Before I traded in my car for a bike, I made trips around the U.S. and Canada on four wheels. At the time of my first road trip in 1989, Miami Beach had not yet been anointed a global hotspot, and Lincoln Road–years from fame–as a glitzy pedestrian mall anchoring the north side of South Beach.
Little do people know, here you can find inspired cooking at little places like the Wet Paint Cafe on Lincoln Road. In the intervening decades, Wet Paint’s owner, Bernie Matz, opened the Cafe at Books & Books, a locals’ favorite on Lincoln Road, and Wet Paint’s chef, Douglas Rodriguez, opened several restaurants, earned a James Beard nomination, and mentored young chefs in the art of Nuevo Latino cuisine.
During my recent return to South Beach, I had the pleasure of tasting specialties created by one of Rodriguez’s protégés, Carlos Torres, and of Bernie Matz, who possessed culinary chops in addition to management skills.
Last year, Chef Torres brought his talents to 660, a cheery indoor/outdoor restaurant at The Angler’s, a boutique resort tucked behind palm tree s on a revitalized stretch of Washington Avenue. The location’s just a couple of blocks from South Beach’s shopping/club district and two blocks west of the emerald-green Atlantic Ocean. The property’s owners rescued the 1930s Mediterranean Revival accommodations, restored them, modernized the interiors, added two new buildings, landscaped the grounds into a pool-centered oasis, and kept the original name. With these new changes, the units pack plenty of allure and is only further enhanced by service from professionals who are attentive and friendly (attributes not to be taken for granted in South Beach).
Back to the food: it was tempting to spend each lunch and dinner at 660, with the number of fresh, zesty and beautifully presented dishes that are entirely plant-based or easily veganized. Combining Latin American flare and French cooking techniques, Torres seasons deceptively simple dishes, such as the heirloom tomato-avocado salad, to make them immensely satisfying. The lightly grilled Brussels sprouts in citrus-molasses marinade taste sinful. And good thing I snapped a picture of the braised sweet potato and sun-dried tomato ragout since it disappeared soon as my fork made first contact.
The Colombian-born chef’s own diet has gravitated toward plant-based eating, and is now working up recipes for a vegetable montadito, which is a miniature open-faced sandwich, a rustic Latin finger food.
660 also makes a perfect spot for liquid refreshment. The Miami mule and blackberry mojito earned a thumb’s up, and bottom’s up. And who needs alcohol, with 660′s strawberry infused lemonade? I hear the guava mimosa rocks the brunch set.
After my venture at 660, I decided to see what Chef Matz was up to. The Angler’s Resort–an example of historic urban renovation done right–is an easy walk to South Beach culture. From the Art Deco district’s center, to museums, to the new New World Symphony campus, The Angler’s Resort is in a prime location. I didn’t even need to rent a bicycle at the DecoBike bikeshare dock to get to Lincoln Road, where I enjoyed al fresco dining at the Café at Books & Books. Chef Matz’s menu included so many vegan-ready selections that I gave up trying to decide and ordered the all-vegan vegetarian platter. The black bean hummus pairs a pleasingly dense texture with sumptuous flavor and the grilled corn salad makes a perfect chaser. I decided t0 substitute the popular grilled tofu with a sample of succulent roasted eggplant and the housemade bread served to sop up trails of flavor. The butternut squash-coconut soup became dessert; next visit, I’m trying the ginger-carrot cake. Be assured, the fare is local, sustainable, and organic.
The same goes for ingredients used at Chef Matz’s new eatery on Alton Road, where I lunched my last day in South Beach. The “L.A.” in Bernie’s L.A. Cafe stands for Latin American, and the selections are meticulously presented, and affordable takes on traditional “fast food” fare from mainly-veggie bowls to fajitas. I had a veggie wrap with Chef Matz’s housemade hot sauce (guava, lime) and a side of sweet maduros (plantain slices lightly grilled in oil).
South Beach has plenty of other eco-minded flavorful places, including:
THRIVE, a hideaway on Alton, is a sure bet for delectable raw and totally vegan entrees, teasers, desserts and pure fresh juices.
Escopazzo, where Chef Giancarla Bodoni’s fine organic-focused Italian creations include several vegan and raw courses.
Pizza Fusion offers a savory “Very Vegan” mushroom/roasted garlic pie on whole wheat crust and a plant-based cheese, salads and organic ingredients.
Pasha’s, also on Lincoln Road, serves flavor-packed, wallet-friendly Mediterranean semi-fast but fresh dishes.
The fine fare guarantees plenty of energy for swimming in the waves, yoga on the sand or walking around a gem of ecologically brilliant landscaping named South Pointe Park, located at Miami Beach’s southern tip. It’s lovely to look at and fun to stroll, the rolling hills redirect rainwater in a manner protective to the water, plants, and animals. The lamps (which double as art installations) used to illuminate the park use “turtle-safe” lights that won’t confuse newly hatched sea turtles who must hurry to the water in darkness.
South Beach has elevated its sensual pleasures beyond minimally dressed beautiful people, offering new reasons to visit. Do you have discoveries to share? Talk back below, fellow sojourners.