The Federal Food Drink & Provisions

Professor Irving Miller of the American Institute of Enterprising Ideas recently released his groundbreaking thesis titled "5 Key Elements of the Successful Neighborhood Restaurant." When we caught up with the feisty 73-year-old professor at his favorite eatery, the Federal, we asked why he likes this place so much. His response: "It has all five elements necessary, starting with hospitality. Two of the owners are up front greeting customers and making them feel at home; the other is in the kitchen cooking food that makes them feel at home. Very important. Number two is the ambiance — here it's rustic, relaxed, and comfortable. Three: Are you writing this down?"

Yes."Good. Three is the selection of drinks, and the Federal flaunts half a dozen pints of craft draught beers and some hundred bottles of wine solely from family estate producers. And, finally, the food: Jar-o-duck with candied sweet potato and charred marshmallow fluff, Buffalo-style pig wings, and so forth — honest, tasty, accessible, and highly creative." That's only four."Really? Friendly staff, informal environment, great food, drink... Oh, yes, service. Very good service. And free parking in the strip mall lot out front. Crucial for a neighborhood restaurant. Plus the pricing is affordable: smaller plates $6 to $16, larger ones $16 to $36." That's seven."Well, that just goes to show how much the Federal has going for it."
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group

It is said that you should strike while the iron is hot, and no Miami chef has sizzled with success like Michael Schwartz. Miami's farm-to-table pioneer and James Beard Award winner has expanded his brand in recent years by way of a cookbook, a pizzeria (Harry's), an MGF&D in the Cayman Islands, and a project in progress with the Raleigh Hotel. Yet through it all, his original Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District hasn't missed a beat. The indoor and outdoor ambiance remains cool in an unpretentious way, service is professional, and the fresh, well-sourced, seasonally sensitive cuisine continues to impress with honest-to-goodness flavors. Pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith is tops in town, which is why she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef this year. Her desserts too are peerless and uniquely innovative — who else pairs a milk chocolate candy bar with buttered popcorn gelato? She also has a cookbook out this year, and we're pretty certain no other spot in this neighborhood — let alone the state of Florida — can boast two Beard-credentialed chefs with their own cookbooks. There's a great global wine list, the craft beers are many ($4 and up), and even the RoosRoast Organic Free Speech Coffee, Steven Smith Teamaker's Tea, and homemade sodas are superior. What else could possibly be great about Michael's? The prices, which are quite moderate for the city's most acclaimed dining establishment: Small plates are mostly under $10, medium plates are under $20, and excepting a Harris Ranch New York strip steak, large plates range from $18 to $26. And there's one more wonder: Sunday brunch from 11 to 2:30.

Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon
Tracey-Ann Jarrett
Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon

A year ago in this issue, we praised Jeff McInnis for helming Gigi, arguably 2011's hottest Miami restaurant. So when McInnis left that midtown establishment to open Yardbird in South Beach with the 50 Eggs Restaurant group, expectations ran high. Judging from crowds overflowing onto the street since opening night, it would seem those hopes have been realized. The cool farmhouse décor is a refreshing change of pace from designs that too often strain to be SoBe hip. American blues music and friendly service synchronize with the hospitable Southern fare. The menu, produced by McInnis and chef de cuisine Phillip Bryant, brims with big homestyle flavors. We're speaking of dishes such as Brunswick stew with alligator sausage and smoked rabbit, shrimp 'n' grits, and Llewellyn's Fine Fried Chicken with waffles and watermelon. Craft bourbons, beers, and wines are distinctly all-American, as is the overall dining experience. And we're not the only ones mightily impressed: Yardbird and McInnis were nominated for James Beard Awards this year in the Best New Restaurant and Best Chef, South categories.

La Loggia Restaurant

Downtown Miami has enjoyed a dining renaissance in recent years. Heavy hitters such as Zuma, Area 31, and DB Bistro Moderne brought star power to the neighborhood while smaller, more casual restaurants such as Tre Italian Bistro, Ceviche 105, and Sparky's Roadside Barbecue fortified the foundation. Owners Horacio Oliveira and Jennifer Porciello have witnessed it all from La Loggia's power location right across from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. Their regional Italian oasis is, among other things, astonishingly consistent. The spaghetti Bolognese, veal scaloppine, and chicken Milanese placed on the table nowadays tastes just as delicious as it was on opening day in 2000. Thin-crust pizzas ($12 to $15), homemade pastas ($13 to $16), and meat/seafood entrées (all under $20) are affordably priced and sumptuously prepared. The ambiance hasn't changed a whit either. The lofty ceiling, mosaic floors, Roman columns, and frescoed walls still transport diners to Italy. The new kids on the block are worthy and exciting, but this old-guard, old-world charmer is timelessly great.

Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile

We have grown comfortable with Ortanique since it opened "on the Mile" in July 1999. So much so that we tend to take it for granted. It's like a favorite pair of jeans forgotten in the drawer after you buy a succession of new shirts and jackets. Chef/owner Cindy Hutson's Caribbean-influenced "Cuisine of the Sun" never grows old. Cracked conch with plantain chips ($13), Red Stripe-steamed mussels ($14 small, $18 large), signature jerk chicken penne pasta ($17 lunch, $23 dinner), escovitch whole yellowtail snapper with Scotch bonnet pepper (market price), Bahamian mahi-mahi with lemon-orange boniato sweet plantain mash ($23 lunch, $30 dinner), West Indian-style bouillabaisse in curried coconut broth ($23 lunch, $45 dinner) — let's face it, you can't get this sort of fare anywhere else in town. The staff is warm, the décor is set in festive motifs of flowers and ortanique oranges, and the wine list has more gravitas than you'd expect from a modest neighborhood establishment. Cocktails rock too and are $4 off during happy hour (weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m.), which means $7 each. That sure is comfortable.

Peacock Garden Bistro

Like the plume of its eponymous bird, Peacock Garden Café boasts a patio of an almost shockingly bright, colorful fashion. This verdant tropical garden is located on the grounds settled by the Peacock family around 1870 in what became the Village of Coconut Grove. The lush green setting and historic locale make Peacock Garden Café something of a quintessential Grove restaurant — which is just what Lalo Durazo and Oscar del Rivero had in mind when designing the space. Durazo and del Rivero, the team behind the terrific Jaguar Ceviche and Talavera Cocina, this time turned their talents to "garden-inspired" cuisine — and came through once again. The menu includes a soup of the day ($6 Monday through Thursday, $8 Friday through Sunday), a few pastas ($14 to $17), and a great burger and other sandwiches, each accompanied by a choice of tomato salad, celeriac slaw, or skinny fries ($14 to $18). Main courses? Try baby-back ribs, pan-roasted chicken, seared salmon teriyaki, grilled filet mignon, or Black Angus New York steak. Except the steaks ($30 to $32), entrées run $18 to $24. There are beautiful and bountiful salads as well, including a deal called "The Grill and the Garden," where diners can select any grilled item from the menu (chicken, skirt steak, tuna, shrimp, salmon) and pair it with a salad of choice (Chinese, Greek, niçoise, caesar, or pear/blue cheese). The price for this special runs $16 to $30, depending upon the protein you choose. As you sit at Peacock on a sunny day, perhaps while sipping prosecco, you will surely feel a renewed appreciation for serene Coconut Grove.

Catharsis Restaurant and Lounge

The four restaurateurs who own this gem really know what they're doing. Step inside and you feel as if you've been transported to a happening eatery in SoHo or Milan. The air seems to caress your skin, and the low-key background music soothes your tired gray matter. Then you are greeted by one of the charismatic owners or the stunning hostess, who seems to have materialized from the cover of Vogue. When you open the menu, you are astonished that this cozy spot in Calle Ocho's hopping (yes, we're calling it now) cultural district offers gourmet delicacies such as pear and Gorgonzola ravioli ($16.95) and a creamy polenta ($10.95) with homemade Bolognese sauce, fresh mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, and white truffle oil. Choose from the succulent three-hour beef short ribs ($24.95), the seafood mixed grill with scallops the size of a 5-year-old's fists ($27.95), or the three-hour lamb osso buco, served with one of the most satisfying mushroom risottos you will find anywhere in the city ($25.95). Before you order any of these, though, consider appetizers such as the wood slab with cheese, cold meats, and olives ($15.95) and what might be the most tantalizing ceviche ($10.95) this side of the Keys. And while you are waiting, indulge in one of Catharsis's signature cocktails — such as a delusion martini ($10) or a refreshing mango mojito made with fresh mango juice ($10) — or maybe a bottle of vino from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, France, California, or Oregon ($29 to $90). Take advantage of Calle Ocho's free parking after 6 p.m., enjoy the European vibe, and make a night of it by walking to the nearby Tower Theater to catch a foreign flick. Dining at Catharsis is like going away on a minivacation without the TSA strip search.

Del Sur Gourmet Market

This quaint neighborhood spot offers what it calls "honest food." Everything is made in house with a focus on using local ingredients and keeping the food as natural and simple as possible. In its quest to create unassuming and unpretentious dishes, Del Sur offers some of the most flavorful, enjoyable, and gourmet food in South Miami-Dade. There is a full line of both hot and cold appetizers; a mozzarella bar; artisan burgers; pressed sandwiches; hot and cold salads; fresh pastas; an array of grilled items such as steak, sausage, chicken, and fish; freshly baked breads and cakes; and a plethora of pastries and desserts. The hardest part about visiting Del Sur is deciding which of its varied delicacies to order. Try the boquerones ($9.95), made with fresh herbs and roasted garlic and served with slices of homemade baguette. Or the lomito sandwich ($12.95), in which grilled filet mignon, two fried eggs, Parma cotto ham, and Havarti cheese join luscious tomatoes, a fresh spring mix, lemon mayo, and roasted bell peppers between two slices of homemade bread. It all performs a perfect tango on your taste buds. Del Sur also caters to vegetarians with delectable dishes such as artichoke and lemon ravioli with fresh primavera sauce ($11.95) and an out-of-this-world homemade cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta and then topped with pink sauce and mozzarella gratin ($11.95). Desserts include two of the finest anywhere: dulce de leche cheesecake ($3.89) and opera cake ($3.95), which features coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache layered between pieces of almond biscuit. You might want to wash down dessert with a cappuccino or latte, but be sure to take advantage of the craft beers such as Monk in the Trunk and Blue Point Toasted Lager or a boutique wine such as the Luca Malbec. As if the food and drink weren't tempting enough, the folks at Del Sur are charming, friendly, and willing to chat about recipes, distinctive libations, and local produce.

Flip Burger Bar
Aran S Graham

This tiny, unassuming neighborhood eatery just off Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami has no right to be as good as it is. The menu promises the "best burgers in North Miami," and they are magnificent. Try the fireman burger, topped with chipotle sauce, jalapeños, and pepper jack cheese, or the Cuban burger, made with a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and chorizo and served with diced sautéed onions and potato sticks. But the creamy macaroni 'n' cheese ($6.50) is the menu's true celebrity. Also worth the trip are Flip's Buffalo wings, which are spiked with the eatery's proprietary hot sauce (ask for it with your burger, or any dish for that matter) and a selection of imported, domestic, and craft beers. Not sure which one to try with your homemade burger? Owner/chef/waiter/bartender Emilio Vega, who took over from previous management less than a year ago, is a font of beer knowledge whose recommendations are right on point.

Van Dyke Cafe

The sun is rising in the east

And you are drunk upon the beach.

Your belly aches from too much rum

and wild, crazy, all-night fun.

Where have you been, what did you do?

And wait, is that a real tattoo?

You need to stop and eat and think

to lounge, relax, and have a drink.

On Lincoln Road you will find

the tower that the ivy climbs.

The eggs are cheap, 11 bucks for two,

with bread and meat, a cup of coffee, one of juice,

and lots of people watching too.

So grab a seat and say your thanks

to break your fast and not your bank.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®