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I have two favorite streets in South Beach. One is a short, lesser-known block on the bay, called Monad. When I’m on it at dusk, I feel as if I’m not in Miami at all, but on a small, sleepy island in the Caribbean or the Keys. It’s also very romantic at 6am or in the rain.

The other street runs through the middle of the city and is known by most for its shadow-cast beauty: Meridian. I always love the sight of a palm tree, but if there’s anywhere that could have palm tree overkill, I’d say it’s Miami. Well, Meridian is lined with trees that you’d find in the woods, and they spill over the quiet lane, providing solace from the brutal sun. And on Meridian, is my favorite watering hole: Abraxas.

If there is ever a nonlocal in Abraxas that just happened upon the place, I would regard them highly.

Because for that to happen, this is what I imagine happens:

An intellectual loner, an in-love couple, or some jovial friends are taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, with no urgent destination. As they get closer to Abraxas, they hear soft music, probably something Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, or the like. So they notice what looks like a sophisticated house party going on, but register by the discreet neon lit ‘Abraxas’ sign that it’s actually a venue, and are compelled enough to investigate further.

And the inside is as laid back as that.

The place reminds me of a specific house of some family friends in Pennsylvania; it’s spacious, a lot of wood, candles everywhere, and you can practically feel the history and warmth as soon as you walk in.

Chalkboards list wine and beer, and the bartender will all but offer to be your best friend (if they like you, of course).
Living room style couches beg you to settle in.
In the near-dark, great conversation is simply bound to happen by default.

In a tourist trap, a BF is much harder to come by; therefore, it is that much more of a coveted gem (especially by locals).

South Beach is a town that thrives on going to dinner.

But while ‘going to dinner’ in most towns means to grab your closest friends, decide what you’re all craving, go to a place that is agreed upon to be amazing in serving that cuisine, and chow the F down, in South Beach it means something else entirely. Regardless of the day of the week, for most locals it means: dress for the club you’ll be going to afterward, look on facebook or text your promoter friend to see what venue is throwing a one year burlesque show with complimentary apps, or free drinks for models, or whatever, as long as something is free because it’ll be way too expensive for you to afford other than a special occasion… and cab it over.

Ashamedly speaking from former personal experience– scratch that, not ashamedly because those experiences are probably what has driven me to love BF’s as I do– is a euphoric experience.

At La Sandwicherie, there is no $30 valet, but an alley from you to park freely. There is no hostess, but a mad dash to get a vacant stool. There are no insultingly small appetizers, but portions that could make for two meals if it weren’t too good to think about stopping.

Most importantly: there is no pretentiousness, but relaxed people who want good food, while not having to worry what they look like while eating it.

P.S. The camembert (add egg) sandwich is a more exciting party in my mouth than any party I’ve attended in that town.

In the fabulous city of Atlanta, GA, there are so many BF’s that I can’t wait to get my hands on.  Luckily for me, a BF rep lives there and shows me around.  Bonus!

My mantra is that I go to the same place twice as rarely as possible.  Reason being, of course: if I’m somewhere I’ve been, I can’t be somewhere I’ve never been.  And for someone who wants to literally open every door in the world… Well, I’ve got to plan accordingly.

But there’s an easy loophole to go somewhere twice. If I can find something about a place that I want to try each item of, say: a slice of pizza, a soup, a cocktail… Well there you go.

I want to try every fruit cup at Lotta Frutta.

In the same way that I dislike complacency, I adore some things that stay the same.  Each time we entered the place, the guy behind the counter (that we’d never before met) greeted us: “Hello, friends.”

The corner joint is on the same street as the house that Martin Luther King Jr. was born in.  It has an angel praising Obama hanging up.  It also has a lemon on the floor in the corner with a sign that says ‘Energy Lemon.’

The first time we visited,  it was Valentine’s Day (or close to it).  Along with our little cup of fresh corn nuts, we got candy hearts… with the logos written in espanol.  Que rico.

The Yuca soup and sandwich made my eyes pop out like that little kid eating a fruit pop in the pic-video.

SO:

Fruit Cup #1: banana, grapes, watermelon, strawberry, papaya and cantaloupe served with fresh homemade cream fuera de serie.

Fruit Cup #2: cantaloupe, coconut, cucumber, pineapple, watermelon mango and papaya topped with fresh lime juice and spicy chile guajillo

The first was an aamaaezzing blend of all things delicious.  If I just got out of a 7 year stint in jail, that’s the first thing I would want.  The second was outrageous with that chile guajillo dusted over fresh fruit.

After we already ordered during the second trip, a BF rep pointed out they have horchata pops.

And that will be the excuse for visit numero tres…

Keep walking a number of blocks past the flashy lights of the design district on NE 2nd, and you’ll hit a stretch of  sidewalk shops and cafes.  As I walk past each open door, I make a point to keep my head straight, determined to get my destination; otherwise, I feel compelled to give my business to each one: Buena Vista Bistro, Mandolin, Blue Door Piano. Not that there’s any employee guilting me in with a smile or anything; in fact, most often the waiters are flitting about to each table, concerned only with pleasing their customers.  My body simply feels a magnetized pull to walk inside a place that good smells, sounds, and vibes are spilling out of…

The other day, I finally made it to Lemoni Cafe.

You’ll have to decide whether to sit in or out.  Ever-indecisive me, I sat outside until I got my smoothie, then moved inside to eat.  So I’ll break it down for ya.

Outside, next to the Boho shop:

  • You get to watch the delivery guy “speed” to and fro on his scooter.  He faltered once while parking, hitting a pot, which would have knocked down the table with girls dining, which would have been tragic… for me.  (I laugh uncontrollably when people fall, and would have looked evil.)
  • If you’re rockin it solo because your lovebird couldn’t join, maybe because he or she had to work, had an allergy attack, or you know, simply lives hundreds and hundreds of miles away… You can watch real lovebirds do their adorable spring thing they do.
  • You can sit by the window and people watch the diners across the sidewalk through the reflection… If you think that’s creepy, imagine how I felt, sitting alone (mmhmm, I was the aforementioned loner), taking pictures of couples dining.
  • Miami’s local Plum TV was filming a few hipster kids chatting and sipping wine at Blue Door Piano.  In other words… celebrity sightings!
  • It’s gorgeous.

Or… Indoors:

  • You can peruse the Argentine wine selection.
  • You’re closer to the cookies.
  • You get to watch the wicked cool waitresses run around, grabbing plates from the smallest, cutest pick up window ever.
  • Motorcycle helmets in high chairs.
  • You’re closer to the crazy-collaged bathroom.
  • It’s gorgeous.

Wherever you decide, or if it was as busy as when I was there, wherever you get- you’ll have a lot of Mediterranean inspired dishes to choose from.  I started with a smoothie that included: soymilk, honey, bananas, and… fresh spinach!  It was actually mad refreshing, and I couldn’t taste the spinach at all, despite the Popeye’s-heroin green color.  I had the soy burger wrap with hummus, greens, carrot, tomatoes, and house vinaigrette (sans the onions & alfalfa).  The wrap didn’t impress me, but the 3 bean side salad certainly made it a 5 star plate.  It made me want to ask for the recipe which for a non-cook means it was DELISH.

Even though it was a lunchtime on Monday, I got the feeling no one was there on a lunch break: everyone was taking their time, laughing, and relaxing, EXCEPT for this one guy.  He came in loudly talking on a bluetooth, kept his shades on, and asked a woman behind the counter what the soup of the day was.  She simply tapped her pen on the specials board, which displayed it plain as day.  Then I think they got into an argument about how to make a cappuccino. 

 The morning after a South Carolinian cousin’s raver of a wedding reception, where guests were greeted with mason jars of blueberry vodka and given glow stick bracelets, it was time to go back to Atlanta.   

We kissed family goodbye after brunch and hopped in the car with stomachs full, and our lil’ hearts full of ambition that on a back country road, today would be the day we’d find a classic, gritty BF.

Oh, how our optimism would soon wane…

At the first stop, I could see some BF-worthy Betty Boop decoration action going on inside.  I yanked on the door, but it was locked. 

Dejected, we realized it was Sunday and we were in the Bible Belt.  So, on we drove.

That was the first of many times we’d distinguish a ramshackle restaurant with a weathered sign bearing its name and cuisine from a tired church advertising its name and faith.  One of us would point up ahead and we’d lean forward in our seats, only to pass an unlit, closed joint.  It was amusing the first few times, but as miles accumulated on the one-lane road, the conversation narrowed, ranging from: 

Disbelief: “Seriously, there’s really just no open restaurant in a 300 mile radius?”

Empathy: “Aw, if these poor kids want to go on a date, their only option is Hardee’s or Chinese…”

Frustration: “These people are f-ing backwards!!” 

And we became stir crazy ourselves.

Passing through the town of Elko, we saw Ashley’s Steak and Ale, an unassuming curbside venue with an old lit up sign and a few cars outside.  We threw the car in park and ran in, laughing, cheering giddily and without pause… ergo missing a crucial sign on the door.     

Immediately upon walking into the sports bar type room, we got curious looks from the few men at the bar. 

“Hey, how’s it going.  Ya’ll serving food?” a BF liaison asked. 

“Yup, we sure do,” the bartender said, with a hardcore drawl.

“…if you’re a member.”

He continued: “This here is a member-only joint.  The real restaurants, like Applebee’s, Outback, and Olive Garden, are the next town up.”

We gave an appropiate gesture and with stomachs growling, flung gravel as we sped away.

We did finally get food in our bellies, and the hilarious irony of our situation was evident.  Our mission is to find places with no ropes, no rules, and no exclusion. 

But on a dirt road in the South, us city folk weren’t welcome.