An old Miami favorite becomes a new classic

If I had to name the one thing I miss most about living in Miami it would be pastelitos de guayaba y queso, the city’s ubiquitous Cuban pastries filled with guava and cream cheese.

Yea, that’s right. More than perpetual summer or beaches or family, I miss pastelitos. (On the off chance that my sister’s reading this: as you always so vehemently remind me, you don’t technically live in Miami. Now, ask me what I miss most about Broward County though…)

I’ve professed my love for them before but I’ll say it again: these pastries are some of the best, right up there with eclairs, cannoli, baklava and croissants. Pastelitos have the perfect combination of jammy, bright fruit flavors from guava, and sweet, creaminess from the cream cheese to go with flaky, buttery pastry dough. They’re great for breakfast or dessert or as an afternoon snack or even at 2am in the morning, slightly stale from sitting in a paper bag on the kitchen counter waiting for you all day after your flight from NY to Florida was delayed for hours.

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Guava + Cheese at The Salty Donut

I love them dearly which is why when my sister and I first walked into The Salty Donut, Miami’s first and outrageously popular artisanal donut shop in trendy Wynwood, and were initially struck with indecision and an overwhelming sense of “what do you get when you want everything,” I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment I laid eyes on it: the guava and cheese donut.

The Salty Donut uses what they call a 24 hour brioche recipe, creating a large cake donut that retains a soft, fluffy inside and a slightly crisper outside. Inside, a thick, generous filling of swirled guava and cream cheese, perfect in its evenness, oozed out with every bite. (Nothing worse than a filled donut with only a sad smidge of filling in the very middle. You have to eat around it wondering if maybe you got a dud and there’s nothing really there.)

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A lesson in how to make an absolutely delicious and perfectly filled donut.

The outside was coated with a thick cream cheese glaze and topped with crushed Maria cookies, another diet staple of anyone who grew up Hispanic in Miami, for a crumbly element to contrast the soft donut and its gooey inside. Salty’s donut is the decadent lovechild of a cake donut and a pastelito, a great way to bring an old classic up to speed on the trend of gourmet doughnuts, over the top pastries, and all things edible on Instagram. It borrowed all the right flavors and presented them as something delicious and fun and at least for me, nostalgic.

Now I have one more thing to miss when I think about Miami.

Healthy choice for the win!

Sometimes, finding something healthy when you’re out to eat can be a real pain in the ass. You’re at a pub and the closest thing to healthy is a cobb salad. A friggin’ cobb salad for Christ’s sake! Everyone else gets bacon cheeseburgers and there you are, with your depressing cobb salad, dressing on the side, burning with food envy.

But then other times you get lucky, like I did in Miami recently, and the healthy choice ends up being the envy of the other choices.  With that afternoon’s memory of me in a two piece still fresh in my head, I decided to go for something healthy while out at dinner with my sister at The Standard Miami’s Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill.

My sister, a 7-month pregasaurus rex, looked at me like I was crazy when I told the waitress I’d be having the living “lasagna” raw vegan vegetable terrine.

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No pasta, meat or cheese in this “lasagna”

“I mean, I don’t even get what that is. Is it cooked? I’m getting a turkey cheeseburger.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what it was either.

When it later came out, at first glance, it kinda looked like lasagna. It had the squarish, multi layer look of it, but upon closer inspection, there were way too many veggies and no sheets of pasta for this to be the real deal. My first forkful confirmed that there was, in fact, no pasta, no cheese, and lots of vegetables. But that first bite also revealed that this so-called lasagna was delicious! Thin layers of zucchini and squash were layered with eggplant, shredded carrots, lots of chunky, tomatoey goodness and what I later found out was a nut-vegetable “sausage” and cashew nut cheese to make this whole dish deliciously rich and saucy, and best of all, guilt free.

No sad salads here. This time, the healthy option was absolutely the best one.

Pancakes in paradise

Bliss

Breakfast bliss.

Man, do I loooove me some pancakes in the morning. Wait, better than that:  I loooove me some blueberry pancakes eaten poolside in the morning, while the sun is still climbing the sky and the breeze from the bay is rolling in and I’m on vacation. Man, do I love those pancakes.

Those were precisely the ones I had last Friday when I woke up at The Standard Hotel in Miami, threw on a bathing suit and sauntered over to the pool to enjoy a deliciously lazy morning.

Sure, my fluffy buttermilk pancakes oozing with juicy, fat blueberries were delicious (especially after my thick, generous pour of maple syrup) but really it was the view across the water, the quiet of the early morning, and the wonderful and rare feeling of not having a single other thing to worry about at the moment that made them so wonderful.

Oh to be back in that moment with those pancakes and that view.

Southern comforts

Going “home” to Miami isn’t exactly comforting for me. It can be fun, yes, catching up with old friends, seeing family (in small, controlled doses), hanging out in my old stomping grounds. If I squeeze in some beach time, Miami can even be relaxing, but rarely, if ever, is it comforting.

Comfort in a cocktail: Yardbird's tasty Watermelon Sling

But during the last visit to my ol’ hometown, between long stretches spent trapped in the car thanks to Miami’s ever-present traffic (reason number a billion to live in a city with actual, functioning public transportation), I was able to find some comfort. As it often does, comfort came in the form of food. (Sorry, family.)

Eating at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar was one of only a small number of things on my “must-absolutely-get-done-while-I’m-in-town” list. I read about it a few months ago when it first opened and immediately wanted to go. when I read about southern comfort food staples like fried chicken, mac and cheese and cornbread. Miami may be south, but southern it definitely is not.

I loved Yardbird right away, with its country-cool, rustic vibe and a distinctly not Miami Beach feel. But when my Watermelon Sling came out, all sweet and refreshing with its crisp, clean mix of fresh watermelon juice, smokey borboun, lemon, orange bitters and a light, frothy cucumber foam, I was head over heels.

Then came the perfect follow up to my drink, melons and cheese, chosen from the small plates portion of the menu. Two fat wedges of bright, juicy watermelon were topped with a grilled cheese that the menu called farm cheese, but I thought was a lot like queso fresco, the white, salty cheese used in Mexican and other hispanic cuisines. Either way, it was delicious and further proof that mixing sweet (in this case, fruity) with savory, is always a recipe for tastiness.

Melons and cheese: win, WIN.

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It’s always a good time for burgers

You know how you have to be in a certain mood to eat sushi? Or a hearty plate of meatloaf? Or a tuna wrap from the deli? (Yes, I do sometimes actually want one of those, the kind that are a little goopy and squishy. Don’t judge me.)

Well, burgers, in my opinion, unlike all of those other foods and so many others, are something I could eat any ol’ time, no matter the weather, time of day, season, or physical state I’m in. (Hungover? Yes. Sick with a cold? Yes. Strong like bull? Two please.)

So when I was in Miami looking for a place to eat dinner with my mom, sister and boyfriend, and my best friend (who was also joining us) suggested LoKal, a new Coconut Grove burger joint and craft beer watering hole, I was all about it. Burgers aaaaand beer? DONE.

Now I can add reptile to my list of meats eaten after these tasty fried alligator strips

 To start things off right, and maybe in honor of my being back in the Sunshine State, we ordered a plate of something quintessentially Floridian that I had actually never eaten: alligator. Fat, juicy strips of tender white alligator meat were battered, fried and seasoned with Old Bay, and served with a tangy marinara sauce and spicy mayo. So did they taste like chicken? Yea, kind of. Were they good? Absolutely.

She may not be the prettiest burger, but the Frita makes up for it in pure guava-cheesey-bacon goodness!

The burgers all sounded good, if not completely over the top, with toppings like chili, tons of bacon, blue cheese and one that even came served on a doughnut. I’m a bit of an over-the-top eater myself, so I went with the Frita: a juicy, medium-rare (cause that’s how I roll) patty topped with guava jelly, bacon, crunchy potato sticks, and gruyère. At first I was a little sad because I couldn’t taste the guava, and really that’s what sold me on it, but a couple of bites in I got to it and all was forgiven. The jammy sweetness of the guava, mixed in with the salty crunch of the bacon, the crispy potato bits and the gooey, melted cheese all over that juicy, soft patty made for near perfect deliciousness!  And to make matters even better, LoKal’s patties, ground fresh in-house, are made from free-range, grass fed, hormone free cows, all of which makes me feel much better about the 5 million calories I ingested. Oh and instead of making me choose between regular and sweet potato fries, I was able to do 50/50… at NO ADDITIONAL COST. Can you believe it? All for just $11! In New York, that would’ve been pushing $20.

Key Lime pie, the best dessert to come out of Florida

In keeping with the Florida fat-kid theme, I went with the one thing I absolutelyhaveto have whenever I’m in town, key lime pie. LoKal’s was a huge slice of creamy, cool, zesty lime custard on a crunchy graham cracker crust topped with a fluffy mountain of fresh whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles. It had the all the rights amount of sweet, tart, tangy and creamy that make it one of my favorites. It was the perfect way to end a really affordable, easy and just damn-good burger outing. And really, I’m always in the mood for one of those.

LoKal Burgers & Beer on Urbanspoon

Beach bites in Miami


On a hot day it’s hard to go wrong with bite sized fried fish and a cold beer.

Last year, during one of my brief visits to Miami, Flaneur and I visited Key Biscayne, where we spent a lazy day on the empty beach at Bill Baggs State Park and had lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe, a sleepy little eatery and the only one in the state park. During our visit this past weekend, we went back to both the beach there and to the Lighthouse Cafe.

The food at the cafe isn’t anything particularly mindblowing. As one of my coworkers often says, “They’re not reinventing the wheel.” But it’s simple, decent food, and for me, nostalgic, reminding me of the things I actually do enjoy about Miami (like beach days and ocean breezes).

This time, to go along with a couple of frosty beers, we ordered a plate of fried majuas, tiny fish about the size of my pinky finger, battered and fried whole. The last time I’d had them was years ago, also on Key Biscayne but on another part of the island, after a day out on a boat. (Also on my small list of Miami likes.) With a sqeeze of lime and a big gulp of cold, crisp beer, these crunchy, fishy treats were a great snack for a hot but breezy February afternoon on the beach.

Hola, old friends

Pupusas de chorizo y queso

Last summer while spending a couple of months in San Francisco, I discovered pupusas, a Salvadoran pancake-like corn tortilla stuffed with delicious cheese and meat fillings. I was in love right away and wonderered how I managed to grow up in Miami, a melting pot of every country in the world but especially those of Central and South America, without ever having one. I’m still not sure, but on mylast trip to Miami, I was eager to try them again, especially since I hadn’t had any since my days in California.

Lucky for me, my sister and I seemed to be on the same wavelenght the day she picked up the beau and I from the airport, because she took us to a restaurant in Little Havana called El Atlacatl, specializing in the cuisine of El Salvador.

My sister was all about me trying the tamales there, which I’ll get into in a moment, but when I saw pupusas on the menu, that’s what I wanted. ASAP.

Tamal de gallina

And they didn’t disappoint. Savory in that salty, grainy cornmealy way that I remembered, they were just the right amount of soft and doughy with a flavorful, filling of chorizo and cheese. I don’t know anything about El Salvador but I’ve made up my mind that I’d love to visit. Any country where I could eat pupusas as much as I wanted seems like a damn fine place to me.

So about those tamales… my sister, who shares not only my DNA but my voracious round-the-clock apetite, really nailed it when she suggested them. Unlike pupusas, I’ve eaten tamales my whole life and still eat them in New York. (Thank you Trader Joe’s for your variety of ethnic eats.) But the tamales we had at El Atlacatl were some of the best I can remember. First we had a tamal de gallina, a wonderfully plump, steaming hot tamale stuffed with tender, juicy hen meat, like pulled pork. Every bite was subtly sweet from the corn dough used in the tamales and savory and hearty from the delicious meat inside.

Tamal de elote

But as good as that one was— and let me tell you, it was GOOD— the other tamal was far and away my favorite.  Unlike the hen-stuffed tamal, this one didn’t have a filling of any kind, and was made with a slightly different sweet corn masa, so that it was considerably sweeter than the other one in an earthy, not sugary way. With the tamal came a small serving of tangy, bright sourcream, and really, I can’t think of a more perfect combination of flavors and textures. Perfectly moist and soft with the earthy sweetness of corn, everything that was good about the tamal was made even better with the cool, creamy tang of the sourcream.  

Only thing now is that I’m not sure how I’ll go back to eating the frozen Trader Joe variety…

My Miami

People who think they know Miami based solely on their having been to South Beach are the same breed of dummy who form their entire opinion of New York based on Times Square. One is just as loud, expensive, and tourist-clogged as the other, and neither paints an accurate picture of the greater cities they’re in. And while I don’t go as far out of my way to avoid the beach like I do Times Square, I don’t particularly run to it when I’m in town either.

Scotty's Landing, an old favorite

Instead, like on my last visit to Miami for my sister’s graduation, I prefer Coconut Grove, a more mellow, artsy, relaxed part of Miami, and one that I have lots of good memories in from growing up in the city. One of my favorite places in the Grove and Miami in general is Scotty’s Landing, so I decided to take Flaneur there.

Conch fritters

Scotty’s is a super casual, semi-hidden spot located right on the water near the Grove marina (another place I have fond memories of from a Miami adolescence) and the food is nothing fancy but yet always comforting to me. They serve things like fish and chips, burgers, and mozzarella sticks. But every time I’ve ever gone there I’ve ordered the same thing, and this time was no different: conch fritters.

Slightly sweet and doughy, these fried balls of conch, which of course come with a side of tangy marinara sauce, are my favorite. They’re no better than mozz sticks or jalapeño poppers, but I love them. Add a cold beer and a warm breeze blowing off the water, and you have everything I could want out of an afternoon in Miami.

Pastelito pit-stop

So. Many. CHOICES.

While New York is far from lacking in places to get baked sweets—what with cupcake shops, bakeries, patisseries and all other manner of baked-good providers available everywhere—if there’s one thing I miss about Miami, it’s the ready availability of Cuban bakeries.

I miss pastelitos, dammit.

Growing up in Miami, these pastries were always around, whether you were Cuban or not. During high school my sister even worked at a Cuban bakery called La Rosa, where the uniform was a terrible, oversized magenta smock that I loved to make fun of her for. But if she came home with a box of pastelitos? Well, then my tune changed to a little butt kissing.

During my latest stay in Miami, the last thing I did before leaving the city was making one last stop at La Rosa to pick up some of my favorites. Continue reading

Going Green

Since it opened a couple of years ago, I had always been interested in Green Gables Cafe in Coral Gables, the part of Miami where I grew up and where my parents still live. But it wasn’t until last year during the Fourth of July weekend that I spent in Miami, that I realized I really wanted to eat there. My friend Cristi, whose family owns and operates the small restaurant, made a batch of brownies and brought them to a friend’s pool party and BBQ.

They were dark and chcolatey, moist and wonderfully crumbly and scrumptious.

“Oh my God, Cristi!” I mumbled, my cheeks full of soft, chewy brownie. “These are incredible!”

“Thanks, they’re vegan, black bean brownies.”

If my mouth wasn’t chock full of brownie, I’m sure my jaw would have dropped.

So a couple of weeks ago when I was in Miami, I put eating at Green Gables on my to do list, right under seeing my mom and hanging out with my best friend.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible picture of a fantastic burger. I was too distracted by its tastiness to focus on photography

 Flaneur and I went there on our last afternoon in Miami, and the only thing I regret was not having gone sooner. Cristi was there, since she now works in the kitchen, helping her mom and sister turn out more awesome vegan and vegetarian friendly eats like those black bean brownies I had last summer.

With the brownies clearly still on my mind, I ordered the organic black bean veggie burger, which came on a soft, doughy multi-grain bun. Topped with organic tomatoes and lettuce, a melted layer of gooey mozzarella, and a smooth roasted garlic aioli sauce, this burger was hands down, the most delicious non-meat burger I’ve ever eaten.  It didn’t taste like wannabe meat, and it didn’t taste like a squeaky tofu creation. Instead it was slightly nutty in flavor, with a moist softness to it and a delicious earthiness. It wasn’t slider-sized but given the opportunity, I could have eaten three of them and pretended they were minis.

Pulled chicken sandwich. In a word: awesome.

Flaneur also went with a sandwich, opting for the pulled organic chicken. On the menu it’s normally pulled turkey but they were out of it that day so it was subbed with chicken. Stuffed in a soft baguette were juicy, tender chunks of chicken and soft, buttery hunks of avocado, all drizzled with a zesty cilantro aioli  and paired with fresh romaine lettuce. The whole thing was fresh and clean tasting, with flavorful ingredients and a healthy, guilt free deliciousness.

I don’t doubt that if for some unfortunate reason I still lived at home in Coral Gables, I’d have a good amount of my weekday lunches at Green Gables Cafe. Living at home with my parents would be terrible but I would seek comfort in the warm deliciousness of organic black bean veggie burgers. And that would be wonderful.

Green Gables Cafe on Urbanspoon