About the same size as the cabin of an executive jet and as darkly intime as Antonio Banderas' eyes, this dinners-only slice of high dining has been enjoyed for 35 years by luxe Lauderdale. And it doesn't need to raise its voice to declare its utter suitability for proposals of any kind. You, however, may scream in delight over the 23-out-of-30 2004 Zagat rating, the wrinkle-erasing lighting, and the suggestive lapping of the waters drifting by your table overlooking the quiet canal. It's a high-priced-and-savagely-worth-it spread. Taken over by new owners a year ago from the Romano family that moved it from Brooklyn in 1970, La Tavernetta has a menu that leans more toward the tastes and colors of northern rather than southern Italy. And the wine list has expanded its breadth and depth (ah, those Chiantis!). But nothing else -- not even the easy-to-miss side entrance -- has changed here.

Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle
Michael McElroy
So you're drunk, having lots of fun, and you spill a greasy something down your shirt. It's after midnight. What's a slob to do? Well, if you are at the downtown hot spot Tarpon Bend, pick up one of the $15 all-cotton T's in the front. There's a pun-opoly to choose from, emblazoned with the following: "Nice Bass," "Master Baiters Welcome," "Spawn Till Dawn," "Best Piece of Tale in Fort Lauderdale," and that old classic, complemented by a picture of a very large fish: "Size Matters."
Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q
Anthony Cave
Don't be harsh on those folks who go to Tom Jenkins and order the barbecued chicken. They're not bad people, just misinformed. It isn't their fault nobody's told them the ribs here are the thickest, meatiest, and smokiest that you can possibly find this side of the Mississippi and that it's the ribs that set Tom's jaunty old barbecue joint apart from the rest. Besides, the deep, brick-red barbecue sauce here is so seriously and piquantly delicious that it can make even poultry seem irresistible. Tom's has other things going for it, like great corn muffins, slow-cooked ham-hocked greens, and an authentic Southern barbecue ambiance with African-Americans, good ol' boys, Latinos, and Jews sitting side by side not only in peace but openly communicating with one another -- as in "Could you please pass the paper towels?" Still, if you find yourself seated at Tom's next to someone eating chicken, don't pity or denigrate; just politely offer them one of your precious ribs. They will likely remember the gesture the rest of their lives. A rack costs $16.95. It's only $17.95 with two side orders and bread.

Sushi Thai Siam Kitchen
English clergyman Sydney Smith claimed, "Soup and fish explain half the emotions of life." Spot-on, Syd. Since at least half of the menu at this pan-Asian place is one or the other and since at least five are among the best liquids you'll ever swallow (a tom yum seafood soup will send you into a swivet), this 2-year-old transplant from the 79th Street Causeway in Miami-Dade County is one moving experience. Here are curries ($12 to $17) that will make your mouth -- not your eyes -- water and a selection of Thai noodle dishes that would qualify for Madame Nuh's last supper. Sushi-Thai is longer on atmosphere than many of the very good competitors. Servers here never ask "Is everything all right?" but glide by discreetly at just the right times. The place is a lucky charm on a bracelet of local Thai spots. Lunch, dinner, and delivery too.

West Palm Beach Green Market
Browsing through the produce section of your average supermarket, you have to wonder: What the hell are we eating? What is all that white stuff on apples and plums? And who sat on the tomatoes? The more sensible thing, however, would be to do your weekly fruit and veggie shopping at the West Palm Beach GreenMarket. Not that produce is all the place has to offer; there's also lots of fresh tea, pastries, nuts, and pastas, as well as an assortment of plants and flowers from more than 60 vendors. But before the shopping begins, start your morning off with a cup o' joe from Cappuccino Express ($1.25 small, $1.75 tall) or a nice pancake breakfast courtesy of Tuxedo Gourmet Catering ($4 plain or with strawberries), which has a booth set up in front of the City Hall building. Or if you prefer something a little spicier, go get some jerk chicken ($5, kabobs) from the nearby Jamaican food vendors. Either way, you'll be serenaded by live music while breakfasting in the shade. Afterward, you can check your health with a free blood-pressure screening by West Palm Beach Fire-Rescue. Try getting all of that at Winn-Dixie. The West Palm Beach GreenMarket is open Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. from mid-October through the end of April.

The Whale's Rib
The no-holds-barred crowd that often lines up in early evenings to get into this 20-plus-year-old spot is a mix of bikers, surfers, condo-nauts and prowling tourists -- all eager for their electronic buzzers to light up and tell them it's their turn to cram into this little combo tavern/fishhouse, which anchors all the glamour that is downtown Deerfield. Once inside, they'll get a taste of rough-hewn walls supporting more nautica than an Americas Cup yacht and a staff that gives as good as it gets. Not to worry. Elbows are soon too busy flying as diners dig into either the why-be-fancy? raw bar items such as fresh clams, oysters, and regular or rock shrimp (a house specialty) or more prettified choices including oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, and escargots. Prices range from $4.25 per dish to whatever the market will bear. And don't forget to try the whale fries -- Capt. Ahab would have gladly given up Moby Dick for a few mouthfuls of these.

What most "gourmet" markets fail to understand is that the finest foods needn't be fancy; they just have to taste good. Laurenzo's Oceanside lets the competition focus on the fusion of multitudinous, multinational imports, instead carving a nice niche for itself as the best purveyors of old-world Italian specialties -- truth be told, the only store in South Florida to do as good a job is the original Laurenzo's in North Miami. It's not that there is anything wrong with pistachio-crusted meatloaf with wasabi mashed potatoes, but if you want a takeout dinner to lend the comfort of home cooking, might as well get the real thing. Like manicotti, stuffed shells, and lasagna prepared with Laurenzo's ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Like Italian sausage and peppers, eggplant parmigiana, and meatballs that would make Tony Soprano cry. We're talking one-stop shopping too, as you can turn your main course into a full meal by picking up some antipasti from the prepared foods section, freshly baked Italian bread from a North Miami bakery, a bottle of appropriate wine from a well-priced selection, fruit and salad greens from the produce department, and freshly stuffed canolis for dessert. Yes, it's all a bit pricey but still a bargain compared to what you'd pay for the same dinner in a restaurant.

The name of the restaurant is misleading, as this surely isn't a joint but a handsomely designed room with cherry-wood floors, warm mahogany highlights, and two separate rooms for parties and corporate events -- exactly the sort of environment that hobos have, throughout their colorful history, tended to avoid. It is, however, a joint venture that was started a decade ago by husband/executive chef Steven LaBiner and wife/general manager/sommelier Janet Ribera-LaBiner. Hobo's has expanded over the years, but the emphasis on ultrafresh and delectable seafood remains the same. A wide range of fish and shellfish is on hand, each customized according to patrons' desires regarding cooking method and sauce. Whether it be grilled mahi-mahi with lemon butter or pan-seared grouper with sizzling Thai sauce, the flavors of the fish come through vibrantly. Dinners are as generous as they are delicious, accompanied by artesan breads, sprightly salad, and a smart array of flawlessly cooked starches and vegetables. Consistently great seafood, professional service, comfortable family ambiance, moderate prices, and a wine list bestowed with Wine Spectator magazine's Award of Excellence make Hobo's one very classy joint.
Looking for a ten-hour votive candle? A tortilla maker? You could go to Sedano's in Hollywood, as so many of the ordinary do, but why, when a visit to this muy amable grocery in the middle of Fort Lauderdale's version of Little Havana proves you're the cultural adventurer you think you are? Owned by the Linares family for seven years and patronized by people who know from marinating sauces and chorizos, Santa Barbara Grocery packs more variety of selections in its few hundred square feet than most larger "power" markets do in 10,000; it also boasts a neighboring bakery with superb café cubano and a nearby "Latin Sounds" CD store that blasts the latest salsa from an outdoor sound system worthy of Juan Peron. On the Santa Barbara grocery counters, you'll find choices of dried beans and rice, enough types of spices for an Indian wedding feast, and hundreds of Food World mysteries. The meat selection may cause most gringos to pull out their dictionaries, and some basic Spanish won't hurt you when approaching the friendly staff. But how hard is it to say "¿Que es?" when you're holding a package of what looks like corn husks? Go ahead. Ask. They really are corn husks.

It's about time we found a place where both you and the kids can let down what's left of your hair. This low-profile Lauderdale landmark tucked along the downtown stretch of the New River is just the place. Here, by the dockside restaurant (a more formal dining area is upstairs), the kids can cannonball into the decent-sized pool and eat $3.25 hamburgers -- or chicken fingers for the same price if you're watching their waistlines -- and you can clock back at the bar, watch the boats idle by, and pretend you're young again. On Sundays, there's live music, and the performer is happy to let the whippersnappers get up and karaoke to their fave tunes (beware the American Idol wannabes). Meanwhile, you can explore the bounties of the well-stocked bar, banter with the lively and capable wait staff, delve into the sandwiches-salads-and-baskets menu with its reasonable prices and play-it-safe choices, and generally put your feet up and your mind at rest. Caution, however: One of you adults will have to lifeguard at the pool. But there's always a price, isn't there?

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