Big Al's Steaks - Coconut Creek
Michele Sandberg
Everyone knows necessity is the mother of invention. It's also the mother of Big Al's Steaks, a recently opened Philly cheese-steak joint that gives a damned good reason to visit otherwise lame Coconut Creek. Big Al Costillo and his son Adam migrated from Philly to South Florida expecting to find some place that compared to their favorite local cheese-steak shop, Geno's. But they didn't. So they opened one in a little space (and by little, we mean ten people fit, at most) in a depressing strip mall between State Road 7 and the Sawgrass Expressway. It really didn't look like much — your typical little sandwich shop with a couple of TVs, some barstools, and white walls adorned with Flyers and Eagles paraphernalia. But then we watched the assembly of our sandwich behind the plate-glass window. The thinly sliced rib eye searing on the flat-top grill. The American cheese whiz dripping from the ladle. The even distribution of fried onions. Our saliva was practically gushing when we finally took a bite, chewed, and entered cheese-steak heaven. Then we found out that our Philly roll had actually been in Philly earlier in the day. Big Al wasn't about to compromise on fluffy Philly bread. Now we just wish he'd throw some good brews on the menu. Coming soon: Big Al's expansion into Delray Beach.
OK, so it isn't set in a railroad dining car, and there are no waitresses named Madge. Henry's doesn't serve breakfast all day — there isn't an egg on the menu unless you count the organic egg-white omelet served at lunch (with mushrooms, spinach, Gruyre, and a side of skinny fries). But in spite of a brave attempt to attract the young and the feckless in Boca and Delray with a spiffy martini list and generous ladles of lemon aioli, the well-to-do Northeastern retirees who frequent Henry's know exactly what this place is: the Jersey diner they always aspired to. The place gives itself away with the cushy booths, the banging pots, the shouts emanating from the open kitchen, and its list of American classics like gourmet pot roast, chicken pot pie, spaghetti with meatballs, and stuffed roast chicken with Brussels sprouts. Don't let the demi-glace and the "balsamic roasted" fool you. These are meals best finished off with a hot fudge sundae — and there it is on the dessert menu. And damned if that sundae isn't improved with a shot glass of 100-year-old Grand Marnier ($17.50) upended into it.
My Market & Deli
If aliens invade our planet tomorrow, the odds of our having anything they haven't already thought of are slim-to-none. Our one saving grace, ace in the hole, and lone olive branch to extend might be the sandwich. Because, when properly executed, the perfect sandwich represents centuries of architectural design, layered with worldwide gourmet influences, all served with two handy slices of bread so your fingers don't get sticky. Yes, it might be our greatest invention to date. And with all that said, we should find ourselves fortunate to have the sandwich masters of My Market so close at hand. My Market is an unassuming corner store that, when driving by, looks like an ordinary bodega. But go inside and you find shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of construction workers, business folk, and pretty much everyone else who could squeeze in. They all know that the deli-style, made-to-order sandwiches are concocted out of Boar's Head meats and cheeses and whatever homemade sauces and extras My Market feels like throwing in. Are you craving something exotic? Maybe bite into the French Quarter, a French bread-based hot sub made of brie, roast beef, "Want Mo!" sauce, and fresh rosemary. Heading to the beach? Grab a La Baja — it's got fresh cracked peppermill turkey and jalapeno pepper cheese slathered with Russian dressing and then pressed flat and hot. But the real trick about the folks at My Market is that they understand our human love of all the accouterments that go with the sandwich experience, which is where the store's minimart alter ego comes into play. Any size and variety of chip and dip is at your beck and call, along with every fathomable type of juice, soda, and iced tea. So when the invasion happens (and just wait; it will), let's nominate My Market to be our ambassador.
Lake Worth Rum Shack
Liz Dzuro
French fries are like air: all around you and important as hell but never given a second thought. Most eateries just open the bag of freezer-burned potato lumps and dump them in the fryer. But not the Rum Shack. This indoor tiki bar (with a real thatched roof) offers big, wedge-cut fries available straight-up, beer-battered, or beer-battered and covered in a special secret gorgonzola cheese sauce and with a side of herb au jus for dipping. And at just $3.95, they're damned near a meal in themselves.
Sunfish Grill
For an abridged history of Tony and Erica Sindaco's culinary progress in Broward County, look to nearly a decade of New Times Bests-awarded Sunfish Grill. In the nine years since they opened, chef (Tony) and owner (Erica) have brought crab Charlotte, a jewel-toned tower of gastronomic power, to the collective consciousness of South Floridians, along with an appreciation for the way seafood becomes a transcendent experience in the right hands. But about 2003, after word got out about their braised littleneck clams, seared rare tuna over oxtail ragout, and grilled swordfish with mushroom reduction, to say nothing of their Symphony of Chocolate, our once-cozy, one-room Sunfish morphed into the sort of place where you had to scream your endearments while playing inadvertent footsie with strangers. That was the year we awarded Sunfish Best Restaurant Ready for an Expansion. Four long years later, we've been granted our fondest wish, as Sunfish has reopened in a spacious, grown-up couple of rooms without missing a beat or compromising a flavor.
Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q
Anthony Cave
As tasty as it is eccentric — Tom Jenkins' is right off Federal in a log-cabin-inspired building that began accepting credit cards only last year — this is a communal dining establishment. There are no reclusive tables for two here. Just long tables with benches, where blue-collar, white-collar, and no-collar types bump elbows as they munch on racks of secret-sauce-drenched spare ribs and coarsely chopped pork sandwiches. The desserts are just as sought-after: homemade sweet potato pie and a weekend-only treat of juicy, bubbling fruit cobbler. Started in a roadside stand by two frat brothers from Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Tom Jenkins' is now marketing two sauces (Original and Country Gold) in grocery stores.
Anita's Guacamole
You probably thought we'd pick one of those fancy Mexican restaurants with tableside guacamole engineers. Nope. Have you seen the price tag on that shiiiiiit? Like $10 plus tax plus tip for a bowl that's gone before the Sangria even arrives. For guac that's just as fresh and delicious, why not make for one of the South Florida green markets, where you can shop among crisp vegetables and pulchritudinous plants, then stumble on Anita's Guacamole, a small business based on an authentic Colombian recipe that's been passed down for four generations of Mauricio Mendez's family. Mendez, just 25 years old, has been running the business from North Miami for two years now, sending out worker friends to deliver his great-grandmother's mouthwatering guac to the masses. When we found this avocado dream at the Lake Worth green market (sadly, now closed for the summer), it was a young Colombian architecture student named Giovanni who delivered the goods. We watched the graceful mashing of his sinewy, twitching forearms and listened intently as the ingredients spilled softly off his supple lips — avocados, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, and secret herbs and spices. Let's just say the process was appealing. We were dying to hand over $6 for that eight-ounce container of guac that came with a bag of yellow corn chips. If only there were some price we could have paid to keep our beloved Giovanni in the country.
Tropical Cafe
Does a milkshake have to contain ice cream? Not always. Cuban batidos are beyond sweet (that's what you get from a country running on sugar cane) and invariably swing on a fulcrum of tropical fruit. At the Tropical Cafe, they serve tamarind, mamey, mango, papaya, cherimoya, guanabana (or sugar-apple) — all yummy and all slightly exotic. But the regular old native banana makes a thick, creamy milkshake that's addictive and sugar-rushy. And the banana batido allows you to order spicy dishes without fear, since it takes the edge off any taste-bud burn you may encounter. Grab a stool at this working-class lunch counter in Searstown and they'll make you a bad-ass batido in a blender, just the way mami would do it back home: ice-cold milk, sugar, fruit. Order two and they'll pour a pair of tall glasses, hand you a spoon and some straws, and leave you the ample icy remainder to finish up later. And believe us, you will.
Considering that the bulk of Florida's Cuban population resides in Dade County, sometimes it's a challenge to find mouth-watering Cuban food in Broward that's worthy of making us proud. And unfortunately, there tend to be more haunts that specialize in Cuban sandwiches without putting much flare into the other delicacies of the country as well. The folks at Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, however, are good at preparing both — large, meat-filled Cuban sandwiches that live up to their name and oversized dishes of delectable entrées that are as enjoyable as they are filling. Their wide selection covers various regions of the island, and they've also got a generously priced lunch menu that goes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., so take advantage. The filete de pollo is a must-try for chicken lovers and is best-served with lime, yellow rice, and saucy black beans. It's generally on the lunch menu as well and under $6. The ropa vieja (pulled beef) and filete de cherna (grouper fillet) are irresistible and come big enough that taking home leftovers is recommended. For fans of platanos, Las Vegas serves them as maduros or in tostones form, and both are a treat. If you've got room, try the café cubano with flan — your taste buds will love you for it.
Dairy Belle
It's not common to find stellar ice cream in places that specialize in gravy and cheese curd, but after spending a few minutes at Dairy Belle Ice Cream, you'll quickly realize there's nothing common about this establishment at all. Friendly owners Gilles and Ritane Grenier are famous for serving the dishes of their native Quebec, and most of the buzz revolves around their French fries smothered with white cheese curds, then topped with hot brown gravy. It's an immensely popular dish in Canada, and people drive for miles to get their hands on authentic Québecois cuisine. And while that's fine, it shouldn't overshadow the fact that Dairy Belle has the softest and most delectable ice cream in South Florida. It offers homemade caramel topping for its sundaes, and the topping is just sweet enough to whet the palette without being overwhelming. The milkshakes are good, and the serving size of the strawberry shortcake is more than enough for one person. The somewhat-oval French Canadian crowd that flocks to this place during season is cordial and great for people-watching while enjoying a banana split made with all fresh ingredients and served with a smile.

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