Best Conch Fritter 2008 | Theresa Cooper's Sisters in the Pot, Inc. | Food & Drink | South Florida

You long for a trip to the Bahamas, not just for the freely flowing rum drinks or the relaxed vibe, but for the attention paid to the preparation of conch fritters. Here on the mainland, folks don't take pride in conch. Most restaurants are content with dropping frozen, bulk-bought orbs in oil and calling it a day, and you wind up with glorified hushpuppies. But you can drive to Lake Worth and gather a bushel of fried that surpasses anything crafted in the Keys. The catch? You have to be an early bird to get the sea snail. Theresa Cooper blends her batter and sends it to the Lake Worth Greenmarket in her granddaughters' custody every Saturday between October and May. That's where, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., you can get a paper boat loaded with the good stuff fried to order along with pumps of secret sauce (a sweet, tangy condiment mixture) for seven bucks. If you live farther south, you can catch a broader menu at the West Palm Beach Greenmarket (October through April) where Cooper and family, under the name of her catering company, Sisters in the Pot, Inc., whip up everything from conch omelets to shrimp fried rice and, of course, the famous fritters. Each crunchy, drippy bite will send you further from your daily grind until you've mentally transported yourself to the Bahamas. Now all you need is that cocktail.

If you plan to take action on the advice given in any of these Best Of selections, let it be this: Run this instant to Rosey Baby Crawfish & Cajun House. Sit at one of the half-dozen bar tables. Order a bucket of crawfish boil; they come in one-, two-, and five-pound sizes. Which size you get will depend largely on how many friends you have with you and how much beer you're willing to drink. More beer? More crawfish. More crawfish? You get the point. What you'll get is the most authentic, ass-kickingly spicy boil of bugs this side of Baton Rouge. The Babe has hundreds of pounds of the little critters shipped from Louisiana weekly. Each day, the chefs fill a big ol' pot with corn, potatoes, and a bombardment of secret spices before tossing in the live crawfish to simmer slowly in their own sauce. By the time they hit your bucket, the craws are bright red and teaming with a rich, heady broth that bursts forth when you rip open their shells. The trick is to suck up that liquid before pinching the sweet, prawn-like meat from their tails. To some, this sounds like a lot of work for just a little meat, but at the Babe the process becomes rhythmic: Twist, suck, pinch, eat, swig, repeat. There's nothing like being two pounds into a fiver, sweating from the spice and slightly loopy. Ah, good times. But remember when we said run? Yeah, do that. Rosey Baby only does the mudbugs when they're in season, from December to early July.

They come in stacks, with each crepe separated by a sheet of cellophane. Take eight, ten, or a dozen home, pop them onto a griddle, and supply your own mixings. The Croissan'Time crepes have just a hint of that divine French pastry flavor, and they're light, tender, and unobtrusive, like a good piano player cradling a song. We like 'em with chocolate syrup. We like 'em with butter and maple syrup. We like 'em with fresh fruit and whipped cream. A dozen go for $12, or buy one for $1.20.

You know how those cravings go: Must. Have. Cafe con leche. And a Cuban sandwich. NOW. That's why the 24-hour window at Havana Restaurant has saved many lives, from the night crawlers leaving Clematis Street to the early-birds needing a pick-me-up on the way to work before dawn. We usually get our fix with a banana batido (yum!) and a beef empanada (double yum!), but those more sophisticated (or more Cuban) than we prefer to sit down in Havana's two-story restaurant — a family biz run by Cuban exile Roberto Reyes — for a full-on oxtail dinner or palomilla steak, followed by a dish of flan or tres leches, best washed down with a pitcher of homemade sangria.

You'd never know this small, red-and-white lunch counter facing Andrews Avenue was called Sury's unless you asked. The sign out front says only "Original Cuban Sandwich and Havana Lunch," and the back parking lot is mysteriously lined with colorful pop art. It's a strange joint, to be sure, but they do serve up one mean Cuban. Sury's takes its sandwich seriously, using thick pressed ham and big chunks of slow-roasted pork shoulder layered into a crusty Cuban roll with Swiss cheese, mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. It's tossed onto a plancha to press until it's brown and firm, then served with a rustic salsa of tomatoes, onion, and jalapeños. Slathered with the salsa, the sandwich becomes blissful: The meaty pork, caramelized at the edges and moist with pork fat; the balanced kick of salty-sweet from the ham; the collective juices of meat, cheese, and salsa pooling in the bottom of your paper-lined basket, just begging to be sopped up. The only bummer? Sury's is open breakfast and lunch only (7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), so fans of the medianoche will have to come early.

"Life is uncertain. Order dessert first," goes the old saw. Restaurants are uncertain, too, so you'd best order your dessert from Canyon. Anything as delicious as Canyon's bread pudding, for instance, should be in a morality-free zone: It's OK to eat all of it. Without sharing. At some indecent hour. Thankfully the pudding is large and varied enough to constitute a well-balanced meal on its own. Served in a bowl the size of a kiddie pool, it cavorts up and down every tier of the food pyramid: dairy in the cream, protein in the eggs, bread in the bread, vegetable in the chocolate, fruit in the berries, and booze in the booze. Canyon chef Chris Wilber and his staff have been turning out happy variations on this bread pudding for years. Along with toasted pecan pie, homemade ice cream, and vanilla bean cheesecake, it's just one of the reasons customers sometimes wait an hour or two at Canyon for a table. Go after the rush is over, around 9:30 p.m., and you can get right to it.

The word "diner" typically suggests chrome and neon. You won't find either at the Coral Rose Café, but you'll salivate when you discover its homemade breads and other tasty treats. Who needs neon when you have the best brunch grub in town? Whether you devour the behemoth servings of coconut pancakes, build your own eggs benedict (we like spinach, tomato, and feta), or sample any other decadent item off the eclectic menu, you'll digest better knowing that it was all made from scratch. Feeling parched? Knock your bounty back with fresh squeezed juices. While there's no shortage of sumptuous menu combinations, there can be a shortage of seating on weekend mornings, when regulars arrive in droves.

Italian restaurants specializing in Roman, Sicilian, Corsican, and Milanese fare are a dime a dozen, but we have yet to run across another trattoria whose passionate love affair with the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy is so intense. Perhaps that's because owners Beth and Josef Shibanetz, an American woman and her Austrian chef husband, came to that area as strangers and fell in love with its fusion of East and West. In Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, world cultures collide: French, Hungarians, Slavs, Celts, Austrians, and Italians — Catholics, Jews, and Muslims — have settled peaceably in the northeastern tip of Italy, and the evidence of cross-cultural conversation is part of the allure of this odd cuisine. Dishes such as ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and truffles in a light veal sauce or halibut cooked with mushrooms, spinach, and Riesling embody contradictory culinary impulses with delicious results. Dining at Josef's is like learning a delightful secret about one you love. The Shibanetzes also have chosen wines from the area, and the space is charming and intimate.

Top Ten Reasons to Eat at Sunrise Pita:

10. The free pickle bar: cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage, and olives, oy vey!

9. The roasted eggplant salad, garlic tahini, and dreamy hummus.

8. Three words: Meat on spits.

7. Glatt and ORB certified kosher. L'chaim!

6. A massive meal under $10? How thrifty!

5. Best. Grape leaves. Ever.

4. Oh my, that's friendly service. And so fast!

3. Try the baklava, bubbeleh. It's to die for.

2. The falafels are crunchy little balls of heaven, I tell ya.

1. Because you're addicted. We'd say seek help, but would you want to?

You're accustomed to seeing greenmarkets in bustling downtown districts or in parking lots off busy roads. But a greenmarket with an ocean view? You can only get that on Hollywood Beach. Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5:31 p.m., parking anywhere near the market is a test of patience — families come bounding out of narrow alleyways in massive SUVs, octogenarians in spaceship-sized Buicks sit and wait in the middle of the street for nobody in particular, and ecstatically successful market patrons skip gaily through it all, their eyes barely peeking out from behind their crates of produce. Josh's stand has become such a must-do affair that most of Hollywood (and a considerable amount of other rogue veg-heads) turns out to see what surprises Josh has in store that week. Josh is a high-energy, multi-tasking wonder, and he's loaded up with essential vitamins F.U. and N. He springs from crate to crate, announcing which produce is the freshest and most delicious. He kisses regulars on the cheeks as he doles out samples of local, organically grown heirloom tomatoes, dinosaur plums, and other juicy, colorful orbs. If you're more inclined to drinking your fruits and veggies, hit up the juice bar. Every thirst-quenching drop is served out of compostable PLA "plastic" cups (made from corn instead of the usual petroleum). And if you ask for them, your produce bags can be PLA as well. In addition to keeping things fresh and tasty, this market manages to keep its prices down-to-earth. And really, there's no better way to start your week than that.

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