Doc's All American
Liz Dzuro
The 1950s -- a time when most 12-year-olds were virgins, rock music was as wholesome as Wonder Bread, and the frothy drinks Americans sucked down were not lattes or frappucinos (BlackBerry flavored to match their PDAs) but milkshakes. It's hard to imagine such a time unless you were there. Doc's All American remembers. It was there, serving milkshakes before most of its current customers were even born. That fact alone should answer any doubts about the quality of its shakes. The only question that should remain is which flavor to choose. But first, is it a soft-serve shake from the fountain or one made from hand-dipped ice cream you crave? The former (which costs $2.80 small, $3.45 large) is obviously more limited in its flavorings... but not by much. You're not likely to find pineapple, caramel, and hot fudge at Wendy's anytime soon. But if you're up for the really rich stuff, try a hard shake ($2.95 small, $3.85 large), which comes in flavors like pistachio, cookie dough, toasted coconut, Snickers, and double-fudge brownie. Doc's is open every day. Closing time varies, though it's typically 8:30 p.m. Sunday; 10 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; and 11 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Sugar Reef
There are places that make a more authentic jerk or bake their fish in banana leaves or boast a grandmother who cooks from secret recipes passed down through generations of African slaves. But for the slow-time pace of a summer evening on a remote island, it's hard to find a restaurant as redolent of Caribbean airs as Sugar Reef, the 12-year-old bistro on the Hollywood Broadwalk that never seems to close its doors against the salt breeze. The fare is mildly spiced French Caribbean, grilled fish with mango salsa, fish stew with coconut milk and green curry, plus flickers of French-Vietnamese, like the seafood and chicken pho, a clear broth laden with shrimp, tender bird, and spices. But Sugar Reef is 100 percent Caribbean in spirit, a place where you can watch the full moon rise over the waves, slip off your shoes under the table, order another bottle of wine, and get to know your neighbors at the next table. No worries.
When you've been raised on Hershey's kisses, European chocolate may be an acquired taste, like graduating from applesauce to apple martinis. But Belgian candy wizard Jean Geller is betting that the American palate is educable, and his flagship store on Las Olas, opened last Thanksgiving, will test whether Geller can make Floridians googly-eyed over his little mouthfuls of bliss. Geller's products -- handmade chocolates priced at around $1 each -- have the texture of liquid silk and a way of causing very pleasurable hormonal imbalances. These candies are for mature audiences only: The meister sees sugar as an "adulterant" and uses no preservatives. Milk chocolates are 30 percent cocoa, and the darks top out at 85. Instead of gummy sweetness, you'll bite into flavors like gin, curry, mango, kirsch, gingerbread, angelica, pistachios, Arabica, Earl Grey tea, or salted butter caramel -- and it's not out of the question that someone might finish an entire 150-gram tin of chocolate-dipped candied orange peels in a single sitting (a New Times staffer holds this record). Pick your treats by the piece, the pound, or by the box -- an assortment of 24 runs around $25. The effect is rapturous, decadent, addictive.
Hong Kong City isn't the fanciest Chinese restaurant around, though the small, simple room is warm and inviting enough. With the arrival of some more ambitious and diverse Chinese eateries in the area, their Hong Kong and Cantonese cooking is no longer as exotic as it once may have seemed either. But Hong Kong City is like a river, flowing along steadily as the latest trends come and go. It's nigh impossible to have a bad meal here, with impeccably fresh seafood, perfectly cooked vegetables, a light touch with frying, and just-right sauces. You'll go back for the sublime casseroles, the pan-fried noodles, the scallops in black pepper sauce that melt in the mouth, the sautéed greens. And though they have the usual lunch combo specials, dim sum is available daily too.
No surprise that the best coffee in South Florida, with apologies to the Cubans, comes from Italy. Everything from the clean, polished design of Bacio's little shops to its kiss-inspired logo to the snowy peaks of gelato in ball-gown colors and textures of silk tulle to the dark-eyed girls and boys answering questions in halting English is as suave and sensual as a Roman holiday. But it's those fragrant roasted beans, their every gram of caffeinated goodness forced out under immense pressure, that turn regular coffee freaks into zombified groupies. Served in clear glasses (rather than mugs, or, God forbid, cardboard), the Bacio geloso (chocolate, coffee, foamed milk, and whipped cream, $3) or espresso shakerato (iced espresso frothed in a shaker, $3) or a double espresso made with foamed heavy cream and a dusting of cocoa ($3), so thick a spoon comes with it, are enough to make you believe there may be a better, richer life after Starbucks.
La Creperie
There are 43 varieties of crepe to dither over at La Creperie (32 dinner, 11 dessert) -- to say nothing of the duck, frog legs, fillet of sole, and pepper steak -- all of them fashioned in the traditional Breton style from buckwheat flour and served steaming from the griddle. Dinner crepes, priced from $9 to $13, are crisp and sweet as a lacy cookie at the edges and gradually move toward a melting, savory, pudding-like interior -- stuffed with ratatouille, sausage and spinach, blue cheese and apples, eggs and bacon, chicken livers, tuna fish, tomato, broccoli and mushrooms, or any combination you can dream up and ask for. An inexpensive carafe of house wine and maybe a plate of steamed mussels and you really start to get, in a concrete way, why the French are such annoying food snobs. Because they have every right to be! Make like a Bretonne farmer and order the simple ham and Swiss cheese crepe ($9.75) for a lesson in how so very much can be made from so very little.
Mario's Catalina Restaurant
Enough that Mario serves you the sourest, strongest mojitos, the most melting skirt steaks doused with citrusy, peppery mojo, and the sweetest, stickiest plantains you've ever tasted. Enough that he has kept pouring the wine, carting out the grilled shrimp and tamales and ham croquettes and shredded pork and red snapper and cuatro leches and coffee until you feel like you've been simultaneously petted, spoon-fed, and serenaded for an entire two hours by the handsome contingent of servers and by Mario himself, who will have called you "honey" roughly 250 times. Enough that you have been served the best possible meal in the most luscious setting, a meal probably cooked by grandmotherly elves imported directly from Havana on magical flying banana leaves, because there's gotta be some tropical pixie dust in this stuff to make you feel so good. Enough that you're lingering there at the table over the great conversation and the final sip of coffee, lingering for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and not a person in the place is making you feel like you need to move one second before you're good and damned-well ready. Enough. Enough. And then along comes the complimentary round of afterdinner liqueurs.
Tater Town
Forty-four years ago, Joan and Dale Jesus parked their truck full of locally grown fruits and vegetables on Sunrise Avenue and opened for business. They soon moved to an empty lot on the west side of NW 27th Avenue, put up signs that said, "You are entering Tater Town," and watched as their brightly colored umbrellas and tarps attracted a steady stream of neighborhood shoppers in search of fresh produce. Today, Tater Town is a throwback, one of only a handful of daily outdoor farmers markets' still operating in Broward County, and fiercely proud of it. Until Wilma, an enormous Banyan tree planted by the family was the market's icon, its green bulk overshadowing everything on the small lot. The regulars, most of whom have been around as long as the market itself, are still shaken by its loss. But Tater Town is soldiering on, doing battle with Broward County code enforcers over the right to park a farm tractor-trailer while providing its flock of customers, most of whom visit daily from the surrounding neighborhood, fresh produce at remarkably cheap prices. Though Dale has passed on, Joan Jesus still counts out change despite her 71 years, and her son, Randy, plans to keep the Tater Town alive long enough for another banyan tree to grow.
Chez Jean-Pierre Bistro
It's official: French is out. South Florida is evidently still nursing a grudge over that silly Iraq thing, because good French restaurants here have become as rare as ivory-billed woodpeckers in a Louisiana swamp. You think you glimpsed a flash of a red-, white-, and blue-striped flag or heard the distant notes of the Marseillaise, but it's an illusion -- that was actually the sound of another basket of freedom fries getting dumped into hot oil. But the grand old pre of la cuisine française is still going strong in Palm Beach, proving once again that money is wasted on the rich. Still, even jaded aristocrats pause for long moments of contemplation and gratitude over plates of Normandy-born Chef Jean-Pierre Leverrier's sautéed sea scallops in brown butter, his homemade foie gras terrine, a dish of roasted duck glazed with honey and thyme, or a perfectly executed Dover sole expertly filleted at your table. With his wife, Nicole, and son David, Leverrier has perfected these dishes over more than a decade, until they're as much a part of the Palm Beach landscape as Mizner architecture and 20-foot hedges.
Woolbright Farmer's Market
Turn-of-the-century foodie buzzwords: locally grown, organic, sustainable, cuisine de terroire. If you live in Santa Monica, California, you merely throw on your yoga pants and traipse down to the daily farmer's market. But eco-friendly virtue is hard to come by in South Florida, unless you happen to live near Boynton Beach. There, the tiny but thriving family-run Woolbright Farmer's Market is selling the kinds of local products that usually get shipped north before we can lay our mitts on them. Like multiple varieties of Florida oranges and grapefruits picked from local trees: You can tell you're getting the real thing because they're plumb ugly on the outside -- pitted, spotty, misshapen -- and heavenly sweet when you cut them open. You'll also want to buy a bucket of giant, locally grown beefsteak tomatoes, sweet Florida corn, organic kale, all kinds of melons, blue and fingerling and new and sweet potatoes, organic pink-lady apples, big bags of fresh basil, and locally bottled lemonades. A Boynton pastry chef provides yummy homemade cornbread, banana cake, raisin and nut loaf, lemon poppyseed pound cake; nutritious (and delicious) giant cookies made from spelt, oatmeal, carrot, and chocolate chips, plus sugar-free and wheat-free muffins. There's organic milk to wash them down with. Plus McCoy's honey from Loxahatchee, millet and flax lavash flatbread made at Tampa's Sami's Bakery, stacks of freshly baked pies from the Upper Crust in Lake Worth, and dried fruit from Nutty Brothers in Pompano Beach. Who knew the examined life was so worth living?

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