We were leaving Cutler Bay for an extra day of family vacation in Hollywood, where we had rented a room at the Westin Diplomat, right on the beach.
I set the GPS for my driver, and as we were heading north on the US1, I suggested to her that perhaps we should ignore the GPS direction and keep driving north on the Federal Highway, actually avoiding the I-95 to drive the scenic route, through downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, all the way up to Hollywood. During this vacation, we drove the entire US 1 from Mile 0 to Mile 178. Only 2199 more miles and we were in Canada.
We figured it would take longer, giving just enough time for the Waffle Jr. to have a good nap, while not driving in heavy traffic, it being Sunday. It was a good plan and an enjoyable drive. But soon enough, we were hungry. But we had to wait for the backseat passenger to wake up. When she did, we had reached North Miami Beach and we pulled into the parking lot of the first joint we saw: Gourmet Diner.
A classic, stainless steel diner, long and narrow wagon, decorated 50s retro, with an eclectic comfort food menu mixing Country-Style French cuisine and American Diner Traditional Fare.
Daily specials are on a whiteboard, which the waitress will put on a chair next to your table, giving you extra options. Although many of them were the same as their regular or their special 29th anniversary menus. Sides options would differ, you’d get a coffee or tea included, but price would be the same. And despite it being past noon, the breakfast menu was also available.
The place, which opened in 1983, was not really busy, so our server had to come back three times (to her annoyance, despite the very polite front) before we were ready to order. So many options! Hot Dog, Cheeseburger, Brisket? Celery Root Salad, Trout Meunière, Frog Legs? Penne Veal Bolognese, Churrasco Chimichurri, Chicken Kabob? ”Just Bon Cuisine”`, the menu stated, giving us a hint that perhaps the French picks were the way go. If you didn’t care about grammar.
Still, tough choices to make, except for the Waffle Jr. who got a Grilled Cheese with fries ($4.95), one of her favorites.
Mel ordered the Chicken Piccata ($14.95, veal also offered), thin slices sautéed with capers in a lemon butter sauce, from the Anniversary menu, which meant she could get a soup or a salad. The soup of the day being Black Bean Soup, Mel elected to go with the Caesar Salad.
For my part, I hesitated a lot but ended up ordering the Lamb Shank ($16.95), braised in red wine with onions, carrots and tomatoes. I could pick two sides from Vegetable Soufflé, Mashed Potatoes, French Fries, Baked Sweet Potato, Basmati Rice, Sweet Potato Fires, Steamed or Grilled Broccoli or Asparagus, or Apple Sauce.
Grilled Asparagus sounded like a really good idea, so I chose that. For the second one, I first picked the Baked Potato but changed my mind when I realized that it was a Sweet Potato. Might as well get the Sweet Potato fries, I said. But then I revised my pick again and went with the only logical side dish for the shank: Mashed Potatoes, of course.
The menu includes a warning that all the food is prepared to order, so patience would be required. But fresh warm bread in a basket was brought to our table soon enough, so no need to get impatient. And we were in no rush.
Soon after the bread, the Caesar salad arrived. Fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce. The dressing was home made, with lots of garlic and fresh parmesan and included anchovies, an ingredient too often left aside. The croutons were ordinary, but they were crispy.
The kid’s grilled cheese was nothing special. We’d picked whole wheat bread, which was grilled with *plenty* of butter. The cheese was thick american cheese, it was melted but not gooey.
The fries on the side were a bit disappointing. They reminded us of McDonald’s fries. As salty but not as crisp. These guys are not handcut, and I wouldn’t recommend them – they have better sides then that, for sure.
The Chicken Piccata looked fantastic. The tenderized chicken was dredged slightly in flour to give it an appealing golden colour. It was nicely pan fried, nicely seasoned, loads of flavours, juicy and tender. And if they were thin breast cutlets, they were still two huge slices.
The chicken was covered in a rich sauce, taking advantage of the pan drippings not doubt. It tasted fresh, was quite lemony but well balanced acid wise, despite the capers. Sometimes, capers are not sauteed long enough and are too punchy. Not here. It was well done and nicely finished with butter, which was giving it a nice smoothness without a greasy feel. Nice dish.
My plate looked as good if not better, though I must mention that I was disappointed to see only two pieces of asparagus. They were good, nice grill marks and fresh enough, but I don’t care how good they were: you simply cannot pretend that this was a side dish. Merely a garnish.
That said, the meat was fantastic. Braised slowly, very, very tender under a nice bark, nice portion too. There was tons of sauce, loads of tomato flavours and classic mire-poix. There was a greasy feel to it on the edges, making it more of a home-style sauce than gourmet-style. It wasn’t enough to really undermine the dish, though. In fact, I used a couple of pieces of bread to enjoy more of it.
The Mashed Potatoes were also very good, creamy, light, plenty of garlic without being overpowering. It worked much better with the rich tomato sauce than the lemon butter sauce, I must say, but nevertheless, very good.
Prices are on the expensive side for a lunch in a diner, I must say, as our food, 3 beers and a glass of their House Cabernet ended up costing us $57.70 (before tax and tip). But the quality was there – it is a Gourmet Diner after all.
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