Best Prepared Foods 2002 | Carmine Giardini's Gourmet Market | Foodstuff | South Florida
Part Zabar's, part Xanadu, this stupendous compendium of comestibles is a testament to the opulence and abundance of the American 21st-century good life. Here -- serendipitously located at the intersection of Prosperity Farms Road and PGA Boulevard -- is where your amber waves of grain, your fruited plain hit the table and the palate. Of course, the pot of food at the end of the rainbow is in a yacht harbor in a municipality that christens its main public thoroughfare after the ruling body of a ruling-class sport. Of course, the leisured white folk of the country-club set steer their SUVs this way at day's end, weary of the sun and the cart, to pick up a gourmet delicacy or two for dinner: black-and-white sesame-seared tuna, herb-crusted sea bass, rapini-and-sausage-stuffed breast of chicken, and meats Milanese, Francese, parmigiana, and piccata. There's an extensive wine selection, produce section, and bakery near at hand. It's pricey -- prepared foods top out around $19.99 per pound -- but hey, it costs to eat the dream.
Consider the prototypical deli: a convenient haven of roasted meats, cheeses, pickles, condiments, and home-meal replacements. Antonette's takes that basic model and improves on it by providing Boar's Head cold cuts, fresh mascarpone and ricotta salata, Sicilian olives, eggplant caponata, and homemade "dinners to go" like spinach lasagna or chicken Parmesan. Then the eatery goes one step further by importing a host of products, such as jars of minced truffles, marinated artichokes, and pepperoncini paste, directly from Italy. Prices might be a little bit higher than Publix, but that's a given, given the assortment of hard-to-find goods. One caveat: The aroma of made-on-premises sausage and peppers is so seductive and the service so pleasant, chances are your one-stop shopping could turn into quite a lengthy excursion.
OK, for one thing, it's counter service, so you don't have to worry about annoying a server. Two: Yes, there is a high chair -- maybe even two -- on the premises. So what if they're not quite the same height as the bar-style tables? Three: The utensils are plastic. The plates are paper. The floor is tile. Throw those tortilla chips. Really, no one will notice till they step on them. And finally, the cooked-to-order Mexican food here is actually healthful, prepared without added lard or other extraneous animal fats. Not that you would know it by the taste: rich, full of flavor, spicy with peppers and onions, and perfumed with herbs. This might indeed be the one place where you could get your kids to eat anything, including fish. After all, it's in tacos. And you can't dress up fish better than that -- not even as sticks.
When first confronted by the produce section in a Whole Foods Market, your immediate reaction might be a double take to see if you've accidentally wandered into an art gallery by mistake -- the food is that beautiful, and beautifully arranged as well: walls of glistening greens, row upon row of perfect fruits. Once you've gotten your bearings, however, you'll realize you're in produce paradise. Much of what you'll find is the usual supermarket fare, although invariably fresher and much more carefully displayed. (Some of the arrangements are so artful that you have to pick gingerly to make sure they don't come toppling down on you.) It's the variety that overwhelms. There are red potatoes and white potatoes, but there are also sweet potatoes and yams -- there's a difference, you know -- as well as tiny fingerling potatoes and purple potatoes. Other exotica include black radishes, yellow tomatoes, white asparagus, and two kinds of kale. Then there's the fruit section, which, depending upon the season, can feature cactus pears, purple-streaked pepino melons, wrinkly passion fruit, huge fuyu persimmons, a horned melon called kiwano, the appropriately named ugli fruit, and the truly bizarre tropical delicacy monstera deliciosa, which comes with detailed instructions on how to ripen and eat. And if the array of fresh mushrooms and the dozen or so fresh herbs don't impress you, maybe the edible flowers, including orchids and pansies, will -- or should.
Just a block east of Old Schoolhouse Square, the Delray Green Market is a sweet place to wile away a Saturday morning. From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., about 35 vendors set up in Worthington Park, where magnificent banyans provide shade and park benches welcome the shop-weary buttocks. Produce is available from four vendors. Hippocrates organic farms sells vegetables and fruits as well as juices and wraps. Triple C, a citrus grower, sells citrus and fresh-squeezed juices. Nancy and Charlie Roe, who operate a community-supported farm in Boynton Beach where a monthly subscription brings a weekly bag of seasonal produce, bring a selection of fresh vegetables. There's also barbecue, fresh fish, crafts, and usually musical entertainment. The only bummer: Like pretty much all such gatherings in these subtropical climes, the Green Market is open only from mid-October through the end of April.
At the Twin Marketplace, the tuna is a little redder, the shrimp a little pinker, and the lobsters a little livelier. Hell, the ice even seems a little colder. It's just that kind of place. You choose from a wide variety of seafood at the Ocean's Harvest Seafood Market, which makes up half of the little store (one of the twins, as it were). And there, you can often get unbelievable specials on such wonders as Maine lobsters. On our most recent trip, we bought up a couple of those kicking beauties at a mere $6.99 a pound. God, they were good. But the really unique thing about the place is that there is also a top-flight bakery and deli to provide you with everything else you need to go along with your feast from the sea. In the other half of the store, Stephane's Deli, you have tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, and zucchini, all stuffed with goodies like spinach and cheese. There are various salads and rice dishes and casseroles. And you have delectable cheesecake and other sweet treats. To wash it all down, there is a serviceable selection of wines available. The only problem is that the place is so good, it's addictive. Our mouths are watering like golf-course sprinklers as we write this. Time for a return trip.
First, the bad news about golden crabs: They're as ugly as a hockey player's nose, and their dining habits are macabre. Bearing a striking resemblance to giant spiders, they live in the deep sea and feed on corpses and carcasses, especially favoring rancid eyeballs. But the meat within a golden crab is oh-so-sweet -- not to mention plentiful. Some weigh up to five pounds. It was only in the 1980s that researchers discovered them in great quantities in the deep waters off the Florida coast, and since then, they've been slowly catching on with seafood aficionados. Captain Mike's gets its golden crabs off the shores of Miami Beach from depths of about 1200 feet and sells them whole for $2.69 a pound. Once cooked, they glow like burnished bullion and taste like a million bucks.
Clever name, considering that this storefront coffeehouse is at the junction of Second Street and Second Avenue. But that's not why we fall for the joint, which is all about high-octane fuel that's not even close to motor oil. It's actually refreshing to have this nonalcoholic haven to fall back on after we've tied on a bender at Tarpon Bend or chased with one too many sidecars at Side Bar. And unlike at most garages, the service here is actually friendly, encouraging those whose engines are stalling to stop in for a quick fix. The only irony? Well, parking on this street is a little tough.
The number-one reason this place is kid-positive: It's loud. Thanks to the minimalist décor, even the crankiest of two-year-olds will be drowned out by the echoing conversations of other diners or by the sounds emanating from the open kitchen. Not that there are many reasons for a child or an adult to wail here. Almost as soon as your party is seated, the fruit of your loins will be handed a fruit, vegetable, and quesadilla plate. This is the first of three courses from the outrageous "keiki" (kid's) menu, which features entrées like teriyaki chicken breast, broiled short luau ribs, and flat-top seared Hawaiian catch of the day, as well as the standby favorite, pasta. While you peruse the extensive wine and sake list, your progeny can munch happily on her food or scrawl all over her menu with a crayon. The children's selections are as artfully prepared as the adult's meals, and they are as beautiful as they are delicious, served sizzling, freshly made, and decorated with flowers. Parties with children are not relegated to the dark corners of the restaurant, mostly because there aren't any. All the servers are professionally friendly without being too cute to your kid or too personal with you. The only thing missing from this restaurant is a diaper deck in the men's bathroom, though dads can pop next door to the Holiday Inn and use those. That's a small price to pay for the glee in your child's eyes as she is led away to the kitchen to watch the pastry chef prepare her sundae. The three-course kid's meal costs $9.95, which is less than you'll pay for a sitter; the whole evening will certainly cost less than a family trip to Hawaii.

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