Best Of :: Food & Drink
El Tío Loco walks around aimlessly during family gatherings. He's always mumbling something about the old days in Havana, taking deep drags off his "legal" cigarros, and carrying that aluminum flask of amazing mystery rum in his pocket. See, El Tío Loco might stumble when he walks and slur his speech when he talks, but the man knows what he's slurring about. Tío Loco takes us to only one place in Miami-Dade for flan. It's the only place he says makes a better flan than he. It's not anywhere on Calle Ocho or in Little Havana. It's not in Hialeah or in Westchester (pronounced WEH-cheh-tehr). The original Cuban Guys location stands adjacent to a Sedano's Supermarket and a Payless Shoesource in a Hialeah Gardens shopping center. "M'ija," Tío Loco says, "Los Cuban Guys tienen el mejor flan. ¿Oiste? ¡El mejor!" Consider the velvety-smooth Cuban custard a French crème caramel with an identity crisis — a damn good identity crisis. It's the creamiest flan in town, and its almíbar — dark caramel syrup — makes you wish you grew up with Tío Loco taking you on flan runs every Saturday. At $2.99 a pop, the price is unbeatable. And because this is Miami, where one option is simply unthinkable, there are also other varieties: cappuccino, guava with cheese, and dulce de leche. But nothing beats the original. Unlike wobbly Tío Loco — who probably loves it so much because it embodies everything he aspires to be — Cuban Guys' flan is smooth, creamy, and supple. Go see what you've been missing.
Step away from the whole roast pork! Sure, it's 7 a.m., you're at El Palacio de los Jugos, and, as usual, you crave some swine. But lechón asado is no respectable breakfast. So walk past the West Flagler Street cafeteria's hot food wells — those steel tubs loaded with braised beef, boiled yuca, arroz con gris, and fried grouper. Head to the inner market, a crowded nook where salted cod and ripe avocados are peddled alongside corn pudding and nut butters. There, and only there, can you decently succumb to your morning craving of pig. Order the porker's finest part: the chicharrón ($9.99 a pound), deep-fried rind served in brown paper bags smeared with fat. Then choose from a selection of fresh juices: guava, mango, pineapple, orange, sapodilla, tamarind, and mora ($2). And there's also guarapo, a sugarcane variety. Open your pouch of chicharrón. Take a bite. Sip your juice. Wipe your greasy fingers on your jeans. Repeat. Extra breakfast points if you also order a colada to go.
An assortment of cream cheese and smoothie samples sits in front of the cash register by the entrance to New York Bagel Deli. The bagel selection covers all the basics — plain, poppy seed, sesame, onion, cinnamon raisin, and everything — with additional wheat and cheese varieties. But the unique option is the power bagel. It's a dark wheat thing topped with pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and other grains that provides a great blend of fluff and crunch. There are even filled bagels that come with a hearty hunk of Asiago cheese melted right into the center hole. Only a few types of bagels are available at a time, and they range from broccoli and Asiago to bacon and potato. Creative cream cheese flavors might also surprise you. There's guava, Bombay curry, and pesto. If your favorite isn't in stock, you can ask for a serving of the spread to be whipped up in a blender right on the spot. Don't be alarmed if the small place is full of rowers — it has become a post-practice hangout for the young athletes from the nearby Shane Rowing Center. And for mornings when you want bagels in bed to avoid the bustling weekend crowd, New York Bagel Deli delivers. Bagels are generally $1.25 each or $11.99 for a baker's dozen.
Bunnie Cakes is full of hearts. Some are pink paper cutouts plastered in patterns across the walls. Others are candy — scarlet sugar shapes that dot the bakery's cute sweets such as the six-inch, double-layered guava cakes with cream cheese frosting ($32) and banana-chocolate chip cupcakes ($3). But at this Wynwood shop, there are no eggs. There isn't any butter or milk, either. Bunnie Cakes is a vegan bakery. Mariana Cortez, a self-taught baker who delved into dairy- and egg-free sweets to provide more healthful, organic treats for her children, owns the shop. She founded Bunnie Cakes in 2009 and opened her first storefront in February 2013. Her heart-topped desserts are delicious. They are sweetened with agave nectar or evaporated cane sugar. Many of them eschew soy, gluten, and nuts. Most are allergy-free. A bakery that caters to folks with food sensitivities and a sweet tooth? Now that's something to love.
Just a few steps from the sands of South Pointe is a quaint, charming bakery named Lee & Marie's Cakery. The café sells fresh almond croissants ($3.75), red velvet cake by the slice ($6), and pecan-caramel sticky buns ($3.95). There are sandwiches, desserts, and salads — all designed by award-winning pastry chef Yannis Janssens. But what sets this cakery apart is its humanitarian ethos. Owned by Andy Travaglia, it supports and employs adults with autism spectrum disorders. Since its debut in 2012, Lee & Marie's has expanded with an additional location in New York City. It also has a production facility in Wynwood. Not only is this South Beach bakery churning out delectable baked goods across Miami and beyond, it's also succeeding in a higher cause. Now that's sweet.
Zak Stern raises Alpine goats in Little Haiti. He wears suspenders, is fond of tweed trousers, and enjoys listening to Taylor Swift. He once apprenticed for five years under bread- and cheese-makers across Europe. Now he runs a closed-door operation that supplies organic sourdoughs to some of the city's top restaurants, including Michy's and Oak Tavern. The loaves ($6), offered in varieties such as olive and za'atar or plum, fennel, and rye, have thick, chewy crusts and complex, slightly bitter interiors. So when Zak shows up at a farmers' market to sell his bread, lines form immediately. Loaves sell out within minutes. Maybe it's the goat's milk. Or perhaps it's all the T-Swift. Whatever the reason, Zak Stern is the best — and perhaps most interesting — baker in town.
It is said that some things improve with age. When it comes to Panther Coffee's cold brew (12-ounce, $3.50; 16-ounce, $4.50 ), time is certainly a good thing. The coffeehouse's espresso blend is steeped overnight at room temperature and made with filtered water. After the grounds are removed, the result is a caffeinated drink that is free of fatty acids or bitter oils — you know, those unpleasant flavors released in hot-extraction methods. Since these acids and oils are soluble at high heat, most hot-brewed coffee needs mellowing out with milk or cream. Cold-water brewing, on the other hand, results in a peerless, balanced cup. Panther Coffee's cold brew is nice and smooth. You won't even miss the milk.
At the Shell station on South Dixie Highway at SW 27th Avenue, Miamians stream in and out, jockeying for pumps, scoring cigs and lotto tickets, and amping up on Red Bull. But head to the back of the otherwise standard gas station's store and you'll find smiling ladies serving breakfast fare, pastelitos, made-to-order sammies, and, most important, Cuban coffee. They'll make any of the usual suspects, but it's their painstakingly prepared coladas you'll really remember. Order your café with a polite por favor and they'll serve it with a smile. Stack cups for sharing atop your Styrofoam treasure and head out to the parking lot. Drink up. It's jet black. Piping hot. Heavy con sucre. Blindingly potent. Screw Starbucks — this is how Miami does coffee.
There are four ingredients that go into a great café con leche. First, of course, is the coffee. Second is the water that streams through the grounds. Third is the milk that cuts the bitterness with creamy goodness. The fourth ingredient is harder to define. Call it location, ambiance, or scenery. Whatever the name, a great café con leche requires a place to sit, sip your liquid crack, and gawk at the mélange of humanity around you. By these criteria, the top café con leche in town is served at the counter of La Sandwicherie. There is nothing finer than stumbling over to the sliver of a restaurant at 3 a.m. and ordering the steaming mixture of Medaglia d'Oro espresso and milk you need to drive home. Of course, there are also super rico sandwiches to sop up the booze in your system. While you're sobering up, feast your other senses on the strange, sexy beasts pouring out of Mac's Club Deuce next door and prowling 14th Street. This, dear Florida flâneur, is what life — and café con leche — is all about.
Connoisseurs know that a coffeehouse is not a coffeehouse is not a coffeehouse. Alaska Coffee Roasting Company proves this in oh so many ways. Local hangout, gourmet pizza and sandwich spot, bakery, pastry shop — ACRC delivers the goods. Oh, and of course there's coffee, arriving from around the globe and roasted in-house using a top-of-the-line 15-kilogram-capacity, fluidized-bed Sivitz roaster. ACRC's Facebook page announces when employees will demonstrate the roaster to the public — a cheap thrill you don't want to miss. The menu offers vegan options as well; pizzas and sandwiches are made fresh to order, and desserts are divine. Owner Karen Tuvia takes pride in her work and can't help but grin if you engage her in a conversation about the homemade soups, pastries, and coffees such as Mexican Pluma, Panama Boquete, Nicaragua Manotal, Brazil Cerrado, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Tanzania AA, Rwanda, Tmor Lest, and Sumatra Mandheling. There aren't many places in Miami where you can grab a gourmet lunch and fresh-roasted coffee for ten bucks, so thank your lucky, coffee-loving stars that Alaska is right around the corner.
Dear Miami Beach visitor,
We regret to inform you that your champagne-popping, illicit-substance-chugging, casual-coitus-craving days are over. SoBe now belongs to the vegans, the raw-foodists, the yoga studios, and the many workout gear boutiques. Kindly set down your tequila and proceed to the nearest JugoFresh for additional information.
At the shop for organic, raw, vegan, and cold-pressed juices, you will find nourishing shots made with organic Bulgarian rosewater, cucumber, and deer antler extract. You will find yogis wearing Lululemon. They will be sipping on bottles of healthful things you've probably never heard of, such as blue-green algae, dandelion parsley, maca extract, and that green cabbage named kale ($7.50 to $11).
Please note these prices do not include swigs of vodka. Although these salubrious juices might cost as much as a cocktail, remember this: JugoFresh not only tastes delicious but also is good for you.
Juicing Addicts, Miami Chapter
Beurre d'Isigny is no ordinary butter. And the brunch at La Gloutonnerie, the French restaurant in South Beach, is no ordinary brunch. The churned cream is among the best Franco-butters out there, and this Sunday meal is also unsurpassed. For $45 a pop, patrons get more than good butter slathered on fresh baguette. This brunch is a feast. Diners sip on two sparkling wine drinks. There's a cold appetizer section with oysters, charcuterie, marinated cheeses, and salads; a meat carving station; and an opulent dessert division with macarons, chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit tarts, layer cakes, and treats of all shapes, forms, and sizes. If the quality of a restaurant can be measured by its butter, well, we'll just say this: La Gloutonnerie serves the tastiest French butter around.