But over the years, as I have become more of a frequent visitor than an occasional sightseer, I have discovered that Weston's surface is simply that -- a veneer of similitude. The population of this place is actually a diverse mix of ethnicities. And while all the malls are pastel stucco, the eateries they house reflect a rainbow of shades and variations.
Take, for instance, Antonette's Italian Deli (116 Weston Rd., 954-217-1910). The original owners of this gourmet market and sandwich shop sold it a couple months ago to Venezuelans of Italian heritage, who have brought in some terrific product lines I had never seen in South Florida till now. Crave bruschetta? Grab a bag of pepperoncini-flavored toasts and a jar of chopped and seasoned tomatoes. A luxurious antipasto? Ask for a slab of fresh ricotta salata and a container of roasted, marinated mushrooms. The kind of pasta dish for which you'd pay $25 in a high-end ristorante? Pick up a pouch of tongue-shape dried pasta, a crock of stoned green olives, and a tin of truffles minced with olive oil.
Don't know what you want? Ask the staff members, who have tasted the products and have serious opinions on which ones are the most pleasing. They are knowledgeable, able to inform you that the white anchovies in the deli case have been imported directly from Italy or that the vegetables resting in extra-virgin oil have been roasted on wood planks. And best of all, they're sample-happy. After we'd been browsing for several minutes, the salespeople brought tastes of roasted eggplant, fresh-baked bread, olive pâté, and more. It's a good strategy, not just from a marketing point of view but from a practical stance; the place smells so appetizing that customers can't help but buy.
Antonette's imports all its desserts from Italy, items like the all-too-familiar tiramisu but also more-interesting layer cakes that can be bought by the slice for quick, in-house consumption or ordered whole for parties. But not every item hails from the well-heeled boot. The deli counter produces a variety of hot and cold submarine sandwiches, the latter made with Boar's Head meats, which the staff moves so quickly they don't have to worry about spoilage. (Because Boar's Head uses fewer preservatives than other brands, the meats tend to lose freshness quickly, and sales reps for the company typically inspect their retailers' deli cases whenever they deliver to make sure standards are being maintained.) For home-dinner replacements, a check of the refrigerator and freezer yields a variety of soups, pastas, sauces, and casseroles, some of them made on the premises and some purveyed from Mimi's Ravioli, a popular Broward County market.
One caveat: The prices for the imported goods run high. I spotted a jar of fresh green olives, a brand I could formerly find only at Crown Liquors, for about $6 more than I normally pay there. So check the tags before you purchase. The only thing Antonette's lacks is some bistro tables at which to sit and sample the goods; the terms deli and dinners to go tend to indicate just what you're supposed to do with the food once you have it -- take it with you.
If you're more inclined to visit a gourmet shop with a little ambiance and some space to relax, head over to the Cheese Course (1679 Market St., 954-384-8183), located in the half-built Weston Town Center. (Think Mizner Park under construction.) The brainchild of Sarah Petri, erstwhile president of Einstein Bros. Bagels and Offerdahl's, the bistro is a wonderful showcase for cheeses, kitchen tools, and accompaniments garnered from all over the world. Indoor and outdoor tables allow patrons to linger with cheese and wine, and highchairs beckon tots who are brave enough to confront pungent goat-cheese Goudas and the like. In addition a small library on one wall provides customers with the most recent issues of nationally published food-and-wine magazines.
Aside from being an attractive café, the Cheese Course offers quite an education even for someone who has a background in cheese. Four different refrigerated cases hold six categories of cheese, ranging from fresh to hard. Don't know your bloomy-rind cheeses from your semihard? Don't worry. The categories are defined both in brochures and on the walls, so you can learn at a glance that washed-rind cheeses, for example, are "distinguished by their orange-red, shiny, damp exteriors and powerful aromas... [and] washed repeatedly with brine, wine, beer, brandy, or cider as they age to encourage the flavor-producing surface ripening."
Of course the real learning comes from tasting, a lesson I was taught at my first job in a gourmet cheese shop, where I was required to sample every single cheese on the premises. At the Cheese Course, Petri's philosophy is to turn South Floridians on to the joys of discerning fine cheeses from the prepackaged, rubbery, supermarket Jarlsbergs that are currently out there. Thus she imports the rarest, purest, and most traditional cheeses she can find, which means that the majority of her products are unflavored, with ingredients such as caraway seeds, chili peppers, or mushrooms, to name a few. Customers are invited to browse and sample whatever they wish, and the staffers, cloaked in lab coats, are as efficient as technicians.
I was impressed with the variety of cheeses I'd never before had the privilege of trying, such as the gratte-paile, a bloomy-rind, runny cheese, and the Keen's cheddar, a sharp crumbly treat that I am finding addictive. However, beginner cheese junkies might get a little confused when confronted with all the options or be intimidated by the winelike terminology used to describe different cheeses; this one is bold and spicy, that one has a complex, fruity aroma. Petri helped us put together a cheese pairing, which is one cheese that is featured that week, along with fresh bread and a carefully chosen accompaniment like cherry-gooseberry preserves or mixed Mediterranean olives for $4.95. For $4 more, you can choose three different cheeses and two accompaniments. And for more-extensive eating, a menu board offers a number of salads and close to 20 different sandwiches, each made with at least one kind of cheese; the herb omelet with roasted vegetables and goat cheese on ciabatta is my current favorite.
Indeed you can depend on most of the staff members to know their stuff regarding the cheeses and sandwiches, and everyone is courteous and helpful. However, when it comes to wine, trust yourself: Several employees guessed incorrectly on questions like "Is the Riesling dry or sweet?" and seemed bewildered by the differences between chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But aside from this one complaint, I believe that the Cheese Course, along with Weston Town Center and the city itself, is already a much-treasured work in progress.