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Miami’s SoFi neighborhood grows but keeps its charm

By Necee Regis | Originally appeared in The Boston Globe



MIAMI BEACH — In the mid-1990s, when I first began wintering here, there wasn’t much to discover in the neighborhood referred to by locals as South of Fifth, a.k.a. SoFi, a narrowing triangle of streets from Fifth to the end of the island at 17-acre South Pointe Park. There was one high-rise condo building at the southernmost point (now dwarfed by half a dozen towers), Art Deco hotels in varying states of disrepair, one beach bar, bodegas, Joe’s Stone Crab, and two-story apartment buildings that might best be described as neglected. It was a big deal when Big Pink, serving diner-like food in a retro-pink building, opened for biz. (Happily, it’s still open.)

Fast forward to 2016, and this booming area is fast becoming a destination for new restaurants, galleries, bars, and hot hangouts. New height restrictions have quashed mega-tower development, so the area — so far — retains its old-beach neighborhood vibe.

“Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t walk here at night,” said Francesco Cavalletti, restaurateur who opened the stylish Italian trattoria La Locanda in 2003. “We knew that Washington Avenue was scheduled for a facelift. Now there are crowds walking by and there are choices for everything. The neighborhood has grown so much. It’s residential and not trendy.”

Indeed, on the first block south of Fifth along Washington you can enjoy house-made pasta dishes, wood-fired pizza, and veal scallopine (La Locanda); grilled octopus, Halloumi cheese, and lamb souvlaki (Meze Aegean Bistro); gourmet schnitzel sandwiches, salads, and crepes (Europa Delicatessen & Gourmet Market); and lobster rolls, chowder, and oysters (Izzy’s Fish and Oyster).

“For years, South of Fifth was only known for Joe’s Stone Crab. Slowly but surely more restaurants moved in and became local favorites,” said Jamie DeRosa, chef-owner of the newest-kid-on-the-block, Izzy’s Fish and Oyster.

On a recent Wednesday night, this small seafood house — with its hip maritime decor — was packed with diners enjoying fried clam bellies, New England crab cakes, Parker House rolls, and a decadent lobster poutine.

“SoFi is a melting pot of tourists and locals. It’s less hotel-driven. More personal and intimate,” said DeRosa.

Around the corner, DIRT recently debuted, elevating fast food dining to a cleaner, greener level by serving seasonal, local, and organic products in salads, smoothies, sandwiches, and more for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Necee Regis for The Boston Globe

The Jewish Museum of South Florida designed by Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser.

Heading south, five and six story structures are sprouting up, housing contemporary condos on the upper levels, and Pilates studios, realty offices, skincare clinics, juice bars, wine bars, and art galleries in street-front digs. On tree-shaded residential side streets, spiffed up Art Deco apartment buildings are reminders of a quieter era. It’s here you’ll also find the Jewish Museum of South Florida, a 1936 structure designed by Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser — featuring 77 stained glass windows and Moorish copper dome — that for 50 years served as a synagogue for Miami Beach’s first Jewish congregation.

Gail Williams and her partner Dawn McCall first visited SoFi about 17 years ago. “We fell in love with the area and saw its promise. It was more neighborhood-y than the rest of South Beach,” said Williams. In 2012, the couple opened the Williams-McCall Gallery in a chic modern space where they exhibit contemporary paintings, works on paper, fine art photography, encaustic collage, and sculpture by a roster of local and international artists.

“When I think of this area, I think of the interior — along Meridian and Jefferson avenues. That’s still like old South Beach,” said Williams, adding, “There’s been a lot of recent development. High-rise luxury towers. We’ve witnessed transformation, but it’s a good one. It’s still a culturally diverse neighborhood.”

Accommodations have also improved since I first arrived 20 years ago. Art Deco hotels have gone boutique (Hotel St. Augustine, The Savoy Hotel, The Century Hotel) though some are renovated more than others. For those who want a kitchenette, the Mercury Hotel has reinvented itself as an all-suite condo hotel. Oceanside, fans of international brands can stay at the Marriott Stanton South Beach and the Hilton Bentley Miami. Travelers with limited budgets — and a sense of adventure — book at SoBe Hostel and Bar, conveniently located next to the take-out window of My Ceviche.

With new construction on what seems like every block, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long this neighborhood avoids the glam-theatrics and trend-seeking tourists who clog the heart of South Beach. Upscale white-tablecloth dining spots run by corporate-owned restaurant groups have already crept southward. On one block of First Street you’ll find high-concept Greek restaurant Milos Miami, up-market Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse, Southesast Asian-hybrid concept Red Ginger, sleek white-on-white clone of NYC’s upscale Italian Il Mulino, and soon-to-open French-inspired café and market, Bake House Brasserie.

As SoFi continues to grow, hopefully it keeps its neighborhood charm. Stay tuned.

Miami New Times: Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015 at Mana Wynwood

Written by Karli Evans | Originally appeared in Miami New Times

Seed returned November 18 through 22 for a second year of highlighting the area's best in vegan dining. On Saturday, November 21, more than 80 restaurants and lifestyle brands descended upon Mana Wynwood to showcase the best in plant-based and cruelty-free living. Check out the healthy smiles from this year's Tasting Village.

Photography by Karli Evans

Ft Lauderdale Daily: Seed Food & Wine Festival Returns To South Florida This Month To Show That Plant-Based Eating Can Be Delicious

Written by Lyssa Goldberg | Originally appeared in Gold Coast's Ft. Lauderdale Daily

Vegans, vegetarians and open-minded eaters, there's a plant-based food and wine festival coming to South Florida, and it begins next week.

Seed Food and Wine Festival will take place in Miami Beach and Miami's Wynwood Arts District from Nov. 18 to Nov. 22. Launched last year, the event is designed to "showcase the delicious side of plant-based living, helping to fuel mainstream acceptance of sustainability and prompting a major change going forward."

The 2015 edition of the festival will feature local culinary talent, leaders in the vegan community and health food celebrities, such as former NBA star and vegan wine owner John Salley and wellness advocate Rich Roll.

“Some of the biggest names in the plant-based world will be joining us and helping to make history…," SEED co-founder Alison Burgos said in a release.

During the five-day festival, Miami Beach and Wynwood will play host to a yoga brunch, a Movies & Munchies film screening amid botanical gardens, a 5K run through mural-painted streets and more. In addition, South Florida blogger Burger Beast will guest judge the first-ever Plant Based Burger Battle to crown America's Best Veggie Burger.

Participating chefs from top Miami restaurants include Jonathan Seningen of DIRT, Brad Kilgore of Alter, Jamie DeRosa of Tongue & Cheek, Chef Taco of Jugofresh, Todd Erickson of Haven and Amber Antonelli of The Naked Bite.

The main attraction is the Seed Festival Day and Tasting Village in Wynwood (for which we have a pair of tickets up for grabs!), where guests can sample plant-based eats from over 80 restaurants and bakeries, as well as vegan juices, wines and spirits. Attendees will also enjoy chef demonstrations, a beer garden, fitness zone, yoga lounge, crafts, edible gardening demos and a cruelty-free beauty bar.


Schedule of Events:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.: Movies & Munchies Screening of "May I Be Frank" ($25 early, $30 regular, $40 door)
  • Thursday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.: First Annual Plant Based Burger Battle at the Eden Roc Hotel ($50 early bird, $55 regular, $60 door)
  • Friday, Nov. 20, noon to 5 p.m.: Food Forward Industry Conference in Miami Beach ($50 regular)
  • Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Future of Food Dining Experience at the Raleigh Hotel Miami Beach ($125 early bird, $130 regular)
  • Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: An Evening with Chef Chad Sarno in Miami Beach ($125 early bird, $130 regular)
  • Saturday, Nov. 21, 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Seed Wynwood 5K Run, Yoga, Meditation and Festival Day Package ($60 early bird, $65 regular)
  • Saturday, Nov. 21, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Seed Festival Day and Tasting Village at MANA Wynwood ($45 early bird, $50 regular, $55 door)
  • Saturday, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.: Made In Miami Farm to Table Dinner, Tongue & Cheek ($135 early bird, $140 regular)
  • Sunday, Nov. 22, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Mantra Yoga + Brunch with Dawn B at Thompson Miami Beach Hotel ($50 early bird, $55 regular, $60 door)
  • Sunday, Nov. 22, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Sprouts Kids Day at Miami Beach Botanical Gardens ($15 early bird, $20 regular, $25 door)

Want to make a weekend of it? 

Miami Beach boutique hotel Circa 39, which completed a multi-million dollar renovation last year, offers a Would You Wynwood package for destination vacationers looking to explore the culture of Miami's arts district.

Along with 10 percent off best available rates, guests who reserve a two-night stay at Circa 39 can enjoy a daily breakfast buffet at the hotel's Jules Kitchen, a complimentary craft cocktail at WunderBar, bike rental for the day in Wynwood, and a tour and tasting at Wynwood Brewery (promo code: PKGWYNWOOD).

For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets, visit seedfoodandwine.com. To enter our ticket giveaway to Seed Food and Wine's Tasting Village, click here.

Diego Romero

'Homer Clobbered by Chongo' (2009) by New Mexico-based Cochiti Pueblo ceramic artist Diego Romero (b.1964). Ceramic, paint, found objects.

Coconut Grove Arts Festival

Coconut Grove Arts Festival

From its humble beginnings in the early 1960s when Coconut Grove was still a small, tight-knit Bohemian community, the 52nd Annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival has grown to become one of South Florida's most successful and anticipated arts event of the season. President's Day Weekend just isn't complete without a trek through the winding streets of the Grove.