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Comfort in Food
By Simone Zarmati Diament
Reported by Sofia Santana

On the brink of Fall, traditionally the beginning of the season in South Florida ­ a time when new restaurants open, when established restaurants spruce up their menu, and invitations to splashy parties are crisscrossing town ­ expectations have been sapped by reality.

The aftermath of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has left a trail of sorrow that has affected the economy and every aspect of life.

In September, as the numbers of tourists waned, and tourist-dollars were in short supply, those hurting the most in South Florida from the crisis brought about by the September 11 tragedy were hotels and restaurants. With more beds than ever, hotels are still offering local residents special getaway prices, and restaurants are touting prix-fixe menus and specials.


A time of crisis such as this, which imperils security and life itself, drives people to seek reassurance and comfort in family, friendly faces, close by neighborhood places, food and, not surprisingly, wine.

Huddling together around the table for warmth and security is a phenomenon that led Barry Alberts, wine consultant at Crown Liquors and wine instructor at Berries to Wine, to report a hike in wine sales at the South Miami wine store in the period immediately following September 11: “The store went up forty percent in sales from last year at the same time,” he noted. “With this crisis, restaurants are getting hammered over the head, more people are staying home, and wine and specialty food sales are going up.”

Ed Furlong, wine buyer and director at Gardner’s Markets, confirmed the hike in wine sales during the same period of time: “Sales are up 30% from last year.”

Gourmet markets offering prepared food and ready-to-eat deli items, from The Farmer’s Market in Key Biscayne to Bay Harbor Fine Foods in Bay Harbor Island, have all reported steady sales, even on September 11. “We were very surprised, so many people came that day. Probably no one wanted to cook,” remarked Farmer’s Market co/owner, Carlos Sucre.

With a solid customer base, Gardner’s Markets have not experienced a slowdown in sales. Owners Maurice and Elizabeth Adams say that it seems that people seek comfort food, like the food that Gardner’s provides. “People aren’t going out to eat, but are coming in and buying the things they love and taking them home,” claims Elizabeth.

Gathering around a table is now gradually extending back to restaurants. While South Beach restaurants ­ usually mobbed at this time of year ­ are slowly coming back to life, lines were seen forming on the sidewalks of reasonably priced neighborhood eateries such as Trattoria Sole in South Miami, Prima Pasta in North Miami Beach, and Le Pastis, a little French bistro in South Miami.

Comfort is found in friendly crowds and in good food. And when it comes to comfort foods, South Floridians have come a long way from eating spaghetti and meatballs and mac and cheese. Even at local markets comfort food has an increasingly edgy slant, from the ethnic to the glorified version of grandmother’s meatloaf.

NY Bagel Deli (6546 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 305-865-2522)

Although the thirteen large Miami Beach Hotels Evan Steinman caters to have considerably reduced their daily orders “because they are no longer packed,” says the owner of NYBD, morning and lunch bagel take-out has increased.

At NYBD, bagels, that staple of American breakfast and brunch, come in astonishing varieties such as chocolate chip, sun-dried-tomato, rye-caraway, and coconut, with spreads ranging from traditional cream cheese and Mediterranean hummus, to artichoke, pesto, and the very popular cinnamon-raisin-walnut cream cheese.

Evan and Donna Steinman say that all bagels are made in-house, as well as 99 percent of everything else on the menu, including the made-to-order salad platters, like oriental chicken topped with sesame seeds, fresh cilantro and oriental noodles; and vegan salads and sandwiches.

The Steinmans hope that the holiday season will mark an increase in the catering business.

Amici’s Gourmet Market (2301 Galiano St., Coral Gables. 305-461-4343)

The brisk lunch business at Amici’s has not slacked. Owner Carlo Casagrande says that not only hasn’t he noticed a significant change in business, but the lunch crowd has grown so much that he’s planning to expand both salad bar and hot food station. “We’ve always stuck to the same concept,’’ says Casagrande. “Now we want to make it easier for our customers who sometimes have to wait in line for the salad bar.”

Thus, lunch crowds can buy by the pound, order in, take home, or sit down at the restaurant next door to the market, for a lunch of hot dishes like penne with arugula in a black olive-sundried tomato sauce; cannelloni with veal, spinach and ricotta; antipasti with Italian cold cuts and fresh seafood; veal and peppers simmered in tomato sauce; and poached salmon with cucumber dill sauce.

Shopping for the finest produce, deli meats, imported cheeses and wine is made easy on the way out. And for dessert or a simple treat, you could indulge in some of the gourmet candies and chocolates… They’re by the front registers.

Estate Wines & Gourmet Foods (Euro Table, 92 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. 305-442-9915)

For Hans Viertl, business hasn’t changed much at the cozy Estate Wine and Gourmet Foods, a market and store lined with racks of fine wines, and The Fountain Bistro, a charming daytime restaurant, both in Coral Gables. “We have a lot of regulars, and they know what they want before they even get here,” said Viertl, referring to the popular menu of sandwiches, salads and soups.

Hot and cold sandwiches on freshly-baked ciabatta, French ficelle, and croissants like grilled chicken breast, roasted tomatoes and balsamic dressing; or prosciutto di Parma, fresh mozzarella and tomato-basil dressing; salads such as goat cheese, black olives, peppers, cucumbers and marinated tomatoes over mixed greens; and the unforgettable apple strudel, are always big sellers.

However, at La Ficelle, on Blue Lagoon Drive near the Airport, catering to offices and businesses has gone down eighty percent, he says. “It’s certainly a challenge, because a lot of companies have cancelled events we were catering.”

Viertl hopes that business will pick up before and during the holiday season when the market is filled with the warm aroma of cinnamon from the hot apple cider served to customers, on the house.

Anacapri (Italian Restaurant and Marketplace, 12665 S. Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest,
305-232-8001; 305-255-2521)

In Pinecrest, Anacapri’s Little Italy is the only gourmet market of its kind. Specializing in fine imported Italian items foods, from several varieties of olives, hard-to-find olive oils and balsamic vinegars, to fine Italian and “Italian-American” wines, the activity in the market, next door to Giuseppe Zuozo’s long-standing restaurant, Anacapri, indicates that life is coming back to normal. Zuozo reported that while the restaurant business was down about fifteen percent, the take-out business was almost as usual. “And it starts getting busier just before the holidays,” he said, with orders for chicken scarpariello with sausage, white wine, garlic and roasted peppers; and roasted seabass.

What could be more comforting than “braciole,” beef stuffed with cheese, garlic, pine nuts, raisins and spices cooked in tomato sauce; or baked ziti with ricotta, mozzarella and tomato, piping hot with bubbling cheese and browned to perfection? Maybe the traditional ricotta cheesecake.

Bay Harbor Fine Foods (1077 95th St., Bay Harbor Island, North Miami. 305-865-0331)

With a steady clientele taking advantage of the market’s delivery service, it’s no wonder this small, old-fashioned grocery store market is bustling. For co-owner David Bockner, business in the market hasn’t changed much. However, since the September 11 tragedy, he is getting more delivery orders than usual, not only for the hot prepared foods and special dietary requests which are offered six days a week, but the stores quality meats, seafood, produce, and even grocery items.

“We’re not just a specialty market,” said Bockner, who owns the market with childhood friend Art Bergen. “People appreciate it that we carry both standard items ­ from toilet paper to Saran wrap ­ and hand-selected produce.” For the holidays, the market will offer, as usual, fresh caviar, pâtés and a wider selection of imported cheeses.

Farmer’s Market (91 Harbor Dr., Key Biscayne. 305-361-1300)

Selling hard-to-find specialty produce, Farmer’s Market is the place where to find ingredients for that special recipe, from fresh guanabana and Japanese eggplant, to 20 varieties of peaches, and freshly-picked apples from Washington and Oregon. “We have almost everything you’re not able to find in a supermarket, including a large selection of cheeses from around the world,” says one of the co-owners, Carlos Castellanos. But, here too, says Castellanos, “while our market sales have gone down about five percent, our take-out business remains steady with our homemade mozzarella cheese, pastries and food tarts on top of the list.”

To attract more locals, Farmer’s Market is now conducting a series of ethnic cooking classes starting with Thai cuisine.


Gardner’s Markets (Pinecrest, 305-255-2468; South Miami, 305-661-2054; Brickell Key, 305-371-3701;
Ocean Reef, 305-367-2121.)

The oldest supplier of upscale foods and produce, Gardner’s has catered to South Florida’s yens since 1912. Traditionally a provider of fine foods through wars and hurricanes, from the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression until today, the markets headed by Maurice Adams and Elizabeth Gardner Adams, make a point of carrying the best products. There is a broad selection of wines arranged according to food pairing and origin, and the cheese department abounds with choices, from creamy mozzarella bocconcini and French soft cheeses, to aged Holland Gouda and Sonoma County Dry Jack.

But at times of crisis, rather than buying premium naturally raised Bradley beef B3R, or hormone-free Bell & Evans chickens and turkeys, people are buying more wine, and taking home cooked meals, comfort foods such as Gardner’s turkey meat loaf, and ready-made salads. “I guess no one really has the time to cook, with all the news to watch on TV, and all the newspapers to read,” explains Elizabeth Adams.

Gardner’s Market Turkey Meatloaf
Serves 6 - 8
Click Here to Download this Recipe (Acrobat Reader needed to view)

Ingredients:

5 lbs. ground turkey
1 carrot
1 onion
2 celery stalks
1/4 bag (4 oz.) Pepperidge Farm stuffing
1 large egg
1/8 cup horseradish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 lb. frozen spinach
3 tsp. salt and pepper (each)

Preparation:

Puree carrot, onion and celery together. Beat egg. Mix remaining ingredients together (don’t over mix). Coat pan with spray. Bake at 325º for 45 minutes. Cool before cutting.


Take-Out Hot Meals at Gourmet Markets

Pinecrest:

Norman Brothers, 7260 SW 87 Ave., Pinecrest,
305-274-9363.
Anacapri, 12669 S Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest, 305-255-2521 or 305-232-8001.
Gardner’s Market, 8287 SW 124 St., Pinecrest, 305-255-2468, 7301 SW 57 Ave., South Miami, 305-661-2054, 651 Brickell Key Dr., Brickell Key, 305-371-3701, 26 Dockside Lane, N. Key Largo, 305-367-2121
Joanna’s Marketplace, 8247 S Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest, 305-661-5777.

Coral Gables, Coconut Grove:

Amici’s Gourmet Market, 2301 Galiano St., Coral Gables, 305-461-4343.
Euro Gourmet Estate Wines, 92 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 305-442-9915.
Scotty’s Grocery, 3117 Bird Ave., Coconut Grove, 305-443-5257.
Milam’s, 2969 SW 32 Ave., Coconut Grove, 305-446-4909, 5767 Bird Road, 305-662-1510.

Downtown, Key Biscayne:

Farmer’s Market Key Biscayne, 91 Harbor Dr., Key Biscayne, 305-361-1900
Perricone’s Marketplace, 15 SE 10 St., Miami, 305-374-9449. Hoeflinger & Chiarini, 1777 SW 3 Ave., Miami, 305-857-3456.

North Miami, Aventura:

Bay Harbor Fine Food, 1077 95 St., Bay Harbour Island, 305-865-0331.
Marky’s Caviar, 667 NE 79 St., Miami, 305-758-9288. Cookworks Bal Harbour, Bal Harbour Shops.
Laurenzo’s Italian Market, 16385 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach, 305-945-6381.

Simone Zarmati Diament is Editor of The South Florida Gourmet

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