The Floridian
There are plenty of good reasons to head to the Floridian in the wee hours of the morning, not the least of which is that it's the best time to actually get in the door. Lunchtime and weekend mornings find the eclectically decorated eatery with a line out the door and onto the sidewalk. This is a good sign that the food is, if not gourmet, at least well thought of by legions of locals. So when those postparty hunger pangs hit, grab a table in the dining room decorated with plenty of Marilyn Monroe and Beatles memorabilia, and order up. The sandwiches are stacked with meat and condiments; the milkshakes are thick; and the breakfasts are home-cooking good. And at 4 a.m., shakes and eggs always hit the spot.
A takeout deli counter and 350-seat restaurant in one, Wolfie Cohen's is actually owned by Jerry's Famous Deli. But who's keeping track? It's enough to know that the place goes through thousands of pounds of corned beef and pastrami per day, which practically guarantees that the stuff is fresh. The onion rolls are also fresh, the pickles are sour, and the stuffed cabbage is sweet. Unlike other local delis, which don't bother to supply the older Eastern European items that may have fallen out of vogue in health-conscious America, Wolfie's also offers an orgy of borscht and pickled herring in sour cream. And we can feel our arteries hardening just thinking about the chopped liver. But hey, you can't eat turkey all the time, now can you? Unless, of course, you're talking about Wolfie's turkey leg, dripping with juice and fit for a rabbi.
A true coffeehouse is more than just a purveyor of caffeinated refreshments, it's a community center. Since Lauren Tellman set up a coffee counter in her fashion-design studio four years ago, Warehaus 57 has evolved into a haunt for Hollywood's artistic residents. On a recent Saturday night, FIU professor Lynne Barrett read a short story about an Elvis impersonator from her book, The Secret Names of Women, as Tellman covered her mosaic tabletops with complimentary dumplings, cheeses, and pastries. For act two attention shifted from the back of the New York-style railroad space to the stage in the front window, where the band A Kite Is a Victim played ambient melodies. Young couples, aging hippies, and seniors paused outside to watch and listen. Some wandered through the store, bemused by Warehaus 57's eclectic contents: thrift store knickknacks; packets of incense; used books on film and femininity, decorating and dogs; magazines from Black Book to High Times; and Tellman's chainlink corsets and googly-eyed bustiers. Others stopped at the long wood counter to order a cappuccino with Illy, a rich, smooth Italian espresso that Tellman patiently layers with frothy milk. Mellower regulars might be satisfied with the zesty simplicity of Herbal Orange Spice, setting the tea on a wagon-wheel table while sinking into a book or plotting a revolution.

Best Restaurant to Die in the Past Year

Bex

For a restaurant to work, everything has to jell: location, décor, fare, service. And for six months or so, Bex worked. It was situated on the Intracoastal, and executive chef Robbin Haas -- who's received accolades from Food & Wine, Esquire, Food Arts, and Bon Appétit -- served unique New World cuisine. His luscious Alaskan king crabcakes with roasted corn sauce, beautifully seared tuna over somen noodle salad, and chicken-and-wild-mushroom "hash" were warmly received, as was the restaurant's supper-club atmosphere and proprietor Peter Beck's management. Then, after a few months, Haas departed, and a second chef couldn't maintain the New World order. Now Haas cooks at Red Square on South Beach, and Bex has become the Fisherman. While the former restaurant may have had a short life, it will long be remembered.
Big City Tavern
With a dozen international brews on tap and two dozen in bottles, Big City Tavern's selection might seem short when compared to those sports bars that pride themselves on 99 bottles of beer on the wall. But as the saying goes, it's not the size, it's how you use it. Whoops, wrong cliché. We mean it's not the quantity, it's the quality. And beer snobs all over South Florida slobber over the pints of Warsteiner (Germany), Guinness Stout (Ireland), and J.W Dundee's Original Honey Brown Lager (New York). The bar turns up the power with the Grolsch 16-ounce megabeers from Holland and domestic microbrews like the Abita Turbo Dog from crawfish country, Louisiana. Best of all, the Tavern stocks four Samuel Smith imports from England, ranging from the brewery's lager to its imperial stout. You'll pay more for any one of these last few than you will for a glass of merlot, but hey, Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale has twice the bouquet of any vino out there.
Quantity's a criterion, of course, and no doubt we were impressed by this contemporary steak house's 5-page, 200-bottle list. A good variety is necessary too, and this cellar, which houses vintages from California, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, could probably grab the brass ring -- or at least a decent corkscrew -- for that alone. But because quality is the ultraimportant factor in determining this particular honor, let's just say Jackson's takes the Cakebread. Along with the Grgich Hills and the Châteauneuf du Pape, the Dunnewood Barrel Select and La Giustiniana Cru Centurionetta, the Preston Reserve and the Cape Mentelle. And then Jackson's offers them up for fair prices, meaning you can spend anywhere from $18 to $330 for a bottle of wine. Best of all, the restaurant serves more than 20 red, white, blush, and sparkling wines by the glass. That way, if you can't decide what to drink with your meal, well, you can have 'em all. UPDATE: This location is now closed.
There's no need to settle for cafeteria-style early-bird specials, with their mystery meats and soggy, overcooked vegetables, when you can have something more substantial prepared with a little more care. Chuck's, a Fort Lauderdale mainstay for years (with locations in Plantation and Boca Raton as well), offers half a dozen dinners that don't make you feel like you're scrimping. For $10.95, you can have a nine-ounce top sirloin or a teriyaki sirloin, an eight-ounce prime rib, eight ounces of the fresh fish of the day, chicken teriyaki, or -- the real treat -- a couple grilled, seasoned pork chops. For side dishes you get a baked or sweet potato, French fries, rice pilaf, or steamed vegetables, along with your choice of the extensive salad bar, a caesar salad, or the soup of the day. You'll have to spring for your own beverage, and dessert isn't included, but after fare this hearty, you won't need it.
In sushi instructional videos -- how to make your own -- the sushi chef always starts by clapping his hands twice and saying "Happy sushi." Is this little ritual supposed to inspire the fish fillets to be thrilled about their forthcoming digestion? Well, actually, it's meant to remind the sushi chef to take joy in his art. And creating sushi is a fine process. The sticky rice has to be cooked, then fanned until it's cool (or it will become lumpy), and seasoned just so with sugar and vinegar. Then it should be shaped the size of two fingers (the same measurement as a shot of vodka in your tonic). But the real difficulty lies in slicing the raw salmon, tuna, yellowtail snapper, and mackerel, to name just a few of the most popular fishes. The knife has to be sharp as a genius' intellect, the cut at an angle but not unevenly, the slices thick but not chewy. Yama's sushi chefs are clearly clapping their hands, because their sushi is nothing short of art. The only difference between their sushi and works of art, in fact, is that one is meant to be eaten, the other to be framed.
There's some great fresh seafood out there in South Florida, you just have to fish for it. Most seafood shops will have a specialty of sorts. Captain Ed's Lobster Trap in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, often has fresh Florida lobster for an inexpensive $5.59 a pound. The Fish Peddler, which has stores in Sunrise and Fort Lauderdale, is the place to pick up cooked, peeled, and chilled shrimp quickly and at a good price. But when you want a little bit of everything, Captain Mike's is where it's at. It has a pool full of lobsters, and most of its fish comes on ice directly from the sea. The Captain has an incredible variety of fresh fish: grouper, salmon, tuna, snapper, Okeechobee catfish, Chilean sea bass, and many others. Just how much and what kinds of fresh fish the store stocks depends on the day and what the fishermen bring them. In this shop there are plenty of employees to help you make the right choice, and while you're deciding, you can sample some of their excellent homemade dips, including a mean smoked-fish dip and one of the best clam dips you'll ever find.

Blue Moon Fish Co. Lauderdale by the Sea
Even by providing patrons with 300 feet of dock space and a deck overlooking the Intracoastal, a restaurant still might go wrong. After all, not every diner is fooled by a show of nature. But the view of the sun-spackled water isn't the only reason why reservations are as hard to come by as snow in this South Florida establishment. Blue Moon matches its prime location with fine meats and seafare, such as the New Zealand lamb chops and South American sea bass entrées, which seem to troll the United Nations for influences. One caveat: Dining during sundown can be as blinding as headlights in a rear-view mirror. Like the wallet full of dough needed to pay for lobster empanadas and Louisiana crawfish cakes, shades are a must.

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