Best Of :: Food & Drink
Brush up on your Spanish, gringo, because few people at Atlakat are likely to speak your tongue, except when it comes to the universal language of great homemade food. But if you can open a menu and point, you'll be well taken care of at Manuel Chavez's Salvadoran café. Make a stab at the Sampler Platter ($12.99): fried pupusas filled with jack cheese, curtido (a marinated cabbage and carrot slaw) grilled beef chunks, fried pork chicharrones, and pieces of yucca and fried plantain. Give it all a squirt of Cholula hot sauce or a dunk in your bowl of hot tomato salsa and you've got a meal. Er, well, actually you don't. El Salvador may be the smallest country in Central America, but its appetites are big. Witness those burly workmen polishing off plates of tamales and grilled chicken. Now take a deep breath and order yourself a monster bowl of seafood soup ($13.50) or the Atlakat Special ($11.95), a forearm's-length strip of grilled sirloin, a grilled breast of chicken, and four jumbo grilled shrimp. Granted, you won't be able to finish it, not with those sides of fried yucca, red beans, and rice, but your waitress probably understands the universal sign for "Much as I'd love to, I can't choke down another morsel." (Point finger at unfinished plate, then at belly straining shirt buttons. Shake head wistfully.)
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.