24 Hours in Miami

‘Why are you going to Miami? It’s like Vegas, but with a beach’.

Ah, the beach. Key words, right there.

Miami is not for everyone. If you love a spangled dress that barely covers your vitals, deafening dub step and cocktails as big as a fireman’s helmet, there’s plenty for you here. Just not in the 800 words or so you’ll find below.

If on the other hand you have a thing for art deco fixtures, like a long promenade to go jogging along before breakfast, have a hankering for clear water, gentle waves, great hotels and good food you can easily amble to for lunch and dinner, then South Beach has all the makings of a great minibreak.

Here’s how to spend a spectacular 24 hours in Miami, sorted.

12.30 pm – Lunch at Yardbird

Leave your bags at your hotel. You might not be able to check in yet. That’s ok. Don’t waste your time hanging about waiting for an electronic key, there’s good eating to be done.

You want to find your way to Yardbird. About seven blocks back from the beach, it’s the Southern restaurant you conjured somewhere in your head, but weren’t sure you’d ever find (particularly since you tried to squeeze in a stop over in Georgia on the trip, but gosh darn, couldn’t quite make it fly). They describe themselves as ‘A house of worship to farm-fresh ingredients, classic Southern cooking, culture and hospitality’, and this swish friendly space does exactly what it says on the box.

The restaurant itself is open and breezy, with plenty of tables outside on the porch if the sun isn’t scorching too much. Jeff McInnis is the chef responsible for what’s on the plate (Top Chef watchers might recognise him from Season 5). If you can believe it, he grew up in a town called Niceville.

This is a place for beer and bourbon, sweet tea and biscuits.

Oh, the biscuits. The chicken and biscuits ($12 for 2) are a version of the classic that would make most others want to hang their head in shame. The biscuit flakes, rather than crumbles, the top is glossed with honey and the tang of buttermilk is clear as a bell. The chicken is darkly sweet, lightly crisped and breaded. There’s pepper jelly and pickles, including a girlishly pink tangle of piquant onions. This is the kind of food that makes you chase after crumbs on a plate with your index finger- and apologise only briefly for the loss of table manners.

There’s so much else to like, from the solid servings of mango and pecan salad (topped with Florida shrimp, line caught fish or roasted White Oaks Pasture chicken if you fancy), to the fried green tomato ‘BLT’ s($12 for 3).

It’s a BLT, but not as you know it. At the base is a puck of green tomato, sliced thick, breaded and fried. Then comes house made pimento cheese, a slab of pork belly, tomato jam and  a whimsical cap of frisee.

It’s everything you love about a BLT, without the boring bulk of bread. There’s smoke from the cheese and the sweet tomato jam just highlights the acid living inside the crusted green slices. If there weren’t so many other grand things on the menu (read barbecued pulled pork sandwich, with juices that properly run down your wrist, moon pies for dessert and mac and cheese as a ‘fixin’) we’d be tempted to order another set.

Make a booking for lunch (it heaves at night). Come once, at least. Eat big. Leave happy. Sometimes, life is that simple.

1600 Lenox Avenue  Miami Beach, FL 33139, United States

16:00 Check into The James, Royal Palm and have a swim

My brief for a hotel in Miami is simple. On the beach? Free wifi? Decent gym? Pool or two?

The James, Royal Palm is in a sweet spot of South Beach. It’s in walking distance to everything and their beach club is sterling. Wander directly out to the beach, look out for the orange umbrellas and within thirty seconds a delightfully bouncy attendant will introduce themselves, set you up with chairs, an umbrella, an under sheet of a towel plus another for drying and then deliver a ‘James Box’, with apples and water to keep you going. During the afternoon someone will pop past with tequila soused pineapple to pick at. They’ll remember your name. They’ll give you great tips on local restaurants. If service with a smile is an art, these guys have elevated it to a high one.

There are computers in the lobby and the wifi stretches down to parts of the beach. The service in ‘Florida Cookery’ at breakfast is slow, but a green smoothie and complimentary copy of the New York Times helps calm most moods.

As for the rooms, they’re white, simple and modern (the hotel was recently completely renovated). The beds are king size, there are no baths, but double width showers instead. At night there’ll be a madeline or cookie placed on your pillow.  In a stretch of monolithic hotels, the James sits perfectly in the middle, not too big, not too small. Really, it’s just right.

Nb, The James also has the most impressive commitment to disability that I’ve seen in a while. Both the pools and jacuzzi are fitted with lever systems which allow guests with limited mobility to safely get in and out and enjoy a dip.

James Royal Palm
1545 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139

20:00 Dinner; 11th Street Diner

Where do diners go for their retirement? Florida as well, it seems. For 44 years this original, diner was parked in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. In the 1990’s it was transported down to South Beach, where it fits in just fine among the art deco cornices of 11th street.

If you’re after somewhere non pretentious to have dinner, this is it. If you’re after somewhere air conditioned, this is it. If you want to sit in a booth and mull over fold out laminated menus, this is it.

And if you want some traditional Americana for supper, it’s hard to get more authentic than this.  It’s a long way from cattle country, but a ‘Cowboy Burger’ ($10.95) will set you up with a medium rare patty, melted American cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, tomato, pickle, lettuce, plus two battered onion rings.

There are novelty maps of Florida for place mats, so you can easily plot your next road trip. And for dessert, it’s hard to go past a strawberry shake. There’s no pretending there’s real fruit in this one. It’s strawberry ice cream and  a slosh of milk, blended well, topped with a curlicue of cream.

Possibly a good idea to go for a long wander along the promenade before squeezing into your togs tomorrow morning after a meal like this.

11th Street Diner
1065 Washington Avenue  Miami Beach, FL 33139, United States

9:00 am – Swim, then breakfast at The James’ Florida Cookery

A happy morning  of holidays starts like this. First have a jog or a walk along the promenade. Then find your way back to The James and upstairs to Florida Cookery. Order the Classic Miami breakfast; poached eggs, local spiced shrimp and lime hollandaise. Be entertained by the fact that the milk for your tea will come in a jug shaped like a cow. Read the paper. Make a plan for lunch.

12:30 pm – Lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab

If you’re going to Miami, you pretty much have to call in on Joe’s. In 1913, a fellow by the name of Joe Weiss opened up a lunch counter on Miami beach. In 1921 they cottoned onto the fact that the local stone crabs were not only edible when boiled, but mightily delicious when paired with mayonnaise and cole slaw. And so a South Beach institution started to flourish.

These days Joe’s takes up almost a block. There’s the take away. There’s a casual section. And then there are interconnected dining rooms.
The waitstaff are in dinner suits, the menus are leather bound. The prices can make you inhale quickly if you’re not careful.

The good thing about stone crabs, is that they’re relatively rich, so you probably only need one serving to share. The other good thing is that if you’re plucky, you can order the smaller size (which are cheaper) and just spend a little time fossicking for the meat (Nb, the crab claws will vary according to market price, but you can expect to pay around $45).

You can probably skip the conch fritters (more batter than conch, the greatest identifying feature of this local mollusc is a texture akin to pencil erasers), but don’t think about leaving without having some of the key lime pie.

The solid base is the coagulation of butter and cookies and all that is good. The filling is more semifreddo than curd, zippy with lime and rounded with dairy. It’s the taste of sunshine. And to visit Florida without having at least one piece must be some sort of crime.

Joe’s doesn’t take reservations and the queues at night can be up to two hours. For an easy time, come for lunch (though spruce up a little if you’re coming straight from the beach. Flip flops and swimming shorts aren’t allowed in the main dining room).

 Joe’s Stone Crab
11 Washington Avenue  Miami Beach, FL 33139, United States

Other Miami hints and tips

The Open top bus is a good way to see all of South Beach, but the additional city loop is somewhat of a disappointment- and the queues to get back on to get back to South Beach from the city centre at the end of the day can be huge.

There are plenty of other good eating options on the pedestrian only Lincoln Road, even if they are imports from other states; from Sushi Samba to Shake Shack. You don’t have to battle the crowds and spruikers on Collins Avenue to find supper. I promise.

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