We have Ed Levine to thank for a reason to be tourists in our own town. As the editor and publisher of James Beard Award-winning Serious Eats, Ed was down from New York City yesterday to consume some last bites of tasty research for his upcoming Serious Eats book, and asked Michael and I to play tour guides. Based on some direction that touched on breakfast, Cuban sandwiches, and street food, we built a route that took us through the Redland agricultural district of Homestead, as well as Little Havana, the cultural heart of our city along Calle Ocho. It went something like this:
Knaus Berry Farm: Eat Sticky Buns, check out the strawberries, and… munch on Maria’s tostadas (surprise!)
Teena’s Pride Farm: Visit the farm with owner Teena Borek and collect veggies for Michael and Michelle Bernstein’s salad bar installation at Riverside Elementary School on Monday with First Lady Michelle Obama and White House chef/Senior food policy advisor Sam Kass.
Esquina de Lechon: Per Michelle Bernsteins recommendation… Chicharones, Pan con lechon and cuban sandwich (although the media noche kicked more butt!)
El Mago de Las Fritas: Chat up the magician of fritas himself, with trouble maker and burger afficionado Sef Gonzalez, the Burger Beast. Eat even better chicharones, Frita a caballo (topped with a fried egg) and batido de trigo (puffed wheat shake.)
El Palacio de Los Jugos: Submit ourselves to charming owner Polly and scarf some of the best fresh fruit juices and housemade Cuban specialties in Miami. Winners for me were the boiled yucca with sprinkles of fried pork bits and sliced red onions, arroz congri, and amazing dessert of queso fresco y pasta de guayaba.
La Camaronera: Need we say more than pan con minuta, fried snapper sandwich on the incredible buns (from where, only Burger Beast knows!)
Disaster almost ensued upon arrival at our first stop, Knaus Berry Farm, where we found a line to rival Magnolia Bakery’s. Folks at the front told us they had been waiting an hour and a half to reach the counter inside. Thanks the honed sweet talking skills of Ed and yours truly, we gained entry into the bakery, two sticky buns, and a look around with longtime manager Thomas Blocher. The sticky bun elves were hard at work, churning out sheets of butter-brushed and cinammon-sugar showered dough, and smiling all along the way… We were on our way out when the highlight of the entire day occurred, Maria’s staff meal. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, Maria comes to town to make tostadas. Pretty freaking awesome tostadas, slathered with a spread of frijoles, fresh salsa, and sliced red onion, then piled high with shredded cabbage and topped with a bright and spicy green chile salsa. No meat on these babies, and we weren’t missing it! We’d never seen them this big or this crispy. Maria worked at the farm for 12 years before moving to Orlando and taking her famous tostadas with her. Luckily she visits during the holidays to prepare them, a real treat for the staff. Using a modified tortilla press, Maria flattens out each corn disc into a large rustic oval, as big as an Indian dosa. Once pressed, they’re dried in the sun, and take on a dimpled surface as they’re fried until crisp. The taste and texture reminded me of these packaged polenta chips I had once bought. She says this particular style of tostada is a regional specialty, typical of Guadalajara in Mexico. You don’t find them like this everywhere. How lucky we were to happen upon them in Homestead, no less! It is again clear how the destination is in fact the journey itself and the unexpected discoveries and people you meet along the way.
Access our serious eating adventure in pictures on Flickr and look forward to Ed’s serious assessment of Miami’s food culture in the upcoming book. Michael also had some inspiration of his own on the trip, which will no doubt show itself on the menu some time soon.
What route would you have suggested?