Wilton Manors was not always a fabulous place to live. In the mid-'90s, it was just another neighborhood of the kind that flourished throughout South Florida in those days: brown lawns sporting the occasional junker car, houses from the '60s and '70s that would have been pretty if only somebody had painted them, mom-and-pop businesses flashing in and out of business along Wilton Drive — and, for some reason, two Bible/Christian-paraphernalia stores. All of this changed with the Great Homosexual Takeover of 1997 (and '98 and '99 and so on). Wilton Manors has been blooming for the past decade. Crime rates have plummeted, and the funky businesses on Wilton Drive have stabilized into a mix of stellar restaurants to suit all budgets (Rosie's at the low end, Food Amongst the Flowers up top), one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques (Edgardo's, Zoo Two), community coffee shops (Stork's, Java Boys), and a massively friendly bar scene (Alibi, Boom, Big Dog, Scandals, and so on). The town has morphed into that rarest of communities that actually feels like a community. Nighttime in Wilton Manors is unlike anything else in South Florida: You can see the denizens of the neighborhood walking slowly along Wilton Drive, chatting with one another, drifting into the occasional wine bar or exotic candy shop and then out again, happily digging the vaguely upscale, exquisite downhominess of it all.
The best thing about discovering woodsy Riverland Road on foot are the secrets you'd never see from the street. Huge homes, old homes, ultramodern-homes, and slender waterways you never imagined existed. Doctors, lawyers, and college professors hide out down narrow, canopy-covered dead-end lanes that lie shaded from the sun and prying eyes. On the south side of curvy Riverland Road, the streets cut between the finger canals coming off the New River, and sailboat masts rear behind stately if staid homes. But on the north side, the jungle appears ready to swallow the sunlight itself, and exploring the verdant streets reveals a laid-back lifestyle with an Old Florida feel that's largely been chased out of downtown by development. Here, lots are large, the trees (tons of live oaks) are tall, and the houses just feel fat with history and mystery. Walk around long enough and you may see a manatee lolling in a canal, a huge iguana eating hibiscus flowers, even a pink pineapple sprouting from a pot. And if you find the right street, you may discover the heavily fortified back door of the secret island visited by the Jungle Queen tour boat. Just listen for a loud horn.
Don't have anywhere to be for a while? A long, long while? Then go ahead and make a late-afternoon appointment somewhere in Weston or Southwest Ranches. Try to get on any westbound 595 on-ramp — go ahead, just try it — and see how long it takes before you've ripped hair from your scalp by the fistful. Once you finally gain entrance to the crowded east-west artery, you'll watch as time seems to literally stand still. It's just an illusion, though, since that's actually you standing still, along with the rest of the cars littering this godforsaken road. Tempers flare like trousers on That '70s Show, because creeping ahead at 2 mph like cattle approaching the blood-letting room apparently brings out the very worst in people. In the time it takes to get from University to Pine Island, some drivers actually have two or even three birthdays; some get married and divorced; babies are born in back seats as their parents' cars trundle upon this westerly wasteland. Oh, and that 5:30 appointment? You'd better reschedule, bub.
When Rachael Ray makes a special trek to your annual food fest, you know you've hit prime time. The 2008 bad-breath bash will herald nine years' worth of celebrating the stinking rose, as it were, and it's finally come into its own. Once an unabashed novelty — and let's all pray that garlic ice cream stays a novelty — Delray's Garlic Festival has blossomed into a chef-driven cooking competition bringing South Beach/Palm Beach culinary stars to town. Some of the creations go full-tilt boogie on the crazy train, like Roasted Garlic Covered in Chocolate. But the best part of the festival is going overboard with your own bad self, devouring a Garlic Portobello Sandwich and the Grilled Garlic Argentine BBQ and the Roasted Garlic Bruschetta and the Garlic Vegetable Tempura. Nobody's kissing you tonight anyway, so just go for it.
Rino's Tuscan Grill
Rino's is one of the most expensive restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard, and for good reason: Chef Rino Balzano serves some of the most mind-bogglingly savory fare in the world. Though the meats get a lot of attention — and it's a pitiable beast who hasn't seen what the man can do with a lamb shank and some risotto — budget-conscious gourmands should be aware that Rino's is not exclusively for folks willing to shell out $70 for a veal entrée, an appetizer, and a glass of wine. You can eat here for under $30, if you're willing to go semi-veggie. Here's how: When you arrive, order the Funghi di Bosco appetizer. Defer ordering your main course for a moment. Your server will soon bring you a mound of hollow, golden bread, crackly in places and soft and pliant in others, brushed with garlic, cheese, and oil. Eat this. By the time you're through, the appetizer will emerge from the kitchen: Twin mounds of soft, fresh mozzarella, sitting in a veal reduction with piles of wild mushrooms of various geographical derivations, accompanied by mixed greens. The reduction and mushrooms are warm and earthy, the cheese is cool and impossibly light, and the combination is shockingly sensual. You'll likely close your eyes as you chew. Just as the Funghi di Bosco arrives, place an order for more bread and a second appetizer, this one a half-order of Tortelli di Zucca Alla Salvia e Pinoli, which translates from the Italian as "an orgasm disguised as pumpkin ravioli with pine nuts." And so it is. Tender tortellini stuffed with fresh sage and pumpkin, in an oil-parmigiana sauce and dotted with pine nuts, the dish has a flavor that isn't comparable to anything. Unless you've had pumpkin ravioli before, the Tortelli di Zucca is truly something new under the sun. A half-order of this stuff is a measly $10, the Funghi di Bosco is $12, and the two orders of bread are free. You have just saved a lot of money. Tip well.

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