Best Of :: Food & Drink
Coffeehouse mania swept much of the country during the 1990s, but, alas, it didn't make much of a dent in South Florida. (No, Starbucks doesn't count.) So local brew hounds found reason to rejoice when Meredith Huhn and Jay Motley opened Barefoot Coffee in November. It has the bona fides caffeine junkies expect. Start with some eclectic furniture: a crescent-moon sofa, brown Naugahyde recliner, and assorted hardwood chairs. Then add monthly rotating displays by local artists, which are also for sale. The recent Knarley Harley's Beach Whimsies exhibit included landscape paintings and fish sculptures made from driftwood, fishing gear, and hammered copper. For further diversion, one can go online at Barefoot for $8 an hour. Huhn or Motley will help electronic novices set up an e-mail account. And of course at the center of it all is that nectar of the java gods -- espresso, latte, cappuccino, and brewed. Barefoot has sidestepped the deli route -- and the interminable lines that ensue -- in favor of a respectable selection of bagels, muffins, brownies, and pastries. And its evening hours make the joint a handy stop before or after taking in a movie at the next-door Gateway Cinema.
Deep in the retirement belt of western Lake Worth, refugee snowbirds and resident Members of the Tribe flock each morning to savor the crusty, chewy treats from this little storefront operation. The bialy bread is to die for, especially early in the day -- a warm, oblong cloud of moist, puffy bread flecked with crisp burnt onion. The pletzl is a joy, a footwide disc of crusty flatbread under a dense sheet of poppy seeds and onion. How did a Scotsman such as owner Scott McCollough get the knack? A Bronx apprenticeship in his youth taught him, among other things, to boil the bagels before baking them. Sundays offer the bargain of a half-dozen free with every dozen purchased. With the Palace's selection of smoked fish and flavored cream cheeses, you can build a king's feast.
Barbecue snobs have simple but stringent requirements. First of all the standard for judging is a good old-fashioned sandwich. The meat of choice is lean but succulent pork, preferably pulled or in chunks rather than sliced. And it goes without saying that it has to be smoked. Then there's the all-important sauce: tangy but not too tangy, with a hint of sweetness but not too sweet. Pile high on an ordinary bun. If the sandwich is good enough, the side dishes are irrelevant. Georgia Pig succeeds on all counts -- so well, in fact, that we tried the beef sandwich, too, just for the hell of it, and found it quite satisfactory. As a bonus, this long-lived joint on U.S. Highway 441 has its own distinct ambiance. Think '60s greasy spoon meets Deep South honky-tonk, complete with a garish collection of pigs -- on the walls, behind the counter, and on your plate.
Though this pub offers about 130 brands of brew from all over the world, the beer that earns Murray's the prize hails from the abbey of Koningshoeven and is called La Trappe -- because it is made by the abbey's silent Trappist monks. It's fermented in the bottle, a corked crock. We usually choose the "tripple," which signifies triple-fermentation and a hearty 10 percent alcohol. It comes with a hearty price, too: 12 bucks a crock. With a medium, flavorful body and a sweet citrusy aftertaste, the brew is worth every single penny. Hell, the bottle, which has a drawing of the abbey on it, is probably worth the price all by itself. If that's too much, or if you simply don't dig monk brew, another must-have in our book is Fiedler's Pils Im Stein. If you need a guide, call on the owners, father-and-son team Jeff and Jason Dimm, to give you a tour. They're true suds aficionados who love to share their extensive hops knowledge and don't mind giving you a sample or two. While you're sipping some of the finest concoctions ever crafted, the place offers good company, pool tables, and free darts to use on their boards. Now get thee to Murray's.
Half the fun of a bloody mary is where and when you drink it. That's because people almost always consume these spicy delicacies when they really shouldn't be drinking -- in the morning. And if you are going to drink in the morning, you might as well do it at a joint that opens at 7 a.m. That would be the Entrada. Take a seat at the horseshoe-shape bar and order your debauched self one of these beauties. They come with a dollop of horseradish, just the thing you need after a night of living large. Then go outside and dip your toes in the pool. You are sooo South Florida.
OK, so tons of fresh tuna are going through restaurants in seafood-heavy South Florida, and some of the more expensive, elegant spots surely make it as well as it can be done. And some truly great caesar salads are being made out there as well. But both for nine bucks? Uh-uh. Try to get a big, fresh, medium-rare steak of tuna sitting atop a huge pile of fresh romaine lettuce, chopped bacon, and croutons at most places, and they'll charge you at least that and half again. And this is no kiddie salad -- it's a Jethro Bodine bowl. It filled us up, and we're among the manliest men you'll ever see in Broward County. We have big round bellies, hairy backs, thick and furry wrists, knuckles callused from dragging along the ground, and slabs of Angus-like beef stuck to our ribs (well, some of us do, anyway), and that salad beat the hunger out of us. If you feel like a beer and some first-rate seafood at a cut-rate price, go to Flanigan's. Yes, it is a chain and we rarely recommend cookie-cutter restaurants, but Flanigan's warrants an exception, at least the one in Deerfield Beach. (We can't honestly laud all 19 Flanigan's restaurants around South Florida, because we haven't eaten in all of them.) The place, which is located on A1A just a stone's throw from the beach, has an old seafarer's ambiance and great service from people who genuinely seem to like working there. We had two wonderful dinners, an order of conch fritters (also among the best we've ever had), and three or four drafts for about $25. And the tuna, nice and red in the center, virtually melted in our mouths. We're hooked.