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One of the Best Kept Culinary Secrets in Miami

One of the Best Kept Culinary Secrets in Miami

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For decades Miami has been known for vibrant nightlife and world class dining featuring cuisine from around the world. Being third-generation Miamians, we were anxious to return and explore South Florida's latest dining options. He suggested we join him at El Carajo International Tapas & Wines. We jumped at the opportunity to sample dishes from NBC Miami’s Gold award winning restaurant.

The directions to El Carajo were startling. Barry told us to go to 17th and US1 and pull into a gas station. The restaurant that he was so anxious to show us was inside! Yes, walk past the gas pumps, chips, beer, candy, and soft drinks, and at the rear of the store is El Carajo. If anyone else had suggested eating in a gas station on our first night in Miami we would have graciously declined. However, knowing Barry and trusting his passion for wine and food we went. After all, it was his reputation on the line.

Walking into El Carajo with its lovely aromas — spices, meat sizzling on the grill — and its attentive host, we forgot we were inside a working gas station. Rack after rack of fine wines at affordable prices called out for us to make a selection. El Carajo also features a “high end“ wine room where Caymus and many Champagnes are available for the most discriminating of tastes. Thanks to Barry’s expert guidance we enjoyed a palate-pleasing bottle of Señorio De Sarria Navarra Reserva 1998, the perfect selection for what was to come.

The menu's many selections didn't make choosing easy. Ensalada de camarones (mixed greens and shrimp) and potage de colorados (Red Bean Soup) stood out for starters. Cold tapas like the combinación mesón (ham, sausage, and Manchego), and boquerones Españoles en vinagreta (Spanish anchovies in vinaigrette) caught our attention as well. More than 20 hot tapas, from chorizos de cangrejos (crabmeat crêpe) to chistorras al vino (Spanish mini sausages in red wine) were sure to please.

We settled on one of the larger entrées, tabla de carne. This assorted meat plank featured chuletilla de cordero, chuleta de cerdo, carne de res, morcillas, pollo, chorizo criollo, and papas y tostones — a Spanish carnivore's delight that was one of the best meat dishes we have had in a while. Being in Miami we couldn't finish a meal without flan and café con leche. El Carajo (not far from Little Havana) is as authentic as it gets.

We feel lucky to have dined in some of the world’s best venues. After our experience at El Carajo, we can see why is a big hit. Our advice? Get there early. And spend more time exploring gas stations. You never know what hidden secrets they may reveal.

It&rsquos easy to get lost deep in Louisiana&rsquos swampy south-eastern corner. Mist hangs in the cypress trees, sugar cane fields melt into a maze of marshes and the land and water blend together in the liquid summer heat.

But if you follow the bending banks of Bayou Lafourche 72 miles south of New Orleans, past the ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss and the slow glide of shrimp boats, you&rsquoll find an unmarked shed in the tiny town of Galliano. Inside, a 91-year-old great-great-grandmother named Alzina Toups is quietly singing a prayer in French while she prepares a six-course meal for 22 people.

For the last 40 years, Toups has been using tightly guarded techniques passed down through a long line of Cajun cooks in her family at Alzina's Kitchen, a windowless restaurant that she runs by herself in her son&rsquos former welding shop. There&rsquos no menu, no set hours and no website. The blue letters spelling &lsquoAlzina&rsquos&rsquo fell off the metal siding years ago. She doesn&rsquot take walk-ins, only entertains one or two parties per week and is booked up until June 2019. But if you&rsquore lucky enough to snag a reservation (and can find the place), you&rsquore in for what celebrity chefs and culinary pilgrims from all over the world swear is one of the most memorable meals they&rsquove ever had.

Alzina Toups’ Cajun comfort food is impeccably fresh and layered with sophistication (Credit: Sebastian Diaz)

Haute 100 Update: Chef Michelle Bernstein Named One of ‘The 25 Most Influential Women’

We in Miami have had the privilege to know her for years, but now Chef Michelle Bernstein is really hitting her stride in the culinary world. Between her numerous awards, acclaimed eateries, and her new line of cookware, she is certainly becoming a household name. Now, she continues to rival the predominantly male culinary greats with an added accolade by being named one of “The 25 Most Influential Women” by People En Espanol.

The October issue of the magazine honors Hispanic women who have risen to the top of their field, as Bernstein continues to do. As a Miami native of Jewish and Latin descent, Bernstein has steadily climbed the culinary ladder since she first hit the scene in the 1990s.

Now, her three Miami restaurants – Michy’s, Sra. Martinez, and the new Design District eatery Crumb on Parchment – are flourishing. In addition, Bernstein has also recently helped launch the Miami chapter of Common Threads, an after-school program that is dedicated to teaching underprivileged children to cook, socialize, and eat healthy.

“I am humbled to be in such beautiful company,” says Bernstein. “Cooking is my passion and it truly fulfills me. I’m so happy doing what I do, and it thrills me that my work brings joy and happiness to others as well.”

Bersntein is joined on the prestigious list by luminaries to include U.S. Supreme Court judge Sonia Sotomayor, talk show host Cristina Saralegui, international superstar Gloria Estefan, award-winning author Isabel Allende, designer Isabel Toledo, journalist and author Maria Celeste Arraras, and many others.

The October issue of People En Espanol is available now on newsstands in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

Our Haute 100 list details the accomplishments of the most influential people in each of our markets. To see the entire Haute 100 Miami list, click here.

Lakeridge Winery – Orlando, Florida

Without a doubt, most of the adults who visit the Orlando area with kids in tow eventually reach a breaking point, when they need to get out and enjoy some adult-oriented activities. A stop at the nearby Lakeridge Winery, then, is always a great option. Tours and tasting sessions are available in abundance here, making it a snap to include a visit on virtually any Orlando vacation. The 127-acre estate itself is sumptuous and stunning, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the grandeur of what was once the central part of Florida’s grape-growing region.

Miami Institution Joe’s Stone Crab Receives Prestigious Title

Photo Credit: Twitter – Joe’s Stone Crab

Stone crabs have become one of Florida’s finest delicacies from the months of October through May, with special thanks to one very important Miami institution: Joe’s Stone Crab. The Miami Beach seafood mecca has remained one of Miami’s most famous dining destinations since its inception in 1913 when founder Joe Weiss opened up a small lunch counter in Miami Beach serving fish sandwiches and fries. This small counter eventually turned into the mega dining destination, Joe’s Stone Crab, located in the prestigious South of Fifth neighborhood.

Stone crabs in Miami have become synonymous with the legendary spot, which also has remained one of the hardest tables to snag in the city. Due to its strict no reservations policy and mouth-watering cuisine, the restaurant draws in a crowd waiting on line for a table from the moment its doors open at 6 p.m. Therefore, it can be safely stated that Joe’s Stone Crab is arguably Miami’s most famous dining destination. Well, it just so happens that Food & Wine has taken this assumption a step further and actually pronounced that it is one of the 40 Most Important Restaurants in the U.S. Over The Past 40 Years—the second most important, in fact.

The 2018 list revealed the 40 most important restaurants due to a number of categories, but most importantly the restaurant’s impact on American dining. The list pays respect to the restaurant’s ability to transform the crab and seafood influence in restaurant dining, as well as its impeccable service, world-famous key lime pie and celebrity following over the years.

Size Matters, Grass-Fed Doesn’t & Other BBQ Secrets from a Famed Pitmaster

Smoking the perfect brisket takes a little time and involvement but it’s so worth every bit. If you’re thinking about making a backyard brisket from scratch, leverage these great tips from famed Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin, who was just inducted into the 2020 Barbecue Hall of Fame.

With Memorial Day in the rearview, it’s time to get serious about BBQ. Chances are you’ll be hanging around the house (and yard) just a little more than usual this summer, so why not try your hand at a new cooking project. Consider smoking a brisket, for instance. When done properly, a juicy, tender brisket bursting with deep flavor will be a welcomed change from the tired burgers/ dogs/chicken routine. And the leftovers are even better. But don’t just wing it: If you want to make the very best smoked brisket we suggest taking pointers from a pitmaster. We’ve got just the guy.

Aaron Franklin is one such ascended master of BBQ, and he’s generously agreed to share some of his best BBQ tips, tricks, and secrets with the world. Having earned a 2015 James Beard Award and much high praise from critics, Franklin popularized a slow smoking process that has lines forming outside his famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin year-round.

Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas-Style BBQ

Get Aaron Franklin's full 16-part BBQ lesson plus a whole lot more on MasterClass, for $15 a month.

Few are better suited to teach a crash course on BBQ smoked brisket. Luckily for anyone interested in learning the tasty trade themselves, Franklin has teamed up with MasterClass for an exclusive 16-lesson series on Texas Style BBQ. In this BBQ brisket lesson, Franklin shares his secrets for succulent BBQ brisket, pork butt, and ribs. Students of the BBQ MasterClass will learn how to choose and prep the best barbecue meats, nail the optimal cooking times and temps, and handle an offset smoker like a pro.

There’s no substitute for watching someone like Franklin walk and talk you through the steps of an involved recipe, like smoked brisket or pork butt, so definitely head to MasterClass for Franklin’s series. A subscription to MasterClass will get you far more than just brisket know-how too. Iconic chefs like Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Gabriela Cámara share tricks of the trade in their own culinary MasterClasses.

If you’re short on time and ready to start smoking brisket, the pitmaster himself shared a few exclusive tips and tricks to get us started as we roll hog-head first into BBQ season.

Have a Plan

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but also document your mistakes. You really only learn how to make good barbecue by making bad barbecue every so often.

Fire and Smoke

Building and managing fire is key to barbecue mastery—the goal is to have the best quality smoke you can: not sooty—blue coloring is good.

Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, $18.15 on Amazon

Go deeper with Franklin's New York Times best-selling book!

Brisket & Beef Selection

If you can, go to a butcher who will know some lineage on the cow and when possible, it’s always better to go all-natural when choosing beef. You hear a lot about grass-fed vs corn-fed beef: Corn-fed is fine but always cook fresh over frozen, if you can.

Size matters in choosing a brisket: The thicker they are, the better they are and want your brisket a little floppy to start. This means it has a good meat to fat ratio. If you pick up a brisket and it’s hard as a rock with no give, it is likely to feel that way after it’s cooked too.

You get what you pay for but consider practice on cheaper meats for your first couple of tries.

Double R Ranch Co. 10-Pound Brisket, $199.95 at Williams Sonoma

When you're ready for the big league.

Brisket Smoking Tips

Trim the brisket so that there are rounded edges, no pieces sticking out that may dry too quickly. You want the meat to be aerodynamic so that the smoke can flow over it.

Before putting meat in the cooker, let it sit out for 30 to 45 minutes to warm to room temperature. If the meat is ice cold when put on the cooker, the edges will dry out and it will cook unevenly. During this time, the salt (from the rub) will also help pull out some of the moisture.

When placing the brisket into the cooker, face the fatty end toward the fire. This protects the leaner portion of the meat.

Weber Smokey Mountain Charcoal Smoker, $219.99 on Amazon

First things first, you'll need a quality smoker this Weber upright checks out.

And as if Franklin isn’t busy enough, he recently found time to sit down for with Texas Monthly‘s “National Podcast of Texas” for an interview with host Andy Langer. Franklin discusses his upcoming breakfast taco, the first 10 years of Franklin BBQ, the psychology of expectations, and much more. You can find the episode on Texas Monthly, or on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated with new information and links.

Jack's Wife Freda - New York City

Owned by immigrants and named for their grandparents, this relatively young New York restaurant has taken the city’s hipsters by storm. Jack’s Wife Freda plates up American breakfast classics with a sassy nod to its South African and Israeli roots. The orange blossom pancakes are a phenomenon sweeping the city, but it's the duck bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich that'll keep you coming back again and again. Once you’ve tried their lunch and dinner specials, you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself to eat elsewhere.

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Cracking One of Miami's Best Culinary Secrets

If you live in South Beach, chances are you've cracked one of Miami's secret culinary gems: the hard to crack crustaceans at Joe's Stone Crabs.

Out of towners are more than happy to battle the long lines that come with owner JoAnn Bass' legendary crab Mecca, (no reservations allowed,) but what anyone familiar with the joint will tell is you is this: "It's all about the Take Away."

Follow the lead of "South of Fifthers" in the know and breeze in to Joe's Take Away on a Wednesday, for example, and you'll find Miami's legal elite who have a soft spot for Kobe beef hot dogs. Legend has it that some of Miami's most prominent judges have tried to order them from the main restaurant and been denied.

In fact, many of the best items on the menu are strictly for takeout only. These include the Grilled Octopus Salad, Ahi Tuna Ceviche, Oyster Po Boy's, House Made Chicken Soup, Conch Chowder, Spicy Dill Shrimp Salad, Curry Chicken Salad, Stone Crab Mac and Cheese, Panini's, Grilled or Blackened Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Chicken Sandwiches and the best Turkey Chili in Miami.

But the coup de grace remains the crabs. "The crabs come in medium, select, large and jumbo," says Joe's General Manager Brian Johnson. "They all have the same flavor it's really about how much work you want to do. The really lazy go for the jumbos, because it's easier to rip the meat out of."

The staff says they've elevated take away to an art. "We can get you in and out of the building in less than 15 minutes," says Take Away Manager Ellen Smith. The back prep area, with its separate kitchens for restaurant and takeout, along with its packing area for orders from around the country and even the restaurant's own private laundry quarters, take up three quarters of a city block.

Joe's bustling take away business began when owner Bass noticed large crowds gathering at her kitchen manager's back office requesting crabs, pie and other items to go. That's when JoAnn decided to replace the employee bathrooms and turn it into a take away market. Ten years later, she expanded even more, adding seating for twenty.

It was far from enough. So JoAnn converted her garage to a hundred-seat take away market.

And as good as the crabs are, the people watching may be even better. Get there at 7.30am and you're likely to find over-tired parents with wide-awake offspring wolfing down hot buttermilk biscuits and sublime apple-wood smoked bacon, or munching on stone crab meat in an egg white omelet.

Other early birds include marathon trainers sprinting in for their caffeine fix in a mad dash to beat the 10.30am breakfast cutoff. Next come the snowbirds flocking in for fried oysters with tartar sauce and Joe's famous coleslaw made in the traditional Hungarian style. At around noon, the "just-waking-up après-ravers" wander in for a hangover hamburger and a side of well-done hash browns. Pull up a chair at the bar if you're interested in catching the steamiest details of the previous night's activities.

The family-like atmosphere at Joe's Take Away is no coincidence. Take Away Manager Ellen Smith's sister Amy has been the Take Away Executive Chef for 18 years. If you get on either of their good sides, you may be in for a treat, like a complimentary slice of their world famous key lime pie, prepared in the special key lime pie-only kitchen.

GM Brian Johnson has been on the job for 33 years, starting off as a waiter. He says he tastes the creamed spinach, hash browns and key lime pie more than half a dozen times a day, mainly for quality control, (so he says,) but also to protect clienteles' potential food allergies.
And even if you're just visiting Miami, try the ultimate in take away. Joe's Airplane pack, where you can carry out up to five orders of crabs specially wrapped in airplane mode, and enjoy one of the city's gastronomic jewels even if where you call home is far from the ocean's lapping shores.

Saffron Tagliatelle


400 g 00 flour
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon warm water with 2 teaspoons saffron threads and ½ teaspoon ground saffron powder
Rice flour, for dusting

Mound the flour in the center of a work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs. Using a fork, beat the eggs gently together. Slowly incorporate the flour starting with the inner sides of the well.

When the dough begins to come together, add the saffron mixture, and start kneading using the palms of your hands with a back and forth motion. Use the dough scraper to scrape any bits around the pasta dough to tidy your work surface, as dried-out dough will interfere with your pasta making. The dough is ready when it is elastic and the surface gently “comes back to you” when you press, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place the dough in the coolest part of your kitchen in a large bowl and cover with a lid, a cotton cloth, or a plate. Set aside for an hour. You can also prepare the dough the day before, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Just bring it back to room temperature before rolling.

When ready to roll out the dough, dust your work surface and rolling pin lightly with rice flour.

Cut a piece of dough (the equivalent of a handful), press with the palm of your hand onto the work surface, and roll out with the rolling pin, about ½ inch thick. Set the pasta machine at its thickest setting and roll the pasta dough through it. Switch the pasta machine’s setting to the next thinnest setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Continue switching the settings lower and lower, until you get a smooth and perfectly thin sheet of pasta. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Dust a baking sheet with rice flour. Place the pasta sheet on your floured work surface. You will now have one long, thin sheet of pasta, ready for cutting. Cut the sheet to your preferred length (16 to 20 inches / 40 to 50 cm is about right), then dust lightly with flour and pass through the pasta machine using the tagliatelle attachment. Place loosely gathered bundles of tagliatelle on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process for the remaining pasta dough. At this stage, the pasta can be covered and stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours under plastic wrap. You can also freeze individual portions for up to 2 to 3 months, making sure they are well wrapped up.


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