Ricky, originally from Panama and representing Miami Culinary Tours, took me and two couples out to experience some fantastic South American cuisine at his favourite haunts around town.
Stopping first at Bolivar Fusion Restaurant Cocinas & Tragos (661 Washington Avenue) we sipped a Colombian ‘Repajo’, a mix of soft drink and Aquila beer used as a hangover cure. We then tried an exceptional cerviche, which uses lime to ‘cook’ the Sway (white fish). I particularly enjoyed the delicious fried empanada accompaniment. Leaving fusion behind, we popped into the corner patisserie for a wonderful, decadent churro. Think doughnut, but the Latin version.
It was then onto the beach to try more culinary gems and enjoy walking along Ocean Drive right next to the sand. South Beach was built during the 1930’s and many of the surviving Art Deco buildings have been preserved and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The only change is that many of them have been painted in pastel colours called Tropical Deco. South Beach was the ‘American Riviera’ during the 1950’s and Jackie Gleason kept interest in the town going with his weekly show broadcast from here, the ‘Sun and Fun Capital of the World’, a phrase he coined himself. After that the area went into serious decline and it has taken many decades to bring it back to life.
Polo Norte Cuban Restaurant was our next stop where we tried strong Cuban coffee (Colada). Similar to espresso but already sweetened, it is a big favourite among the locals. We were served appetisers of Fried Plantains dressed in a Mojo Sauce. This was before the main course which was baked plantains with shredded pork and Chimichurri Sauce. I will come back to this restaurant for more of this lovely carnitas dish.
We sniffed around the wonderful smelling family owned Charlotte Bakery which was started in Santiago, Chile in the 1960s by Gladys Jofre. It then moved to Venezuela and ended up in South Beach Miami in the 1990s much to the delight of the neighbourhood. Everything here is handmade and freshly baked and their empanadas are one of the shop’s favourite items.
Across the street from Española Way is BLOCK Pizza which claims to use a sourdough that began 300 years ago in Sardinia. The sourdough or Mother Dough comes from the Italian phrase ‘Pasta Madre’. All of BLOCK Pizza’s dough is taken from the original dough that is fed every day. The family who run BLOCK Pizza have carried on this tradition and took the oath to care for the dough and use it wisely.
The tour is topped off with real Italian gelato from Milani Gelateria on 436 Española Way. Lower in fat than ice cream and not frozen, it is a superior alternative to the dairy variety.
What a treat to have an insider’s view of the fabulous Latin culinary scene in South Beach. I can’t wait to go again.
Culinary tour offered by Miami Culinary Tours. Cost: £35.
For information about Miami’s Beaches visit: http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/
The Cadet Hotel on James Street offers accommodation from $199 on a room only basis.