Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A dose of fresh at Miami Juice.

When the pilot announces that we are making our final descent into Miami International, I can already taste the first few bites of my MJ salad and green tea with mint leaves soon TBD (to be devoured). My mind takes me right to Miami Juice... and my body soon follows. To know Miami Juice is to love it I think. But to the uninformed, Miami Juice looks like an everyday, run of the mill, strip mall lunch joint. You know the kind that dot Ocean Drive or Collins, from Hollywood to South Beach. It's non-descript, no frills, casual, and is in Sunny Isles, just a 10 minute drive north of Bal Harbor on Collins. But thanks to its super-fresh and healthy middle-eastern inspired cuisine, it's so much more than that. In fact, it looks like someone opened a grocery store and then tried to squeeze a restaurant into it. Some of the seating will actually nuzzle you right up (or in) to an aisle, where you can practically shop for granola bars and salad dressings while you eat.

From 11 to 3, the place is packed with produce and eager lunching customers, the soundtrack is the beat of whirring of blenders making juice & smoothies, and I'm always digging it. As I approach the door from the overcrowded parking lot, I walk by crates of oranges outside, and once inside I navigate around boxes of avocados, bananas, and other fruits to get to my seat. My mouth begins to water, the food being dropped at tables around me looks like the purest slice of the garden of eden. A look behind the counter reveals every variety of fresh vegetable and fruit, waiting to be transformed - but just barely changed from its off the tree natural state - into something special. The old school (slightly more heavy duty than mine) manual Orange-X juicers pump out fresh juice all day long. They seem to be standing the test of time. 

The (daily) eating experience at Miami Juice is reason enough for a springtime Florida getaway. The menu can seem long and complex at first. But it's basically the same 15 ingredients, creatively switched around to create big variety. The portions are huge, and great for sharing, I like to order as a team and sample a few things at the table in order not to miss out on something delicious. The ingredients are all ripened to absolute perfection. How many melt in your mouth ripe avocadoes can one place churn out every day? It's mad. Don't let your initial look through the notebook-style menu deter you, because anything you order will be delicious and fresh. Here are the specials of the house that rock my world:

Falafel platter with Tuna scoop and salad. The falafel balls are piping hot, little and crispy, and perfectly moist inside. Mix that up with some homemade hummus, house salad, and a scoop of tuna - and there you have it. delicious.

Fruit Salad- a variety of every fruit you can imagine (no melon bowl with soft grapes and sweet syrup here). These fruits taste like they were picked off the tree 30 seconds ago, but actually were cut 15 seconds before being delivered to your table. Topped with nuts, coconut & honey- it's too good to be called just fruit. It’s heaven.

MJ's salad. A chopped salad with purple cabbage, lettuce, avocado, tomato, carrot, and feta, with your choice of topping - grilled chicken, tuna, "Bonitas" (amazing) salmon, grilled snapper- and a few (hundred) more. All amazing and healthy choices, this salad was the first thing that brought me back to Miami Juice begging for more.

And finally, last but not least, my absolute favourite discovery, that I made only on my most recent trip to Florida (after a few years of eating the MJ goodness!). "Issac's Special". Named after one of the owners (as most of the specialty dishes are), Issac's special is essentially a greek salad with avocado, served over a flat bread spiced with za'atar, sumac and other mediterranean spices. I add rosemary grilled chicken on top. The taste of the chicken, feta, spices, avocado, olives, tomato, and onion... all spread over the spiced crispy toasted flatbread is an explosion for my senses. Tastes and textures too good to be true. Soft avocado, wet and juicy tomato, crunchy onion, salty feta- and then throw the thin and spicy crunch of the bread into the mix- You get it. I am in a state of euphoria every bite of the way. 

Who is responsible for this gift to mankind? Miami Juice was opened by Issac & Bonita, an Israeli couple who moved to Florida, and dreamt of providing the local residents with fresh and healthy foods. And do they ever. Issac (a big Israeli dude with salt and pepper hair) is one of the most hands on owners of any establishment I have ever seen. He's there everyday, walking around, wiping tables, moving chairs, tending to his army of staff who are working hard to pump out fresh and amazing plates and juices every moment of the day. The rush never seems to fully quiet down there. Issac sometimes works the blenders, carries the boxes of produce, and once in a while has a 30 second chat with a customer. He is welcoming and real, and gives off a calm and steady energy. I have never been there when the tall, muscular Issac isn't towering over the tables, keeping a watchful eye on every movement in the restaurant, and making sure the experience is consistent and right. 

After a physically tough week of cooking, I had arrived in Florida with my back feeling broken - and when I was catching up with Issac, telling him about my pain, he replied "you think it's easy what you do?", sympathizing with me. He directed me to get a pair of MBTs, the orthopedic-moon-shoe looking footwear he always wears in the restaurant. If you've never seen MBTs, let me tell you right now, they won't look good with your outfit. But I was desperate because my old school Connie All Stars were not doing the trick supporting my body over long hours in the kitchen. So Issac gave me directions to the nearest retailer and sent me on my way. As Jon, Eric and I were discussing this new footwear discovery and how it would help my back, a customer sitting right next to me whipped around and told me abut his physiotherapist. "The best in Florida" he said. Then he got on his cell phone and made me an appointment on the spot. He even made me take his number, to call him and tell him how good the therapy was afterwards. That's the kind of community vibe that is happening at Miami Juice, love it! 

The man behind the miracle, Issac

My new MBT's

The crowd at Miami Juice is all kinds of casual. If you're lucky to find a spot in the lot out front, it will likely be between a luxury SUV and convertible sports car. People are double parked and jockeying their cars around mid-way through lunch, and it's not rare to see someone come hollering that they are blocked in the lot. It's yoga moms, Florida blondes, business lunches, families, locals, tourists, lovers and haters - Miami Juice can be a very potent drama cocktail. Tables turning over, some are placed just inches next to one another, which can make for great eavesdropping (my specialty). 

My table was once 2 inches next to a couple working out the details of their messy divorce, dividing homes (share weeks at the home in Telluride, or just buy another one, toughie), working out custody schedules, him begging for her back - heartbreaking stuff  all happening as I had to lean in periodically to borrow their salt, and use their coffee condiments. After watching this guy spill his heart out all over his eggwhite omelette, I joked to my mom and aunt as he paid his bill- "someone's gotta tell this guy not to sweat it, he'll be getting laid by a super hot, young thing pretty soon"- and my aunt look up at me and said "do it". And in the true Miami Juice spirit of community, I popped out of my seat (heart slightly pounding out of my chest), followed the thirty something soon-to-be-divorcĂ© into the parking lot, and told him straight up, that he's a cutie, and that I see hot sweethearts all over him in his horizon, and to forget about all this sh*t. Turned that frown right upside down, oh yeah. Awesome.

And about the physiotherapy recommendation... let me just say that it was the best physio experience I ever had anywhere. This guy rocks. I am a new person: Stretching the Dr. Yoav way, and wearing my new MBT's (that I ordered online and had shipped right to my hotel in Florida) and feeling better than ever. So thanks Miami Juice! 

Miami Juice 
16210 Collins Ave (Near Poinciana Dr)
(305) 945-0444
Open Monday through Saturday, 8am-8:30pm 
(great for a quick evening bite too)
Take-out available

**Stay tuned, Miami Juice is moving to a new location up the street in the coming months. I drove by the new spot last week, and it looks virtually ready to go, so MJ fans shouldn't have to miss out on their daily fix for more then a day or two when the move actually happens. Can't wait to see the new digs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brunching & Lunching it in Montreal Part 4: Le Cartet

Le Cartet is an all around great sunday morning brunch spot. The place is beautiful in an old montreal industrial style kind of way. It's well lit by natural light pouring through windows on both ends of its long corridor shape. It's got high ceilings, white painted brick walls, and several long communal tables, with Edison bulbs hanging in a straight line at different heights all along the interior... their wires artistically knotted in line with the design style. It's a very warm and welcoming, montreal style decor that I love... especially on a sunny Sunday morning.

The waiting area is a small gourmet grocery corner of the restaurant, with plenty of interesting chocolates, teas, biscuits, olive oils, and ready to eat takeout items in an open fridge (fun to pop in and grab a little cheese platter with grapes and crackers). As soon as I walk in I fill up an Illy coffee at the self serve coffee counter in a to-go cup, to have while I wait. I'm pretty sure that counter is meant for people actually coming in to buy coffee and pastries to go, but I always help myself to a cup of Java, and nurse it until we sit down. No one has ever seemed to mind. I can handle a weekend morning wait for food... but that first coffee feels like life or death. The wait for a table is never more than 15 minutes, and the time passes quickly because of all the local and imported gourmet products to check out.

Le Cartet serves all the usual breakfast fare, but the highlight of the breakfast experience at Le Cartet are the different "complete breakfast" choices for $14.95. 5 or 6 interesting and different breakfast platters, all including a small fresh-squeezed oj, coffee & toast. To name a few: "Les Cantons", an egg, bacon, sausage, and potatoes served in a cast iron skillet with fruit and cheese on the side. "L'Atlantique", lox, a baked salmon cake, and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and a dill/yogurt dipping sauce in a shot glass... fruit and cheese on the side. My personal favorite is "Le Sante", two poached eggs served on multigrain toast with a chevre spread and arugula, a small yogurt parfait with blueberry and granola, figs, fruit, and organic cheddar cheese. I love it. Also, for an extra four dollars you can add a Mimosa to the party and make it a real breakfast with friends to remember! Sometimes it's just what the hangover calls for, or the just another way to celebrate a beautiful morning in our great city.

The service is quick and professional. The credit card processing is done at your table for a quick exit when you're ready to go out and enjoy the day. I'd probably rank Le Cartet last of the four spots I've covered. Not because it isn't a great spot, it's just not as consistent as Olive & Gourmando, Mckiernan, & Beautys. Everyone I have sent there gives the place rave reviews, but I do feel that the quality has gone down since they've opened: not as much attention to detail, a little less home made feeling (they used to have amazing jam) and sometimes, just sometimes, my "repas complet" choice feels like it was pre assembled before I ordered it and sat waiting on the kitchen ledge until my order came in. That being said, I still keep Le Cartet near the top of my list for brunch spots. It's just got the right sunday morning energy, and great food too. If you've never been there, try it out - it's also a great Montreal spot to take out of towners, who would enjoy a stroll by the old port after a deliciously gourmet breakfast.

Le Cartet
106 Rue McGill 
Monday- Friday 7am- 8pm
Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brunching & Lunching it in Montreal Part 3: Beautys

To be perfectly honest I have probably eaten at Beautys for brunch or lunch 6 times in the last 14 days.  I wake up dreaming of Beautys waffles & blintzes. Beautys is a true Montreal establishment that most savvy tourists and every a-list celeb hits while passing through Montreal. I met up there with someone who had never heard of Beautys for a business lunch last week, and let me just say that if you are local and you have never even heard of Beautys, it better be because someone's kept you locked up in their basement for the last 25 years.

Now, Beautys. Everytime I slide my tush into a booth and navigate it around those big, worn down dips in the stuffed vinyl upholstery, and look down at that paper placemat, I know I'm home.  What a place. Clean, bright, stylish, and just right. People describe it as one of Montreals great"diners", but its not a diner. Its an amazing restaurant with top quality gourmet recipes and foods, disguised as a cool looking retro diner. There is no other diner experience like it in the world. 

If you go during normal eating hours, and there's no line when you get there, have a peek in the window because the place is probably closed. I was even there mid-week a few days ago and the place was packed to the brim with a small lineup out the door. 
I don't mind the wait. It's kind of part of the charm. Lots of chatter... 20-somethings recounting their nights out on the town, families trying to wrangle their hungry children, excited tourists reading the articles on the wall and getting helpful travel info from fellow diners-in-line. But Hymie is the start of the show. The 80-something founder mans the door and handles line-up himself.

Find him in the small waiting hallway (between the exterior and interior door of the restaurant) checking on the line, reminding us that "everyone is welcome", working the crowd with old time one-liners about the place. "Someone has been here since yesterday...we don't rush you at Beautys". He makes you want to experience Beautys, and even if you feel like he might not be absorbing that you want a table for four, that he may seem a little too old for the fast paced lunch scene- he's got more marbles than I do on a sunday morning, let alone any regular day. Hymie's also there every day of the week. In fact not only him - his son Larry and his grand daughter Alana. Three generations working together (and working their butts off to boot). Unbelievable to see, and pretty awesome in my opinion.

Hymie runs a tight operation

3 generations, Beautyful.

The menu is something else. Some of the best red lentil, split pea, & vegetable soup around. For me, every meal - whether breakfast or lunch - begins with a soup. The coffee is also first-rate. Just when I think I have discovered the perfect item and have settled into a comfortable "regular order" zone, Boom! Something amazing goes whizzing by that I just have to try. I have been eating at Beautys regularly for over 9 years now, and I have gone through many phases of different "favourites" and I am glad that I can proudly report that I have now had almost everything on the menu. I have reviewed the intel, and put it into a "Beautys Top Ten" list that I think is varied enough to cater to everyone, with some classic and some original (but all incredible) choices. Here she is, in no particular order (*Please note I have left out very obvious things like soup, challah with Jam, and other sides in order to keep the list at ten and not twenty five):

1. Greek Salad with chicken (either chicken salad or grilled)

(not the greek salad, but a scoop of amazing chicken salad)

2. Superbeautys 2 
The fulll enchilada, this is the true hangover remedy of the ages. Eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and two pancakes.

3. Beautys Bonjour
Fried egg sandwich on a bagel, with cheese and bacon, breakfast in the perfect package. I always throw in a little tomato and lettuce.

4. Beautys Special
Bagel, lox and cream cheese, is a Montreal classic, and Beautys is the place that makes the original of this classic. The assembly and ingredients has been passed down through the generations at Beautys, and every time one is dropped at a table, it's a little piece of Montreal bagel art that's a treat for the eyes. 

5. Waffles with frozen "yogurt", mini chocolate chipits and fruit - (it's ice cream, but I like to pretend its frozen yogurt). I went through a serious phase of being obsessed with this menu item. I have recently replaced it with blintzes, but it's a great alternative to a "sweet" style pancake breakfast, and I will always consider it as I walk through the door at Beautys. This waffle wonder is also a great way to get your niece or nephew to love you forever.

6. Blintzes with sour cream & strawberries
I can't even explain it. I had never even tried blintzes before having them at Beautys, and I dont like them anywhere else. Ask for them well done, and experience something euphoric.

7. Club Salad
Like a club sandwich, in a salad. Bacon, chicken, cheese, tomato, and lettuce piled into one amazing chopped salad.

8. Fried Banana bread
Even though I like my recipe better, they butter it up and fry it on the griddle so perfectly- it's the only way to end a meal with a cup of coffee.

9. Rice pudding
The only place I will eat rice pudding. In fact, even if you think you hate rice pudding, you'll love it at Beautys.

1o. Mocchachino royale & all the smoothies

The good food doesn't end there - in fact it's just the tip of the iceberg. (You better get eating now). The service is great. The staff are friendly and efficient, they bring crayons to the table to keep the youngens entertained (and yes, you will find me with a cup of crayons dumped out on the table colouring in my placemat too). But don't be upset if when you order your bacon well done the waiter seems to be scribbling with his pen 3 mm above the paper and pretending to actually write this request. It's air-guitar special requests only at Beautys. They won't ask the kitchen for it, but they'll nod their heads as if they are doing it. But no worries, your bacon is still going to arrive well done & crispy.

Another happy bacon eating customer- she likes it crispy 

The takeout is great. I go all the time in the summer for a takeout picnic and head up the street to Mont Royal for a gourmet picnic - and I really feel it's the best way to celebrate the city we live in. It could be added to a list of tourist "must-do" activities. The takeout counter at Beautys is full of great stuff: mini bottles of maple syrup, banana breads, salad dressings, soup & crouton bags (croutons are made from Montreal bagels). You can pick up iconic Beautys T-shirts, hats, or coffee mugs too - a perfect gift to bring home to someone if you are visiting Montreal.

It's probably obvious by now, but I really love this place. It's not cheap, but again, it's not a diner.  If you want straight up eggs and bacon and don't care about the particulars, you can eat elsewhere and save a few bucks on breakfast.  Then again an egg breakfast with bacon, potatoes and toast will only run you $8.00 or so. I think you can handle it.

**Special mention of the BLT on Challah, because my man will kill me if I don't- It's delicious!

93 Mont- Royal West
Open Weekdays 7am-3:30pm
Sat 7am-4:30pm 
Sun 8am-4:30pm