I moved to Los Angeles County almost two years ago from Miami, and I have found, while L.A. does feel like Miami’s big brother, there is no city quite like the magic city. That doesn’t mean one city is better than the other, but there are aspects of Miami culture that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else — and maybe they just don’t exist outside of the tip of America’s wang (Florida: for those people who can’t see the state is phallic). So, I decided to create a list of the Top Five Things I miss about Miami.
5. The Docks in Coconut Grove — Dinner Key
When I lived in Coconut Grove, I would take my bike — almost every day — and drive around the docks. I would pass Peacock Park, and I would listen to the homeless telling stories on the checker-board picnic tables. I would, sometimes, stop and play basketball — until one day I almost got my ass kicked by a bunch of guys who didn’t like the way I played. I would watch softball games filled with students from the University of Miami. But the best part was when I would driver my bike along the sidewalk that ran along the docks filled with yachts and shrimping boats. The shrimpers were always the most interesting people. They had crappy skiffs that seemed to perpetually have smoke coming out of their engines. I would love to write a story about those guys one day. Then there was an area near the docks where I used to go sit; it was on the opposite side of Scotty’s Landing — a bar with one of the best views of the ocean and Key Biscayne in Miami — and watch the waves, see the image of downtown in the background, and write, well, poems in my head.
4. Lincoln Road — South Beach
At one point, actually the first year we lived there, Heron and I lived in South Beach. We found a place that was a reasonable price for two graduate students, living on loans and stipends, and we moved into the back cottage of a house owned by a Cuban retiree. Well, it turned out we were getting ripped off, and the landlord turned out to be a jerk, but that’s another story — and it’s a good one, too. But we moved into this place so we could be near South Beach. We figured, well, we’re living in Miami, why not be the closest to all the action possible? I wasn’t really into clubbing or any of that, but we were so close to Lincoln Road, and we used to walk there a lot. We would stop at David’s for cafe con leches, and we would just wander around the stores. They had these great museums there, too. I used to go to the Britto museum all the time. It was amazing how polarizing Britto was as an art figure (this might be a cool post for later), but I’ll never forget bringing my good buddy into the museum, and he grabbed his crotch and told the store and Britto they can suck on his testes. That was funny. In reality, Lincoln Road is just a boulevard of shops in South Beach, but there are always interesting people — an artist who drives around with a rooster on his bike, a smaller Books and Books, a strange man in a dress dancing to a boom box, and if you’re lucky, you might see one of the funniest and most awkward mimes in the world. One of my best memories, however, is heading down to Lincoln Road on Sundays with Heron, and I would buy her fresh flowers.
3. Calle Ocho — El Rey De Las Fritas
Calle Ocho — eighth street — is one of the most historic streets in the city. It runs through Little Havana, and in the parks, you will find men playing dominos and smoking cigars. One day, I sat in the park and watched the old Cubans playing dominos, and I had no idea what the hell was going on. All up and down this street, you will find monuments, memorials, Cuban restaurants, music shops; but my favorite place on Calle Ocho — like all cool things in Miami it was introduced to me by my good friend, El Gonzo — was El Rey De Las Fritas. The king of the fritas. Anthony Bourdain ate at this restaurant on his show, No Reservations. It’s nothing extravagant — in fact, it’s greasy. But oh-so delicious. Now, you may ask what is a frita, and I will tell you the truth — pork mystery. But it’s delicious. They put these potato sticks on the top, and it is a wonderful “culinary” experience. But maybe the best part is that you can wash the fritas down with an amazing shake. They even have a shake made out of rice puffs — or something that tastes like that. If you’re in Miami, and you’re looking for something off the beaten path, then you better go here.
2. Coffee — Espresso –Cafecito — Cafe Con Leche — Cortido — Collata
I have tried for years to find a cup of coffee that can compare to the cups of Jose in Miami. But nothing compares. “Cuban coffee,” usually made with cafe bustelo, is made in various ways with espresso and sucre: cafe con leche, cortadito, collata, cafecito. My favorite was a cafe con leche. Basically, it’s an espresso with milk. But there is something about the way it is made in Miami that is completely unique. I used to love to walk up to a coffee shop — usually just a window — listen to the espresso machines gurgling and eat an empanada or these amazing cookies filled with dulce de leche. And I have tried to drink a cafe con leche in other places, but it’s never made right. It’s frustrating. But no one, at least in Los Angeles, seems to know how to create an authentic cafe con leche. (If there is, then tell me where.)
1. Books and Books — Coral Gables
In Los Angeles, there are countless book stores that are incredible. Book Soup and The Last Bookstore are my favorite. But in Miami, there was no question; Books and Books in the heart of Coral Gables was the best book store in the Magic City and one of the best spots to eat and hear an incredible reading. I can’t tell you how many great writers I’ve seen there, and when I was in the MFA Program at Florida International, Books and Books became a sort of meeting ground for the program outside of the university. Our teachers read there; our alum read there; and even, sometimes, the students read there, too. So many good memories. I used to order a cup of coffee, sit on the patio, and write stories. Plus, they had this turkey, apple, brie sandwich with mango chutney butter that was just out of this world. For the literary crew of Miami, Books and Books is a special place — a meeting ground, a repository and trade post of ideas, and, well, just a beautiful site of book displays. Go to Books and Books. I can’t wait to return.