Poppy's Pizza II
OK, this place may be best known for its pizza, which blisters your mouth so appropriately. But a slice that would make any New Yorker grin isn't Poppy's only claim to fame. The pizza oven embraces an enormous steak calzone, for example, stuffed with sirloin, ricotta, mozzarella, onions, and peppers. It puts the finishing touches on a chicken, cheddar, and broccoli stromboli. And it lovingly polishes off a dozen different Parmesan dinners, including veal, chicken, sausage, and even eggplant rollatini, each of which is served with a trio of cheese ravioli or stuffed shells, or a pair of manicotti. Not convinced yet? Test Poppy's further by ordering veal Marsala or the perfectly fried large Gulf shrimp, and you'll be as impressed as we are -- and quite frankly you'll also be as full, since truth be told, Poppy is not only a paesano, he's a generous kinda guy.
Lester's Diner
Photo by Kristin Bjornsen
The coolest thing about Lester's Diner isn't the vast menu, although it's an impressive one: daily specials, 70 or so different sandwiches (including such quirky combos as meat loaf and fried egg), nearly two dozen salads, homemade soups du jour, 35 desserts "baked on the premises daily," Greek and Italian specialties, a children's menu, and such mainstay entrées as chicken, seafood, steaks, and chops. And no, the coolest thing about Lester's isn't the equally comprehensive "served anytime" breakfast menu, which runs the gamut from simple (ham and eggs) to snazzy (Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict), or the diner's famous 14-ounce cups of Colombian coffee. The coolest thing isn't even the old-fashioned fountain, which dispenses banana splits and ice cream sodas, shakes, and sundaes. The coolest thing about Lester's? The ambiance, which is part classic diner décor, part clientele. The latter, at least in the case of the original State Road 84 site, has to do with location: Situated as it is, conveniently accessible from both I-95 and downtown Fort Lauderdale, it attracts a mix of locals and out-of-towners that gets only more surreal as the hour gets later. On a really good night, you can dine with truckers on their way in or out of Port Everglades on one side and drag queens from nearby discos the Copa and the Saint on the other.
If you think of the Mediterranean as a crossroads-type culinary region, then you'll have no problem assimilating this joint. Headed by owners and chefs whose heritages include French, Belgian, and Israeli, Finjan takes all those influences and swirls them into an intriguing compendium. In other words it's the perfect place for a little salade Niçoise with your falafel and a touch of apple strudel with your baklava. Add the upscale décor and a comprehensive, world-ranging wine list, and you've got yourself an eatery that brings the Mediterranean lifestyle to funky West Palm Beach -- and, we hope, keeps it there permanently.
To take a look into this Israeli deli, you'd never know it's "new." The place is always so full of loyal customers it might as well be called Old Tel-Aviv. The eatery's signs and menus are written in both Hebrew and English, and the place is Glatt kosher. That means you won't find any dairy on the premises, but you'll hardly miss the milk when you taste creamy tahini that substitutes beautifully for dairy-based toppings. With the lamb shishlic, beef kebab, and chicken schnitzel sandwiches, you'll find plenty of protein to fill your belly. Salads -- hummus, baba ghannouj, Israeli, and Turkish -- are tangy and flavorful. And those are just for starters. Tel-Aviv also carves up a mean pastrami on a kaiser and offers fresh whole fish. If you stop by on a Tuesday, you can even score some couscous. Just don't expect to get brunch Saturday mornings.

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This being South Florida and all, the competition for this category is fierce. Particularly this year, given that the exceptionally dry weather has pushed almost all of us diners firmly out-of-doors. Aficionados of the alfresco thing make much ado of water views, sea breezes, and lots of shade. Tails complies with all those qualifications, going a few steps further with a pool, a deck, a dock, and an outdoor bar. The venue is ideal for outdoor sipping and supping unless, of course, the sky is spitting rain. We should be so lucky.
Cap's Place Island Restaurant and Bar
The ferryboat to Cap's Place is interesting (think of a refurbished, polished, and well-covered African Queen), and it's free. It's not a long ride, just a nice jaunt across the Intracoastal, but once you get there, you're going back a long way. Meyer Lansky and other gangsters still haunt the place. In the bar you can almost still smell the unfiltered cigarette smoke and hear the dames giggling over their martinis. Cap's Place is all about South Florida history, full of rum, illicit gambling, hoodlums, and good times. Eugene Theodore "Cap" Knight, an unabashed bootlegger, opened the place in 1928. The restaurant is actually made from an old barge. Back then, it was called Club Unique, and you could visit for a fish dinner, a stiff (and illegal) drink, and a game of blackjack, roulette, or craps. But Cap had class -- drawing statesmen as easily as crooks. The list of famous patrons is too long to recount, though the fact that FDR and Winston Churchill dined together here should give you an idea. But that's enough of this story. Go out there, have a highball, and soak up some more tales. They're hanging on every wall, carved into every post, soaked into every floorboard.

John Bull English Pub
When you say that this place is a trendy, traditional British pub, that's no bull -- and it's no oxymoron either. On the trendy side are salads -- such as the Tuscan garden with smoked turkey, comprising artichokes, roasted peppers, button mushrooms, and bacon-mustard dressing -- and main courses including fresh fish of the day with Creole rémoulade and toasted orzo pilaf. On the traditional side are appetizers -- cheese boards for two with aged cheddar and country bread -- and one-dish meals such as shepherd's pie or Saturday roasts with Yorkshire pudding. Trendy? An Undurraga Chilean merlot is the house red. Traditional? Bass, Newcastle, and Harp ales are all on tap. Trendy? The live jazz and rhythm-and-blues music. Traditional? The fireplaces (yes, in South Florida). This may not be your father's or grandfather's pub, but it will certainly be yours.

Tout Sweet Ice Cream Parlor
In a time when so many restaurants reluctantly provide one highchair or maybe a booster seat, Tout Sweet is a godsend. Not only does this restaurant and ice cream parlor offer succor for adolescent dietary stress with an appealing kid's menu, it mitigates parental economic stress with "Kids Eat Free" on Sundays. Tout Sweet also runs generation-gap specials such as "Mom and Me" or "Dad and Me." The place is so munchkin-minded that the National Single Parents Resource center, located in Boca Raton, holds its events here, the profits of which go to creating programs to assist single folks in dealing with everything from infants to teenagers. Even better, the eatery, which serves light sandwiches, waffles, and homemade French custard ice cream, is right next door to the Regal Delray 18 movie theater, so solo caretakers can plan an entire evening's entertainment with ease. Talk about one hand washing the other.
Brewzzi
Restaurant breweries are about as hard to find in South Florida as wool sweaters. The dearth of handcrafted brews here isn't really that surprising, as subtropical climes tend to foster a thirst for icy, fruity drinks like rumrunners and margaritas. But we like beer, dammit, and that's where Brewzzi's comes in. Granted it doesn't have much competition (it's the only independent restaurant brewery in Palm Beach County), but it's still first-rate. Because the joint is located in western Boca Raton, you might assume it's a vile place -- snobs drinking snobby beers. You'd be wrong. The six microbrews, for one thing, are affordable, at less than $4 a glass. They are also award-winning and downright delicious, from the stout to the American pale ale to the brown to the blonde (though we aren't really partial to light microbrews). The service there is darn good, the food simple (lots of great pizzas and open-faced sandwiches) and tasty. By the time we pulled ourselves away, we'd had enough of their beer to make us a little wewzzi. Our date was so hammered, she started acting like a flewzzi. So, thanks to Brewzzi's, our night was a dewzzi.

East City Grill
You could say it was a victim of greed. One of the most popular fine-dining restaurants on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard and the eatery credited with revitalizing the area, East City Grill got unceremoniously kicked out of its space this past year. The landlord decided to sell the lot to a condominium builder. Goodbye pan-Asian/fusion fare, hello prefab apartments. No matter in the end, though. Proprietors Oliver Saucy and Darrel Broek will soon assuage our grief by rebuilding the Grill -- or opening something similar -- in Weston. Go west, young(ish) men!

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