Give a French cook an egg, a couple of slices of bread, a stick of butter, and five minutes and most likely he'll return the favor by creating something so exquisite it'll haunt you for life. When a croque monsieur is done properly, it is, indeed, the most fantastic concoction in the universe. And, mes amis, the sandwich is made just right at La Vie en Rose (true for almost everything on the menu, but that's another story). This long-running French restaurant in Margate produces a crisp, elegant croque with slivers of country ham and Gruyère cheese melted between two slices of feather-light toasted French country bread. It's gooey and savory with a scrumptious custardy interior. For a real jolt, order the croque madame, with two poached eggs on top. They're available at $7.25 and $8.25 respectively for Sunday brunch, with a complimentary glass of champagne. You might want to refrain from mentioning your skyrocketing croque consumption to your cardiologist, though. She probably won't understand that anything that tastes this good has to be good for you -- existentially speaking.

Funky as an old Parliament album, Le Tub's commode-themed outdoor eatery looks more rustic and weather-beaten each year. But the place stays packed with happy locals vying for a waterside table (best way to catch those superb sunsets glittering off the Intracoastal) and waiting for the molasses-slow servers to bring another round of drinks. Still, even Tub fans can get put off by the less-than-antiseptic surroundings and opt for liquid refreshment only -- an elitist error, to be sure. Yeah, there might be a fresh ketchup wet spot on your driftwood bench, or a palmetto bug may scurry across the floor... so what? Everything on Le Tub's handwritten, Xeroxed menu tastes fantastic -- its chili, burgers, and key lime pie win regular accolades. But the fries -- ye gods! These lovingly hand-cut shards of spudly goodness are fried to crispy perfection in peanut oil, rendering McDonald's flash-frozen abominations utterly pathetic. Blistered brown with shreds of skin attached, a basket ($3.50 to $5) of these hot 'n' tasty little items split between a pair of happy diners is a sure-fire entry point to the rest of Le Tub's delicious, overlooked selection of victuals.

Benny's on the Beach

Philosophical question: How can you tell the dancer from the dance? How to separate the French fry from its environment? If you could surgically remove, say, that single Benny's fry -- crisp, salty, and golden -- from its plate and whisk it away from these surroundings -- the wooden pier, the gossiping pop and suck of the wavelets, the aromas of Hawaiian Tropic, salt air, and trolley exhaust; if you could spirit it to a place free from the absurd Technicolor tangerine hues of the setting sun and the ocean's sad, late-afternoon turquoises, from the babble of flirting couples and cranky tourists, and the high whine of a drive-time traffic report from a forgotten radio -- would it still be the same French fry? Or would it have become something else entirely?

Keese's Simply Delicious

Big breasts. Hot legs. Juicy thighs. Isn't fried chicken the best? For more than 40 years, Keese's Simply Delicious has dished out perfectly spicy, sublimely crispy, just-greasy-enough pieces of fresh-fried heaven, even keeping its old family recipe through several management and ownership changes. But besides the fine fowl, Keese's has the advantage of its almost-oceanfront location. So order your two-piece/two-side dinner -- for less than six bucks. (Try the slaw and the intriguingly spiced baked beans). While you wait the requisite 17 minutes cooking time, brown-bag a beer from the gas station across the street and stroll past the tacky-yet-charming shops and cafés of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea's pier district. By the time you make a leisurely lap, your food will be ready to grab and carry back to the beach for a seaside picnic. Just be wary of jealous bystanders. Keese's chicken looks and smells as good as it tastes.

When you order chicken wings, you want the whole shebang: a lopsided w of drummie, drummette, and that extra pinky on the end that functions best as a handle. That's what they serve at this tiny, carryout-only soul-food joint. A ten-piece box sells for $5.50 and comes in four varieties: mild, hot, lemon pepper, and "the famous Pompano Wings." The latter are bathed in a sauce that's neither hot nor exactly sweet. Neither spicy nor bland. Call it a flavor not found in nature. Gray's makes it easy to fulfill your fowl cravings, as it's open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. They deliver with a $20 minimum order.

Sure, you say, "You think I'm going to drive across hundreds of acres of sugar-cane fields just for a piece of meat?" Well, take heart in this: You'll float back home after you try this melt-in-your-mouth slab o' heaven. Jellyroll's offers a solid assortment of "upscale" soul food, but the chicken-fried steak and brown gravy, for $6.95, is the best. It includes a choice of two side dishes, among which are green beans and ham, black beans and rice, and collard greens (cooked with liberal portions of pork). The steak is lightly breaded and fried to a delicate crispiness. The restaurant is visually appealing too, with antique collectibles and old-time photos of Pahokee displayed throughout its brightly lit interior.

Cannoli Kitchen
Liz Dzuro

Maybe you've noticed the high price and low quality at the supermarket: America is currently undergoing a tomato famine. Well, not so much a famine as a shortage, which makes the sumptuous, fresh-tomato-topped slices at the Cannoli Kitchen all the more impressive. Existing in the culinary nether-region between New York thin crust, Chicago deep dish, and California gourmet, Cannoli Kitchen's slices come in 17 "signature" styles, like chicken fiorentina with ham, spinach, and mozzarella; Mexican with ground beef, salsa, lettuce, tomato (fresh!), green peppers, and cheddar cheese; chicken Alfredo; portobello; and the divine artichoke with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, capers, and mozzarella. Takeout slices ring in at just over $3, and there are plenty of other Italian specialties -- including awesome hot and cold subs, pasta, and seafood, all at modest prices. If you like thinking in the long term, grab three fresh-frozen slices for five bucks. Now that's a cool deal.

John G's

As Zagat, Fodor's, or any assorted tourist map will tell you, the best breakfast around is at John G's. But the line at this place is often too much; it frequently snakes out the door and around the building. So here's a trick: Cut up to the takeout counter and bring your eggs to Lake Worth's public beach, which is just across the parking lot. G's is famous for its pancakes, with the blueberries baked inside ($5.95), but the best omelets you can find on or off the beach are also here. Their Italian is full of sausage, peppers, pepperoni, and melted cheese ($8.50), or try the Hawaiian, chock full of sautéed vegetables, a grilled pineapple slice, and cheese sauce ($7.95). G's will pack up your beach brunch, and then you can eat it blanket-style as you laugh at the poor schmucks waiting in line.

Pizza Rustica

They call it a slice, that slab of pizza in front of you. It looks about the size of a laptop and sits on two paper plates. Cut from Pizza Rustica's signature square pans of the stuff, these are a meal cut into three-bite squares. They come with a laundry list of toppings, including imported prosciutto, yellow squash, and shiitake mushrooms. There's the campagnola -- with sweet sausage, roasted peppers, sweet onions, and plum tomato sauce. Or the pizza putanesca, covered in Sicilian anchovies, kalamata olives, jalapeños, red onions, and pepperoni. Finish them off with a pizza filled with hazelnut chocolate. The slices cost $2.75 to $3.75 and the full pies $11.50 to $29. But what makes these slices better than the competition is the fact that you don't have to leave the house: Pizza Rustica delivers any order of three slices or more. Why order so much? You don't need more than a slice for a meal. But if you order just a little, you have to leave the couch.

Cafe Del Rio

Here's a little story about the fajita that could. One day, the fajita looked at his peers with their white, flaky tortillas, boring veggie mixes, and dry, flavorless meats and said, "There's got to be more than this." So he left his tiny taco stand in Nowhere, Idaho, and headed for Florida, Land of the Unique and Daring. Here, he encountered the folks at Cafe del Rio, who promised a makeover that would make him unrecognizable to those stale fajita friends he left back home. So the Del Rio people tossed chicken, steak, and shrimp into a tumbler with seasonings and marinades to make them flavorful and exquisitely tender. Then they added some yellow squash and zucchini to the standard veggie mix of onions and green and red peppers and adorned the sizzling skillet with a shiny, jade-colored pepper and a little silver cup of butter touched with cilantro and jalapeño. Why butter, you ask? Well, my child, butter makes the flavor of the meats richer (just ask someone at Ruth's Chris), and it adds a nice flavor to the golden and puffy tortillas that Del Rio makes fresh to blanket the whole affair. Of course, the guacamole, sour cream, diced tomatoes, Tex-Mex rice, and refried beans topped with melted shredded cheese were thrilled with the results, and they agreed that the prices asked were more than fair (just under $12 for beef or chicken, a little shy of $14 for shrimp, and nearly $15 for a combo of the three). And they all lived happily ever after in my stomach. The End.

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