January 13th, 2013
Strip malls are a necessary evil and a part of our daily lives. You know the type; uncomfortable parking lots, quick in-and-out stops, post offices, grocery stores, laundromats, massage parlors, and fine dining. Wait. What? Fine dining? In a strip mall? Yes! In a strip mall. Right next to the dollar store. Sandwiched in between the PCS and Subway. No, I am not crazy.
Strip malls began around the 1920s, or so I hear. I am not sure when the fad of housing restaurants in strip malls started, but I am not complaining. Not long ago, the best you could find in a strip mall was an Outback Steakhouse and a Chili’s. Yes, I am using the term “best” loosely. I am not saying there are any Michelin-type restaurants there, but these I am mentioning are not your typical “strip mall” eats. Sure, the first time I walked towards one highly recommended restaurant, I had to pass neon lights and a bank drive-through. I felt a little weird. Here I was, all dressed up, and someone handed me a Papa John’s flyer? It seems Miami-Dade and Broward County are battling it out to see who can do it best. I am still determining who is winning, but I plan on driving back and forth to try them all out!
My first experience came with Graziano’s on Bird Rd. long ago. This Argentinian oasis is nestled neatly next to a bowling alley and a check-cashing store. It was a little shabby before, but it has been remodeled now for a while. I usually begin with a provoleta and then move on to an entraña (sometimes al caballo- with an egg on top) with a zanahoria y huevo side salad. I like to close dinner with panqueques de dulce de leche and a cortadito. Just color me happy. (That’s grilled provolone, skirt steak, carrots/boiled egg salad, and dulce de leche crepes for my gringo friends!)
When in Broward, you cannot miss La Brochette Bistro. Of course, it’s right next to Winn Dixie and has a neon sign outside. Once you go inside, though, none of that matters. It happens to be very good. The owner usually comes to greet you, and it’s all upwards from there on. Go early. The more popular specials often run out quickly, but never fear, there are a lot of them to choose from. As long as they don’t run out of the white chocolate bread (croissants) pudding, then I’m good. Someone recently told me they now offer the pudding made out of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I think a reservation there is in my near future (as in tonight, maybe?). I love the complimentary warm bread with the honey dollop. It’s hard to go against my better judgment to put the bread down to save room for everything else. I cannot get enough. The spinellus steak is also stellar. Add a $20 corkage fee if you bring your own wine (as we often do), and you are all set!
Now here’s a secret: Bon Picat. Tiny. Those that know about it don’t want to share it. I am probably breaking some code here by raving about it. It is a husband and wife team, and they offer authentic Spanish food. It has no more than ten tables (if that) and it is usually very full. It is because of them that I now order octopus everywhere I go. You cannot miss their pulpo a la gallega. Amazing! I often run out of things to dip into the remaining sauce once the octopus is gone. Do you want something not on the menu? Just ask! The owner will come out, talk to you and make something just for you. You heard it here. This is Doral’s most delicious hidden gem.
Up north, way north in Margate, I love Pasta And. Not much more to go up there for, but a trip there is worth the drive, I promise. It’s usually full even on weekdays. These were not just pop-in diners either; they were mostly regulars. The pasta is fresh, delicious, decadent, dreamy, and addicting. Just make sure you wear comfortable “eating” clothing (leave the fitted dresses at home, ladies), and you will be OK. Offering all of their pasta and sauces a la carte, it’s up to you to make up a combination. Although suggestions are given, you ultimately choose your style, and they, in turn, make it memorable. Simple. This location is interesting. Was that really an oriental massage parlor next door? Really?
We are nearing my last four strip mall picks. I have saved the best for last. ALL so different. ALL so special. Drums, please…
Eduardo de San Angel
Mustard Seed Bistro
Chef Adrienne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar
The Federal, Food, Drinks & Provisions
Eduardo’s is a high-end Mexican restaurant (next to a podiatrist and a nail salon). Yes, I used the word “high-end.” There’s not a taco or quesadilla in sight. The quaint and romantic interiors set the stage for a “palette” of ingredients. The cilantro soup? Get it! Don’t ask. Just get it. It’s incredibly difficult to choose what to order. They make you feel like you are the only one there and service is always exceptional!
Mustard’s, well, this is the one I frequent the most. I live nearby, and there just is no other place like it for miles! They have an excellent breakfast menu, and they get absolutely packed for lunch. But dinner is my favorite there. This is when it comes alive. Lights go dim, and sheer curtains block out the strip mall parking lot view. You forget where you are. The first rule to dining at Mustard’s is to call on the day of your reservation and set aside the cupcakes you want for later. They have great cupcakes (different flavors daily) that usually run out by 1 pm. WARNING: If you don’t end your meal with their cupcakes, you have not had the full experience. I have now visited so much that I can recite the menu. Because of this, the last couple of times, I have requested to do a chef’s tasting menu instead. Surprise me! I just walk in and request it. Unless it’s the weekend, you don’t need to call ahead for it. They offer a five-course tasting, and I love the surprise factor. Portions are perfect, as is taste. If you do order off the main menu, please get the bacon wrapped dates, crispy duck, and the spinellus steak!
All the way down south, and I mean aaaaallllll the way south, we have Chef Adrienne’s (with Goodyear as a neighbor). Dark, mysterious, sexy, and unmatched are words that come to mind when describing this restaurant. $15 corkage fee? Score! It’s easy to just eat, and eat, and eat while there. It’s probably a good thing it takes me almost an hour to make it there because I can’t really move when I am done. It’s hard to stop. I love it all. Why oh why can they not have a place in Broward too? Chef Adrienne also offers a dining in the dark experience. I have yet to try it, but you know I will post all about it if I do.
Last but not least, The Federal, Food, Drink & Provisions. These kids are just too cool for school. They really are. BFFs with Dunkin Donuts next door, this place simply rocks. They have a charming terrace with stringed lights to enjoy on those rare Miami days that the heat is not eating us alive. The inside is chic-meets-rustic, and the food is to die for. Go hungry. Go in a big group. Order the entire menu. I dare you! Pretzel bread, Jar-o-Duck, Mussels and Crispy Duck, are all musts. End with their desserts and some fantastic Panther Coffee (in your very own French press), and you will wonder just how you ever made it without The Federal being around.
I have now learned to overlook these restaurant “locations.” Who cares? I mean, you can even multitask! Drop off some mail, pick up some dry cleaning, get your nails done, pick up a new dress, and then have a fantastic dinner all in the same strip mall! Finding all these jewels has made me take a closer look while zipping in and out of these malls in search of the next best thing. Now you know. Get out there, explore and please pretty please let me know when you do! I want to know all about it. Until then, thanks for reading my very first post. As I see it, from my palette to yours.