WHEN IT CAME TO GREAT RESTAURANTS, WE WERE NEVER A BACKWATER TOWN!
By Seth H. Bramson
As we conclude our series on Greater Miami’s great restaurants of the past, we want to make certain that, for now well more than 100 years, our town has had great places to eat, dine, enjoy a meal or a snack or even, as my partner in the food and beverage business, the late, great Lloyd Apple would often say to me, “let’s take a break and have a coffah cuppee!”
The fine dining began with the dining rooms in the Royal Palm Hotel, Mr. Flagler’s elegant winter-season-only hostelry on the north bank of the Miami River. The establishment not only featured great food served in an elegant setting, but also china and silver equivalent to the finest and most luxurious of inns, including, when one was seated, a beautiful service plate with the hotel’s namesake tree on it as well as the name. That china, incidentally, was made in England by Maddux.
Eventually, other places opened, and by the mid-to-late 1940’s there were great eateries from Homestead to Opa-locka, which featured the first buffet in South Florida at the Old Scania — said buffet being a marvelous smorgasbord, recreated only many years later when Jorgen Muller’s Prince Hamlet opened on Biscayne Boulevard and 82nd or 83rd Street.
Miami and Miami Beach, though, were the epicenter of great dining venues featuring seafood, with steak houses and the like, including wonderful Italian food served at such as Red Diamond on LeJeune Road and Picciolo’s and Angie Fred’s on Miami Beach, as well as no few others.
With the influx of northeastern and midwestern cosmopolites, no few marvelous dining spots opened, including the original Seven Seas in downtown Miami, the Hickory House, Embers, Park Avenue and many more on “the Beach,” with, eventually, no few Jewish-style restaurants and cafeterias opening; those restaurants running the gamut from the Kosher-only food (such as Harfenist, Isaac Gellis and others) to such as the Famous at 671 Washington Avenue, where, when one was seated, a bottle of seltzer (REAL seltzer, not carbonated water!) and a container of chocolate syrup were waiting on each table, the guests able to make their own chocolate phosphates or just have some seltzer.
The delis were and are legendary, ranging from the two Wolfie’s, one on Collins Avenue at Lincoln Road, the other at 21st and Collins — that known as “Celebrity Corner”— to Pumpernik’s and Rascal House, all great with, at lunch and dinner, buckets of cole slaw or sauerkraut and Kosher dill pickles on the tables. Along with those was Arthur Horowitz’s Junior’s, with stores on Collins at 30th Street, in the 79th Street Shopping Center, in Coral Gables across from UM and in Sunny Isles. But the Jewish-style cafeterias were “something else” because unlike the Davis Bros., Polly Davis, M & M, Biscayne, or Morrison’s cafeterias, the Jewish-style cafeterias were open for breakfast with everything from lox and bagels, to eggs any style, to lox and eggs and corned beef hash.
Lunch and dinner were marvelous at the cafeterias and the Holiday, the Governor, the Ambassador, Hoffman’s and several others stand out.
North Bay Village (NBV) became a hot spot for great dining with the Luau and its Polynesian specialties, Nick and Arthur’s, Place for Steak, Bonfire, Tony’s Fish Market, and the Seven Seas, which was a large yacht docked on the very east end of NBV. Not to be forgotten in NBV were Colonel Jim’s and Fun Fair, famous for their hot dogs, pizza burgers and more.
Were there more? Absolutely, and the list is nearly endless, but two true stories are deserving of being told here.
Joe’s Stone Crab (not “Stone Crabs”) is, indeed, Greater Miami’s oldest eating house, but because it is still in operation it could not be included in our newest book, Lost Restaurants of Miami. The real and true story is that while Joe and Jenny Weiss came to Miami Beach and went to work at Smith’s Casino on South Beach, owned by Avery Smith and Jim Warr, in 1913, they did not open Joe’s Restaurant until 1918, when they left Smith’s, that story told in our Sunshine, Stone Crabs and Cheesecake: The Story of Miami Beach.
And, I think, one other happy story deserves being told before we conclude.
Miami Beach High had the reputation (at the time) of having nothing but stuck-up females as students. My dear friend, the great Ted Grossman from WLRN Radio and a graduate of North Miami High, used to say that “all the girls at Beach High were snotty and stuck-up.” I finally got through to him that not only was it not “all the girls,” but it was not even a majority; most of the young ladies really being very nice and pleasant people. Were there some “stuck-up” ones, though? As Curley of the Three Stooges would have said, “soitanly!” And, yes, some were.
When I got to Beach High in 10th grade, our 10th grade girls weren’t interested in us, as, just like — I am certain — every other high school in the country; they wanted to go out with the 11th and 12th graders and pretty much ignored us. One day one of my friends who had a car said to us (there was him and three more young men), “Hey! I heard about this great place in the Gables— why don’t we go over there and maybe we can meet some nice girls.”
We piled into his car and with Julia Tuttle Causeway still under construction we left the beach and went across either the 79th Street or the MacArthur Causeway, all the way down Biscayne, all the way south on U. S. 1 to Coral Way and out Coral Way to Miracle Mile, finally pulling into what I still consider the greatest ice cream and coffee shop to have ever existed in South Florida (yes, better than Jaxson’s in Dania Beach)!
We got out of the car, walked inside, and you could literally hear the murmur go through the crowd of girls: “Wow! Look at this! Fresh meat from the Beach,” and I met and dated (and took to places such as Great Gables, Hurricane Harbor, Jamaica Inn and many more in the Gables and Southwest sections) some terrific girls from Coral Gables and Miami high schools, and it was really a wonderful three years of high school.
Is there much, much more to tell (and write?) As noted above, “soitanly,” so, and in closing just a quick thought or two about Miami Shores and eating here, including Howard Johnson’s, the Biscayne Cafeteria, and, yes, even the three drug stores that had what we used to call “lunch counters.”
I really and truly hope that your memories of all the wonderful places you enjoyed are as fresh and vibrant as mine are, and, yes, to make the confession, I sure do wish many more of them had survived as nothing upsets me more than walking into a place with music blasting so loud that you can’t hear yourself think, must less talk, but also having the young kids behind the stand say to you, when you come in, “how you GUYS doin’?” and after many years in the hospitality business and many years of teaching it, those untrained kids need, at the very least, a good swift kick in the pants along with being taught that, in the restaurant and club business we do not have customers, we ONLY have guests.
That’s it for now, folks, so I leave you with warmest good wishes for a wonderful and happy holiday season, and, as we say in South Florida, “deck them halls with matzoh balls!”