As South Florida enters its peak dining season, we celebrate the people, places, food trends and odds ‘n’ ends that make our region so delicious. It’s not a “best of,” per se, just a curated selection of what we’re eating, and who we’re toasting, right now, from South Dade to North Palm Beach. Hungry yet?
Written by Christiana Lilly, Marie Speed and John Thomason
PEACHES ‘N COBBLER ICE CREAM AT PROPER ICE CREAM
Its location is weird—a strip mall in the West Delray hinterlands that wouldn’t get foot traffic from Forrest Gump— and its hours are wonky: Thursday to Sunday only, at a maximum of five hours, and varying each day. But this tucked-away storefront from ice cream artisan Rick Felberbaum has developed a cult audience that would travel to Timbuktu for a pint of his Peaches n Cream Cobbler—or, for that matter, his Blueberry Muffin, which is lovingly served up with fresh-baked muffins inside the mixture. Felberbaum creates every batch from scratch, with fruits and spices coming from Turkey, Israel, Yugoslavia and local Florida farms. The authentic texture and buoyant mouth feel manage to reinvent a dessert wheel that we thought had lost most of its tread. It is, quite simply, the best ice cream on the planet. Period. 1445 N. Congress Ave., Suite 4, Delray Beach
A MILKSHAKE AT ROBERT IS HERE
The story goes that Robert Moehling was so small when he started selling the family produce by the side of the road in the tall grass in Homestead that his dad put a big sign with an arrow pointing at him that said “Robert Is Here.” Well, Robert is still here but in a huge open-air market at the corner of the road that leads to Everglades National Park. These days, the 60-year-old business includes a barnyard full of giant tortoises, emus, goats and more and a “fruit stand” with every kind of exotic tropical fruit you can imagine, from mamey sapote to guavas and mangos and tamarind and more—most of which Robert grows himself. Whatever you buy, you must not miss a homemade milkshake here, which can be made from any wacko fruit combo you choose. The shake itself is made with hand-cut fresh fruit, milk and ice. It tastes like ice cream, but that’s just because it’s the best pure milkshake ever made by the hand of man. Try the Key lime strawberry. 19200 S.W. 344th St., Homestead
MAPLE BACON COFFEE PORTER
The offspring of the former Boca Raton lounge, the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park has been cranking out unique suds since 2013. Arguably the best brew on the menu, the Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, is a small-batch creation released once a year. Likened to pouring breakfast into a glass, each sip is an explosion of maple syrup, coffee and cream. Sound delicious? The judges at the World Beer Cup thought so too, awarding this libation the gold medal for specialty beer in 2016. 1201 N.E. 38th St., Oakland Park
MANGO FROM THE MANGO MEN
The Mango Men of Homestead (MMH)—not to be confused with South Florida’s Mango Gang—cultivate at least 50 different strands on their half-acre ranch. As the man who runs it, tropical fruit expert Richard Campbell, said, mangos come “in every color, shape, size, texture and flavor that you could ever imagine.” A visit to the MMH can help you square the difference between each of them. Campbell sells mangos both fresh and dried, as well as honey that bees forage from the orchard, and it’s all produced without herbicides or pesticides. The bad news? As you read this, mango season is over. The magic begins again in May. 15300 S.W. 268th St., Homestead
Very little makes you feel more like a Lady Who Lunches than a leisurely lunch at the Mariposa Café at Neiman-Marcus at Town Center. This is a lunch that requires champagne, of course, and a little covey of shopping bags nesting at your feet. The Neimans’ lunch begins with a demitasse of warm bullion, followed by the very famous popovers served with strawberry butter. It is these popovers we salute here. Defying gravity, they are the Truman Capote swans of baked goods, the ballerinas of bread, the whispers of wheat. They should never be attempted at home; they belong here, at Neiman’s, where dreams come true and everyone is a size zero.
HOUSE-MADE CHARCUTERIE AT CAFE BOULUD
Chef Rick Mace’s version of this carnivorous catchall is an over-the-top delight. The large, dinner version of this appetizer includes no less than seven flavor-rich meats in all—like salami, a delicate chicken liver mousse, smooth Serrano ham and pork shoulder pate, surrounded by frisee, ramps, spicy pickles and artistic dollops of Dijon, served on a long wooden slab. But that’s not all, folks: Soon came the second charcuterie course, with its so-thinly-sliced-it-was-almost-invisible coppa, duck and foie gras pate and, yes, head cheese. At the Brazilian Court Hotel, 301 Australian Ave., Palm Beach
ROCK SHRIMP AT THE WHALE’S RIB
Rock shrimp is a dish synonymous with the Whale’s Rib, like its famous whale fries or conch chowder. You never see rock shrimp on menus around here, which may be because they have notoriously hard-to-peel shells (there is a trick—just crack them in the middle first, then peel off the shell) or maybe because people do not know these are the best little Florida treats that exist, deepwater shrimp from Cape San Blas or off Port Canaveral that taste like sweet, itty-bitty lobsters. Add drawn butter and you will happily peel and eat your way through this basket of bliss. Add a cold beer, and you are in heaven. 2031 N.E. Second St., Deerfield Beach
Palm Beach’s boyishly handsome chef begins his days in the water—rising for a 5 a.m. swim in West Palm Beach—and usually ends it in the heat of one of his many kitchens. The multiple James Beard Award nominee, whose cuisine marries Asian, South American and Caribbean influences in novel and harmonious ways, has a Midas touch when it comes to food: His every whim tastes golden. If he only cooked at Buccan, which opened in 2011 to instant acclaim, he would probably still have made this list, but his equally innovative Imoto and Grato, not to mention his grab-and-go Sandwich Shop, have only heightened his national profile.
LEE BRIAN SCHRAGER
The founder of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Schrager turned what used to be known as the Florida Extravaganza into the culinary juggernaut the festival is today. It was 2002 when he took the reins and turned the one-day soiree benefiting the Florida International University hospitality program into a three-day foodie party. Today, it’s morphed into a weeklong event drawing more than 60,000 guests, including stars from the Food Network and Cooking Channel. The Festival offers dinners, seminars, panels, demos and the highly anticipated Grand Tasting Tents on Ocean Avenue. Schrager has also produced Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, Fried & True and America’s Best Breakfasts. All hail Lee.
Chef Jeremiah doesn’t need no stinkin’ surname. As far as Miami cuisine goes, there is only one Jeremiah. One of his pioneering ventures, the legendary gastroPod, is credited with launching the South Florida foodtruck movement, opening in 2009 and raising the bar for mobile cuisine with Vietnamese tacos. Jeremiah’s skills—honed at staples like the Michelin-starred elBulli, Noma and Restaurant Aquavit—earned the attention of rapper Rick Ross, who enlisted Jeremiah as his personal chef, as well as the cooking-show establishment: He has competed on“Chopped,” “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Cutthroat Kitchen: The Truck Stops Here.” His latest project, “Jeremiah Bullfrog Forks It,” is a TV series in which he travels and eats, a la the late Anthony Bourdain.
NORMAN VAN AKEN
Norman Van Aken has been elevating Florida food to the realm of poetry for more than 20 years. Van Aken formed the Mango Gang, a kind of Rat Pack of renegade chefs, fusing flavors and perfecting New American cuisine alongside colleagues like Allen Susser and Mark Militello. He’s written five cookbooks and a memoir, he has been a James Beard semifinalist for “Best Chef in America,” and his namesake Coral Gables restaurant is still missed. Van Aken now runs three restaurants—Norman’s in Grande Lakes, 1921 in Mount Dora and, as of late last year, Three at the Wynwood Arcade, further solidifying the trendy cred of this hip neighborhood.
They are now at the epicenter of the county’s “slow food” or “farm-to- table” movement, two people who started a small farm in Loxahatchee 18 years ago and now supply some of the area’s best restaurants with their produce—and host lavish, star chef-studded farm dinners during season at a massive pole barn on their property. Darrin and Jodi Swank didn’t grow up on the lower 40; he was a landscaper and she was a travel agent when they plowed into farming. Today they own 20 acres in Loxahatchee; about seven are cultivated with 350 varieties of produce, from fancy lettuces (their specialty) to elegant veggies and wildflowers. As other small farmers start nipping at their heels, they come up with the Next Big Thing. That was the farm dinner eight years ago, and now it’s growing hops for a home-based brewery. “But we’ll always grow food,” Jodi says.
This Miami chef, 31, started washing pots and pans in the kitchen when he was 6, but that was then. Now he is a rock-star chef in South Florida, having worked at Alinea and L20 in Chicago and Azul and J&G Grill in Miami. By 2015, Kilgore opened his first South Florida venue, Alter, in the Wynwood District. Brava by Brad Kilgore, his second restaurant, soon followed. In 2016 Food & Wine named him “Best New Chef in America,” and the hits keep coming. Kilgore will soon add two restaurant concepts to Miami’s Design District: Ember and Kaido. Watch him know; the contrail is already forming.
The walk-up Cuban coffee window was social networking before that term was even invented, with a camaraderie born of high-octane sugary coffee poured into tiny cups (this is a cafecito) or the larger colada size. This is how people in Miami (and now all of us in South Florida by osmosis) keep going in the afternoons. In fact, The City of Miami has declared 3:05 (also the city’s area code) each afternoon cafecito time, making it the only place we know with an official coffee break time.
EL PALACIO DE LOS JUGOS
El Palacio is your family-owned go-to for Cuban and Latin-American fruits, freshly made juices and a vivifying chopped fruit salad. The owners have 10 Dade County locations now, serving readymade Cuban food dispensed via warming tables and deep fryers. The chicharron is the best.
SAUSAGES AT EMIL’S
Walter and Jutta Voos bought Emil’s in 1999, but the business started in 1954. The core of the business is its dizzying array of homemade sausages, all preservative- free with no nitrates or MSG. Any sausage you can dream up is made here, by hand, from beer brats to Italian, apple, merguez, chicken, turkey, Cajun, chorizo, andouille, and on and on—not to overlook homemade bologna of all kinds, even the lowly American hot dog. And the list of specialty foods is endless, including sauerkraut, pierogi, duck liver mousse, cheese straws, German potato salad, salami and more. 124 N. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach
SAVOR THE AVENUE
This is everyone’s favorite dining event and for good reason. Where else do you see a small town’s main street closed, and a dining table stretching for five city blocks down the middle of it? Savor the Avenue is Delray’s elegant al fresco four-course dinner, hosted by 18-20 local restaurants with free-flowing wines, piped-in music, lavish table decorations and the sense that you aren’t in Delray Beach anymore—you are somewhere in Europe, or California’s wine country, or some other magical place with sophisticated communal dining, gourmet food and the ambience of a charming seaside town. The event, hosted every March (and sponsored by this magazine and the Delray Development Authority), sells out every year within days, and is attended by 1,000 people.
The annual vintner dinners may be the fanciest foodie events in Boca, held at private residences or at upscale venues like the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Star chefs from across the country who are invited to the Boca Bacchanal weekend are paired with participating vintners, and each duo prepares a multi-course dinner and wine pairing for a select few at a lovely home in Boca. These elegant events are expensive ($325 per person last year), with an exclusive vibe that is catnip to Boca foodies.
It’s worth the schlep to West Palm Beach to dine at Darbster, a woke bistro that welcomes carnivores as well. If your concept of vegan food is cardboard patties of mysterious provenance, gummy knockoff cheddar slices and uncooked falafel, you owe it to yourself to experience Darbster’s flavor-forward creations. The “beef” Wellington tastes like the real deal, and the fried hearts of palm would satisfy any comfort-food craving. 800 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach
THE NEIGHBORHOOD FISH MARKET
The grass may be greener in the summertime in Maine or Colorado or North Carolina, but when it comes to seafood, no one’s got anything on South Florida. Wherever you live, you have a great neighborhood fish market sporting wild-caught local fish and shrimp and a wide range of other offerings, from oysters (in season) to imported fish and clams and just about anything you’ve got a hankering for. Here are three that spring to mind:
Pop’s (131 W. Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach) is a fairly large market with a wide range of shellfish and fish, and it does something the other markets do not do: It cooks your pick for you at lunchtime. You can order whatever looks good to you with a side and a drink in a sandwich or taco, or go for a whole basket o’ wonderful. Pop’s has both fresh and frozen fish, all kinds of salads and specialty items like frog legs, Fin-N-Haddie and crawfish tails.
You could do open-heart surgery at Old Dixie (7000 N. Dixie Highway, Boca Raton), where all the fish is wrapped in Saran, and the frozen cases are as pristine as the driven snow. Larry and Kerry Siemsen opened this bright little market in 1996 and have enjoyed a steadily growing fan base ever since. The smoked wahoo fish dip is arguably the best sold in South Florida, and the market also has wines, delish homemade salads, caviar, truffle oil, alligator meat, pate and a secret stone crab source patrons swear by.
Captain Frank’s Fish Market (435 W. Boynton Beach Blvd.) can trace its bloodline back three generations, when Joey Sclafani’s great-grandfather was selling fish in New York at the turn of the century. And now it has a cult following. For starters, Joey buys only fresh fish (“never frozen”), only wild-caught, and he’ll tell you how to cook it while he’s wrapping it up. The market has it all, and then some, with a wall of Italian sauces and pastas, homemade soups, the occasional box of fresh local produce, bread, steaks and Key lime pie.
MONKITAIL AT THE DIPLOMAT
The first Florida concept by Philadelphia-based culinary magnate Michael Schulson is nestled in Hollywood’s chic Diplomat Hotel, but it’s open to everybody. It’s quickly eclipsing the other restaurants on the recently re-imagined resort, even attracting national food critics: last year, USA Today awarded it Best Hotel Restaurant in the country. You can make dinner an extravagant feast by ordering the Chef’s Tasting, an 11-course meal of eclectic Asian favorites, including robatayaki, small-plate apps of vegetables, seafood and meats brought to the table the moment they’re cooked. Visitors can conclude their experience at Nokku, the lounge within Monkitail, which offers private karaoke rooms for the vocally abashed. 3555 S. Ocean Drive, Hollywood
JOE’S STONE CRAB
In a weird way, we can thank Joe Weiss’s asthma back in 1913 for this legendary South-of-Fifth outpost in Miami Beach. Suffering from breathing problems, the Weiss family moved to Florida from New York and opened a lunch counter. A few years later, locals learned that those stone crabs they found in the bay were actually edible, and the rest is history. It’s no secret: The Miami Beach outpost is the place to go during stone crab season for its melt-in-your-mouth sweet meat, and its Key lime pie is just as legendary. Joe’s staff also ships claws to anywhere in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
Daniel Boulud’s longtime Palm Beach outpost is the kind of restaurant that still offers you a choice of newspapers when you sit down for lunch. Drinks, from the perfectly balanced sweet-and-sour strawberry mint lemonade to the harder stuff, are just as carefully prepared as the main courses, which are just as elegantly plated as the desserts, like the signature Key lime pie. Café Boulud is not without its Old Guard Palm Beach pretensions—shorts and beachwear are not permitted—and if a party of two makes it out of the building for under $100, it’s pulled off some sort of economic miracle. But unlike many a restaurant with prices higher than an airplane’s cruising altitude, Café Boulud is worth every penny. 301 Australian Ave., Palm Beach
YELLOW GREEN FARMERS MARKET
Open since 2010, the weekend market has become the ultimate farmers market, with more than 300 vendors selling quite possibly anything you could ever want. Check out the farm stalls for seasonal fruits and vegetables, or wander the aisles for honey, spices and loose teas. Kitchens also set up shop in booths to serve international cuisine from all over South America, the Caribbean, Morocco, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and more. Countless vendors have handmade jewelry, bags, artwork, clothing from around the world, crystals, essential oils, candles and soaps. For a drink, head to the Happitizer Bar, an al fresco, albeit covered, bar with international beers and chilly frozen sangria. 1940 N. 30th Road, Hollywood
WHITE GLOVE DINING
South Florida’s dining scene has a fast-paced life of its own and is defined sometimes by the Next, The Newest, the Most Trendy—which makes that quaint notion of old-fashioned white-glove dining especially attractive now and then. Thankfully, we’ve got a few places that will indulge us:
Arturo’s (6750 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton) is fine and formal Italian (with the occasional opera singer, if you please), exquisite desserts, a legendary wine cellar and a garden room.
Renato’s (87 Via Mizner, Palm Beach) is all French doors, soft piano music, romantic terrace views and a refined and exquisite Continental menu. This is Palm Beach, after all, and this is simply how things are done.
Kathy’s Gazebo Cafe (4199 N. Federal Highway, Boca) offers classic French dining (there are two kinds of pâté), impeccable manners and charming details, like vichyssoise served daily in a chilled silver tureen.
WINE BARS AND BREWERIES
There’s no shortage of breweries in South Florida, from SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach to Funky Buddha in Oakland Park and Wynwood Brewing Company down in Miami. Florida flavors are infused into each brew, with tropical notes you won’t find anywhere else. For oenophiles, the wine bar scene is having a moment. Delray has N2 Wine Bar, where with a token in hand you can serve yourself from wine dispensers. Down in Broward, the cozy Wine Watch in Fort Lauderdale hosts wine dinners and elaborate tastings, and further south in Dade, the Vine Vault at the St. Regis Bal Harbour is an impressive modern sit-down with 2,500 bottles of wine in clear, temperature-controlled cases.
Chris and Kristen Vila opened Grandview Public Market to much ado in West Palm Beach earlier this year, where guests imbibe drinks at The Bar at Clare’s, grab a sandwich at Grace’s Fine Foods, experience the poke trend at the Poke Lab Eatery, or satisfy their sweet tooth with Thai rolled ice cream at Crema—just to name a few. Meanwhile, Delray Beach is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 30,000-square-foot Delray City Market, set to open next fall off Atlantic Avenue. Down in Miami-Dade, they’re popping up like mushrooms: La Centrale at Brickell City Centre offers three floors of Italian fare (including a Negroni fountain), 1-800-LUCKY is an Asian cuisine destination, The Wharf brings the food hall experience to the water, and Central Fare just opened at MiamiCentral—which is a Brightline stop, by the way!
BASQUE AT HOTEL BIBA
In its debut season last year, Basque was a very, very big hit, even for South Floridians who have the culinary attention span of gnats. Delectable tapas and paella and all kinds of delights emerged from a decked-out food truck that went to college, with a well-appointed kitchen and chef Miguel Rebolledo, who once worked with—are you ready?—elBulli’s three-Michelin-star maestro and gastronomy king, Ferran Adrià. Even the bread is flown over from Spain. Rumor has it this is just the beginning, with a new concept in the works. 320 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach
TIP TO TAIL
The movement to be the ultimate chef recycler—using the whole animal for food rather than choice bits and pieces—is nothing new. (Native Americans did it, and other cultures have been doing it for years.) But now the practice is going mainstream, and our local chefs are all about it. Delray chef Blake Malatesta has been known to make beef heart tartare. We’ve got sweetbreads and pate, tripe and tongue. “Waste not” never tasted so good.
HOME IS WHERE THE SPÄTZLE IS
And they say you can’t go home again. That 1990s shift toward comfort food appears to be here to stay, especially if those tried and true dishes are reimagined. Case in point: Mazie’s in West Palm Beach, an homage by star chef Eric Baker to his bubbe, Mazie, whose comfort food he has spun into a whole new genre that is packing them in at this stylish Dixie corridor gastrohit. 3815 S. Dixie Blvd., West Palm Beach
Ask anyone where to get the best doughnuts in town and you’re begging for a rumble. The pastries have truly captured the taste buds of South Florida foodies, and it’s no longer just a breakfast treat. Nani’s made-from-scratch doughnuts in Delray have a cult following, and the shop even hosts doughnut making classes. Doughnut Works, also in Delray Beach, has a menu of more than 30 flavors. Want something just a little smaller? Doughboy’s mini doughnuts have names like Winter is Coming, Ninja’s Pick and I’m a Boss. It’s a thing: Dougnuts are BIG.
What Else We Are Eating Up
Picture this: It’s raining in plague-like proportions, and your refrigerator is empty save for a few wrinkled grape tomatoes and that $12 artisanal mustard from Fresh Market. You want nothing more than to eat out, but the last thing you want to do is go out. That’s where Delivery Dudes come in—braving the elements to hand-deliver dishes from among the company’s dozens of local participating restaurants, and taking only a $7 fee for their trouble. Just call in the order, and it can be yours within the hour. The drivers will even pick up your groceries or dry cleaning. These dudes abide.
GO WEST FOR THE BEST
For shame to those who say there’s no good Chinese food in South Florida. Behold the promised land of international cuisine, also known as Central Broward: Head to Toa Toa in Sunrise (4145 N.W. 88th Ave.) and order the house pan-fried noodles, sweet barbeque pork buns and shrimp dumplings for your dim sum fix. For a taste of Seoul, cook your slices of meat over the charcoal grill at your table at Gabose (4991 N. University Drive, Lauderhill), and douse it in Korean sauces. Be sure to get a side of Tteok-bokki and kimchi (obviously).
Opened in 2008 in a secluded residential pocket, this locals’ destination carries 550 bottled/canned beers at one time, from common brands to exotics to rare small-batch series from Funky Buddha. New choices are cycled in each week, and there’s a handful of rotating taps, including best-selling options from the owner’s own brewery, Tarpon River, served in an atmosphere of coastal whimsy. The place serves food, too, and it’s better than it needs to be: The “Hot Chicks” appetizer is an overflowing mini mason jar of deep-fried chickpeas that you munch like popcorn. 608 S.W. 12th Ave., Fort Lauderdale
BLUE VIEW: TOP OF THE TOWER
It’s not Everest, but The Blue is, for Boca anyway, the top of the world. Slide into a horseshoe-shaped banquette near a window, and take in the view. “All you can see is blue,” says Roberto Colombi, its general manager. “And you can forget about the world for a minute.” That forgetting is aided by the restaurant’s approachable, seasonally changing cuisine, with pastas, breads and desserts made from scratch daily. Boca Resort, 501 E. Camino Real, Boca Raton
CIBO WINE BAR
The Cibo Wine Bar’s theatrical trappings are as much a draw as the pastas and brick-oven pizzas. Cibo houses 3,500 bottles of vino in its two-story, glass-enclosed wine cellar, some of which nearly scrape the industrial-chic ceiling. The solution for these hard-to-reach Veuve Clicquots? Harness-equipped servers—aka “wine angels”—suspended on hydraulic lifts to retrieve them. It may be a mad scientist’s idea of a wine bar, but it’s also a haven for serious grape connoisseurs, whether it’s an $810 1957 Chateau Simard vintage or a $1,200 1990 Cuvee Dom Perignon. 200 S. Pointe Drive, Miami Beach
GREAT FRENCH FOOD WITHOUT THE AIRFARE
From here to Miami, the French are back … with a beautiful vengeance. Here are a few contenders:
Tradition in Deerfield has calf’s liver with caramelized onions that is epic. Jean-Louis and Gloria Quellier have operated Monet Café since 1990, and we like everything here, but the pâté, which is perhaps the best we’ve tasted around here, keeps calling us back.
Kathy’s Gazebo is a landmark in Boca, with fine dining and wildly attentive waiters.
Chez Marie in the Polo Shoppes is a small family0owned restaurant with big talent and classic French dishes. We say coq au vin to start, but it’s all swoon-worthy.
La Nouvelle Maison in Boca offers a glam but authentic spin on fine French fare.
Casimir in Royal Palm Place is a highly popular French bistro, and may have the best French bread we’ve had since Paris.
Want more food news?
Sign up for our Dish e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest food and drink news delivered directly to your inbox.