So Good—and Good for You—Local Eats
I AM AN UNREPENTANT OMNIVORE. I eat pretty much everything, and sometimes, too much of it. Many restaurants are designed to appeal to these gluttonous instincts: fat equals flavor; fried equals golden, crispy and happy. One of the great secrets of restaurant cooking is that most professional chefs use a lot more butter and salt than any typical home cook would deem responsible. Lots of people – myself included – would actually like to eat more healthfully, at least some of the time, but it can be difficult when faced with all that temptation. Too often, eating healthy while dining out seems like doing penance.
But that’s starting to change. Nationally, health-conscious fast food is a rapid growth sector. Sweetgreen, a chain founded in 2007 that focuses on vegetable and grain bowls using locally sourced ingredients, now has more than two dozen locations in six states. Super-chef Jose Andres’ latest venture is Beefsteak, a fast-casual place where “fresh, market-driven vegetables take center stage.”
In South Florida, more and more restaurants are catering to our nobler rather than baser impulses. Instead of relegating health-conscious diners to a coin flip between a boring salad and a plain piece of fish (sauce on the side, please), their entire menus are devoted to choices that appeal to both taste buds and waist bands. Some are comfortable, sit-down restaurants perfectly worthy of date night. Others take the fast food format and turn it on its head with guilt-free – and sometimes, entirely animal-free – ingredients. But what they all have in common is that they serve food that is simultaneously good for you, and just plain good.
27 Restaurant & Bar
You wouldn’t necessarily expect a place that started from a cocktail bar to be the ideal choice for a healthy dinner, but there’s a lot about 27 Restaurant that defies expectations. An offshoot of the delightful and ever-popular Broken Shaker in the Freehand, a hipster hostel in the old Indian Creek Hotel, 27 Restaurant foregoes South Beach slick in favor of old-school Miami charm. They preserved the multi-room layout of the 1930s-era house in which the restaurant is situated, and the carefully mismatched combination of casual period furnishings and odd knickknacks gives the feel of an abuela’s casita.
The menu is something of a carefully mismatched combination, too. Ingredients come whenever possible from local purveyors, and recipes come from the many cultures that have made Miami their adopted home. The ceviche-style fish crudo features whatever comes off the boats from Trigger Seafood, while a daily vegetable plate might include plump black radishes and fractal-patterned romanesco from Little River Farm. Broken Shaker co-founder Elad Zvi gets credit for a shakshouka with Borek Farm tomatoes, eggs from Homestead and Zak the Baker bread; the Shaker’s other co-founder, Gabriel Orta, contributes an arepa platter made for sharing. Even the cocktails use fruits and herbs from the on-site garden.
One of the things that binds it all together is that the preparations are simple and usually pretty light, letting the local ingredients and flavors shine. Though there are dishes that come from the Caribbean, Latin America and sometimes more far-flung locales like Israel and Korea, 27 Restaurant is a place that tastes distinctly like Miami.
27 RESTAURANT & BAR
2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach
Timo in Sunny Isles has long been one of my “old reliables” for its modernized, locally influenced Italian food. Its chef, Tim Andriola, went in a different direction when he opened Basil Park next door. The new restaurant’s tagline is “Eat to Live.” Following through on that motif, the expansive menu offers something to please everyone, all prepared with an eye towards healthy consumption.
A partnership with Dania Beach’s Harpke Family Farm, which supplies organic produce and microgreens to the restaurant, literally helps keep Basil Park grounded. So you can perch on a stool in front of the natural wood bar and choose from among more than a dozen fresh and cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Raw foodists have several options, like a vibrant gazpacho with everything green – avocado, cucumber, tomatillo, cilantro and lime. If you prefer your vegetables cooked, the options expand even more broadly, ranging from Parmesan-dusted kale chips to sprouted chickpea falafel balls (sprouting legumes makes them easier to digest and helps release their nutritional content) to Indian-spiced eggplant steeped in turmeric and coconut milk.
While the menu is vegetable-centric, carnivores are not neglected – but the focus is on lean healthy proteins. Turkey is pounded thin into a scallopini topped with mushrooms, asparagus and artichokes; pasture-raised chickens are cooked on a rotisserie; there’s even a patty melt, made with lean, flavorful grass-fed beef. This is a spot where you can have a nice, satisfying dinner and walk out feeling even better than when you walked in.
17608 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach
Jugofresh, as the name suggests, got its start with the juicing craze of the past few years. As they’ve grown (they now have a half dozen spots with more on the way), they’ve expanded their menu offerings to include items for people who still like to chew their food. Still, like their green juices and detoxers, Jugofresh’s solid foods are all still 100 percent organic, vegan and locally produced.
The best time to go may be for breakfast. Start your day off right with an acai bowl (a cold, creamy pudding made from the berries of a palm tree) topped with fresh fruit, nuts, raw honey, coconut flakes and cacao nibs. If you want to up the ante, try the “acai verde,” which adds spirulina, kale and a crunchy “kale-cacao granola.” I will admit I was more than a bit skeptical when I ordered this, and even more so when I saw that my breakfast consisted of a purplish-black slush topped with a forest-green crumble. But even more shocking than its appearance was its taste: completely, unequivocally delicious. Kale. It’s what’s for breakfast.
And consider swapping out your usual cup of joe for an “iced maca-chino” made with almond “mylk,” Organo coffee (supplemented with Ganoderma lucidum, a dried mushroom powder used in Asian medicines), reishi powder (another Asian mushroom supposedly good for the immune system and lowering blood pressure, among other things), maca (an Andean root vegetable also used in traditional medicines), cacao and coconut palm sugar. That superfoods bonanza should have you ready for anything.
Coral Gables: 2516 Ponce de Leon
Downtown Miami: Whole Foods, 299 SE 3rd St.
North Miami: 14871 Biscayne Blvd.
South Beach: 40 South Pointe Dr.
South Miami: 1430 S. Dixie Highway
Sunset Harbour: 1935 West Ave.
Wynwood: 222 NW 26 St.
Choices Cafe is a “fast casual” vegan restaurant that opened its first outlet in 2011, and now has three with more on the way.
Fitting for its name, Choices has much more expansive food offerings than Jugofresh. The menu, which is 100 percent plant-based and almost entirely organic, is centered around 10 different “signature choice” combinations, any of which can be had as a salad, a quinoa bowl or a wrap (regular, gluten-free, or, cleverly, with collard greens). Those combinations include an abundance of fresh greens, flavorful sauces, and a variety of plant-based alternative proteins – lentil “meat,” chickpea-based “no seas” tuna, soy chorizo, “chick’n.”
I happened to meet the owners at an event recently and got to pose a question I’ve always wanted to ask: What’s with all the fake meats? The answer surprised me. I’d always assumed that these items were designed for plant-eaters who still wanted to duplicate the sensation of eating meat – something I found a bit paradoxical. But Alex Cuevas told me that most of their customers are actually not exclusively vegan, and he views it as a way of making vegan dishes more inviting to non-vegan diners.
Personally, as someone who freely eats the real thing, I’d just as soon give up the pretense of imitation: the earthy, mildly spiced red lentil patties in their “Mental Lentil” are delicious without pretending to be anything other than what they are. And my favorite dish there, the “Sergio Bowl,” which combines kale, spinach, quinoa, sautéed onion, avocado, pico de gallo and chipotle mayo, is even better with just about anything on top of it other than “chick’n.” For a sweet treat, don’t miss the “Este Loco-Coco” smoothie, which combines young coconut, cashews, dates, coconut milk, and just enough sea salt to make those flavors pop.
Coconut Grove: 2895 McFarlane Rd. (Opening in fall)
Coral Gables: 2626 Ponce de Leon
Near MIA: 711 NW 27 Ave.
Upper East Side: 646 NE 79 St., Miami
Day Market Kitchen
I’ve written before about Market 17, one of my favorite places in Fort Lauderdale for a higher-end meal. Its owners, siblings Krista and Aaron Grauberger, have now opened a more casual daytime spot just a couple doors down called Day Market Kitchen. The menu is simple, basically a selection of salads and sandwiches, either in several pre-designed combinations or for DIY assembly however you wish. But the components are all carefully and thoughtfully chosen: fresh, perky produce, locally sourced when possible; and pedigreed meats, including free range chicken, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and house-made sausages.
Inspiration is drawn from near and far. A “Homestead” salad combines local lettuce with rum-pickled peppers, tomatoes, corn, summer squash and queso fresco. The Vietnamese styled “Hanoi Banh Mi” sandwich folds slow-roasted pork into a fresh baguette with pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, cilantro and a sweet chili mayo. Service is fast-casual, order-at-the-counter style, but the room is bright, modern and happy, with potted herbs hanging in the floor-to-ceiling windows and bright yellow metal chairs and wood tables in the spacious dining room. It feels as light and fresh as you’ll feel after eating there.
DAY MARKET KITCHEN
1850 SE 17 St., Fort Lauderdale