Best Of :: Food & Drink
Throw a carrot in any direction in South Florida and you surely won't hit a vegetarian restaurant. The prognosis for herbivores is dispiriting week after week of bean tacos (hold the lard!), pasta (hold the butter!), and overpriced salads (hold the Chevrie!). Then you stumble across Pine Garden, a nondescript Chinese place wedged next to a craft shop in the blandest of strip malls and you happen to idly pick up one of the paper menus shoved into a holder by the door, and WTF? Here's a list of 120 completely meat- and dairy-free dishes, along with a little write-up extolling the healthful benefits of soybeans. So you settle into your pine booth next to the pine walls among the Asian tchotchkes at Pine Garden Authentic Chinese Restaurant, ask for the vegan menu (it's separate from the regular Cantonese stuff), and prepare to feast on some of the most remarkable faux meat and fish you've ever tasted. The proprietors make fake shrimp, beef, pork, duck, and chicken out of soy protein, soybean threads, potato flour flavored with sea vegetables, and wheat gluten, and they sauté or deep-fry or stir-fry it along with salty black beans and hoisin sauce, with mushrooms and snow peas, crunchy broccoli, basil, bamboo shoots, cashews, and curry sauce, or they roll it up inside a rainbow pancake. They make fried rice with brown rice, tofu prepared more than a dozen ways, and crispy orange "beef" with strips of wheat gluten rolled in yam flour. It's all MSG-free and cooked in vegetable oil. The results range from the weird but interesting to the totally fabulous, and no two concoctions taste anything alike. Service is friendly, and the prices, at $7 to $14 for the entrées, are downright lovely.
Psychologist Marla Reis gave up her practice last year to open Café Emunah in Fort Lauderdale with a friend and kindred spirit Rabbi Moishe Meir Lipszyc. With hip, calming décor and a rule that "only positivity is allowed," Emunah is a place where the pair hoped to offer "an experience for the senses and an oasis for the mind, body and soul." That, and really killer sushi.
New Times: Is it true that one of the menu items at Café Emunah is "a side of conversation"?
Reis: A side of table talk. It's offered in 15-minute increments. I sit tableside with guests, and if they have questions or issues as far as bringing about a greater consciousness, we could discuss it in an informal way. It's very flexible and tailored to individual needs, or we can do a group conversation.
What kind of discussions do you have?
People might ask, How can I find a husband?' or I want to increase spirituality in my life -- what can I do to increase awareness?' or I'm having a hard time getting along with my best friend what do I do?' It's a little less imposing than traditional therapy. Almost like a tune-up to help people continue in their lives. I'll have hours where I can be scheduled. I recommend making a reservation. It's $20 per 15 minutes -- much less expensive than a regular therapy session.
Speaking of people who need consciousness-raising, there's the man who sometimes carries his Walther PPK in a hollowed-out Bible. Got any favorite James Bond locations?
Well, I have investors I've spoken to about bringing the café into Manhattan! The only real James Bond locale would almost have to be the café, because it's a very modern, hip atmosphere. Oh, and my townhouse in Victoria Park.
Aiyee. If we're ever invited, we'll wear a kevlar vest.
Jean-Pierre Brehier's mother was a Cordon Bleu chef, so by the time he was five years old, the French-born chef/cooking school maestro could make a cake from scratch. At 12 he began his professional career, first learning to trim zee lambchops in a butcher shop, then braiding dough in a bread shop, and finally apprenticing in a restaurant. Before opening the Chef Jean-Pierre's Cooking School in Fort Lauderdale, he had been the proprietor for 20 years of Left Bank, one of South Florida's prime dispensers of delectable wine sauces and pouffe pastry.Jean-Pierre still has the outrageous French accent and attitude, as well as the unpredictable sense of humor that makes every class a laugh session. There was this bit of wisdom for Jean-Pierre's charges recently: "Dose people at the Bennigan-again-agains they do not love you they do not caramelize de on-yon."
New Times: Do you think you could you teach a kitchen-challenged dufus like me to cook French delicacies?
Jean-Pierre: I just believe that anybody is capable of becoming a phenomenal chef. There is only one way to slice an onion.
What's the big secret?
There are only 40 or 50 ingredients you use on a regular basis; if you learn how to handle those then you know how to cook!
Are there any exotic destinations that you would like to see that you haven't gone to yet?
I would love to go Australia. Of course, it's very English influenced and that's the problem. I don't know how good the food is going to be.
What's the coolest spy tool in your kitchen arsenal?
I have the coolest toy! It's a digital thermometer that shoots a ray of light, and it bounces back and gives the proper temperature. It is very, very cool. So you are now sure the temperature is 375 degrees by shooting this laser beam into your oil. It even looks like a gun.
We remained stoic through the mad cow scare. We refused to buckle to e. coli hysteria, and we snickered through Super Size Me. We'd never turn our back on the hamburger, our comfort food through many a dark night of the soul. But when the $100 burger arrived in South Florida (at the Boca Raton Resort), we knew we were in the End of Times. The people's snack that had evolved from chopped, salted beef favored by 19th-century German sailors into Macburger for the masses had suddenly taken a very scary turn: into pretentious Kobe beef and Argentine grass-fed steak territory. It's definitely time to get back to basics, and Prime 707's chopped beef on a bun doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is: an addictive, soothing mouthful of meat, best slathered with mayo and a shake or two from a bottle of Heinz. This is not, at $12 for ten ounces, the cheapest burger on the market. But it's made from prime, well-marbled sirloin tips and filet mignon scraps that chef/owner Tony Acinapura says are ground daily in the kitchen, then charbroiled and set inside a pillowy bun made at Le Petit Pain French bakery (twice a New Times "best of" winner). The smoky, fatty juices tend to dribble down your chin when you bite into the burger, and it comes with a mountain of perfectly respectable salted shoestring fries. In short, it thoroughly restores the good name of a sandwich that has lately been much abused and maligned.
In an era when it takes a cool couple of mil to open a restaurant with any hope of success what with the obligatory solid-gold threads in the throw pillows, the de rigueur kryptonite flooring, and the water walls take comfort that a little candlelit closet in Hollywood is flourishing without pretensions or spectacle. The only circus act at the cozy, year-old Boulevard American Bistro comes at the end of your delicious meal, when co-owner Jean-Paul Varona sets your rum-laced guava bread pudding alight. But don't rush things. Truffle-oil-laced fries scattered with pecorino and provolone are meant to be savored, along with Chef Jorge Varona's terrific New Orleans-style grilled andouille with creole mustard and spectacular artisinal bread, or his pan-seared blue crab cakes with fruit salsa and a dash of chipotle. Generous servings of fat-loaded braised short ribs, big plates of grilled marinated hanger steak with crisp red pepper and polenta fries it all looks like the people's food, but it's so beautifully conceived and executed that you'd almost think the people had done something to deserve it. For once, the best restaurant in South Broward is a place you can afford to go back to, week after week.
The downtown lunch crowd packs the tiny parking lot on weekday afternoons like a parched pack of bison at a watering hole, randomly wedging their oversized SUVs between yellow lines and racing in to place orders. A few Windy City-themed hot dog joints flourish in Florida, but Michael's is the lone local franchise of an actual Chicagoland institution. So what you'll find here are the same staples you'd encounter amid the gum-splattered sidewalks around Wrigley Field: Polish sausage, char dogs, chili cheese dogs, and, of course, the perennially awesome Chicago dog, top-loaded with pickles, relish, and peppers. The Sears Tower of hot dogs, this time-tested tubesteak is truly a tastier-than-thou, top-of-the-line victual item. And that soppy, drippy masterpiece, the Italian roast beef sandwich which Michael's deifies with beef juice, giardinera (pickled carrots, celery, cauliflower, and peppers), and cheese if you want is so hot and yummy you'll swear it just arrived on a first-class flight from O'Hare. Eat one with your eyes closed and a Cubs game on and you might think you're standing on the corner of Addison and Clark outside the stadium. Best of all, the counter kids here are so damned sweet and friendly, you'd think they were on an Up With People tour stop. If you're nice enough, they'll even remember your name and what you want and if you call ahead, you can beat that long-ass lunchtime line. Also available: Italian sausage.