It doesn't have an official name yet, so let's just call it the Belle Meade Dinner Club. It was started in December 2009 by Tara Gaerjens, who, along with some enthusiastic friends/backers, strolled into Belle Meade with an idea for a magazine focusing on this Upper Eastside neighborhood. (Vanity of vanities ... all is vanity. Ecclesiastes, 1, 2; XII, 8).
Later neighbors found out that she had also "wandered" into Morningside, another affluent neighborhood just south of Belle Meade and also pitched her idea.
The concept was simple. Hit all of the shops and restaurants within a 20-block area for ads aimed at the close-by residents. Next, she got restaurants in the area to offer a free meal to a dozen or so residents, once a month with the promise of featuring the evening's festivities in a two-page, follow-up story in the yet to be created magazine. No one knew how many people responded to the call or even how Tara obtained e-mail addresses, but guests who showed up for that first meal were definitely hooked.
As promised, the following month, Belle Meade Life magazine, Issue # 1, featured 12 people including yours truly on the cover. In the centerfold was a two-page, positive story about Uva 69. Our second rendezvous took place at the now defunct Luna Corner Pizza place. The owners were sweet and generous, but made a pizza that tasted just like cardboard. Third gathering was Revales Ristorante, a wonderful place. The fourth reception was at Yiya's, an imaginative little gourmet Cuban bakery/meal stop on 79th Street that still qualifies as a hidden treasure for foodies. A few more tastings and the ads started pouring in for Tara. Here something crucial happened. Ali Diaz, a lawyer, and her life partner Laura joined the foodies group.
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Fast forward to April, 2011 and Tara announced that she was leaving Florida to get married and was not able to find a replacement editor for the magazine. Well, imagine the chagrin that was felt throughout the close-knit community. WHAT! No more free meals? Everyone was devastated.
A year went by and suddenly Ali and Laura came up with a possibility. They sent an e-mail blast to neighbors and wrote, "We had such a good time thanks to Tara. We met people who we would have never known, who enjoyed going out and having a good meal together. We got to know our neighbors. No ulterior motives, just a good time with nice people."
Now, once a month, Ali finds a dining place along the Biscayne Corridor for the Belle Meade Dinner Club. It's not free food anymore, although she does manage to get everyone appreciated discounts, but it has become a great way to meet neighbors, support the amazing new restaurants that are finally thriving in North East Miami and strengthen the community.