Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Winter in Florida: Miami food culture makes a slow move up the ladder ... by gimleteye
In the last ten years, food culture in Miami has made a slow move to catch up with the rest of the nation's major cities. These days I really look forward to the weekend markets, especially at Pinecrest Gardens (former Parrot Jungle -- don't get me started) in South Miami on Red Road.
Go for the best smoothie in South Florida, made from sapote and mamey, by a young couple from South Dade. Their booth is mid-way in, on the north side of the market.
Stan's outdoor market on Saturdays in the Grove is still the war horse of the fresh market scene, but the variety of vendors and quality of produce at the Pinecrest market is terrific.
I have a theory why the food culture remains low, here. First of all, transportation and refrigeration costs are very high. Also, when produce is coming from any other part of the country, two or three additional days is taken off its lifetime compared to other cities, just for the transit and wear and tear getting to South Florida.
Some progress has been made, to be sure. Judging by the crowds at Whole Foods and Fresh Market, there is no shortage or inconsistency of demand. Still, the quality in Miami of fresh produce is poor compared to sister ships in big metropolitan centers I've visited.
Second, the industrial food producers in South Dade dominated, for many decades, what passed for good ingredients. Small, specialty growers were marginalized and even ridiculed by the powers-that-be; the farmers/developers and neanderthal bankers who ran and still run the show.
Third, fresh fish -- the defining feature of Florida -- has become cost prohibitive. This is due to pollution, over-fishing and the failure of regulations protecting the environment.
As a result of these three factors, food quality in most restaurants in South Florida is marginal. It is pretty simple. If you can't find excellent ingredients, you can't make excellent food.
These days, things change in the winter months.
A number of intrepid, local farmers now have outlets to consumers, thanks to the open air markets. While it is still cool -- and so long as there are no major freezes -- on weekend days you can almost feel like you are in coastal California. There is better news yet: the prices you pay in the winter months for local produce are lower, significantly, and much better quality than you get in the industrial markets.
So get out there and do your job, helping to lift up food culture in South Florida and don't miss the smoothies at the Pinecrest market on Sundays.