Coconut Grove Should Clobber South Beach in the Snackdown
Last week we started the Snackdown, pitting Coconut Grove versus South Beach. Our food critic, Lee Klein, predicted SoBe would bitch-slap Coconut Grove in the dining department. I wasn't so sure about that. After all, I am intimately familiar with both neighborhoods, having moved to a little cottage in the Grove after living the condo life in South Beach for many years.
I admit that Coconut Grove doesn't attract celebrity chefs such as Geoffrey Zakarian and Andrew Carmellini. That doesn't mean I'm not eating well -- it just means I'm out of the hype zone. I'm living la vida local, if you will.
Just today, Lee posted 50 reasons why South Beach is better than Coconut Grove dining-wise. The reasons were basically just a list of 50 restaurants in South Beach. No one is questioning there's a crapload of restaurants packed into a small geographic zone. I could point out why Coconut Grove, though smaller, has great restaurants that are homey, charming, and offer good value and major deliciousness. And I will!
In the Grove's defense, I'll cite ten reasons why you should dine in Coconut Grove -- five of them in Lee Klein's own words, five of my own. Here are five, taken directly from Lee:
5. Peacock Garden Café
In a post dated September 23, 2011, Lee enjoyed the décor of this little bistro, noting, "The interior is light and lovely, but we chose to sit on the patio for our lunch. Quite pleasant, really."
In his review, dated April 28, 2011, Lee noted this neighborhood favorite (which is always packed) served thoughtful takes on favorite plates. "The Bignons appear content to let others do the gastronomic trailblazing and instead concentrate on providing fresh, crisply executed renditions of likable foods, affordable drinks, and a neighborly café setting in which to enjoy them. We're quite content with that too."
3. Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar & Latam Grill
This restaurant, which offers fresh ceviche in spoon-size tastings, is "always pristine, always tasty. It boasts a beautifully designed room and a bustling bar scene too," according to Lee in a piece dated July 20, 2010.
2. George's in the Grove
On May 17, 2011, Lee mused about George's and its sister restaurant, George's on Sunset. "Both places are imbued with the charming, frenetic energy of chef/owner Georges Eric Farge -- plus some pretty good bistro fare too," he concluded.
1. Le Bouchon du Grove
This little piece of Paris made Lee's list of the top five French restaurants on October 11, 2011. Lee noted, "Indoor and outdoor tables practically meld into one relaxed, informal space, with soccer jerseys, flags, posters for pastis, and other paraphernalia crammed onto the walls. The cuisine matches the comfort level. Crusty baguettes start diners off properly."
Here are my five reasons why Coconut Grove kicks South Beach's Brazilian-implanted fake ass:
5. Scotty's Landing
I can't think of a better way to spend an evening than at Scotty's Landing. There is nothing that says chill-the-f**k-out better than this little spot located behind the marina in the Grove. My husband and I walked there Saturday with our dog Harry for a bite. A band was playing a Johnny Cash medley under a large tree as we found the last two spots at the bar. A group of men (with dog in tow) was making plans for the next day's Super Bowl party when we ordered beers served in frosted mugs, some fish dip, and burgers. As I mentioned how much I love this place over my meal, my husband asked if I would consider this a good date place. Absolutely! Maybe not a first date, but there's always something romantic about watching the boats bobbing in the marina. By the way, if you're wondering what kind of fish was in the fish dip and the pedigree of the steer that gave its life for my snack, you just don't get Scotty's. And that's a damn shame. Who gives a flying fiddle about those things when a cool breeze is blowing, your beer is cold, and you're jamming to a rousing rendition of "Folsom Prison Blues"?
Matthew and Priscilla Kuscher opened Lokal, a clean beer and burger joint, this past Christmas Eve. I've been back several times for their fresh heirloom tomatoes, grass-fed beef (yes, this beef has a pedigree), and homemade veggie burgers made with beets and prunes (I know it sounds like a strange combination, but I am hooked on them -- trust me). The restaurant, with cork murals and graffiti art, has a young, hipster vibe that I adore. And the Kuschers love Coconut Grove, putting out extra tables for the King Mango Strut Parade on New Year's Eve. Though Lokal is new to the neighborhood, it already has deep roots.
3. Le Bouchon du Grove
As I walk into Bouchon, I'm usually greeted with a big hello and a glass of champagne. It's enough to make a grown woman tear up. So is the basket of warm, fresh bread -- crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Rustic French comfort foods -- chicken fricassee on a bed of morel mushroom risotto and steamed mussels with pommes frites are my favorites -- are served in giant crocks. Pair your meal with a glass of good French wine for under ten bucks, and this is comfort-food haven. Yes, I listed Bouchon twice on purpose, because it seems like finally there's something that Mr. Klein and I agree on! And hey, it's a restaurant in Coconut Grove!
2. GreenStreet Café
When I researched a story about waiting tables, I spent a Sunday at GreenStreet, where I met the nicest people. All of them were locals; all of them make a pilgrimage to GreenStreet every Sunday. Why? Consistent food, good prices, and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you feel like someone gives a rat's ass if you're happy with your meal. I love the pizzas, the oversize omelets served the way I want them, and the friendly servers that refill my coffee cup, ask me if I'm happy, and smile. And guess what? I don't think any of them want to be models when they grow up!
1. Bombay Darbar
I like my food spicy and my beer cold, and that's just what this tiny Indian restaurant serves. Moving to South Beach eight years ago, I noticed that for all of the places to get a $20 panini and a $15 mojito (and those are "locals" prices), there wasn't one place for Indian that didn't suck or close down in a month. I tried Bombay Darbar with little hope and was wowed. I love the biryani cooked extra-spicy with a couple of King Fishers to douse the heat. Lots of families, mostly Indian, take every available table, so there's sometimes a wait. What's 20 minutes, considering a flight to Bombay takes half a day? Worth it every time!
And I haven't even mentioned:
- the easy parking (hint: the municipal lots are cheap and plentiful here)
- the almost-weekly festivals that celebrate art, culture, dance, and food
- the streets lined with old shade trees that make the Grove hospitable for alfresco dining even in the worst dog days of summer
- the $5 bloody mary's at Berries in the Grove
- the Friday-night rooftop winetastings at the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel
- the Fresh Market was here first (boo-ya!)
- the best two-dollar tacos this side of Mexico at El Taquito
- the weekly vegan buffet and drum circle at the Krishna temple
- happy hours at Monty's (half-priced painkillers and live reggae music)
- yummy warm spinach pie at the Last Carrot
- the Saturday farmers' market where hippies, hipsters, and yuppies shop for fresh produce, local honey, and raw foods
- the friendly neighborhood vibe where people, dogs, butterflies, and parrots mingle
Oops, guess I just did.
If you haven't been off the Beach, it's time to get a taste of what the real Miami is. SoBe might have the flash, but Coconut Grove has the soul. So, as they say in Florida, vote early and vote often -- for Coconut Grove. Because there's more to dining than a ten-page wine list and an empty wallet.
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