Laurenzo's Italian Market copped our 2011 Best of Miami award for finest gourmet market. As far as Italian imports and products go, it can't be beat locally. We have a few other noteworthy gourmet markets in town -- very few. And, quite honestly, we do not have a single world class food store -- the sort (like at Harrod's) so extensive that Laurenzo's could fit in one of the corners and be referred to as "the Italian section."
But be that as it may, during this Thanksgiving season let's be grateful for the fact that we have access to just about any cool food item we could want -- just not necessarily under the same roof. Here is a quintet of our finer food emporiums:
5. Joanna's Marketplace
Walk into Joanna's in the morning and you might at first think you've wandered into a country-store -- but then the aroma of steamed cappuccinos wakes you up to the fact that there's a lot more going on here. Prepared foods are cooked fresh daily and dished at very affordable prices (two reasons the Marketplace received our nod for Best Prepared Foods 2008). The aisles hold a decent selection of oils, vinegars, coffees, teas, wines, and all the other stuff you find in such markets, but Joanna's is best for its baked breads and pastries. One of those frothy cappuccinos sure tastes good with a Belgian-chocolate-filled almond croissant.
In the early 1980s, Mark Zaslavsky and Mark Gelman opened a caviar business up on Northeast 79th Street in Miami. They send reps to Russian fish farms on the Volga River regularly in order to select the finest fish eggs. There is no better place to buy caviar than Marky's -- but we told you that long ago when Marky's got our Best Caviar in 2004 nod. Along with the caviar the two Marks added a retail section with all manner of imported delicacies -- much of it from Russia. Specialties include high-grade duck and goose foie gras; smoked salmons of shockingly good quality, smoked fish of other types; truffles, natch; and an underrated cheese section (except by New Times, which handed Marky's a Best Cheese 2007 trophy.
3. Norman Brothers Produce
This South Miami/Kendall landmark has been selling produce straight from local farms for over four decades. Natural, organic, and cool products such as Thai guava, Homestead tangelos, and exotic herbs are proffered in this warehouse setting. So are homecooked meals with no trans fats, culled from "fresh Florida fruits and vegetables." You can find upscale imports in the aisles, and there are sections selling fresh seafood, meats (like USDA prime-dry aged beef), cheeses, deli items, and tempting baked goods. Prices are less-than-gourmet, and ambiance is pretension free. Norman has collected a few Best of Miami awards through the years: Best Fresh Produce 1991; Best Gourmet Grocery 2002; and Best Gourmet Grocery 2007.
2. Epicure Gourmet Market & Cafe
It's got one of the finest cheese selections in the city, one of the best bakeries, a wide wine section, peerless meat and fish departments, and some of the tastiest prepared foods around -- including roast chickens, Cornish hens, meat loaves, barbecued ribs...and a whole aisle devoted to premade dinners -- some are kept in the freezer, others are sold in jars and easy-to-heat take-out containers. The latter group includes heartwarming home-cooked specialties such as stuffed cabbage, chicken-in-the-pot, mushroom barley soup, matzoh-ball soup, lasagna...and let us not overlook the pristine produce, import grocery items, overstuffed sandwiches made-to-order, and, well, there's an olive station too. Everything is, naturally, expensive. It has been awarded Best Gourmet Grocery 2001, 2003, and 2006.
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1. The Fresh Market
It's the prettiest market of the group, an airy, lofty space practically exploding with bright comestibles. The produce department looks to be waiting for a food shoot to break out, the arrangement of fruits and vegetables forming a mesmerizing mosaic of colors. The fish and meat departments are as good as any in the city -- staffed with fast and knowledgeable workers, too -- and so are the cheese, wine, and baked goods sections. Centering the space is a prepared-foods island that cooks up finer fare than any other market. Period (Best Prepared Foods in 2007). And while most items in The Fresh Market cost more than they will just about anywhere else, the prepared food prices are fairly moderate. Free coffee dispenser at the front of the shop? Yes! Overall the most pleasant shopping experience with the highest quality foods -- and a brand new The Fresh Market opens on West Ave. and 18th Street in South Beach this coming Wednesday.