Coffeehouse mania swept much of the country during the 1990s, but, alas, it didn't make much of a dent in South Florida. (No, Starbucks doesn't count.) So local brew hounds found reason to rejoice when Meredith Huhn and Jay Motley opened Barefoot Coffee in November. It has the bona fides caffeine junkies expect. Start with some eclectic furniture: a crescent-moon sofa, brown Naugahyde recliner, and assorted hardwood chairs. Then add monthly rotating displays by local artists, which are also for sale. The recent Knarley Harley's Beach Whimsies exhibit included landscape paintings and fish sculptures made from driftwood, fishing gear, and hammered copper. For further diversion, one can go online at Barefoot for $8 an hour. Huhn or Motley will help electronic novices set up an e-mail account. And of course at the center of it all is that nectar of the java gods -- espresso, latte, cappuccino, and brewed. Barefoot has sidestepped the deli route -- and the interminable lines that ensue -- in favor of a respectable selection of bagels, muffins, brownies, and pastries. And its evening hours make the joint a handy stop before or after taking in a movie at the next-door Gateway Cinema.
Frankly this local restaurateur, who at one time owned 15-plus eateries in the South Florida area, was in something of a slump for a couple of years there. He separated from his wife of almost two decades, broke up with partner Burt Rapoport, and sold off his empire -- Prezzo, Max's Grille, even his flagship Maxaluna -- piece by piece. The boy looked down. But he's taught us never, ever to count him out. Now he's back with Max's Place in Bal Harbour in Miami-Dade County and a brand new place in Manalapan in Palm Beach County called Max's WatersEdge. He even has one of his old executive chefs, Pierre Viau, back behind the stove at latter locale. So keep your pity to yourself. All Max is interested in these days is your appetite.
It's probably no secret that we've been fans of chef-co-proprietor Tony Sindaco since he opened this cool little joint a couple of years ago. What may surprise you is our loyalty -- we still think he's tops. Check out some recent menu offerings: barbecued mahi-mahi and wild-mushroom torta with Jack cheese, mango salsa, and jalapeño sour cream; black grouper with roasted cauliflower, fingerling potatoes, and a coulis of vine tomatoes; seared Maine scallops with Savoy cabbage, warm garlic-bacon potato salad, and cider sauce. You'll note several uniform things about the dishes at Sunfish Grill: Almost every main ingredient is fish or seafood, and without fail all are consistently modern without descending into fusion confusion.
If Cohiba can be considered the Queen Mother of Cuban comfort food, then we're clasped to her big, warm, soft bosom. From her we get our basic nourishment: black beans and rice, fried yuca, chicken noodle soup. From her we draw strength: pounded palomilla steaks, roast pork so tender it brings a quiver to our lips. From her we gain confidence -- or is it sugar? -- along with coconut flan. She gives it to us straight when we need it (just a plain ol' Cuban sandwich) and dresses things up with a flourish when we deserve it (shrimp with mushrooms and brandy). Call us mama's boys and girls if you must. But we're never going to leave her, so you might as well get used to it.

Why such passion for a sandwich that's not even good for you? Because it tastes so good, that's why. And the sandwich at Tropical Café is an exemplar of the genre. A huge, pressed Cuban roll stuffed with ham, Swiss cheese, and home-cooked pork (roasted to tenderness for four and a half hours) can easily get you through the day and only set you back $4.99, including a small bag of potato chips and a soda. But if you're especially hungry, there's a special or even a supremo, each a third again as large. If you'd rather not take all your daily cholesterol in one shot, a medianoche is a smaller version on a sweet roll with honeyed ham substituted. And if you're just not in the mood for the Earl of Sandwich's clever device to enable him to stay at the gaming tables during meals, Tropical Café boasts a diverse menu of Cuban specialties such as shredded beef, carne con papas, or lechón asado (that's roast pork to you, gringo) -- each served with rice and black beans, plantains, and that ubiquitous soda. Tropical Café is owned and operated by Humberto Fajardo and his wife, Sol Maria. While the operation on Andrews Avenue is an open-air experience where patrons perch on high stools lined along a sidewalk counter, the Searstown café is an indoor 50-seater. Maybe the latter is not as picturesque, says Berto, who came to Miami from Havana at age 19 and has worked in Cuban restaurants since, but it is air-conditioned!

If you think, given the name, that this corner delicatessen must serve some awesome steak sandwiches, you're right. Some of the tastiest Philly cheesesteaks originate here, along with other grilled sandwiches such as the steak-and-egg special, chicken Parmesan, or even a Cuban sandwich pressed as beautifully as a shirt. But if you think, given the name, that there's no way you could get a real New York deli sandwich filled with just-fatty-enough corned beef or spicy pastrami, you'd be wrong. The Steak Shop carries those items as well and even has a full Greek complement of gyros and souvlaki, as well as chili-cheese fries, Chicago-style hot dogs, and sausage and peppers. In the end the only assumption you really can make about this deli is that, while it may be all over the map, any direction you go will be correct.
This elegant little café offers a wide range of happy endings -- from a simple ginger cookie to a sinful Chocolate Decadence. It's all good. In addition to classic cakes, this neighborhood favorite mixes things up with trendy chocolate bread pudding or an upscale rendition of carnival fare. "It's all air and sugar," laughed one recent customer after happily biting into an elephant ear. A fitting description: The main ingredients at Stork's are sweetness and light.
It wouldn't be dim sum without shrimp and pork playing leading roles. And in this otherwise nondescript strip-mall Chinese eatery, the little crustaceans and the "other white meat" combine to steal the show -- which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. (The restaurant is open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.) Whether steamed whole with leeks inside a dumpling; minced and blended with dough, then fried into a fluffy ball; or chopped and wrapped with a won ton skin in a siu mai, the shrimp here is uniformly delicate and tasty. The pork siu mai also bursts with delicious meat, peppers, and ginger, while the sweet barbecued-pork pastry is somehow both comforting and sophisticated. Top it all off with a few squares of pan-fried turnip pudding and some sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and Hong Kong won't feel quite so far away anymore. Prices aren't bad, either. They run from $2.15 to $3.95 per plate.
The stainless steel restaurant is a true classic, having been manufactured in 1953 by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company that was one of the nation's premier eatery makers. Father-and-son team Denis and Steve Grenier bought the place back in 1989 and have steadfastly maintained the diner's throwback vibe. Their main ingredient: a 73-year-old chef named Louie, whose specials include two stuffed mushrooms and two stuffed shrimp for the bargain-basement cost of $8.95. Prices for other victuals range from 94 cents for coffee to $9.95 for fried, broiled, or stuffed jumbo shrimp in four different combination platters. Now Denis is pondering retirement, and Steve is considering a career in law enforcement. Though Jack's is on the market, along with a building next door, that doesn't stop a multitude of coaches, cops, and Québecois from filling this place almost around the clock. (Restaurant hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.) Indeed, even on a weekend morning, you can find five or ten people lighting up cigarettes in true French-Canadian style while they down their eggs and coffee. If you don't smoke, heck, head for the back room, where such unhealthy behavior is prohibited.

Yes, we named this place last year, too. But when something is the best, it's the best, and that's all there is to it. Krispy Kreme rules the donut world; all else is just fat-fried dough. Arrive when these deliciously soft, airy treats are fresh out of the oven, and you'll finally understand why the good Lord gave you taste buds.

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