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.


Sydney Server said...

Love this city.

Anonymous said...

Pinecrest is on of my favorites too. But, just on a side note, this County/City will never be at par with other major cities because it has no vision. I cannot think of anyone sitting in public office at either the County or City of Miami who has actually lived in a major, world class city to know how to get there! Smoke and mirrors doesn't work there and hasn't worked here either!

But, for us foodies, there is a lot more out there now and that's thanks to the people within our community, no thanks to the politicians!

Anonymous said...

No doubt, the myopic vision of county and city leaders leaves Miami and Miami-Dade in the third tier of US cities. Exhibit No. 1) the failure to incorporate the Miami River into a cultural, hospitable, pedestrian friendly center of the city. People have no where to go, in Miami. The best example of a congregation around food culture is the food truck convening, second Saturdays at Wynwood. What elected officials should have done is used sensible urban planning to provide that focus for economic activity. Instead what we have is haphazard. Where it works, like Wynwood, it happens IN SPITE of local government and elected officials. What passes for billion dollar attempts at convening people (and economic activity) like Arsht and museum row, is a disaster. But the commenter above is correct that the people in charge have narrow parochial views of the world. That is the real Miami. Oh btw, you missed the best / worst quote of the year, by dunderhead Bruce Greer of Fairchild garden, who gushed that Miami was becoming "like Florence". OMG. ROLF.

Anonymous said...

What about that "retail" around the Miami Marlins stadium? Tell us why any politician who voted for that disaster is still in office?

Anonymous said...

I have been getting a share of organic produce twice a month from "Endlessly Organic". Its about 25 pounds of produce for $50. There are other programs out there, some more locally grown, but, maybe not as organic. So far, its been great and has forced me to try produce that I don't always use. At $2 a pound, I think its a great deal, and I always have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from. I even get to order farm fresh eggs! Check out these various share programs!

Anonymous said...

Great comment. 2$ a pound for nutrition. Not bad!

Unknown said...

The local food situation has changed a great deal down here in just a few years. No, it's not what it should be, but I predict it will be in a just a few more years. Last year, I think was the turning point: it just got a whole lot easier to find good food. In contrast to Broward and Palm Beach, our farmers' markets are much smaller, but there are a whole lot of them.

Here's a list of local food sources: Famers' markets, CSAs, produce buying clubs, raw milk, pastured meats, etc.