny. Sides of okra and tomatoes, collard greens, pigeon peas, or potato salad will set you back $2 each (they're only available on Fridays and Saturdays). A portion of banana pudding, sweet potato pie, or bread pudding goes for about the same.
Atrio Restaurant & Wine Room at Conrad Miami
George Martinez
Michael Gilligan has been close to kitchens, in one way or another, since being born above one in a family-owned pub in Birmingham, England. Prior to becoming executive chef of Atrio (pronounced Ah-trio) in the summer of 2005, he toiled for eighteen years — in his native country, in France, as sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York, as chef at Candela and Metro 53 in the same city, and at Rumi on South Beach. But it is at Atrio, a gem of a restaurant within the Conrad Miami, that Gilligan's "Asian-Latin-influenced progressive American cuisine" has matured into something truly special. You can reap the benefits of experience in his avocado soup with lime and jalapeño. In barramundi yakizakana, a whole, grilled organic fish glazed with ponzu. In a grass-fed veal chop with Gulf shrimp mashed potatoes. You needn't spend a bundle, either, as a three-course prix fixe lunch menu is available for $20. Didn't know about chef Gilliganç You do now. And once you taste his food, you'll never forget the name.
Clinton Hotel South Beach
It's not as though nobody knows about this place. In fact the restaurant seems to be doing just fine. But with Bouley, Govind, Johnny V, and a near tidal wave of splashy debuts this past year, chef Jason McClain's 80-seat charmer (with more outdoor tables in front and back) seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Undeservedly so. The modern, Mediterranean-theme cuisine bristles with boldly assertive flavors, from Moroccan-spiced calamari spiked with Meyer lemon, to lamb carpaccio drizzled with banyuls syrup (a red Pyrenees wine), to entrees such as veal tenderloin rimmed in crisp Serrano ham, and pan-seared grouper pooled in wild mushroom and truffle broth. The amiable atmosphere at 8 1/2 makes dining here a personal and pleasurable experience — though not an inexpensive one. Main courses run from the upper-twenty to mid-thirty-dollar range. Wines are marked up more modestly, and of the 80-plus selections, some thirty are available not just by the glass, but in three- or six-ounce pours. Check it out soon — joints like this are never as good once the radar picks them up.
Berries in the Grove
Berries is the type of restaurant that every neighborhood needs at least one of. Whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, when you grab a seat here you know you'll be getting hefty portions of hearty, well-prepared food at eminently reasonable prices (almost all entrées are under $20). The cuisine is nothing you haven't seen before, but chances are you haven't seen it done this consistently well. Fried calamari is greaseless, hummus is creamy with a slight chile piquancy, pastas are garnished with fresh, ripe tomatoes, and there are surprisingly satisfying specials such as mojo-marinated pork loin with pickled red onion, garlic mashed potatoes, and sauteéd spinach — now that's a square meal, alongside which you can wedge a huge, homemade, heartwarming chunk of milk chocolatey chocolate cake. As the restaurant's name implies, juices, shakes, and smoothies are house specialties, but at dinner you might want to consider the concise roster of inexpensive wines. A lushly foliated outdoor patio, daily happy hour with drinks 50 percent off, live jazz twice weekly — Jesus, what more could you want from your neighborhood restaurant?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®