Miami's Five Best Offal Dishes for Halloween

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Instead of bringing some insipid blood-covered body part made of candy to the costumed alcohol binge you'll be attending this week, head to your neighborhood grocer and buy a pound or so of fresh beef hearts. Season them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and perhaps some cumin if you're feeling frisky. Grill 'em, dice 'em, and bring 'em to the party with little pieces of toast and horseradish sauce. Wait till everyone is belligerently drunk; then feed them. After they've swallowed, tell them what they ate. Report back their responses.

Turns out fresh beef heart ain't all that bad, and to most people it's undistinguishable from a "normal" cut of beef. Maybe that girl dressed up as a slutty Psy doing her best whore-inspired "Gangnam Style" will retch her last four drinks, but everyone else might like it.

Offal, the innards and undesirable cuts of animals once destined for the trash, has always been on the menus of hard-core ethnic restaurants. But it's becoming more mainstream, seemingly thanks to celebrity chef culture and food-obsessed media.

There are plenty of restaurants serving tender, tasty bits of guts, and you never have wait until Halloween to chow down. If you haven't gotten started, now is the time.

5. Braised oxtail at Blue Collar
Chef Daniel Serfer's tiny Biscayne Boulevard restaurant has become a favorite for its filling homestyle food. Each night he offers a special braised dish. It might be brisket or pot roast, but if you're lucky, it'll be oxtail. The cow's tail is chopped off and sliced into short cylinders. Serfer slow-braises the meat, leaving it fork-tender. If you're not into eating the odd cuts, this is a great place to start. Just don't look too long at the cleaned tail bones after you've finished.

4. Chopped liver at Josh's Deli
After shuttering the Surfside branch of Chowdown Grill and opening Josh's Deli & Appetizing, Joshua Marcus seems to have become the pride and joy of Jewish parents across South Florida. How he did it without going to medical or law school remains a mystery. Here he offers a great rendition of chopped liver, the classic Jewish treat made with chicken livers, sautéed onions, and hard-boiled egg. Josh's version is both light and creamy, with plenty of mineral tanginess. Shmear some on a bagel chip and daydream of your organ-based happy place.

3. Buffalo Sweetbreads at Pubbelly
Sweetbreads are most commonly the thymus (neck) gland of a calf. The glands help train the animal's immune system to fight specific types of cells. So they must be healthy to eat. Pubbelly pan-sears them in a spicy Buffalo sauce and serves them alongside pickled celery and blue cheese. The spicy sauce overpowers the delicate flavor of the gland but pairs well with their creamy texture and is light years ahead of those chicken wings you ate while blasted at 3 a.m. last weekend.

2. Special Beef Pho at Pho Thang
Pho (pronounced fun) is the classic Vietnamese dish that's developing a cult following across America. Pho Thang, in Southwest Miami-Dade not far from ZooMiami, proffers the real deal with a rich broth and fresh Thai basil and bean sprouts alongside. The Special Beef Pho comes with some normal-looking meat, but the highlight are the beef balls -- opaque, jiggly bits of braised beef tendon and tripe. I've never been a tripe lover, but here with noodles, the flavorful broth, and perhaps a squirt of sriracha, I can enjoy the chewy bits of cow stomach.

1. Sweet Shrimp Heads at Sushi Deli
Sweet shrimp, called amaebi in Japanese restaurants, is the pricier version of the flaccid, rubbery shrimp to which we've become accustomed. This type of nigiri is made with a variety of species that includes botan shrimp and spot prawns. For $2.50 at Sushi Deli, you get not only the tender, sweet body of the shrimp atop a ball of sushi rice, but also the shrimp's head, dredged in cornstarch and flash-fried. The result is an edible head that's crisp and salty on the outside but creamy and briny on the inside thanks to liquified shrimp brains.

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