Blue Collar- Miami FL
One of the things I find most appealing is big food. No not necessarily in portion size but in flavor. In the heart of the re-gentrifying MiMo district, this non-descript appendage of the Biscayne Inn belies what you’ll find inside. Looking like an old sandwich shop with simple retro-modern furniture/decor and a small patio it features classic comfort food with some new interpretations.
After picking up a very hungry girlfriend at the airport our first stop was here for lunch -you didn’t think Hungry Uncle could have a girlfriend who didn’t like to eat, did you? Just missing the bulk of the lunch crowd , we were quickly seated and given menus. After a previous night of heavy food and a few too many adult beverages I wanted to try something a little lighter. Grilled Mahi Mahi seemed to be a logical choice. Yeah, I know I said this was a place for comfort food but there are other options for those who are so inclined .
Properly seasoned and grilled, the fish came with a choice of two sides from the Vegetable Chalkboard which provides a huge array of veggies and starches. I don’t care if you’re one of those people who hates vegetables, you will find something here. I chose Caramelized Brussel Sprouts and Curried Cauliflower Puree. The Brussels were good but the Cauliflower exceeded expectations. My first impression was that the deep curry yellow would bring far too much seasoning that completely masked the vegetables. Not true at all. It really worked. An explosion of curry with the Cauliflower acting as a foundation. The little pieces of roasted vegetable were a nice contrast in texture. As to my girlfriend’s sandwich, The Big Ragout.
Hollowed-out Crusty bread with Pork and Veal shoulder, Brisket, Fresh Mozz and Parm (plus a little mixed green salad). It was a rich, juicy, decadent fall apart braise that kept calling me to pilfer another bite-damn it hurts when your knuckles get whacked with a spoon! Not satisfied with just the savory I had to order the house made Key Lime Pie. Smooth and creamy with no lack of lime tang, it was a perfect way to finish the meal. Just by chance we had been sitting immediately adjacent to the open kitchen which gave me the chance to complement the chef on his cooking. He introduced himself as Derek (Camejo) and it turned out he was the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine. He was nice enough to engage in a few minutes of conversation while he continued to turn out dishes. Before leaving he suggested we come back for brunch. Once he mentioned the Duck “McMuffin” I was sold.
Returning two days later with my girlfriend and a local buddy, timing was once again on our side. We got the last table before a line about ten deep developed. The coffee in the old school plaid thermos had me thinking of all things Brady Bunch. I’m sure if I had a few cocktails in me the thoughts would have shifted to Sigmund and the Seamonsters or some other 1970’s hallucination from the minds of Sid and Marty Krofft …..I’m happy to say that the food was equally as good as the previous visit. The greatly anticipated Duck “McMuffin”-Duck Bacon, Smoked Gouda, Portuguese Muffin, Lemon Aoili, Sunny Side Up Duck Eggs, Duck Jus Pork. You must try this elevated version of fast food “disgustingness”. Sorry Ronald, one bite of this and you’ll be the cryin’ on the inside type of clown…… Chef Derek told me he cured the meat before rendering it down which did a nice job a creating a tender bite. Pork and Beans-Smokey Bacon, Berkshire Sausage, Fried Eggs, Toast. So engrossed in my own meal, I forgot to ask for a taste but my friend plowed through it seeming to enjoying every bite. Smoked Salmon Benedict- substituting smoked salmon for the Canadian bacon and Chanukah (potato) Latkes for the English muffins. A great variation on the classic. Like the vulture I am, I promptly devoured what she didn’t finish.
Unlike a real earthquake, having your taste buds shaken to their core is a good thing. I highly recommend you stop into Blue Collar and let chef Derek make your palate smile.
Lou’s Beer Garden – Miami Beach FL
Just a few miles north of the overly bronzed skin of models, throngs of tourists and the historic tropical deco hotels of Ocean Drive, Lou’s Beer Garden might as well be in a different city. Located in the pool area of North Beach’s ten room New Hotel, you’ll find a laid-back outdoor gastropub. Only six seats at the bar and a handful of tables but it’s here that Chef Lou Ramirez goes big with the cooking. It’s really difficult to recommend just one dish since after more than a dozen visits to Lou’s I’ve never been disappointed.
Pan Roasted Yellow Tail Snapper Porcini Mushroom Creamy Risotto, Lemon/Butter Emulsion, Crispy Brussels Sprout Perfectly cooked local fish with crispy skin, al dente risotto and a sauce that truly complements the ingredients without overpowering them. A real bargain at $21.00
Artisanal Classic Small Thin Crust Pizza A wide variety of toppings with my favorites being
Napolitana – Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, thin sliced tomato & Parsley/garlic pesto
Diavola- Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, FANTASTIC Medley of Chorizo & Spicy Sopressata Salami
Big Angus Burger The Real thing. Not some glorified fast food burger wanna-be that decides squashing the meat into a juiceless leather like disc is somehow appealing
While I could go on about the entrees perhaps the most fun way to experience Lou’s food is the Tapas, affectionately known here as Garden Shares. From the Tartars, crudos and ceviches to the charcuterie, braised Iberico octopus and High Cholesterol Mac & Cheese-yes, it’s worth every decadent bite- a few of these small plates can make a meal or just have one to accompany your imbibing.
Ah, as to the imbibing. To quote the great sage Homer J. Simpson, “ To alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems….” Now as beer garden you’d expect Lou’s to have a great selection of beer. It does. With fifty plus choices it’s too easy to let enjoyment turn into regret. My last 36 hour hangover was result of far too many Greene’s gluten free Ales. Somehow I felt the need to drink for hours with an array of friendly locals which inevitably led to…well, proper decorum prevents me from elaborating. I should have heeded the advice of Mr. Simpson….but I digress. If beer isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of Bourbon, Rum, Scotch, Tequila to choose from. Not to mention a small well thought out selection of “Boutique Wines”
Why do I keep coming back to Lou’s? Because of what it is and what it isn’t. It’s a place for regulars and locals that treats everyone as if they were one. There’s no pretense, no frantic pace, no inflated prices. Just a place to enjoy great fairly priced food and booze in a relaxed no BS locale. No my fellow eaters and drinkers, this ain’t South Beach and that’s a good thing…..
Bistro Seven Three-Bernardsville NJ
While I seem to make habit of taking hour long drives to eat dinner sometimes I use a little common sense and dine close to home. This is especially helpful in the case of overindulgence…it makes it easier for driver and vehicle to return intact. Housed on the ground floor of a two story building across from the Bernardsville train station, you walk up a short ramp into a recently renovated space that can be best described as clean, open and modern with some traditional touches.
You are greeted by proprietor Afrim Berisha or one of the staff. Be forewarned, weekend crowds almost always necessitate a reservation. After being seated, menus and water arrive promptly with specials being explained in due course. No matter whom the server, it’s always friendly and attentive without being overbearing. As to being accommodating and altering a dish a bit- for whatever the reason- these guys wrote the book. This is an experience that I’ve repeated too many times to recall. Since its beginning as Grill 73 to its current incarnation, this is a place that rarely misses.
The menu is a broad based mixture of meat, fish, seafood and pasta with a tilt to Italian preparations. Nothing wildly different, no espuma or the like just properly crafted dishes that satisfy and never leave you hungry. Couple that with reasonable prices and this BYO establishment equals a great evening for two in $90-110 range.
Harvest Salad—cranberries, shaved ricotta salata, toasted almonds, blood orange vinaigrette
Buratta Mozzarella-roasted peppers, tomato, chive oil, balsamic
Tomato Fondue Stewed Roman Meatballs-minced mortadella, fresh herbs
Braised Beef Short Ribs-spinach aioli, mashed potato, Barolo wine reduction
Braised Lamb Shank-sweet pea risotto, Barolo wine sauce ( The dish was served with mushroom risotto and spinach leaves but I substituted the pea preparation and omitted the spinach)
How to best describe Bistro Seven Three? It’s like that old pair of shoes, worn t-shirt or favorite chair. It just feels right and keeps you coming back.
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