Lost Restaurants of Miami: Part IV

By Seth H. Bramson

The memories of not only the great years of grand and glorious dining — as well as of the wonderful places with all the happy memories connected to and with them — just keep roaring back, and with our discussions of the earlier years and some of the long gone-and-forgotten places (until the publication of our Lost Restaurants of Miami book), a new cognizance of “the past” seems to have arisen, as told by the numerous emails and, yes, even telephone calls (along with several pieces of mail) that we have received and are thanking you all for.

Our first three columns (read Part I, Part II, and Part III) went well back into Greater Miami’s past, but with this article (in which we don’t bring the story completely up to date), we now bring back memories of a number of operations which were known in the vernacular as “steak houses.” Truth be told, they for the most part served much more than just beef, with wide-ranging menus that included poultry, pork, various types of meats, and of course, seafood, along with such wonderful side dishes as Gallagher’s (on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami) “Tubby: The Great Big Baked Potato,” which most often weighed at or close to a full pound when served.

The “steak houses,” for lack of a better term, were originally centered in Miami or on Miami Beach, for what we think are obvious reasons — the population center and the main major tourist area — including Seven Seas in downtown Miami, the name of which, after the store moved, was carried by new owners on Red Road near Coral Gables. The Gables would see a number of fine operations either within city limits or close there to, including the Hasta, which when owned by Cye Mandel (Mr. Mandel, after selling it, opened Cye’s Rivergate on the Miami River, also long gone), was a favorite spot for then-President Richard Nixon when he was in Miami (his home having been on Key Biscayne) and his neighbor and friend on Key Biscayne, Miami banker Bebe Rebozo. Among the other Coral Gables establishments were Great Gables, Fox’s (though now reincarnated and not quite lost!), the Dixie Belle Inn, and of course, Paoletti’s (now run by third generation owners in Highlands, NC).

“Way out” at the time was Leonard’s La Peña, at 7699 Bird Road. When it opened in the very late 1950’s or early 1960’s, a good bit before the development had crept out “that far,” it developed a fine reputation for, yes, its steaks, but also its cutesied up names such as “Miss Filet” and “Mr. Sirloin,” ably assisted by “Mr. Spud.” Along with that, though, were “17 Charming Waitresses to Serve You Alone, no assigned tables, all at your beck and call.” It was for many years a rendezvous for the seekers of excellent food and service, being eclipsed only when “the town” grew, traffic worsened and many more places were simply closer to home.

Although technically night clubs, the Vagabonds and the Clover Club (owned by Jack Goldman) along with Les Violins were well-renowned for not only their glamorous entertainers but for their great food and service. They were simply three of many, although most of that type of supper club was on Miami Beach.

North Miami was no slouch in the great dining competition, and besides Gallagher’s there was Pierre’s and Larry Ellman’s The Cattleman, both just east of Broad Causeway on Northeast 123rd Street. Mark’s Place, owned by Mark Militello, was on the south side on Northeast 123rd Street just west of the entrance to the Broad Causeway, but, as no few other owners have done, Mark simply lost interest in continuing the operation and eventually closed it, falsely blaming said closure on “the neighborhood changing,” which, in truth and fact, it had not. Not to be outdone, Key Biscayne can’t be overlooked with the English Pub and Jamaica Inn being warmly remembered as two of the most enjoyable spots in all of Greater Miami at which to dine.

Coming in from Coral Gables, the original Pub (not related to the later Pubs at the Newport on Sunny Isles or the Pub in the then-new Roney condo on Miami Beach) carried a fine “rep” for excellent food and service. Indeed, as Greater Miami began to grow more and more operations began to blossom, but because of the enormous number of tourists visiting what The Jackie Gleason Show, once it moved from New York to Miami Beach, would term “The Fun and Sun Capital of the World,” more and more fine eateries found their “place in the sun” on “the Beach.”

There was almost no end to the great restaurants which would open on Miami Beach, not including the delis, which we will discuss next issue. (No, we can’t include Joe’s Stone Crab because it is one of fewer than half a dozen original venues, in the company of Captain’s Tavern on South Dixie Highway and Stephen’s Deli in Hialeah, which is still operating. Joe’s, of course, being one of the three oldest restaurants in Florida, the other two being the Columbia in Tampa and Bern’s Steak House, also in that city.)

For many years, North Bay Village was a real restaurant and club hot spot, with Nick and Arthur’s, Bonfire, Place for Steak, the Luau and more, while Normandy Isle on Miami Beach hosted Sherry-Normandy (later Michel’s-Normandy and then Eberhart’s, with its Austrian cuisine, hosted by the always smiling, always ebullient couple, Helen and George Eberhardt.

The names of those places of beloved memory roll off both the tongue and the typing fingers and include The Famous, Angie and Fred’s, Picciolo’s, Embers, Park Avenue, the Pub at the Roney, Le Parisien and Omar’s Tent on 41st Street and Jimmy’s Just a Hobby, just north of 41st Street on Meridian Avenue.

Although not a “steak place,” few who grew up in Miami from the 1950s on will forget Joe Hart’s Pickin’ Chicken, with three stores on Miami Beach and one in Miami Shores where the Publix now is at 90th Street and Biscayne Boulevard (he later owned the Castaways, and his daughter, Jeannie Wolf, went to Miami Beach High, as did his son). Gray’s Inn on Dade Boulevard was real and true favorite as were Chandler’s and Fan and Bills, which, if I remember correctly, were owned by the same person.

The Miami Beach night clubs were also known for great food, just a few of those included Mother Kelly’s, Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music, Copacabana (later Copa City), Kitty Davis’s Airliner Club (the interior built to look like the interior of an airplane!) and the Five O’Clock Club, later owned by Martha Raye.

Were there more? Indeed, there were, and, in fact, many, many more. We will, next issue, bring back the wonderful memories of the great delis, from Miami and Coral Gables (Henry and Lloyd Apple’s The Taystee Shop and Marshall Majors), to North Miami Beach, home of Seymour Paley’s Corky’s, to Miami Beach — where that particular type of the most interesting iteration of food and beverage presentation, taste and service, the “Jewish style delis” proliferated (those including Dagwood’s and Rascal House in Sunny Isles.) It was there — Sunny Isles — that well known restaurateur Jimmy DeNicola opened his always enjoyable Grist Mill and the famous “Arthur Wilde’s” is noted as the first not-in-a-motel restaurant on what is now Sunny Isles Beach. Until then, eat well, eat hardy, be well and stay safe.