Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle
Michael McElroy
Like drag racers whose extreme speed sustains yet may destroy them, chicken wings live and die by grease. What are wings without it? Scalding orange lipids turn ordinary chicken into one of the great blessings our world has to offer. Yet who among us has not winced upon being served a plate of wings whose drippings could be mistaken for those in his oil pan? The wing should spark, the wing should burn, the wing should sting. The wing, however, should not pop like a boil between your teeth. The wings at Tarpon Bend, on their best days, hit this chord precisely. While they're not spicy enough to truly warrant the label "hot" (which rightly ought to mean "unpleasant"), they are crisp without oozing grease, fleshy without getting bland. They confer all the joy of spicy, buttery fowl fat without choking you on it. Bonus points for unusually flavorful celery sticks on the side.
If you've never eaten falafel, you're missing an entire world. Literally. Falafel, a fried ball of spiced fava beans or chickpeas, is arguably the number-one food in the Middle East, sold everywhere from street vendors to fancy restaurants. Mandoah "Manny" Ebaid, a tireless, friendly, Egyptian-born restaurateur who runs Hollywood's popular Exotic Bites, provides a menu that highlights the versatility and healthiness of falafel. "This is healthy food that tastes great," Ebaid explains. "It's also a way to introduce people to my Egyptian culture." At Exotic Bites, you can eat falafel as an appetizer with toppings and pita bread ($4.95); as a main course served with hummus, tabouleh, and pita ($7.25); or as a sandwich in a pita wrap with the falafel broken into pieces and mixed with salad and sauce ($5.25). "A lot of people have tried falafel here for the first time, and I will bet that every single one came back a second time," Ebaid says. Chances are, considering how good the falafel is at Exotic Bites, you will too.
The Cottage
Christina Mendenhall
Here's a fad we hope lasts longer than celebrity knitting and mood rings: small plates. Because if ever we Americans needed anything badly, it's limited portion sizes. Never mind that you can get around the problem of "never enough" by simply ordering a lot of them -- you'll have a hard time limiting yourself to just one at the Cottage. The atmosphere here, a breezy outdoor patio jammed with cute people, is ultraconducive to downing many novelty cocktails while noshing on sirloin sliders with horseradish and chive jack cheese (served with smiley face fries), grilled eggplant salad with salty capers and olives, kung pao calamari salad, and beggar's pouches filled with pear and gouda and drizzled with brown butter. Even better, most of these minuscule delicacies are priced at or under a tenner. You'd have to sit for a long, long time to eat or spend too much. Still, it's not outside the realm of probability.
Boston Bagel Cafe
"Ah, now that's a bagel! It's just like New York!" Why is it that every favorable bagel review, whether from a food critic or just the chump next door, has to reference New York? It's always Manhattan this, Brooklyn that. Try peddling that line at the Boston Bagel Café. Sure, the name says New England, but the café is pure Fort Lauderdale, locally owned and operated; there's actually not an original location in Boston. The bistro has no shortage of bagel flavors -- 21 in total, from the standards (poppy seed, pumpernickel, onion) to the more gourmet varieties (spinach quiche, jalapeno cheddar, wild berry). A single bagel costs 79 cents plain and 85 cents toasted; three-packs cost $2.35; a baker's dozen (that's 13, you know) costs $6.99. Of course, plain bagels are no fun -- not when cream cheese ($1.88) comes in flavors like honey walnut raisin and Dutch apple cinnamon. Either way, if your order's more than seven bucks, there's free delivery. Just think, you could have your newspaper and breakfast delivered to your door. Maybe then you'll stop thinking of Boston as Beantown.
Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows... but my love is fairer than any. In the soft downlighting at this chic eatery, your paramour will compare favorably with the gigantic floral portraits lining the walls. Lovers both gay and straight rely on Flowers for its cozy, pillow-strewn booths, the respectable distance between tables, and its perfect balance between lively babble and subdued buzz. Which means you can pretty much say anything, between spoonfuls of your Longchamp sweet pea soup or crab chowder, without being heard by your neighbors -- and you don't have to shout your terms of endearment (so unsuave). The menu at Flowers is sophisticated enough to inspire the kind of relaxed, intelligent conversation that leads to other things, but what's your hurry? You'll want to bide your time over house specialties like smoked salmon blinis and pasta moneybags filled with pears and cheese, and luscious desserts served with mini-tumblers of liqueur.
Bagels &
Given the ubiquity of the bagel nowadays, the self-esteem of its fellow Polish-Jewish baked goods might be suffering. Though West Boynton's Bagels & produces a good version of its namesake, let's get one thing clear: Pletzl! Bialy! We love you too! The bialy is the Jan Brady of Polish-Jewish personal breads, flour-dusted things without holes. When made right, as these are, these flat-bottomed cousins of the bagel have a softer crust where a bagel has crunch and an airy rather than dense inside, but they still manage to be chewy. They're best heated and slathered with butter. Better still are the pletzls. The brainchild of some bygone bagel baker with a serious case of the munchies, the pletzl, another import from 19th-century Poland, takes the characteristics of the ideal bagel -- chewy, crunchy, dense -- and amps them up. Covered in toasted garlic, poppy seeds, onion, rock salt, and whatever else, the flattened discs are not sandwich bread. Don't even try splitting a pletzl open. Tear it apart, or cut it into strips or something. Or go ahead and just gnaw on it.
Joe's Riverside Grille
Your Northern cousins arrive on your doorstep with four kids, 14 bags, and their heads full of dated, nostalgic drivel about discovering the "real Florida." It's no use explaining that "real Florida" is that line of hotels blocking their view of the beach, the 12 hours they just spent bumper-to-bumper on 1-95, the highest restaurant prices in the country, and a property-tax bill you'd be all too willing to split with them. Just suck it up and take them over to Joe's Grille for dinner. Somehow, Chef Joe Cascio and his wife, Erica, have managed to spin the fantasy, even after Hurricane Wilma wrecked the place last year, that we Floridians spend the bulk of our time sitting outside under jaunty umbrellas, forking up grouper cheeks, slurping from big bowls of fish chowder, and watching pleasure boats chug placidly by. Let the cousins keep their illusions; we all have so few left. Send them home loaded up with stories about how the line-caught swordfish in rum sauce was the best they've ever tasted and how the view of the harbor lit up under a full moon was the prettiest thing their sore eyes have ever beheld.
If you've never had a good black-and-white cookie, you won't understand why anyone would want to eat one. We've all been tempted by the two-tone discs the size of UFOs topped with dark-brown and white icing that call to us from behind the counter at every diner. But what's to like about a powdery, crumbly dome topped with a tasteless sugar glaze? Family Bakery, an outpost of Jewish Brooklyn and Queens circa 1965, produces a wonderfully moist, spongy marble cake, sweet and toothsome rainbow petits fours, and flaky bearclaws. Snowbirds who haven't seen a proper corn rye bread in years find it here. And the place has the best black-and-white cookies south of Sheepshead Bay. The icing's chocolate hemisphere is rich with cocoa, the white hemisphere a creamy vanilla. The big cookie underneath is a little lemony, a little cakey, but firm enough to hold up to a glass of milk. Take a number, take your place at the back of the line, and salivate in anticipation.
Marcello's La Sirena
If Daddy's buying, baby, make him take you to La Sirena. But remind him to make the reservation two weeks in advance, because securing a table here at a reasonable dinner hour is impossible. Easier to persuade a Palm Beach socialite to give up her Lilly pedal-pushers or a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven! (But Daddy loves challenges, doesn't he? That's why he's got the moolah.) Marcello's is older than God, it's the size of a matchbox, it's stuffed to the rafters with polo players and Mafiosi, with golf pros and minor celebrities, with helmet-haired ladies who regularly appear in the columns of the Shiny Sheet for the size of their settlements. Everybody is shouting at the top of his lungs; it's a madhouse! But the food is often excellent, and the wine list is a tome as formidable as a volume on divorce law. Recommended: a perfectly executed caesar salad with chopped anchovies and chunks of fried bread. Fat escargots perched on a croute sodden with butter and wine. Homemade ravioli stuffed with chunks of fresh lobster. A superbly sautéed yellowtail snapper for two. The giant scampi Marcello. And of course, since money is no object, the impossibly alcoholic and ethereal zabaglione with raspberries, and a plate of biscotti with Vin Santo. Here's to living large.
Egg N You Diner
Fifty years is a good age for a diner. That's about the time it takes to burnish the plastic of the booths to a gentle glow and for the waitresses' "honeys" and "What'll y'all haves" to attain a practiced verbal caress. At that age, the menu contains delightful fossils like liverwurst and forgets itself only in fits of trendiness with one or two items such as the "Mexican" burger, which, thankfully, is nothing more exotic than a chilidog. Nobody is ever in a rush. The walls have had time to collect the bric-a-brac of half a century, from photographs of the owners' epic hunt for a black marlin to a collection of ceramic roosters. The regulars have had time to perfect their routines, some sidling up to the long counter for a meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, others staking out small fiefdoms in corner booths with newspapers. The hum of Federal Highway long ago became more lullaby than annoyance. And the name -- well, only a diner that was christened in 1956 could get away with a name like the Egg 'N' You, which even the waitstaff doesn't know the meaning behind. "I don't know," they say when asked about it. "It's been around for 50 years -- that's what it's always been called."

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