Each year around this time, upon being handed my first Miami Spice menu of the season, I think of Ernie. Ernie is my car mechanic. “Broken radiator hose,” he’ll say with a furrow across his brow. “That’ll cost you 300,” and without even looking up to see the stunned look on my face, he’ll quickly add, “but today’s your lucky day, buddy, we’re having a month-long half-off sale on all radiator work.”
The Spice discount dining program kicks off this Friday, August 1, and runs through the end of September. The deal is a three-course meal that guests select from a limited and usually low-end list -- $23 at lunch, $36 at dinner. That’s without tax and gratuity, which means, even for tightwad tippers, the meal costing at least $30 and $45 respectively. “Choose well and that’s the equivalent of a 50 percent savings,” says our city’s daily paper, which means that under ordinary circumstances you’d be paying $60 for lunch and $90 for dinner for these well-chosen spots -- plus more if you desire water or lemonade or a glass of wine or cup of coffee. “Of course there’ll also be a small charge for the gaskets and such,” as Ernie likes to say.
The difference between Miami Spice and Ernie is that it is actually possible to find an honest deal with Miami Spice. There are 106 participating restaurants listed at www.ilovemiamispice.com. Click the establishment’s name and you’ll be directed to the days and meal periods that the Spice menu is available, and a link to the discounted menu. Right off the bat you can eliminate those restaurants where an untaxed/untipped $30 lunch or $45 dinner is no deal at all. We did just that, which whittled our list of desirables to 32. Of these, 9 didn’t bother to list their menus, 7 are being stingy, 4 are well-enough priced in general that the Spice menu doesn’t make much sense, 2 are less than generous but great restaurants to try nonetheless. Tomorrow we'll specify our breakdown, and present the Top Ten Miami Spice deals.