The first time that I wrote about Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (in Miami), I focused on the lighting. In fact, I was so focused on the lighting, I didn’t really write about the meal. Instead, I wrote a post called “When You Can’t See Your Food.” It was very dark in there.
Since then, though, I’ve been back to Michael’s twice for lunch and absolutely loved it. This most recent trip was with my mom and sister-in-law, Tali, (seen above) and as you can see lighting isn’t at all an issue when you’re eating outside at lunch. That’s the time to go.
The Jewish diaspora is the kind of phrase you only use in college, and even then you’re not sure what it means. But I know this much: Jews in Boca Raton, Florida make good bagels. I’ve long sung the praises of Bagelworks on Glades Road near the Turnpike–my favorite bagel destination when I visit home (I always get “the works” with two scoops of white fish and one scoop of nova spread)–but, traditionally, my mom always buys bagels for the house from Way Beyond Bagels on Jog Road, next to the Starbucks.
There’s a secret about Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami that’s so dangerous, so protected that the people who took me there for dinner do not want to be identified.
I could’ve chosen, of course, just to write about the meal like any other meal; focusing on the food instead of the secret, but the secret to me is almost as fascinating as the stone crabs are delicious. In fact, you’ll be waiting an hour and a half for stone crabs if you don’t know the secret.
There’s high culture and there’s low culture and then there’s Disney World. I grew up going there and going there and going there; seriously, we went there a lot (we lived in Florida, so it was close). When I dream, I dream about theme parks (psychologists: what does that mean?) and the theme parks I dream about most often are Disney theme parks. So when Craig’s movie got into the Florida Film Festival in Orlando and he was hooked up with a hotel room and a car and all I would have to do is pay for a plane ticket there and back, it was hard to resist a trip to Disney World. It’d been almost ten years since I’d been there last and I was immensely curious to see if I’d still think if it was fun or if I’d outgrown it. More importantly, I wanted to write about the food–a strange idea, but a compelling one, perhaps. What’s there to say about the food at Disney World? Actually, there’s plenty.
Once I was throwing a party in Atlanta and I had the fluorescent lights on in my apartment and my friend Ricky came and said, “Adam, no, no, no, turn off the overhead lights and turn on the lamps; this is a party, not a doctor’s office.”
The lesson I learned then is a lesson that successful restaurants have long understood: lighting matters. You may take it for granted, but the difference between the corner diner with the buzzing, yellowing strips of light and the trendy, upscale bistro two doors down with sconces and a soft, ambient glow is more than just the quality of the food. Dining is theater–people go out to see and to be seen–and if a restaurant makes you look bad, or makes the food look bad, you won’t likely go back.
A few weeks ago, when I went to visit my family in Florida, I re-read Frank Bruni’s Top 10 Restaurants Outside of New York and excitedly told my parents that one of those restaurants was right near us in Miami. That place, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, was, unfortunately, booked for that whole weekend (I had to stop my mom from saying, “My son, The Food Network star,” to try to get us a table) and all dressed up with nowhere to go, my mom suggested Barton G.
You may recall Barton G. from the Miami season of “Top Chef.” Barton is a flashy, famous, Florida caterer who makes theater out of food, with outlandish presentations and over-the-top prices. “Sure,” I said to my mom. “This’ll be good for my blog.”
Comfort of comforts–the white fluorescent lights, the angry senior citizens shoving in line–is there a taste more sweet than the taste of a Bagelworks bagel, shmeared with lox spread and whitefish salad, topped with sliced tomato and onion and washed down with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice? Welcome to Bagelworks in Boca Raton, the locus of my happiest eating from ages 11 to 18: from middle school through high school, with several visits between college and now. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I asked mom to take me here before going to my dad the dentist for a cleaning. The past flooded into the present as I entered that sacred space: a space that knew me as a gawky teenager, a first time driver, a failed candidate for student council president. There among my people–New York Jews transplanted to Florida–I eat the way I was meant to eat: with my hands, unafraid of bad breath, wiping cream cheese off my lips with a napkin and eyeing the waitress to refill my water. When I’m at Bagelworks, I’m at home
I possess a Florida driver’s license–I lived there from 1990 (when we moved to Boca Raton from Oceanside, New York) to 1997 (when I graduated high school and left for college)–but I do not possess a favorite Florida restaurant. My parents certainly have theirs: steakhouses, both (New York Prime, Prime 112). Yet, on a recent trip home for my brother’s college graduation (congratulations, Michael!) I think I think I may have finally uncovered a Florida favorite. The location’s crazy–it’s in a seedy section of Biscayne Blvd.–our table, near a window, gave us front row seats for a parade of sketchy characters with brown paper bags loitering near a bus stop. My dad said the room looked like a converted shoe store. And yet, this restaurant–Michy’s, named after chef Michelle Bernstein (who went to Emory, my alma mater)–fully upholds the values by which I judge a restaurant. The food is honest, the service unpretentious. The space is charming. And, most importantly, I had fun and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner.