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.
At the top end of Florida you have Jeb Bush shouting “yeehaw” wielding pistols on his gubernatorial tower, on the lowest tip you have gay men riding scooters near Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar; in between you have grown adults dressed in mouse costumes, suntanned tourists stepping off cruise ships in sombreros and wrinkled gray-haired senior citizens shrinking into the driver’s seats of their neon green Cadillacs as they threaten to plow into you on 1-95. Yes indeed, Florida is a cultural mishmosh. And my family adds to that mishmosh from their home in Boca Raton where, every so often, I go to visit. That’s what I did this weekend and, as you’ll soon see, we ate three culturally mishmoshed meals at:
Bice in West Palm Beach
Johnny V on Las Olas
and Prime 112 in South Beach.
Those are my parents holding up a menu. They’re the ones who treated me to all these Flordarrific meals. It is their hope that I will someday see the light at the end of the orange grove and move my life back to the Sunshine State. And while that may not happen before I reach 65, at least I can join them in celebrating the cuisine of their place of residence. So onward and Florida-ward we go!
“FLAH-rida,” they tease when I tell them where I’m going for the holidays.
“How do you say it?” I protest.
And then they correctly pronounce it: “Floor-IH-dah.”
After much examination, we’ve determined that mine is the case of the New York Jew pronouncing words through a Long Island filter. This make sense because I lived on Long Island until I was 11. Then we moved to FLAH-rida. There we eat ARE-enges (as opposed to ore-anges) and call the summer heat HARR-ible (as opposed to hore-ible.)
We also eat many meals when I visit and that’s the segue we need to get us to the subject of our post. I was in Florida for four nights this Thanksgiving and in my time there I ate three meals I’d like to tell you about. Meal One took place at Ago in the Shore Club:
That’s the inside of the hotel: it’s very zen.
The other meals were at Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach: (which I’ve written about before, but two times is a charm)
And, finally (and most interestingly) Norman’s—called, by The New York Times, “the best restaurant in South Florida.”
Are you ready to delve into the swampy marshes of my food writing? Press ahead!
Today the Roberts Family decided to get fit, choosing sensible foods and exercise in lieu of heavy and rich concoctions.
We drove down to Bal Harbor in Miami—a scenic trip that provided the following views:
The back of my mom’s head:
Once we got there it was exercise, exercise, exercise! We immediately stepped into Gucci for heavy pocketbook lifting:
After working up a heavy sweat, we made our way over to Carpaccio for a light lunch.
Here’s the awning:
Here’s the scene:
The service at Carpaccio was outstanding. It reminded me of that SNL skit where Kirstie Alley goes to that Italian restaurant with her husband, and the waiters are so attentive they start making out with her. Well, it didn’t go quite that far, but it was nice to be doted on.
We told our waiter we were on a Roberts Family health kick and the waiter nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes, yes!” he said. “A light lunch for you all!’
The first course, a light and airy Insalade Inglese with mozarella, smoked salmon, tomatoes and olive oil:
Then on to our reasonable, and incredibly healthy main courses.
My dad had a lobster pasta:
Mom had a pasta vongole (with clams and shrimp):
And I had Harry’s Bar pasta, which was noodles with sundried tomatoes, arugala, and olive oil:
The noodles were actually a little undercooked but a fit person isn’t a complainer, so I ate what was on my plate.
Here’s the three of us at the table:
Finally, like any good dieters, we accepted our waiter’s offer of dessert. How else can you lose those calories?
Here’s our Atkins’ friendly, carb-free Tiramasu:
Boy, it really does feel great to make a positive change in your life. I suggest you all try the Roberts Family diet and lose a few pounds. As a reward, tonight we’re going out for steak. Photos and commentary to follow!