Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Soul Food Weekend....Revisited

Royal Castle Original Mini-Burgers

Esther's Sides

Brooding Snapper

Home Made Corn Muffins

On my way back from the Marlins game yesterday, I rode my scooter down NW 27th Ave. and passed by a few of my old haunts. Chef Francois, of course (which now appears to be 'Francis'-not a great sign), which used to be my Friday night souse move, and the Fish To Go little blue shack (actual name escapes me), which had some great sides, both in the 140's. But I stopped at Esther's (motto-'Real Food To Go...Fast', as opposed to Real Food To Go Fast-different meaning altogether), and tried the fried whole snapper. Nothing too fancy, for $7.99 it came macaroni and cheese, which was bright yellow and oddly bland, and some candied yams that were like a very, very, sweet, sweet potato pie, without the crust. At Esther's they say 'you'll love our colors', and I'm pretty sure the yams' color can not be found on any palette known to man. The snapper was decent, but the extra order of collard greens were excellent-not overly tangy, and just soft enough. And the home made corn muffins were soft and a little bit sweet, with the tops a little crunchy. Excellent when warmed and buttered.

My last stop was Royal Castle. Although the prices have gone up (6 for $6), the mini-burgers still are a classic, and the service was fast. Not sure about the rest of the menu (see PJ's 'Soul Food Weekend' at ), but if you're bringing home food, make sure you get at least a dozen, because they will not last. Feel free to ask my constant companion.

Royal Castle-Corner of NW 27th Av and 79th St

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dining Out on a Dime.....Revisited

Miami Herald Business writer Elaine Walker had some great "Tips for Trimming Your Tab" on the front page of Miami Herald's June 1st Sunday edition.
"Have a drink at home or find out what the corkage fee is if you bring your wine"
"Skip soda or iced tea. Order water and bring your own flavor packets."
"Order an appetizer as an entree."
"Consider memberships in dining discount cards."
"Look for coupons in the newspaper or online."

I'd like to add my own tips...
1. Bolt. Right before the check comes, pretend you're going to the bathroom, then head straight out the door into your waiting car (have your dining companion leave first to get the motor running). This works especially well in fine dining places where it is least expected, as opposed to say, Denny's, where they will send a cook running after you with a big knife and call the police. Also works great in hotel dining rooms where the bathrooms may actually be on the way out, like in the lobby. If caught, simply say to your dining companion, in shock, "Oh my God! I thought you were paying the tab!" Then laugh......
2. Tipping is for suckers. If a service charge for the help has been added to your bill, ask to have it taken off. Complain loudly, even if the service was great, then stiff the server. Which leads to...
3. Bitch and moan about everything in the hopes they will buy you dessert or take an item off your bill.
4. Only eat a few bites of each dish, sending it back because it is over/under-cooked; "not what you ordered"; "not what you expected"; "too fishy", etc. Walk out in a huff.
5. Get drunk before you go out, so everything tastes better-don't worry about drinking and driving. If you get stopped, just tell the officer that "the Herald said it was okay". Or...
6. Get stoned before dinner (see above). Only bring $20. Do not bring your credit cards!
7. Do a dime bag of blow before dinner; you won't want to eat at all!
8. Start taking some shifts on Biscayne Blvd, preferably near a restaurant, where you can turn your tricks into dinner!
9. Carry a flask. Order tap water-when no one's looking, spill out half and fill with cheap vodka.
10. Repeat.
11. Ask what the corkage fee is on a jug of Gallo
12. Two word-stay home. If you can't afford to go out to a restaurant, instead of eliminating restaurant visits completely, cook frugally at home. You may go out less, but you'll enjoy it more.

Nothing is quite as comforting or soul-soothing as a good meal eaten in the company of friends in a nice restaurant. Especially if you follow my tips. Feel free to add your favorite money-saving tip below....Good thieving!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Miami's Best Ribs Get Smoked...

The VIP lounge at Fat Man's...


Takes a Big Man to Cook a Big Slab...

If there is a better way to end your Saturday night than with a boatload of ribs from Fat Man, I haven't found it yet. Like all of Ben's customers, we were treated like VIP's, and seated around the huge grill/smoker, where he was smoking some enormous slabs. We started off with some broccoli (or as I like to call them, green ribs), wow that was weird, and some nice garlicky shrimp, all washed down with a can of refreshing pineapple soda. We were busy absorbing the smoke, literally, it was covering our pores and hair, it was like being inside a juicy rib. Or BEING a juicy rib. He's still the best-no one comes close. Pure smoke, tenderoni, unobtrusive but tangy Fat Man's BBQ sauce (coming soon to a grocery store near you). When we got there, the ribs were about 15 minutes from being done. No rib gets pulled before its time, the smoking process has to be respected, and Ben is a perfectionist. Relaxing outside the Take One Strip Lounge parking lot, chatting with the locals, just another Saturday night, as I like to say, in Miami. Get some to go, too, of course...



Must have plenty of wood....


This is hot...

Fat Man's BBQ at Take One Lounge

333 NE 79th St, Miami

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Pork Squared...

Raw Pork Belly...

The Love of Skin is a deep and abiding love...

Cooked and ready for round two...

I'd eaten deep-fried pork belly recently at Taste of the Nation(, and it got me to defrosting the pork belly I'd bought and put in my freezer a while ago when I bought my whole pig for the pig roast I had back in May ( (That store was pig central.) On Wednesday, I boiled it up in some water, then let it cool, and stuck it in the fridge. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do with it, but I thought I could find a spot for it on Friday, when I was having some friends over for dinner. Unfortunately my day ran late, and I found myself at the supermarket with not much time. Lucky me, pork tenderloin was on sale, so I bought it-a quick, easy, tasty meal for 10. Put it in the oven for 45 minutes with some roughly chopped mushrooms and forget about it. Then I saw the figs-fresh figs on sale-I had to have them. My gut got it before my brain, and somehow I knew that pork belly was gonna get figged. But pork for the hors d'oeuvres, and more pork for the main dish? Yes. And yes.

Or as my constant companion said, fuck it! I separated the meaty squares (leaving some fat, of course) from the rim of fat and skin, then dropped them into hot oil. Crispy, fried pork belly. I salted them with a little lavender sea salt I always have lying around (NB-I used to sell little jars of it, and I have a few left, and they last forever), then arranged the quartered figs around the crispy bits. They looked beautiful, and they were going very fast, even before my guests arrived. I had to threaten violence to keep the hands out of the dish, and when they were served, paired like figs and prosciutto, they were going very rapidly. Luckily I had also made some 'Faux Gras', a Michel Richard recipe, that I covered in Jalapeño jelly, instead of the parsley gelée he uses (no time), and that was also a surprise for my guests, who politely gobbled it up (more on the faux gras later this week).

Ever have any surprise combinations come to you in the market? Do tell...


Deep-fried pork belly and figs...