Rustic Inn Crabhouse
Candace West
The most famous crabs in South Florida are the simple, unadorned stone crab claws patrons wait hours to sample at Joe's Stone Crabs in South Beach. Rustic Inn, Broward's lesser-known crustacean haven, is famous in certain circles for a less refined crab presentation. Tucked away near the rental-car lots behind Fort Lauderdale/ Hollywood International Airport, the place is nearly impossible to find but well worth the scavenger hunt. Inside the no-frills seafood restaurant, big-bellied patrons draped in plastic bibs wield wooden mallets with barbarous glee. They reach into big buckets of split blue crabs that are drenched in butter and garlic (like garlic bread in a shell), smash the shells on the newspaper-lined tables, and then suck out the meat with a decisive slurp. Roll up your sleeves and abandon all propriety for a seafood meal in a restaurant that might just as easily qualify as the "worst place for a first date."
Technically a floor show means live, cabaret-style entertainment. And we certainly enjoy the belly dancer who prances around Kasbah, shaking her groove thang along with sequins and spangles. But the real floor show at this tentlike restaurant -- draped from floor to ceiling with silken, brilliantly hued fabric -- is provided by the customers, many of whom are unfamiliar with traditional Moroccan décor and cuisine. We've never seen so many people squirm on the decorative pillows, the only cushions between them and the rugs, and eat carrot-raisin salad and Cornish hen pastry with their fingers (which, by the way, you can lick if you don't feel like wiping them on the thick, white towel the waiter has draped over your shoulder). We appreciate even more the hand-washing rituals: warm water poured from a silver pot at the beginning of the meal, rose-and-orange-blossom waters sprinkled over your digits at the conclusion. The visuals in this place are just as authentic, and some of them as aromatic, as the steaming mint tea and fish tagine.

It doesn't look like much. The décor is akin to a '70s diner, the color scheme predominantly brown. Entrées arrive unadorned on standard-issue dishes. But nothing detracts from the Cooke family recipes. Even the flavorful sauces boost, rather than bury, the meats. Oxtail is marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and ginger for an unexpected delicacy. Jerk chicken has the requisite spiciness while skirting stereotypes. The piquant tenderness of a whole snapper belies its steely stare. Complementary rice and "peas," red kidney beans, cut the spices with coconut. Plantains are sliced to poker chip-width so they plunk, not sink, in your stomach. But the pièce de résistance is the sweet-potato pudding, served in dense, sumptuous squares drizzled with Bailey's Irish Cream. Merton Cooke knows the power of his pie and plies it with charming persistence. Lingering beside the table, he speaks lovingly of his hometown, Montego Bay, where he runs another Cooke's Goose. "Have you been to Jamaica?" he inquires. Almost.

Southwestern cuisine is one trend South Florida could exploit just a little more, and Armadillo Cafe shows us why. Chef-owners Eve Montella and Kevin McCarthy have been running this cozy place for a decade, serving up locally grown hydroponic arugula salad with black beans, roasted corn, and honey-chipotle dressing; fried goat cheese with yellow tomato salsa; Southwest shrimp pasta with avocado, snow peas, and jicama; and marinated leg of lamb with wild-rice pancakes. They complement their hearty, piquant dishes with excellent wine and beer choices, including microbrews such as Bert Grant's Scottish Ale (draft) and Dixie Blackened Voodoo (bottle). Specialty drinks lure the unsuspecting with their sweet descriptions -- the black raspberry margarita, for instance, or the chocolate martini -- but there aren't too many Armadillo novices here. That may soon change. Residents of Davie have long been grateful for the Armadillo's commitment to finely prepared fare. Now it's time for the regulars to share.

Bamboo Garden III
There are two ways to serve dim sum: Wheel it around in steam carts, allowing diners to select the small portions of Chinese dumplings, noodles, balls, buns, tarts, and cakes by sight; or make it to order, ensuring that customers receive fresh food and nothing is wasted. Bamboo Garden, which has two other locations in Miami-Dade County, goes both ways. On weekdays diners check off the amount of pan-fried turnip puddings or scallion pancakes they would like from a list of 59 items. On weekends the staff pushes around carts, serving specials of the day in addition to items from the regular menu. Whenever you go, though, and however you order your dim sum, chances are you'll be impressed, as we are, by the artistry invested in the creation of these delicious little tidbits.
Blink as you're about to cross the railroad tracks on eastbound 45th Street and you'll miss this hole-in-the-wall treasure, although your nose will probably steer you back. Almost all available surfaces in the tiny front room are covered with freshly baked, beautifully shaped loaves of bread, rolls, and pastries, displayed not in plastic bags but in baskets lined with colorful napkins. Hand-lettered signs identify the goods, which vary daily: French, Italian, pumpernickel, sourdough, marbled rye, herb, Parmesan, and other breads, along with giant cookies and other sweets. The breads are fat-free and contain no preservatives, and they freeze well. The steep prices aren't posted, presumably on the assumption that if you have to ask, you can't afford it. Don't worry -- it's all well worth it.

The three-year-old boy has hardly ever been in a garden before, much less a vegetable farm. But his task is simple: Find the red ones. As he walks slowly and purposefully down the row of tomatoes, his eyes scan the plants, and, sure enough, he finds them. He loves West McNab U-Pick, and why not? Where else in Broward County can you have an interactive experience with a genuine farm? Just about nowhere. At West McNab U-Pick, there are about 60 acres of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, strawberries, and more. Get there early -- the farm opens at 8 a.m. -- and you're likely to get the cream of the crop. We got there late and had to choose from sparse pickings. There was a lot of walking and not a whole hell of a lot to show for it, which brings us to the true beauty of the farm: If you come up empty, there's a huge stand on the premises, full of the biggest and boldest peppers you'll find, the reddest strawberries you'd hope to eat, and the kind of juicy tomatoes that are best eaten whole. The tremendous selection also includes plenty of citrus and a roomful of fresh potted herbs.

You have ten minutes for lunch, you need energy and nutrition, and one hand is occupied steering the car… what a conundrum. Not if you're close to a Smoothie King. The first store opened in New Orleans in 1973 and has now franchised into more than 180 locations nationwide, including several in the Broward/Palm Beach area. The delicious frozen drinks offer something for every "body." Looking to bulk up? How about a "Hulk"? The 953 calories and extra protein help pack on the muscle. Feel a cold coming on? Smoothie King's "Immune Builder" includes vitamins C and E, echinacea, an herbal blend of nutrients, and antioxidants. Their number-one workout smoothie, "Power Punch Plus," is good before or after a workout, and the two grams of fat won't weigh on your mind. Available in more than 40 flavors, the original recipes, using fresh fruits such as bananas, papaya, blackberries, and crushed pineapple, taste good and are good for ya.

One of the pleasures associated with Greek dining is the way customers get to view their food before ordering it. At some restaurants that entails a journey into the kitchen to investigate bubbling pots and check the eyes of the fish -- if they're clear, the critters are fresh. At Culinaros the trip is somewhat abbreviated, as fish are displayed in a deli case near the entrance. And the eyes are bright, no question, making the snapper and swordfish dishes some of the kitchen's best. That's not to say, however, that just because meaty lamb chops are on the menu, baby sheep are also for show. In fact the only dish that truly ruins your appetite for a main course is the appetizer platter for two, comprising tzatziki, hummus, roasted eggplant dip, and spinach pie; it's big and tasty enough to suffice for dinner.
You've polished your riding boots to a soft sheen, reserved a space alongside Palm Beach Polo's main playing field in Wellington, and invited a few acquaintances from the social club to join you on Sunday for a Gold Cup qualifying match. But if you want to upstage your finger sandwich-serving neighbors, you'll need a serious spread, preferably one you won't have to chip your nail polish putting together. Boulevard Gourmet Catering can make your picnic posh with baskets priced at $400, $600, or $800, packed with an assortment of four to seven dishes such as poached salmon, roasted tenderloin baguettes, smoked pheasant, grilled lamb chops, caviar, and lobster tails with lemon mayonnaise. You choose three to five desserts from a list that includes chocolate-dipped strawberries, Bahamian coconut tarts, guava cheesecakes, and Medjool dates stuffed with toasted almond cream. French-Canadian caterer Dany Thibault hand-delivers your tailored menu to the Polo Club in an extra-large wicker picnic basket with linens, china, silverware, glasses, and a flourish of palm fronds and fresh flowers.

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