Before Miami was even a concept, Coconut Grove was already a glorious, thriving settlement. It has always been a bit of a cultural antithesis in comparison with it’s glitzier, more opportunistic adoptive sister Miami, who would eventually annex Coconut Grove in 1925. Even though it wasn’t officially established until 1919, Coconut Grove was already the home of eccentric northerners and Brits with deep pockets, as well as the Bahamian 1880’s colony of laborers who would eventually bring the East Coast railway all the way down to our tropical shores. In fact, the area developed so quickly due to one of the most important railway stations at the time — located on modern day Douglas Road and US 1 — which was the trading hub for farmers to move their produce to northern markets as well as provided a shop stop to pick up tools and necessary equipment. These parallel communities would eventually provide the area with its natural picturesque ambiance.
Coconut Grove was also the home of the first hotel built in the mainland, The Peacock Inn. Its visitors differentiated from your usual tourist of the area because, unlike the partiers, these were people of artistic and literary backgrounds, creative types looking for a haven to work away from the distractions of the city life. Maritime-related enterprises added even more of a wanderer’s flair to the area attracted seafarers to the Grove. Some of the most iconic were found on Dinner Key, once a Coast Guard station and home to the International Pan American Airport, which served as a major hub for the region’s seaplanes in the thirties and forties.
With all the seafarers and bohemian energy, it isn’t surprising that it’s become one of the mainland’s most sought out dining and nightlife destination. However, the real gems are sprinkled throughout the area, entwined in the midst of uninspired and run-of-the-mill eateries, and college bars that have surprisingly stood the test of time. Our favorite spots are emblematic of what Coconut Grove is all about.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Of course, since this is Coconut Grove, we have to mention Vizcaya. It’s what would have happened if the Italian Renaissance had taken place in a tropical paradise, blending old world European charm with a local flair, including Cuban limestone and Floridian coral details. The gardens themselves were conceived by landscape artist Diego Suarez, a Colombian who trained in Florence, Italy, and he blended traditional styles with more exotic plants that would thrive in Florida’s climate. An epic throwback to classic architecture even back in 1914 when construction started, Vizcaya is one of those places you can visit again and again, finding something new and special every time you go.
The Last Carrot
A pioneer in the land of milk and honey way before the vegan, vegetarian, and juicing movements took to the limelight, was this little joint sandwiched next to a Kwick Stop in a strip mall off of Grand Avenue. The Carrot has been providing herbivores and omnivores with one of the healthiest lunch options in town since the mid 70’s. The menu is simple, boasting colorful salads and pita pockets stuffed to the brim with the freshest of shrubbery (and tuna, if you wish). They’re also one of the first original juice bars in town and were serving wheatgrass shots before the raw food movement and holistic health practitioners in the early 2000’s swore by their magical powers. You’ll want to ask for extra containers of their homemade dressing to take some home and stock up your fridge with the delicious, creamy creation. And if you haven’t tried their spinach pies yet, remember to do so next time you’re headed to Coco Walk.
We guided you in the right direction when we mentioned the whiskey collection at Taurus. If you are looking for a proper bar in The Grove, look no further; Taurus will provide you with all your libation needs and then some. It is the quintessential neighborhood watering hole, with industry, karaoke, trivia nights, and even a stand up comedy night. But if you really want to belong, join their 50 beers club — sample 50 of their finest brews and get immortalized upon the walls of Taurus.
With LoKal, owner Matt Kuscher has proven to the growing Miami food scene that nothing beats simple, well done grub paired with a good brew. As a matter of fact, the reason why his burger is considered one of the best in city because you can taste the difference from the local hormone-free, grass-fed cattle meat used in his patties. Besides being one of the pioneers of craft-beer centric gastropubs — with a constant rotating menu on both their draft and bottle selections — the dedicated use of locally sourced ingredients and constant eco-friendly practices garnered this local favorite The Nature Conservancy’s 2013 People’s Choice Nature’s Plate Awards for most green restaurant. Truly a guilt free experience, through and through.
Of the new establishments that have recently graced the area, one of our absolute favorites is La Gamba, a cozy Spanish restaurant serving everything from tapas to the more traditional robust fare. It offers indoor and outdoor sidewalk seating in a casual but quaint environment.
You wouldn’t know it considering its unassuming demeanor, but Chef Agusti Comabella hails from Barcelona and has worked and studied alongside some of the greats, including Ferran Adria and Jose Andres. The croqueta game is on point here, with so many versions of the stuffed, fluffy, crunchy delights, including cod with a squid ink dipping sauce and oxtail with a homemade marinara.
Let’s face it, the seafood slanted fare might not be anything to write home about and their constant state of almost shutting down makes some of us a bit weary, but if you are looking for a true authentic Coconut Grove gem, there’s no place in the area that represents Coconut Groves many cultures like Scotty’s Landing. Boaters, hippies, musicians, wanderers, artists, conch-lovers, awkward dates,you are bound to see it all while you sip on cheap beer, and watch the boats go by with the sunset backdrop.
West Grove has its off-the-beaten-path gems as well. If you ever get cravings for some good ole’ soul food, order your fixins from Corey’s Kitchen. The menu is packed with favorites beyond BBQ, including conch cooked however you prefer, pigeon peas, and candied yams. Their nightly dinner specials run for about $10 and come with three sides of your choosing. On Thursday and Friday nights, their oxtail is one of the best deals in the area.
Quite a bit more humble than Vizcaya, The Barnacle Historic State Park actually has a much longer history. It’s the oldest house in Miami, surrounded by 5 acres of tropical hardwood hammock that take you back to a bygone era of Florida’s past. The Barnacle isn’t a mansion. It’s a simple house, more akin to the homes average families lived in, and there’s something special about that. Ralph Munroe, sailor and a salvager of wrecked ships, bought the 40 acres where he would build the Barnacle for just $400 in 1886. Back then, the area was home to many who made their living salvaging cargo from wrecked ships using steam winches and pumps, and the Barnacle is full of treasures from Munroe and his fellow professional wreckers.
If you are looking to brunch in the area, both Green Street Cafe and Peacock Cafe have enjoyable outdoor seating space for mimosa day-drinking and people watching afternoons. Event planning company Lasso the Moon has been hosting the weekend oyster, bubbly and rose themed pop-up, The Typsy Mermaid. And we anxiously look forward the renovations happening in Coco Walk, as well as the second outpost of Michael Schwartz’s Harry’s Pizzeria and Georgio Rapicavoli’s Glass House in Peacock Park.
There’s still so much of Coconut Grove to explore. What are your favorites?