Miami Needs Indie Food Shops and Restaurants

Categories: Musings
Lee Klein
Fries. Cupcakes. Cocktails. You won't find that trio at any chain restaurant, be it fast food, fast casual, or whatever the latest corporate cookie cutter term for frozen food is these days. China Grill Management isn't interested in covering such eclectic territory, nor is Houston's, Morton's, STK, KFC, Burger King, MacDonald's, Chicken Kitchen, Jamba Juice, Bongo's, Bubba Gump Shrimp, La Caretta, Pollo Tropical, Archie's, Pucci's, Giardino Salads, Baja Mexican, Hooters, Hard Rock, Emeril's, or any of the second-hand chef outlets we get from New York and other parts of the country.

The vast majority of Miami dining establishments are backed by big money and exist to serve food with mass appeal and to feed big bottom lines. Stockholders, fat cats, and franchisees, not diners, are the ones being catered to at such venues. We, the customers, are pawns in their profit schemes, not individuals being attended to personally by local folks who live in the same neighborhood as us. I'm not breaking any news here -- most people who reside in Miami are well aware of how we are saturated with impersonal eateries; it's part of the reason service is always so bad. But it's just hard to take after coming from San Francisco, and seeing what a huge difference it makes when businesses are run by people who care.

You can't really blame the businessmen -- if we, like those savvy San Franciscans, demanded fresh, high-quality food and personal service, and spurned those places that didn't provide such, we would likewise be able to walk down street after street filled with indie establishments baking fresh breads, muffins, donuts, and cakes, brewing up fresh coffee, scooping scoops of homemade ice cream, roasting organic, free range chickens and pork loins, making sandwiches with artisan cheeses and meats...

Speaking of which, Pal's Takeaway (within Tony's Market at 2751 24th St. in the Mission) was recommended to us as the best place to get sandwiches. Whether folks were describing 5-spice roasted chicken banh mi or Marin Sun Farms pork shoulder with arugula on Acme sesame kaiser roll, all we heard were raves. Except we kept passing by just after we'd eaten something else, and never got to try a sandwich. We called the day before we were leaving the city to see if Pal's would be open early enough in the morning for us to get a sandwich. The owner answered the phone and said he wouldn't be, but then tried thinking of a sandwich he could make that day that would hold well. He thought out loud over the phone -- "Well, the shrimp won't be good tomorrow, and the pulled lamb will make the bread soggy...." He eventually concluded that no matter what sandwich he'd make that day, it wouldn't hold up well enough overnight to be ideal the next day. "Sorry," he said, "but I don't want you to be disappointed."

Try as I might, I cannot imagine a Miami business owner passing up the opportunity to make a few bucks on the basis of caring about quality. That's why we need more indie food shops and restaurants.

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