Restaurant Reviews

Best of Miami 1996

Mr. Coney Island
260 NE 167th Street
North Miami Beach

Since Nathan's closed down a few years back, there are only two real contenders for local wiener supremacy. One is Arbetter's Hot Dogs (8747 Bird Rd.), the other Mr. Coney Island. The two represent highly evolved and wildly divergent hot dog ideologies. Comparing them is like asking what's a better drink, a martini or a glass of chocolate milk. Arbetter's boils its dogs. To death. They're small and pale. The chili that figures into the chili dogs seems to be made of no recognizable natural substance. If all this seems to militate against a trip to Arbetter's, hearken: The smallness of the dogs allows one to eat up to four at a sitting. The kraut is superior. And this joint does nothing but dogs A the little roadside dive is a temple of wiener worship, with a veritable database of hot dog history and current affairs lining the walls. Mr. Coney Island, at the other extreme of the county, grills its dogs, which are big fat Isaac Gellis New York premier koshers; they're pinkish, not pale at all. One of their $2.65 foot-longs is a serious undertaking, a commitment to a long-term relationship. The mustard is fantastic, the chili as good as Arbetter's is bad. Besides truly excellent hot dogs, Mr. Coney Island has a lot of other stuff that escapees from New York find dear: egg creams, knishes, and hot corned beef and pastrami sandwiches.

2590 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale
2834 N. University Drive

For the best bowl of chili you must cross the border A into Broward. Not only can our neighbors to the north claim the Florida Panthers, they already own the rights to two Skyline chili franchises. As anyone from Cincinnati knows, Skyline is the king of the Queen City's ubiquitous chili chains. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find this unique delicacy outside of Ohio. Skyline's signature dish is a runny, meaty mixture spiced with chocolate and cinnamon, served several different ways. We recommend the five-way, with the chili poured over spaghetti and topped with onions, kidney beans, and a mound of fresh cheddar cheese. When you consider that most people must travel I-75 to satisfy this addictive vice, the brief drive up I-95 is no big deal.

Metro Deli Sandwich Shop
70 NE Second Street

Every morning Metro Deli owner Joe Gangi makes the rounds to local meat and produce wholesalers, picking up only what he needs for each day's business so everything will be served fresh. And every morning Gangi buys a lot, because the sandwiches he crafts in his cozy downtown eatery are massive, towering creations that take up most of the red plastic baskets in which they're served. Metro is not the place for a light lunch. Open since 1942 and under the able wing of Big Apple native and long-time Miamian Gangi for the past four years or so, Metro has built a loyal following among downtowners who know a damn good sandwich when they grab one. Nearly everything on the menu costs less than five bucks. Corned beef and Swiss on rye is a thing of heavenly creation. Turkey on wheat renders Thanksgiving almost obsolete. And the hoagie-wrapped pastrami is A as any nutritionist would probably tell you A to die for. "It's very important to Joe that he make a good sandwich," says Gangi's wife Denise. "He always tries to please the customers." Indeed he does.

Readers' Choice: Rascal House

Lee's Bakery
23135 S. Dixie Highway
(No phone)

These are not the restaurant version, wherein sweetened condensed milk overshadows the tart lime and frozen graham cracker crusts stand in for old-fashioned effort. Bert Wexelbaum was one of the first to bring key lime pie north from the Keys back in 1952. His only advertising is the sign on the side of his cinder-block shack, yet his fans are legion. Richard Nixon, hiding out on Key Biscayne, used to send Secret Service chaps to buy Bert's entire daily yield. Whole pies cost $7.50, halves $4.50, a slice $1.65. Bert also sells key limeade and nine types of tropical fruit jelly. He opens soon after sunrise and shuts down when he sells out A usually by midafternoon.

Readers' Choice: Joe's Stone Crab

Jimbo's Shrimp
Sewer Line Road
(Off the Rickenbacker Causeway)
Virginia Key

For about 30 years, Jim Luznar has been smoking marlin, salmon, and the occasional wahoo in an oak-burning contraption behind his bait shop. No nods toward modernity here. Luznar remembers how Miami used to be, and he liked it. He sells a pound of his fish for five bucks, Buds for only a dollar. But prices are beside the point. Jimbo's regulars, including Mayor Steve Clark, come here because this is the way they wish the world could be. Slower. Easier. With a well-tended bocce court for those who want to cut loose without working up a sweat. And enough cold beer to go around.

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