Best Of :: Food & Drink
The last time this much mystery surrounded a plate of French fries, Nancy Drew was trying to solve the Case of the Freshman Fifteen. This year, for about the price of a paperback ($10), local sleuths can try their hand at figuring out how the fries at the Federal are so darn good. Lean on the server, and he might admit they are hand-cut and soaked in a preparation before being lightly fried. Sweet-talk the bartender and she might spill that the fries are left to sit for a while before being refried for the customer. But isn't it a little suspicious that chef Cesar Zapata knew to prepare them before they were even ordered? And what about the proprietary blend of herbs and spices, nuanced enough to make Lowry's seem like lye? How to account for the fried Lake Meadow egg laid across the top, just runny enough to glaze the spuds when a knife plunges into the heart of the yolk? Or the chilled ketchup that calms the edges of the seasoning while also making for a strange temperature speedball? Sure, Zapata will fess up that the ketchup is a twist on a generations-old family recipe, but isn't it a little suspicious that his great-grandfather knew the recipe and is now dead? The menu says "Townpark Fries," but maybe it should read "murder."
Nothing is more exciting than seeing the clock strike 5 p.m. when you're at work. You and your fellow employees dash to the front door of the office, elbow anyone who gets in your way, and head out in search of libation. We suggest Sandbar Sports Grill. Not only do the weekday happy hours offer half-priced drinks and appetizers from 4 to 7 p.m., but you can also catch almost any game on one of 26 TV sets. Sure, you might run into some UM frat bros on Thursday college nights, but the $3 bottled beer specials are worth it. The home of the fish taco also offers specials on the weekends. Grab a few $3.75 bloody marys on Saturdays and Sundays, or bring your paycheck stub in on Sundays to get 50 percent off your tab.
Though the Wynwood Arts District has evolved greatly in the past few years, its main strip has always been devoid of one key feature of any worthwhile neighborhood: a decent, no-nonsense, old-fashioned bar. Not to disrespect the venues serving drinks in the artsy area, but sometimes you just want to walk into a place with a 20-dollar bill in your pocket and leave with a few drinks in your gut. Thankfully, there's Wood Tavern. And tavern indeed is the perfect descriptor for this place, with wooden, brick, and plaid walls. There's also a buffalo head, a leprechaun statuette, and a profusion of comfy, vintage couches. Although it only opened this past December, the place has an air of familiarity. Of course, the sanely priced drinks including a pleasing selection of craft beers and signature cocktails, made us want to stick around. Forget familiarity, Wood is basically now our new best friend in Wynwood.
When you're looking for the velvet-rope experience without the South Beach parking hassle, Justin's Bar & Lounge has you covered. Promoted on Power 96 and El Zol 95, the club celebrates house, salsa, merengue, bachata, Top 40, hip-hop, and sports. The place offers ice-cold mojitos, a burning-hot dance floor, and VIP tables for very special bottle service (with $150 Grey Goose and Johnny Walker Black bottles). On weeknights, you can shoot a game of stick at the pool table, enjoy two-for-one drinks from 7 to 10 p.m., and get in with no cover charge. On Fridays and Saturdays, ladies enter free till midnight, dudes get in for $10 to $20, and the joint is packed with sexy Latinas, exotic Russian beauties, hombres, and Israeli playboys. Whether it's DJ Dudu, Berdugo, Empire, or E-Feezy on the decks, the music bangs, the people dance, and the liquor flows. Now that's what we call boozin'.
From the moment you buy your first brew, you half expect the other beer guzzlers to start chanting, "Chug, chug, chug, chug!" Owned by former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Craig Erickson, Hole in the Wall is a no-frills joint reminiscent of a college fraternity house's rec room. The décor consists of wood stools, benches, flat-screen TV sets, and a Galaga arcade game. There are also a couple of tables outside the entrance. Hole in the Wall is the spot to drink beer — and not any of those fancy microbrews either. Here, it's a steady stream of PBR, Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Yuengling. But connoisseurs can still get Guinness or Grolsch. The prices are hard to beat. Domestics run from $1.50 to $4 a glass, while imports go for $3.50 to $6. And you're gonna need a lot of cold lagers or ales to wash down the scrumptious chicken wings doused in Frank's RedHot sauce. A ten-wing platter costs $9. Or pig out on a 50-wing platter for $45 while watching the game with your friends. Hole in the Wall is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
It was after midnight on a recent Saturday when we found ourselves playing some eight ball and knocking back shots of Jägermeister as White Snake's "Here I Go Again" bumped through the loudspeakers. Cigarette smoke wafted through the Billiard Club, a strip-mall bar and sports lounge that has been happily serving the hard-working, hard-drinking middle-class residents of Miami Lakes, west Hialeah, and Hialeah Gardens for the past 13 years. The vibe is so chill you won't be surprised when you strike up a friendly conversation with owner Peter Tesser and he rewards you and your party with a round of drinks. He's the type of guy who wants all of his customers to feel like they are visiting a relative's house to watch the big game or fight. Flat-screens hanging at the main bar and over the pool tables show pay-per-view sporting events every weekend with little or no cover charge. Drinks are moderately priced. A glass or bottle of beer won't cost you more than $6, and a stiff drink will set you back no more than $10. A full-service kitchen cooks up popular bar food items plus burgers, chicken wings, and a New York strip steak that'll melt in your mouth. The Billiard Club opens at 4 p.m. daily. Last call is at 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends.
When Miami Ink's celebrity tattoo artists Ami James and Chris Nuñez opened a lounge, we figured we would either love it or hate it. Which is kind of the idea at Love/Hate. There's certainly no indifference toward the tattoo-inspired art lurking in every shadow, the leatherette banquettes, the stripper pole in the corner of the room, or the homage to motorcycle culture. Indeed, this tiny lounge feels like a motorcycle dive bar that suddenly came into an inheritance. Like a relationship that alternates between extremes, Love/Hate changes during the night. In the evenings, the atmosphere is laid-back with tastefully inked men and women drinking bourbons and beer. As the night progresses toward dawn, the vibe turns club-like, with local DJs spinning hip-hop and house music. Because there's no cover or velvet rope, the atmosphere reeks of easygoing fun. We're not sure, but Love/Hate might have an invisible force field that repels the douchier element of SoBe nightlife.
We have two words for you: alcohol and alligators. Sounds like a recipe for a good time, doesn't it? This corner joint in historic downtown Homestead is the most happening spot in the city, and with good reason. First, there's cheap alcohol. We don't remember much from the few (um, maybe several) times we've been to Stick & Stein Sports Rock Cafe, but we do recall picking up a couple of shots and beers for less than $15 and a pitcher of domestic beer for only $8.50. Second, there's a tank of live alligators watching your every move. OK, maybe not watching as much as floating around looking awesome. Third, the varied jukebox selection reflects the diversified clientele; choose from tunes by the likes of Lil Wayne, Pink, Santana, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fourth, play some pool on regulation-size tables, or stroll through the connecting passageway to the Fat Monkey Bar for some karaoke. Fifth, there's no dress code and no cover charge, plus there's free parking. And finally, if you get a bit sloshed, sober up with some pretty decent bar food, served late. After visiting Stick & Stein, you might start thinking there's no place like Homestead.
Like a cocktail, there's a recipe for making the perfect bartender: Mix one part mad scientist, one part psychiatrist, and one part artist and serve with a side of humor. Gabriel Orta fits the recipe exactly. One-half of the team that started the recently closed pop-up, Broken Shaker (the other half is Elad Zvi), Orta doesn't just make cocktails. He lives them. Like Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory, Orta has a sense of wonderment and glee in his eyes when he mixes a drink. Every ingredient is a potential component of the next perfect libation — fresh rosemary, apples, bourbon. When you're at Orta's bar, there's a feeling you're about to be handed something you've never tasted before, something new. Even an old-fashioned gets jazzed up with custom-made ice, fresh herbs snipped straight from his garden, and a slice of fragrant orange peeled before your eyes. The result is a drink that's crafted, not simply mixed. We believe him when he tells us not to order our usual rum and Coke or that he's made our margarita with jalapeño-infused tequila. He doesn't just make the drink; he is the drink. Orta is summering in New York City but plans to open a permanent bar in Miami Beach this fall.
Buying pants is such a mission, you guys. Dios mío, ayúdame. It's like we find one pair and they're a really chic color that we just totally saw in Vogue, but then they make our butt look big, and not even in a good, Jennifer Lopez kind of way. Then we find a pair that makes our legs look like they've achieved supermodel status, but they have these ridiculously outdated cargo pockets. It's a nightmare, which is why we don't understand why more people don't drink at malls. Of course, then we realize that the bar selection at most malls stinks. Thank heaven Aventura Mall is home to Grill on the Alley. We mean, yeah, yeah, it's a good restaurant, but we can barely fit into the pants we're trying on anyway. Just take us straight to the bar. It's classy with an old Hollywood décor and has a damn good happy hour. We'll take an Ohrangarita followed by a vodka açaí lemonade. Then we'll try to decide on some pants.
Living in Miami sometimes feels like fighting a failing battle against collective amnesia. Every couple of months, nightclubs shut down and reopen under new names. Politicians come and go with the tide, leaving the city a bit dirtier each time. Hell, even our baseball team has a new name, stadium, and uniform. But if there's one place that we go to remember, it's the neighborhood bar. That's why there is nothing scarier to a barfly than the word renovation. Countless watering holes have closed for "renovation" only to never reopen or, worse, transmogrify into cocktail lounges full of black lights but with no draft beer. So imagine our terror when the Abbey Brewing Co. — one of the only good bars in Miami Beach — announced it would shut down for several months beginning last September. Thank Bacchus that when the place finally reopened this February, it was still recognizably the Abbey. In fact, owner Raymond Rigazio simply expanded the place. It's still a comfortable wood-lined cave where you can chat up a stranger or sip away your sorrows, but new ventilation and lighting mean it's a bit brighter and less smoky. The same laid-back bartenders still pour 13 different beers on tap, including the aptly named Immaculate IPA. But now you can actually find a place to sit. Plus there's room to throw darts without grazing customers as they pass through the doorway. So sidle up to the trusty old bar — made out of a shuffleboard table — or the new 14-foot bench put together with recycled Miami Dade pine, and have a drink. Each pint is a Pyrrhic victory over the powers of forgetfulness.
In the not-yet-gentrified neighborhood that the Corner calls home, you might mistake the dark bar for a place to get some five-buck hooch or a PBR and call it a night. But this little place deceives the eye and casts a spell. "Step inside, my pretty, and taste my delicious cocktails," this siren of a bar calls to you, and you obey. What? A bar is speaking? Of course! Haven't you heard of the term speakeasy? Once inside, you're teleported to a dimension where bartenders wear vests and make classic cocktails using spirits such as moonshine, white whiskey, and absinthe. You're not in Miami; you're in the "Cocktail Zone." Since you're here, you might as well have a drink, so you peruse the menus pasted on cedar planks. There are two listings — one for classic post-Prohibition cocktails and another for new inventions. Each libation sets a mood. There's the Death in the Afternoon, a fragrant but potentially lethal blend of absinthe and champagne invented by the brilliant (and suicidal) Ernest Hemingway. Or try the Whitey on the Moon, a newly made-up fantasy of Death's Door White Whisky, cloves, milk, and lemon zest. Only here can a cocktail made with "death" taste like heaven. Looking for something a little more festive? How about the Cham Wow, a mix of champagne, muddled raspberries, vodka, and lemon juice? It's what bartender Chris Funk calls a "panty dropper" because of its deceptively innocent pink color. The Corner is whispering to you to try another of its wonderful drinks. Around $13 per crafted cocktail, it's a safe bet you'll be back.