Preserving America's Food Traditions.
(First Published in The St. Augustine Record)
Summer in Florida can be punishing with the heat and humidity soaring and the cooler breezes of Spring long gone. But let’s stay positive and try to find a silver lining in the puddle of sweat we’re sitting in: the high temperatures also means it is low season for tourists in Miami, which has quickly become one of the most exciting and dynamic culinary destinations in the country. Go now when it is easier to reserve a table at one of the many excellent eateries South Florida has to offer. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites for you to sample:
MC Kitchen: Iron Chef alumnus Dena Marino opened this new Modern Italian restaurant in Miami’s Design District and it hits all the right notes with homemade pastas, like the fantastic pork and venison Bolognese, and delightful pizzas and piadines. Go for lunch and try any pasta dish or, for something lighter, I recommend the sausage and broccoli rabe pie and a glass of Sangiovese from their excellent wine list.
Puerto Sagua: How can you go all the way to Miami and not eat Cuban food at least once? Obviously Little Havana is teaming with good choices, but if you are staying in South Beach, Puerto Sagua is a solid, convenient choice. The restaurant is a classic, no frills diner that is packed day and night with hungry locals and tourists alike feasting on all the Cuban standbys: garlic bread, roast pork, black beans and rice, fried plantains, etc. Go beyond the ordinary and order the stewed ox tail. You won’t regret it.
Joe’s Stone Crabs: Just as Cuban food is a must try, you can’t take a trip to Miami without visiting another legendary outpost--Joe’s Stone Crabs. Though the famed crustaceans are not in season during the summer months, Joe’s flash freezes them during harvest season (Nov-Mar) and offers them chilled all year long. For a casual dinner, order yourself a feast of claws or a crab roll and finish with a slice of their Key lime pie, which many consider the best in Florida.
Delicias de Espana: I always stop in at this restaurant/market/wine shop on my way out of town to stock up on imported Spanish staples, like olives, cheeses, cured meats, and piquillo peppers. This place offers the best selection by far of gourmet foods from Spain that you will find anywhere in Florida.
Piola and Fratelli la Bufala: A good Neapolitan, wood-oven baked pizza is one of my favorite foods on the planet. Fortunately, Miami is home to several first-rate pizzerias, but my two favorites are Piola (smaller and more casual) and Fratelli la Bufala (a little bigger with outdoor seating and a tad more expensive). At either one, you will not be disappointed with their slightly charred crust and fresh mozzarella di bufala cheese. Each pie is expertly created by master pizzaiolos. Stick with the classic Margherita pizzas and you will be transported instantly to Naples minus the airfare.
La Provence and Lee & Marie’s Bakery: If you are searching for top quality bakeries, look no further than these two spots in South Beach. La Provence has excellent French pastries and breads while Lee & Marie’s is equally delicious though a little more old-fashioned American with homemade items like bread pudding, chocolate ganache banana bread, apple coffee cake, fluffy biscuits and Florida cornbread. Either choice is a great way to start the day.
David’s Café and Tinta y Café: Speaking of starting the day off right—nothing wakes you up like a strong Cuban coffee. For an authentic café con leche that will set you back only about a buck, try the walk up counter at David’s Café. Order a guava pastry and shake your head with amazement that a combination so simple could be so good. If you are looking for a Cuban coffee with a little more flair, head to Tinta y Café, a cool little spot with an artsy vibe, inventive sandwiches, and traditional Cuban pastries and croquettes. Order an El Pecado (“The Sin”) coffee—an espresso-style drink sweetened with a triple dose of milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.
Khong River House: Asian food might not come to mind when you think of Miami, but this relatively new restaurant has the town buzzing since it opened last year and has already earned plenty of accolades, including being a James Beard semi-finalist for best new restaurant in our region. The menu is inspired by the cuisines of northern Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia and offers many items you won’t find at standard Southeast Asian eateries. I really enjoyed the pork belly curry over sticky rice and the fresh green papaya salad and am looking forward to another visit soon.
Azúcar: This ice cream shop in Little Havana delights kids of all ages with creative flavors, all made in house, many of which tip their hat to the local geography and Hispanic community. The best-selling Abuelita ice cream is made with fresh cream, guava swirls, and crispy Abuelita cookies, while other flavors include sweet plantain, flan, Key lime pie, rum cake (my favorite), café con leche, and dulce de leche, as well as several tropical fruit sorbets and ice creams.
Patagonia: Miami is home to a large Argentine community and this bakery/shop in Coral Gables makes fabulous homemade empanadas that can be eaten on site or purchased for take away. Grab a half dozen empanadas and a bottle of Malbec off their vast wine shelf and you can have yourself a perfect picnic.
Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink: Back in 2007, way before all the national press, before the James Beard Awards and cookbooks, before Chef Michael Schwartz expanded his restaurant empire to five unique destinations, I wrote about his original outpost right here in The St. Augustine Record and raved about his roast poulet rouge, a flavorful heritage breed chicken he cooks in his wood-burning oven. The signature poulet rouge dish is still on the menu, but Schwartz continues to dazzle with other incredibly delicious farm to table offerings, such as his duck rillettes, roast octopus, local fish ceviches, heirloom beet and tomato salads, braised short ribs, and whole-roasted fish. The wine and cocktail lists are superb, as are Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith’ desserts, such as the olive oil and chocolate cremoso with espresso ice cream and sourdough toasts. This is still my favorite place to dine in all of the Great State of Florida.
12. Off the Beaten Path: If you are looking for something in the Greater Miami area that is authentic and different, try these casual fruit stands, farms and gardens, all of which offer unique tastes of South Florida depending on the season and are well worth the drive: Robert is Here Fruit Stand, El Palacio de Los Jugos, Knaus Berry Farm, The Fruit and Spice Park, and Fairchild Tropical Gardens (Their famous Mango Festival is coming up in just a few weeks! Just another good excuse to head to Miami!)
It's Supper Time!
(First Published in The St. Augustine Record on 18 April 2013)
The next six months in Northeast Florida promises to be mighty tasty come dinner time. Slow Food First Coast (SFFC), the local nonprofit organization that promotes the local food movement and encourages the preservation of our cultural and culinary heritage, is presenting a series of Sunday Suppers that will run through spring and fall 2013 in our region.
SFFC will use these events as a way to respond to positive public feedback and build on the tremendous success of the previous two editions of the Tour de Farm, the premier one-day agritourism event of Northeast Florida. While previous Tour de Farms have been held in Spring, this year’s edition will be held in the Fall, allowing the organization’s vast network of farms to showcase a different growing season, as several venues will open their doors to the public for a family friendly day of tastings and fun. During last year’s Tour de Farm, more than 12,000 farm visits were made and that number is expected to increase this year.
Most of the feedback SFFC received from the public was overwhelmingly positive with regards to the Tour de Farm, with one repeated theme being that folks did not have enough time to visit all of the farms in one single day because there were so many wonderful activities to choose from. SFFC created the Sunday Supper Series as a way for people to visit some of these venues prior to the upcoming Tour de Farm and give the public a more comprehensive look at our area’s agricultural bounty.
The Sunday Supper Series will offer a diverse set of venues, chefs, activities, and price ranges.
In keeping with SFFC’s mission of making healthy local food accessible to everyone, the organization is planning everything from formal farm to table dinners to a casual pig roast and a family blueberry picking day. You can learn more about the Sunday Supper Series and purchase tickets at www.slowfoodfirstcoast.com/eventsMain.html.
The first Sunday Supper is Sunday at NaVera Farm in Callahan. This Southeast US regional holistic model of sustainable farming just north of Jacksonville specializes in educational outreach with the public and offers tours by appointment.
The adults-only SFFC Sunday Supper will be prepared by Chef Jeff Honeycutt of Native Sun Natural Market and will incorporate produce from NaVera and other SFFC partner farms. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. NaVera Farms will offer “Intro to Farm” walking tours led by a tour guide who will provide brief descriptions of each area of the farm and variety of animals.
Bring your friends and family for a $10 donation per carload. Register at www.slowfoodfirstcoast.com.
Go to www.NaVeraFarms.com for more farm information.
■ May 5, Harrietts Bluff Organic Blueberry Farm just north of Jacksonville in Woodbine, Ga., will host a family-friendly blueberry picking day.
■ May 19: A pig roast will be at KYV Farm in St. Johns County, near the Old Bartram Trail along the banks of the St. Johns River.
■ Sept. 8: Cafe Nola at the Museum of Modern Art (MOCA) in Jacksonville will be the setting for a Sustainable Seafood Sunday Supper.
■ Oct. 13: The closing event will be a farm to table dinner on the grounds of The Glen, a beautiful Linwood home built by the Taber family in 1882 in Glen St. Mary.
(First Published in The St. Augustine Record on March 28, 2013)
Stephen Hutson recalls working as a server at a couple of restaurants in downtown St. Augustine and being approached time and time again by both tourists and locals looking for a seafood dining recommendation. Trouble was, he never could offer one. “People wanted local seafood — I mean, we ARE a coastal town with a long fishing and shrimping history. But I just didn’t know what to say. There really weren’t any great suggestions I could make. So I decided to change that and fill that gap.”
An affable Flagler College grad and a veteran of the restaurant industry, Hutson, who manages the front of the house, enlisted the impressive culinary talents of friend and Chef Ray Martinez to open St. Augustine’s newest seafood restaurant, Catch 27, at 17 Hypolita St. “We wanted a name that represented our commitment to sourcing Florida harvested seafood,” he explained. (Florida became the 27th state to join the Union back in 1845.)
True to its moniker, the eatery’s small but diverse menu showcases all things caught fresh from Florida’s coasts, as well as many other locally grown vegetables used in sides and dishes. The local blue crab cakes are filler-free and make a great appetizer (along with the hand-tossed, garlicky Caesar salad).
Another excellent way to start your meal is with a cup of Minorcan chowder. Their wonderful version is bright and features chopped Cedar Key clams simmered in a tomato-based broth that’s just spicy enough but won’t cause you to breathe flames like a dragon. I have had my fair share of Minorcan chowder in my day, and everyone has an opinion. This may be the best version I have ever had.
As if having one exceptional soup on the menu were not enough, their St. Augustine gumbo is also definitely worth ordering. Using their Minorcan chowder as both a base and inspiration, Catch 27 adds local shrimp, Minorcan sausage, and a deep roux to the pot and lets it all stew together slowly. Poured over rice, it is a bowl of true comfort — an innovative interpretation of the classic Creole dish.
As for fish, you can sample it rustic style in a simple preparation using sea salt, cracked pepper and lemon or try it topped with their signature sherry cream sauce. Either way, the fish coming out of the kitchen is guaranteed to be fresh and perfectly cooked when in the capable hands of Martinez. I also highly recommend the fish tacos, which are outstanding and come drizzled with your choice of a creamy chipotle sauce or a bold aioli. Though I have not tried them myself, the shrimp and grits looked very impressive being delivered to other patrons’ tables, as did the clams with linguine (see recipe below). For those foolish folks at your table who don’t like seafood, items such as espresso rubbed short ribs, lemon herb chicken and mojo pork sandwich nicely round out the menu. Everyone will find delight by ending the meal on a sweet note with a slice of key lime cheesecake or a brownie a la mode.
Catch 27’s beer and wine license has not yet been secured, but will be in the very near future. For now the owners have worked around that and have a Bring Your Own Bottle policy with no corkage fee. (I actually love that policy and wish more restaurants offered it.)
For the moment, Hutson and Martinez are mostly focused on learning the ins and outs of the Florida seafood industry. “I had no idea how much Lent affected the supply chain! There’s a whole lot of folks eating fish right now that normally don’t eat it as often, and that affects our supply,” Hutson said, referring to the Catholic tradition of foregoing meat on Fridays in the days leading up to Easter. “We have gone through a bunch of different types of fish through our local supplier. It has been a challenge to source our menu entirely from Florida, but we are staying true to our mission!”
With Hutson’s enthusiasm and Martinez’s skill in the kitchen, that is definitely a mission worth fighting for.
Clams with Linguine
Courtesy of Chef Ray Martinez, Catch 27
Catch 27 uses Cedar Key little neck clams for this dish, which has been Chef Ray Martinez’s favorite since he first tried it at age 8! This recipe is for one single serving. Feel free to multiply when preparing for more eaters.
1 tbsp. minced shallots
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fish stock or clam juice
10 ounces linguine pasta, cooked al dente
2 oz butter
8 to 10 little neck clams
Salt and pepper to taste,
Lemon wedge for garnish
Parmesan cheese, grated, garnish to taste
Parsley or scallions for garnish
In a saute pan, sweat garlic and shallots in olive oil for 1-2 minutes on medium-low heat.
Turn heat to high, add wine, clam juice and clams to pan; cover and cook till some of the clams just begin to open.
Remove lid and reduce cooking liquid by 75 percent. Add pasta and butter to pan, cook till butter just melts.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt or pepper.
Plate, garnishing with parsley or scallions, lemon and Parmesan cheese.
Twelve to Try in 2013
First Published in the St. Augustine Record on 24 January 2013
This month’s column features six new food-related items to try in 2013, followed by six more in my February column. I will be accepting readers’ nominations for the 12th and final item on the list. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your recommendations for new foods, places to dine, kitchen gadgets, websites, smartphone apps, cookbooks, or anything else food-related. The winner’s nomination will be listed along with the reader’s name in my February column.
I am looking forward to your suggestions. Now, on with the list:
■ 1. Most people find toast boring, but I disagree. Freshly toasted bread is hard to resist, especially when liberally slathered with good butter, olive oil or homemade seasonal jams. Lately I have been topping my toast with mayhaw jelly, an old-fashioned jelly made from the fruits of the mayhaw tree, which is found in the swamps and bogs of the South. Mayhaws are most often harvested by boat and ripen from late April to May, hence the name of the fruit.
Families traditionally stockpiled the rare fruit and made jelly to last throughout the year, but in recent years the habitat of the mayhaw has been threatened by urbanization and is dwindling. Mayhaw jelly is sweet-tart and, like many true Southern delicacies, is becoming increasingly difficult to find. One of my favorite brands is La Caboose, which is handmade in small quantities in Louisiana and has a delicate floral taste. You can purchase some at www.cajungrocer.com.
■ 2. One of the best and most complex dishes I tried in St. Augustine this year was the feijoada at Cafe Sol Brasileirissimo on Aviles Street. The small eatery offers diners a number of good Brazilian dishes to sample, but the feijoada is a must-try, especially for those new to the cuisine. Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, is a complete meal featuring a rich and meaty black bean stew, rice, garlicky sauteed greens, pork cracklings, orange slices and fried bananas. The dish is big enough for most couples to share and is topped with farofa, or toasted ground yucca.
The stew itself is a deeper and heartier version of Cuban-style black beans, here filled with sausage, pork and beef meatiness, while the various sides that accompany the dish help round the flavors out. Pull up a table on the sidewalk, order a refreshing caipirinha, and dig in to an authentic Brazilian dining experience.
■ 3. The microbrewing craze that took the country by storm years back finally arrived in Northeast Florida a couple of years ago. Better late than never!
In our area alone, Intuition Ale Works, Bold City Brewery and Mile Marker Brewery (the first two are located in Jacksonville, while the latter set up shop right here in St. Augustine) are all making first-rate beers. And if you expand your beer horizon to include the rest of Florida, Georgia and the South, you’ll be able to enjoy excellent handcrafted brews from other small companies like Cigar City from Tampa or Terrapin from Athens, Ga., as well as those aforementioned.
Two of the best places to sample these microbrews are at The Floridian and Gas restaurants, not only for their impressively ample beer lists, but also because they serve the best locally sourced fare in town. Man cannot survive on beer alone, right? (Actually, I am not sure if that is a factual statement!)
■ 4. I was not a big fan of candy bars. Most I had tasted usually seemed too sweet and cloying, packing a quick sugar high that was not worth the empty calories while lacking any sophisticated depth that other chocolate snacks can provide. Then I ate a Raleigh Bar and it opened my eyes to what a “candy bar” really could and should be. Artisanally-made by Portland’s Xocolatl de David, the original Raleigh Bar features salted caramel and chocolate pecan nougat enveloped in a 72 percent Ecuadorean cacao chocolate wrapper.
As if that were not enough, other versions include one with bacon caramel and another with bourbon caramel (two things I love almost as much as my wife). And because I am such a hopeless romantic, I just placed an order in time for Valentine’s Day! (Don’t worry Dear, the bacon and bourbon are for me, but I got you a special Sourdough and Olive Oil chocolate bar that I am certain will make you swoon like you did on our wedding day!)
Purchase your bars online at www.shopxocolatl.com.
■ 5. My cookbook collection continues to grow — so much so I added another beautiful bookshelf to my office this past year. My favorite recent addition is Canal House Cooks Every Day by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, who own a delightful cooking studio set on a picturesque canal in New Jersey which they use to write about the glorious food they prepare and consume throughout the year. (Seems like a dream job to me.)
Hirsheimer and Hamilton cook simply, focusing on the availability of ingredients more so than on fussy techniques. In fact, the cookbook is organized by months and seasons to facilitate ingredient-based recipes, with fascinating essays mixed in with their extraordinary photography that offer the reader a seat at their kitchen table. The recipes range from revamped classics to inventive new ones that display reverence for the product rather than flashy presentation with little substance.
This is not a celebrity chef’s tome, but rather one in which the food clearly takes center stage. You can purchase a copy at local bookstores or online.
■ 6. America’s foodies are growing up. We have finally moved beyond simply enjoying watching self-made celebrity chefs dazzle us electronically with their cooking on the Food Network and flocking to their restaurants as food tourists to taking the reins and turning our own kitchens into culinary laboratories. The DIY (Do It Yourself) Movement has empowered a new generation of artisans and home chefs who forage for wild edibles, butcher their own meat, and have mastered the art of canning summer’s surplus.
So why not make 2013 the year you learned a new culinary craft?
Interested in beekeeping? Think you have a talent for cheesemaking? Got space in the yard to build a raised bed garden? Feel like cooking up your own birthday gifts?
No kitchen task is too daunting if met with the proper enthusiasm. And to get things started on the right foot, here’s an easy project: Buy a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey, pour it into a large mason jar, add 3 peeled, not overly-ripe bananas, and let sit for about four or five days, turning gently once a day. Remove bananas, strain, and serve over ice.
Voila! You have a delicious, homemade, infused whiskey. I call it an “Irish Monkey.” Simple and simply irresistible. It’s a great way to toast yourself for completing another successful DIY kitchen project.
So here’s to making 2013 a very tasty year!
■ 7. Have you been to the new Casa Maya? Just across the street from its old home on Hypolita Street, the Mexican restaurant’s new location is a stunning fit: — a historic home’s interior was updated and redecorated with bright, tropical colors and warm, welcoming décor. There is plenty of outdoor seating in the rear courtyard or upper balcony, while the main upstairs dining room is sunny and spacious.
One thing that has not changed: The quality of the food and the careful attention to detail and presentation. This is no average Tex-Mex fare. Mostly inspired by the Yucatan region of Mexico (which is closer culturally to the Caribbean than to Aztec Mexico), the eatery’s menu showcases a healthier side of Mexican cuisine with lots of fresh seafood and vegetarian options.
Fish dishes like Tikin Xic (grouper marinated in annatto and citrus) shine, while the fish tacos are arguably the best in town.
But my favorite dish on the menu has to be the Cochinita Pibil, or slow roasted, citrus-marinated pork.
It is fork tender, succulent, and a symphony of subtle yet complex spice flavors including cinnamon and achiote.
Breakfast is equally satisfying with many traditional egg dishes like Huevos Rancheros sharing the page with delicious newcomers like the Apocolypto Sandwich featuring egg, avocado, and chorizo. And don’t forget to start or end your meal with a frothy, rich Mexican hot chocolate.
■ 8. Here in the South, we like our seafood fried with a side of hush puppies. There is a reason why legendary places like O’Steen’s have been around for so long. The food just plain tastes good.
But if, on occasion, you crave something lighter — something that’s just as comforting but not fussy either. consider the crab cake. And consider heading down to Haszard’s Open Pit Beef BBQ on A1A in St. Augustine Beach right now to sample some of theirs.
Crab cakes at a BBQ joint?
Yes, and they are ridiculously delicious. While the restaurant specializes in Maryland-style grilled beef, I go for the other (more famous) Mid-Atlantic specialty. These extraordinary griddled crab cakes are full of crabmeat — no filler here — with just enough love and seasoning to bind it all together into a six-bite masterpiece. And when you think of it, crab cakes are the perfect beach food. You can eat them with your hands or with a fork, hot or cold, early or late, and they fill without leaving you stuffed and heavy. So grab your bathing suit and pack an appetite! Haszard’s on the beach beckons!
■ 9. With each passing year, downtown St. Augustine’s drinking scene becomes more eclectic, and 2012 was no different. My favorite new place to toss back a drink — the bar at Mojo’s Old City BBQ on Cordova Street. Sure, most people go there for the pulled pork and smoked brisket, but you’ll find me at the bar to the side of the restaurant ordering up a refreshing Drunken Cucumber cocktail (lime, bourbon, soda water, and muddled cucumber) and tapping my feet to the sounds of whatever local band is playing in the corner.
Offering possibly the city’s most diverse wine, beer, and cocktail list, as well as a consistently good live music lineup, the bar at Mojo’s makes for a great Saturday night hoedown. And if you do end up with a hankering for some pulled pork, good news! They serve food in the bar to help make their lovely libations go down a little easier.
■ 10. I’m just going to come out and say it: Every decent, self-respecting Southerner should have grits in their cooking arsenal. The reason many don’t is because supermarket isles spill over with poor, mass-produced imposters masking as authentic grits. If I were a grit, I would sue for defamation of character.
Stone ground grits, however, are light years away from the bland goop we’ve let ourselves become accustomed to and are full of wholesome goodness. Fortunately, a small farm in southern Georgia is leading the charge in bringing back the grits of yesteryear. Stone ground using traditional artisan methods and their own homegrown, heirloom corn, Gayla’s Grits are a revelation with their grainy texture and sweet, faintly nutty flavor. Brought to you by the Shaws, the same family producing the South’s only commercial olive oil, these high quality grits can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the only limit to the number of toppings is your imagination.
They are all natural and have no preservatives, so they require refrigeration. They also require you to forget everything you thought you knew about grits. Leave your preconceptions at the kitchen door — you are going to fall in love with these grits. Order some now at www.gaylasgrits.com.
■ 11. If you’re at all like me, you’ve probably cooked something that was pretty good but was just missing a little something — maybe a dish that just needed a little kick or something to ramp up the flavor. Not necessarily salt per se, and not something to alter the overall flavor profile, just something that would add umami, or savoriness, to bring out the best in the dish.
When this happens, I reach for my secret weapon: Red Boat Fish Sauce. Asian cooks have for centuries been using fish sauce to boost their dishes’ appeal and chefs all over the world are taking their cue. Don’t be scared off by the word “fish” — think of the richness that a little anchovy lends to a good Caesar salad. You don’t really taste the anchovy itself — it just rounds out the dressing and adds depth.
Unlike most brands, Red Boat Fish Sauce is made in Vietnam with only two ingredients — salt and anchovies from the pristine waters of the Phu Quoc Island archipelago — and is fermented in wood barrels with only a single press, which is why the company calls its product an “extra virgin” fish sauce. Trust me on this one. Order a bottle at www.redboatfishsauce.com and experiment by adding a dash here and a dash there to your favorite dishes.
Your taste buds won’t know what hit them.
■ 12. The final selection for this year’s list comes from loyal reader Lisa Wozniak who suggested Walter’s Reef Cafe at the First Coast Technical College. Although I have never recommended something I have not personally tried before (the Cafe is open Tuesday through Thursday for lunch, and my day job gets in the way of things), I have heard such wonderful things about WRC from so many people that I am going to go ahead and endorse it here.
Walter’s Reef is a restaurant run by the Culinary Arts program at FCTC and most people I talk to rave about the value you get at a place where soon-to-be chefs impress you with incredible food and incredibly low prices. Check out WRC’s menu at http://waltersreef.blogspot.com/.
Lisa writes: “The culinary students serve up amazing food at a great price. The desserts are the best I have ever tasted!” These are sentiments I have heard time and time again.
Thanks Lisa and kudos to the Culinary Arts students at FCTC!
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