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Best Of 2006


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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Pizza by the Slice

There are a few other victual options in the 1950s time warp that is the Riverland Shopping Center -- a Cuban cafeteria and a time-honored greasy spoon, for instance -- but Sassano's always has the perfect cure for midday hunger pangs. It's not just the superb, thin cracker-crust and home-made sauce at this family-run joint that make it so noteworthy, nor is it the pocket-change price ($1.60 a slice, ingredients only 35 cents more) but its location. Easy to find? Not unless you're lost and on foot. No bigger than a coat closet, with a painfully cramped kitchen and a counter barely large enough for two stools, Sassano's sits way back in an odd little cul-de-sac that's nearly invisible. It houses obscure oddities like a shoe repair shop and a tiny insurance agency. Howling winds get caught up in this weird little alleyway, spiraling and spinning leaves like that scene in American Beauty, beckoning you toward a well-kept secret that's perfect for that day you want to keep lunch under $5. Just like in the olden days.

2760 Davie Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 33312
Personal Best Mmm. Cheese Fries

Maybe he lasted only five episodes on The Apprentice, but Brent Buckman, South Florida's own would-be Trumpster, knows comfort food better than most. Buckman, the portly guy with a penchant for irritating Apprentice teammates with his pushy, plow-through-walls approach, has delved deep into the food dimension. He did this both before his appearance on the show, and he has done it after. Buchman's earlier food explorations gave him that soft, endearingly blimpy figure. His later ones helped him lose 64 pounds. The secret, Buckman says, is his patented "four bagel diet." One bagel for each daily meal and a snack (sometimes with low-fat margarine, sometimes with an eight-ounce portion of sliced meat). Stick to the diet and watch the pounds fade away, he says. (Well, there's the diet and there's also a rigorous schedule on the treadmill.) How do you keep up, week after week, a gruelingly monotonous routine of bagels-bagels-bagels? You have to give yourself a once-a-week treat, the Toronto-born lawyer says. For that, Buckman goes to his favorite restaurant, the Outback Steakhouse on Pine Island Road in Plantation. Keep your Tandoori baked pheasant morsels or Peruvian cui au gratin served on sautéed escarole, Brent says. He'll take Outback's Aussie cheese fries, a messy mixture of gooey yellow cheese and fried potatoes. If he's feeling especially decadent, he throws some bacon chips on top and dips each forkful into a bowl of ranch dressing. "The best cheese fries on the planet," Buckman says with ill-concealed longing. "My goodness, they're to die for."

Personal Best: Health Food Blues

"Give me a pigfoot and a bottle of beer," blues great Bessie Smith used to sing. Local blues legend Juanita Dixon is after more up-to-date fare. Give her a mixed green salad and a grilled fillet of tilapia. Maybe it doesn't have the old roadhouse resonance, but it fits the healthful lifestyle Dixon has been pursuing since a doctor told her she was in danger of becoming a full-fledged diabetic. Her medical plight naturally led Dixon, who was born in the Bahamas but grew up in Fort Lauderdale, to Whole Foods on Federal Highway. And sooo glad it did. "You find more of the natural foods there, without the preservative crap in it," she says. Dixon's gospel-tinged singing (she learned it all, she says, at Fort Lauderdale's Mount Herman AME Church, where she has been a member and, off and on, a choir singer since she was a girl) has been a beloved fixture in the South Florida club scene for decades. Nowadays, you can catch her at Sushi Blues in Hollywood and O'Hara's on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale, though she makes time every summer for a Northern European tour, where she has a loyal fan base. Ask Dixon what her favorite Whole Foods items are and she expounds on a particular kind of vinegar. "It's got some herbal something that's supposed to cleanse the body," she says. Take that, hamhock eaters.

Best Cheap Lunch

If you want to hustle through your huaraches, thick, fried tortillas stuffed with barbecued goat (two for $7.99), forget it. Be prepared to linger over chips still sizzling from the fryer with two kinds of fresh salsa (green tomatillo and tomato) while -- on weekends, anyway -- a roving band of trumpet players and guitarists serenades your table. Kick back with a beer (you don't really need to go back to work, do you?), reset your watch to slow time, and sample from a foodie's dream menu of delicious if challenging meats to pack into your tacos. Roast pork, fried beef tripe, pork stomach, beef tongue, spicy pork sausage, beef head, stuffed green peppers, pork in red pepper sauce, fish, shrimp, and vegetarian fillings are priced from $1.69 for a single soft taco to $6.99 for the fanciest burrito -- to eat with the seven different bottles of hot sauce on every table and your choice of corn or flour tortillas. Heartier appetites will warm to seven kinds of dinner soups (sieta mares is $13.99), chicken in mole ($8.99), roast quail ($10.99), enchiladas ($9.99), chimichangas ($8.99), and fajitas ($10.99). Cactus and eggs ($3.99) and huevos rancheros ($3.99) are served all day from the breakfast menu. Nobody speaks a word of English, so if you're linguistically challenged, break out your high school Spanish or be prepared to grunt and point.

3333 S. Congress Ave., Lake Worth, 33461
Best Meal for Cheapskates
Beef Eater

You're not cheap; you're just smart. And far-seeing. You know how to stretch a nickel till it howls for mercy. Let the grasshopper detonate his wad on some so-called "prime" or "kobe," along with the $9 sides of creamed spinach and the $15 martinis and crme bržlées. Come winter, that overgrown cricket'll have his frozen jaws fused together anyway -- you can bet he's not going to be chowing down on steak -- he'll be lucky to be sucking ice water through a straw! While you, my precious, my practical ant, will be crawling in a straight line right to Beef Eater, with all your little buddies, for another plate of $16 skirt steak doused in chimichuri sauce, and maybe a couple of fried eggs on top -- a piece of meat easily enough for two meals... and damned delicious too! And that $15 bottle of wine waiting for you on the table -- go ahead and open it. Open two, in fact, and keep 'em coming. Nothing goes down with a bottle of red better than a little schadenfreude.

1902 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 33020
Best New Restaurant in Broward

Short of having an actual band of winged seraphim fluttering over that perfect plate of risotto while strumming harps and singing hymns, it's hard to imagine how a meal at Serafina could be any more heavenly. This delicious, romantic retreat in Victoria Park, settled down by a glimmering harbor on the Middle River with jaunty candlelit tables on the outdoor deck and a series of warm, intimate nooks inside, is technically an Italian restaurant. But you'd never know it from the menu. Owner/chef Shari Woods' palate is so imaginative, so all over the map, drawing on influences from the American Southwest (smoked corn soup), the South of France (foie gras paté), the coasts of Spain (rich seafood paella), and the distant deserts of the East (spicy Moroccan tagine), that it's probably safer to call this cuisine Worldly Wise. And then there's the way the menu keeps changing depending on whim and season. Still, you'll have other issues to ponder besides how to classify those luxurious boneless, slow-cooked short ribs in their caramelized wine reduction. You're more likely to be fretting over which wine to choose from Woods' interesting list or frantically calculating what percentage of your annual income you can absolutely afford, if you give up the Netflix subscription and the chess club membership, to devote to return visits.

926 NE 20th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 33304

Best Pizza by the Slice: Sassano's New York Style Pizzeria


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