Miami's Ten Biggest Food Stories of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, New Times is looking back at the year's stories with the most impact.

The past year saw a lot of good and bad in our local food scene — from a beloved Brooklyn restaurant opening in South Florida to the Zika scare that threatened a large part of the dining scene. Here are the ten biggest stories of 2016, as chosen by readers and our editorial staff.
1. Zika Affects Wynwood and Miami Beach Restaurants and Businesses
Each summer, Miami restaurants and businesses hunker down for a slow season. This year, however, Wynwood restaurants got a double-whammy when the CDC and local officials warned pregnant women and people of child-bearing age to avoid Wynwood and parts of midtown and Edgewater. Some establishments, such as the Wynwood Yard, closed for several days in order to spray. Others noted a severe drop in business as Wynwood turned into a veritable ghost town. Zika cases were then found in Miami Beach. Instead of closing, however, local restaurants fought back — instituting a Love for Locals weekend, offering discounts on everything from drinks to clothing. Locals, armed with repellent, came out in droves, assisted by local radio legends Paul and Young Ron. Thankfully, those businesses weathered the Zika storm and are now thriving.
2. Miami Heat's Ray Allen Opens Healthy Fast-Food Concept
When Ray and Shannon Allen announced the opening of Grown, a fast-casual organic restaurant, they didn't want to attract the usual glitterati that many other celebrity restaurants do. Instead, they set up shop in family-friendly South Miami and proffered everything from smoothies to salmon to chicken nuggets. The impetus behind the project stemmed from Shannon's desire to feed their five children — especially their son Walker, who has type 1 diabetes — nutrient-dense food. The public responded so well that Grown has now, well, grown, opening additional locations at Hard Rock Stadium. Hmm, maybe the key to the Miami Dolphins' success is because they're eating better this year. At least the fans are.
3. Junior's Famous Cheesecake Comes to Boca Raton
When it was announced that Junior's Restaurant was opening in Boca Raton (with a Miami location possibly in the works), ex-New Yorkers went insane. Long before Dominique Ansel's cronut and Momofuku Milk Bar's corn cookies, New York's cult favorite treat was Junior's cheesecake. The creamy recipe hasn't changed in over decades and calls for just cream cheese, fresh eggs, sugar, heavy cream, and a touch of vanilla. The batter is then blended for 45 minutes before the cake is baked in a water bath in rotating ovens. The restaurant opened in Boca Raton's Mizner Park in October and continues to cause a sensation.
4. Zak the Baker Suffers Stroke
With his laughing eyes and his fantastic bread, Zak the Baker could very well be one of Miami's most adored people. So, when he Instagrammed a picture of himself being transported in an ambulance, the city freaked out. Turns out, the 30 year-old suffered a minor stroke. Thankfully, this proved only a slow down in the baker's upward trajectory, with Stern making a speedy recovery and opening up a bigger bakery just a few short months later. Mazel!
5. Cena by Michy Closes
Long before MiMo was considered Miami's trendiest new neighborhood, chef Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez opened a storefront restaurant on 69th St. and Biscayne Blvd. Bernstein's eponymous eatery became a hit, with tourists and locals driving for the chef's signature short rib and fried chicken feasts. In 2014, Michy's closed for a facelift and reopened in 2015 as Cena by Michy with talented chef Mike Mayta as Bernstein's right hand man. Together, they formed a formidable team and the diners came. It all came crashing down when, after landlord negotiations failed, the restaurant shuttered abruptly in May.
6. Miami Beer Community Remembers MIA Beer Company Brewer Piero Rodriguez
Miami's beer community is a close knit one. The industry is young, and most brewers have come up together, working as a unit to form close bonds that serve to build up the city's scene as a whole. So, when Piero Rodriguez was killed in a car crash on Father's Day eve, all of Miami was rocked. The MIA Beer Company co-founder and brewer was one of the community's biggest champions. Shortly, love came pouring in from the community for the 34 year-old who made beer, music, and his family his life. MIA's Eddie Leon was devastated by the loss, with the brewery issuing a statement that said, "We are still in disbelief that he has left us, but as we gather our strength back we know there are at least two things he would want us to do. First, help his son and family in any way that we can. Second, raise a pint and cheer him to living life to the fullest as he always did."
7. Jeremy Ford Wins Top Chef
Bravo's Top Chef is more than a television show. It is a grueling culinary challenge that can pay big rewards for the chefs that deem to enter its realm. Miami chefs have done well on the show — including the Sarsaparilla Club's Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth and former Scarpetta chef Nina Compton. But it took Matador Room's Jeremy Ford to finally bring the title home to Miami. Ford, who took his daughter on a cruise with part of his winnings, gave some sage advice to future Top Chef contestants, "Believe in yourself and what you do. The moment you stop and try to be something you're not is the moment you're going to be kicked off. You're not cooking to win over the judges. You're cooking because you're you."
8. Donald Trump And Gary Johnson Campaign at Versailles
Calle Ocho's Versailles has long been a vital stop for politicians seeking to woo Miami voters. This year's contentious Presidential election was no different. Versailles proved to be a precursor to the actual November elections. Libertarian hopeful, Gary Johnson, tried to hold a press conference at the iconic eatery, but instead found himself in the parking lot due to a misunderstanding about dates and times.
Donald Trump, however, did manage to partake of coladas, pastelitos, and handshakes. The President-elect took a box of pastelitos to go and left, but not before generously leaving an $83 tip, according to WSVN 7 News. Would Hillary's fate have been different if she stopped in for a cafe?
9. Castro Dies, Miami Parties
The internet is insane with a rundown of all the famous figures we're mourning in 2016...Prince, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, Florence Henderson, Debbie Reynolds, and Muhammad Ali are some of the over 150 celebrity deaths that occurred in 2016. And though we might have raised a glass to some of them in a toast to their lives, there's only one that's worth a genuine celebration: Fidel Castro. Cuba's long-suffering dictator finally shirked off his mortal coil and Miami erupted in song and dance. Many restaurant and bars offered up free Cuba Libres for the occasion, but Azucar's Suzy Battle topped them off with her Burn in Hell, Fidel! ice cream. It features the shop's homemade chocolate ice cream with a huge kick of cayenne. The heat, Battle says, "is for the Hell that Castro should be in now." It's a permanent fixture at the Calle Ocho shop, should you want some sweet revenge of your own.
10. Local Publicist Asks Miami to Boycott Cafe Bustello
Local publicist, JennyLee Molina is a force of nature. As founder and principal of the Miami public relations firm JLPR, she tirelessly works for her clients — and for Miami in general. Molina has promoted Hialeah's art scene and has campaigned to make Miami a better place in the eyes of the world. As part of her strategy, she founded 3:05 Cafecito, a movement in which Miamians celebrate a ritual of enjoying coffee at 3:05 p.m. daily. In 2012, it was designated as the city's official coffee break time.  A few weeks ago, Molina was alerted to the fact that Cafe Bustelo was hosting a series of pop-up activations in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago where free coffee was distributed at 3:05 p.m., with signs depicting “305” and “cafecito time” held by attendees. Molina has contact Bustelo's parent, mega corporation, J.M. Smucker Company to properly recognize JLPR with creative credit. In return, she received a letter from its lawyers saying they were not infringing on her trademark. To this date, the issue is unresolved.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss