SOUTH BEACH: FOOD & FACTS
A mystery location in South Beach. Strangers meet at noon. An unknown course. The promise of unique cuisine and historical insights. A pinch of suspense is added in the discovery that if someone arrives late, the opportunity may be missed altogether. Welcome to the South Beach Food Walking Tour presented by Miami Culinary Tours.
It was my pleasure and delight to participate in this food tour recently. Even though the area is a prime tourist destination, I had not yet investigated South Beach. My chance came to do so and it proved to be a wonderful way to discover the warmth, personality and history of the Beach. It is a place where the world lives together intermingling as neighbors, reflecting diverse languages, cultures and cuisine. Restaurant after restaurant, shop after shop, presented itself before us as we walked the corridors of the locale: Italian, French, Argentinian, Venezuelan, Cuban, Colombian, and more. New friendships began among us, ourselves as ethnically diverse as South Beach: Canadian, Alaskan and Argentine.
We rendezvoused at La Ventana Restaurant, near the corner of Washington Avenue and 7th Street, to begin our walking tour. Our guide, Mirka, directed us nearby to 660 at the Angler’s for our appetizer: Tiradito. This was no ordinary Peruvian ceviche. 660 Executive Chef, Carlos Torres, oversaw this creation, a relative of ceviche. It is a dish of scallop sliced in fine, long pieces, cooked in lime and passion fruit juice with avocado and sweet potato garnish. There were hints of Ecuador in some of the secret ingredients we were told. O Chef Carlos, more please!
Taking our cue from Mirka, we excused ourselves from the hospitality of The Angler’s Resort and continued our tour with another stop on Washington. Our taste buds had been awakened and we looked forward to the next delight! We soon arrived at Bolivar, where flavors from Spain, Africa and South America join together to offer a unique menu variety. We enjoyed a classic Venezuelan empanada pastry, plantain with a topping of shredded chicken (Habanero sauce on the side, my favorite!), and a popular Colombian beer. I must say, I am quickly becoming a plantain lover!
The tour continued to Tudor House where Chef Geoffrey Zakarian had prepared a classic Cuban sandwich which included pork, ham, cheese and finely chopped pickles on a toasted roll. A red velvet cupcake followed this incredibly delicious sandwich. Are you hungry yet?!
Our walk had covered a number of blocks during which our guide, Mirka, chattered away offering facts about the history of the art deco buildings surrounding us. She spoke factually of the building facades, interior tiles and art, architecture and the famous personalities associated with some of the buildings. The fact that during World War II soldiers were bivouacked at some of these ocean-side hotels provoked deeper discussion as we stood under the trees, considering things. The weather was sunny and temperate and perfect for considering things.
A stop at the window of David’s Café for a classic Cuban coffee was followed by a stop at Deco Drive CIGARS to visit Jose’, the Cuban cigar roller who is known for his expertise. This is a great place for gift buying, I thought.
Pastries followed from Charlotte Bakery, a family owned and operated store on 14th Street, that offers a variety of made-from-scratch Venezuelan, Argentine, Chilean, Colombian and other Latin-American selections. They also prepare European style desserts such as Tiramisu, Creme Brulée, fruit tarts and Black Forest Cake. Ah, dessert, my favorite!
We had walked away from Ocean Drive in order to visit the quaint and cobblestone Espanola Way where we would finish the tour. The ambiance of Spain awaits the visitor to this narrow pathway of shops and eateries. Passing outdoor tables and smartly dressed waiters carrying trays, the European styling mixed with the tropical greenery to draw us in to a place all its own. I was inspired and felt like I was a long way from anything routine or commonplace.
Beginning at 7th & Washington, we had traveled about seven blocks along the beachfront to arrive back on Washington, now at 14th Street & Espanola Way. It had been a leisurely stroll filled with animated conversation, historic information and delicious food.
Our tour conclusion came at Milani Gelateria along Espanola Way. Hmm. authentic Italian gelato…chocolate or strawberry? There were too many choices to decide! This is the perfect end to a perfect meal of meals, I realized.
As we savored the rich flavors of the yogurt, we sat outside watching the people and activities of the Way and a touch of sadness filled the air: we must now part with our beloved guide, Mirka, and our new friends who had joined us for the tour. I had come to trust Mirka to lead me and inform me. At this point, I think I could have followed her into the Amazon jungle without fear!
I had become lost in the moment, lost in the unfolding story of South Beach. It is a story of the effects of time and weather, human changes and even war. For a brief time I was caught up between the old world and the new, watching as both worlds sought to dwell together in their own harmonic blend. The sights, sounds and smells around me created a unique sensation that can only be described as familial. In a way I felt as though I was surrounded by family. All along the way we tasted recipes prepared by hands practiced in preparing traditional meals. In doing so, they created for us a sense of “home”. My own family has recipes handed down for generations. Every preparation comes with stories that create new memories for the next generation.
Thank you, Miami Culinary Tours, for bringing a sense of home and tradition to me through your tour. The food was delicious. The quality and service were above reproach. I look forward to my return to South Beach for a longer stay. I must surely investigate further the history and local delights Mirka brought to mind through our conversations. Thank you, Mirka.
The tour is quite a bargain. Even if you have lived here all of your life, you will thoroughly enjoy your time reminiscing, tasting and learning more of what is old and what is new on South Beach.
O Chef Carlos, what are you preparing for dinner tonight? I’ll be there at 7.