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Best Of 2005


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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Alternative to the Prices at Whole Foods

You're kicking yourself for not investing in Whole Foods five years ago -- you could be retiring to your villa in Provence right about now. Here's a tip: A little independent operation called Village Marketplace is the dark horse that's going to give Whole Foods a run for its money. Owner Joseph Macchione is making his mark in the grocery biz in South Florida with a midsized market -- smaller than Publix, bigger than the corner deli -- that sells gourmet chocolates, organic half and half ($3.29), Guatemalan coffee ($8.99 a pound), fresh produce, prepared foods, specialty cheeses ($3.77 for a wedge of ricotta salata), imported wines, tuna (a can of Ortiz is $4.99), and olive oils. But that ain't all. Bathroom tissue, frozen pizza, muffin mix, tomato sauce, and strawberry jelly are for sale too. It's one stop for your ravishing bouquet of lilies, your Gardenburger, and your Bounty paper towels. Macchione cut his teeth on jobs with Wild Oats and Fresh Fields; he's clearly taken the best ideas of both. The original Marketplace in Plantation closed this year, but only to retool; Macchione says they'll reopen in Lauderdale, possibly in another location, at a more manageable size. They're steadily adding organics as they see what sells and what rots on the shelves; they're already selling free-range chickens from Ashley Farms. A small café turns out wholesome lunches. The cheese and charcuterie sections offer enough variety for a year's worth of antipasti; a yummy, whole-grain bread ($3.49 for a loaf) comes from their bakery; and bottles of wine and sake boast Wine Spectator ratings. Macchione says he's committed to keeping prices fair. Sounds like a great marketing concept.

Best Bakery

It's clean, it's bright, and it serves confections so sweet that your teeth almost rot just looking at them. Gone are the days of Grandma's neighborhood bakery, where only muffins, brownies, and loaves of bread were available. When this company was founded nearly two decades ago during the "Let's Get Physical" '80s, more than 50 flavors of cheesecake and dozens of pies, tortes, and other cakes were delivered to the hungry masses by Celebrity's chefs. Through the no-fat '90s and the "anti-carb" new millennium, this bakery has continued to thrive with loads of options for anyone from the carb-conscious to the reckless. This is your go-to joint for Hello Dollies and brownies ($2.75 each), custom cakes (slices $3.25 to $3.50), platters, and seasonal selections like egg nog and cranberry pumpkin cheesecake ($3.50 to $26). What else makes this a great spot to visit? Lots of little tables, decent cups o' Joe, evening hours, and a personable staff. Cooking classes are held for kids and adults too so you can learn how to make more than just Betty Crocker.

Best Delicatessen
Gourmet Deli House
Christina Mendenhall

Gourmet Deli House will make you feel like Henny Youngman smack in the middle of Del Boca Vista. Come in the late fall, especially, when you'll hear an old folk's reunion in the line. As you wait to order the signature corned beef ($10.95 a pound) or the lox ($24.50 a pound) or chicken salad ($8.95 a pound), you'll always overhear a couple of codgers talking about Ohio and Pennsylvania and New Yawwwk. Diners in this joint -- and we love this -- sometimes need to be reminded that they'll be charged for the buckets of free pickles and rye bread if they don't order an entrée. Make no mistake, these folks know a bargain. And so do the deli owners, who upon request will even split a loaf of bread in half for frugal deli customers. Just remember to drive slowly in the parking lot.

7117 Lake Worth Rd., Lake Worth, 33467
Personal Best


He's the guy whose name tag says Freddy Scoops. This is Fred Sabloff, co-owner (with Fay Decker) of Maggie Moo's, the Coral Ridge ice cream emporium where they stir your favorite toppings into your flavor of choice on a stone cutting board. What? You didn't know? It's the latest thing. Last year was the store's first full year of operation, and it packed 'em in, with customers clamoring for signature flavors like grape bubblegum, very yellow marshmallow, and udderly cream.

Moo's even gives the ice cream a carny spin or two.

"Our biggest-selling flavor is cotton candy," says the gregarious Sabloff, a New Yorker with a penchant for street scenes. "I go to all the carnivals. I like the excitement. I like the food -- hot dogs on a stick, all the stuff that's not good for you. Mostly, I like to be where there's a lot of people, where people are tumling." Tumulting? "It's like tumult. But it's tuml." That would be Yiddish for noisy, chaotic, and entertaining.

Personal Best

Food as Sideshow

Michael's Kitchen is a showy new restaurant in downtown Hollywood where dinner is as much a spectacle as a food experience. Flames spout from stoves in the open kitchen, frying pans sizzle like lava eruptions, and chefs parade through the place with creatively displayed dishes. This is "Cirque de Soleil dining," says Michael Blum, co-owner (with his wife, Jennie) and namesake of the restaurant. The food? It just tastes good. But the presentation is, well, carnyesque.

Blum, the food showman, feels right at home in the lurid sideshows of county fairs and traveling carnivals. "I like the wow effect -- the 3,000-pound pig and the lady with the 14-inch nose. At the carnival, it's all about the wacky people. That's kind of how I go through my day. We give you in-your-face dining."

Best Breakfast Special
Tropical Café

Tropical Café has been dishing out flavorful Cuban grub at its present location -- an out-of-the-way store in the Sears shopping center -- for four years (and seven years before that on Andrews Avenue). It's all about the pork -- which is roasted, indelibly touched with garlic and secret herbs -- and the coffee (thick, sweet, hot as a punctured radiator in July). That's why we like owner Humberto Fajardo's peerless breakfast deal. For a mere $4.99, you get an omelet, a layer of that roast pork -- or ham or bacon -- and a slice of Swiss cheese, all pressed into a hunk of Cuban bread, which has been grilled flat in the kitchen's heavy, metal parrilla. Top it off with a steaming hot café con leche. It's what gets us to work every morning.

915 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 33304

Best Alternative to the Prices at Whole Foods: Village Marketplace


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