Best of Palm Beach This Year: Carpe Annum

Back in the early '90s, shortly after the Fire Ant crash-landed in Palm Beach, we hooked up with some other malcontents and put out an alternative rag called Red Herring. It was an alternative that looked alternative, mainly because it depended on the largesse of a string of eccentric businessmen who knew zilch about the newspaper biz and couldn't quite bankroll a sleeker, glossier product. We had a lot of fun.

Among the fun was an issue called "50 of Our Favorite Things," which wasn't exactly a "best of," more like, "We could bitch and moan about this place -- this Flori-duh -- but instead, we want to share with you some other stuff, stuff that enriches our lives here and might enrich yours."

On a similar note, here's a list for the coming year. (Reader comment, criticism, and suggestions more than welcome.)

-- We are going to get out of the house and see and do and hang here:

The Norton Museum: Palm Beach has South Florida's best museum, with a terrific, wide-ranging permanent collection (photography and Asian art are strong points) and ingenious curators who know the historic and the happening. Evidence last year included shows of Tacita Dean and Jenny Saville. Coming up soon are Annie Leibovitz and works from the Doris Duke collection.

ActivistArtistA: Miami expat Rolando Chang Barrero's vision of an arts district in an out-of-the-way industrial strip of Boynton Beach has the free-form feel of a London squat and a generous, welcoming spirit. Sip wine, meet the artists, schmooze.

Harold's Coffee: The long-sought revival of West Palm Beach's Northwood district has reached critical mass: art, antiques, style, food, hanging out. Gentrification of the gentlest sort, with the indigenous, multiculti inhabitants still part of the stroll. Take it all in from Harold's, and dig on film, drum circles, erotic poetry night, knowledgeable baristas.

Palm Beach Dramaworks: Repertory theater that doesn't rely on musical comedy to fill the seats? Talking 'bout high-level craft and serious drama, nourishment for the mind and the soul. Season's well under way, with a couple more days to go of an Albee, with a lesser-known Ionesco and others yet to come.

The West Palm Beach Public Library  and Lake Worth's Compass Center: The library has become a multipurpose, multimedia community center; the center is not just for gays and lesbians any more--if it ever was. Films, yoga, jazz and traveling exhibits at the library; traveling exhibits, the annual Pridefest street party and Stonewall Black and White Ball courtesy of the Compass. 

Lake Worth's downtown: Local live music and visiting musicians lend the strains of strings here almost every night of the week. There's open air events in the plaza, bring-your-own-banjo at Havana Hideout, and rock and blues at South Shores. Russ Hibbert's Americana palace the Bamboo Room anchors the "J" street cool, across the way from everything alternative at Propaganda.

--We're going to eat wisely and well, ethnically and indigenously, steering clear of the Old Money and Eurotrash on Palm Beach, as well as the drive-though windows of the fast food archipelago (though we'll make an exception for Pollo Tropical):

Vietnamese Express Cafe: It took years, but our long quest for good pho and banh mi ended last fall at this North Palm Beach cubby hole, where steaming bowls of herbaceous broth are dizzying and baguettes stuffed with grilled meats, crunchy veggies and spicy mayo are irresistible.

Hao's Noodle: Bring on the chow fun in Lake Worth, where Hao's Filipino owners manage to do pan-Asian without the usual mish-mash that "cuisine" has become. And bring friends, so we can also have and all share in the chicken with black mushroom and baked rice in a bamboo pot, the Korean bbq short ribs and maybe the Thai red curry shrimp.

Grand Lake Chinese Restaurant: We're forever indebted to New Times food critic Gail Shepherd (now retired and living in luxury with her sugar mama girl friend) for dragging us all the hell the way out west of the Turnpike on Okeechobee Blvd, to dine on dim sum here. We'll think of you, Gail, with every juicy bite of turnip cake.

We'll also be noshing 1) chile relleno (and eyeing the counter girls) at Lupita's in Lake Worth, 2) retro/hipster burgers at Relish in Northwood, 3) coal-charred pizza at Tucci's in Boca Raton, 4) inventively prepared fresh seafood at Captain Charlie's, in North Palm Beach and Little Moir's in Jupiter, and 5) the county's richest miso soup and silkiest sushi at Sushi Bon, in Lantana.

--Once we're properly stuffed (and have arranged a babysitter, g-d willing), we going to see more films at the several art house/foreign/indie theaters that have sprung up like mushrooms here in the last few years. They would be the Mos'Art, in Lake Park; the Lake Worth Playhouse; and our current fave for cozy, comfortable viewing, the FAU Living Room Theater, in Boca Raton. Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second, sayeth the sage.

--Lastly, when mind and body are sated (and unless we're in a Jagger-Richards "sunshine bores the daylights out of me" state of mind) we're going to kick back and chill on our favorite sections of Palm Beach's defining, eponymous feature, the beach. If seclusion (or tennis) is what we want, it's off to Phipps Ocean Park, on Palm Beach. If it's shells and surf, Coral Cove is where it's at, at the county's northern extremity in Tequesta.

Life is good.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes fatal bite -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact fire.ant@browardpalmbeach.com.

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