South Beach is one of the premier pre-/post-cruise destinations in the world. Known for its beautiful beaches and energetic nightlife, South Beach is surprisingly diverse when it comes to culinary offerings. On a recent media assignment for Carnival Cruise Line, we spent some time exploring South Beach and had the opportunity to sample some of South Beach's cuisine thanks to Miami Culinary Tours (www.miamiculinarytours.com).
Miami Culinary Tours offers a South Beach Food Tour twice each day (noon and 5pm). We booked a tour for 5pm on a Sunday. We arrived at Bolivar where we met Ashley, our tour guide for the day. Ashley informed us that a group of seven had just cancelled their tour, so what was supposed to be a group of nine is now a private tour for just Rickee and me.
While we were getting to know Ashley a bit, a waiter brought us our drinks: Refajo Colombiano, a combination of Aguila, a Colombian beer and Colombiana, a Colombian soda pop.
Colombiana is similar in taste to creme soda and, when mixed with beer, creates a mildly sweet, smooth drink that has the flavor of beer without the bitterness.
An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked or fried in many countries of Latin America and in Spain.
I am not much of a beer drinker, so I really liked the smoothness created when the Columbiana was added. In fact, I would definitely order this drink again. Before long, a plate arrived with an empanada and ceviche. The empanada was made up of a corn-based pastry, similar in texture to a corn tortilla, but formed into a pocket, stuffed with minced beef and onion and deep fried. A ramekin of very hot habanero salsa was served for dipping. Ashley cautioned us about the heat of the salsa, and she was not exaggerating. It was very spicy and I loved it!
The ceviche was a delicate white fish "cooked" by marinating it in a citrus mixture of lime and other flavors tossed with mango, red onion and cilantro. It was very fresh and very good.
After we finished our tasting at Bolivar, Ashley began the walking part of the tour. As we walked to Ocean Drive, Ashley began telling us about the history and culture of South Beach and pointing out the historical buildings and describing their architectural style. Our next stop was Larios on the Beach, an upscale Cuban restaurant owned by Gloria Estefan.
The interior of the restaurant has undergone a recent renovation and is beautiful.
At Larios on the Beach, we were served a bowl of Picadillo with a side of fried Malanga chips and Mojo sauce. Picadillo a traditional Spanish dish that is common in Latin American countries. At first glance, the Picadillo looks very similar to American chili, but a taste reveals a much milder, less spicy flavor profile. The picadillo is made with ground beef and Cuban sofrito (a mixture of onions, garlic and bell peppers). The melanga chips are a crispy, healthier alternative to corn or potato chips. By themselves, they don't have a lot of flavor, but that's where the mojo sauce comes into play. The mojo is a mixture of olive oil, garlic and vinegar and is very garlicky. Dip the melanga into the mojo, then scoop up some Picadillo and you have a delicious mouthful of Cuban flavors.
After our visit to Larios on the Beach, we began walking up Ocean Drive a few blocks to our next culinary stop, The Tides hotel.
Here we were treated to a Haitian-style empanada filled with chicken and spices. The Haitian empanada was much spicier than the Colombian-style we tried at Bolivar. This empanada was served with a mild chimichurri. Instead of a corn-based shell, this had a light, flour-based shell, almost the consistency of a puff-pastry. We found it to be very delicious.
From The Tides, the walk up Ocean Drive continues with periodic stops for Ashley to enlighten us on South Beach history and architecture. It was all very interesting.
Next, we alter course to Washington Street where we find Blocks Pizza, a local pizza joint dubbed "Home of the Mother Dough". The place is famous because the yeast used in their dough has been kept alive for 300 years!
At Blocks Pizza we were treated to the Sun Dried Hippie pocket sandwich. The veggie sandwich had sun dried tomatos, feta cheese, basil, spinach, pesto and kalamata olives. Everything at Block's is made fresh daily.
By the time we finished our sandwich, we were getting pretty full and ready for dessert. Fortunately, Milani Gelateria was our next stop on the tour, and just a few blocks away in the Española Way district located in a beautiful pedestrian-only area of South Beach.
Here we are treated to a sample of the delicious, made-fresh-daily, gelato. We get to choose from 12 flavors, all of which looked wonderful, but we had to go with our favorite, Creme Caramel.
Gelato has less fat than ice cream, but because of the way it is made, it is smoother and "creamier" than ice cream. It was delicious! This was our final stop on the tour which, in total, lasted about two hours. We were very impressed with Ashley and the overall experience. In our opinion, Miami Culinary Tours' South Beach Food Tour is one of the "must-do" activities when you visit South Beach. It is a good blend of eating and walking with an added bonus of history and culture.
Miami Culinary Tours also offers a Little Havana Food Tour (the next one we would like to try), Wynwood Food and Art Tour, and a Miami City Food Tour. For details, pricing and more information, visit their website at www.miamiculinarytours.com.