In Miami, some things grow aggressively, like creeping bougainvillea vines. Others, like our food scene, develop at a more measured but steady pace. A new crop of gourmet markets is one of the latest developments. These shops offer intriguing selections of meats, chocolates, juices, olive oils, preserves and more.
Ricardo Trillos of Cao Chocolates made the transition from farmers market to retail store when he opened his cozy Kendall shop last October. Radiating enthusiasm as he talks about chocolate from his Venezuelan homeland, he uses it exclusively: Venezuela is one of the highest-quality chocolate regions in the world. Theres so much to discover in the Venezuelan cacao bean. For example, cacao beans from different regions of the country can vary like night and day in taste. Trillos frequently demonstrates these shades of flavor during tasting events at the store. His chocolates entice with vivid colors, but the flavors are even more vibrant. Those who turn their noses at white or milk chocolates should give both a second chance with one of Trillos desserts, like a white chocolate truffle with spicy caramel filling. A top seller is a dark chocolate filled with passion fruit. Trillos also makes extravagant grilled chocolate croissants to order in a panini press. Desserts like chocolate tres leches, mousses and ice cream also tempt. Roc Kat, a local ice cream company, uses Cao Chocolates in flavors like the dark chocolate 5150 or the white-chocolate-and-raspberry Ron Burgundy. Cao Chocolates is in what some consider a far-flung region of Miami-Dade, but once guests pay a visit, it becomes clear why the store has earned a dedicated following willing to drive. (Cao Chocolates, 9804 SW 77th Avenue, Kendall; 305-879-0281.)
Tucked between offices on a quiet end of Ponce de Leon Boulevard, this Coral Gables spot could be easily missed. But once inside, the expansive store reveals a dazzling assortment of upscale chocolate, wine, caviar, cheese and other fine foods. Its the kind of place where you can delightfully lose track of time.
The store is co-owned by a group of friends from Venezuela who have stocked it with items about which theyre passionate. Olive oil varieties, including perfume-like bottles of softly flavored French picholine olive oil, await tastings with delicate spoons. Lucy Paduel, events and public relations manager, says that hibiscus flowers in syrup are also quite popular. She suggests serving them in champagne. A bar and café area incorporated into the front of the store invites guests for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Several items from the store, like truffle honey and fragrant teas from Le Palais des Thés, are included in dishes so customers can try before they buy. Coins of truffled Italian salami possess none of that petroleum taste from the fake stuff. The eclectic menu also includes dishes like a playful tuna sandwich, made with thickly-sliced tuna tataki, avocado and watercress cascading inside a bun. Gourmet Table is also available for entertaining, with a genteel rooftop thats ideal for hosting parties or special dinners. (Gourmet Table, 4555 Ponce De Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; 305-669-0677.)
Freddy Kaufmann didnt envision himself making sausage for a living: I imagined getting to serve food to people. That its taken this form is a surprise, but Im happy to have a home. Home is the Proper Sausages shop in Miami Shores, which Freddy and his wife, Danielle, who used to sell their artisan sausages exclusively at farmers markets, opened in March. Previously, if shoppers didnt visit a weekend market to purchase the Kaufmann links, they were out of luck for the rest of the week. The brick-and-mortar lifestyle is also boon for the Kaufmanns, who before worked out of a rental kitchen at odd hours. Now that we can make anything at anytime, Freddy says, we can take on more customers and not be overwhelmed.
The Kaufmanns craft a variety of sausages each week, including the Venison, augmented with Berkshire pork belly, whiskey and cherries, and the French-inspired Campagne, a heady blend of Berkshire pork, the Kauffmans own bacon, garlic and thyme. A gleaming meat case shows off roaster chickens from Lake Meadow Farms in Ocoee, Fla., and cuts of Florida Wagyu-style beef. Keep an eye on the Proper Sausages website (propersausages.com) for each weeks offerings. For immediate gratification, order from the takeout menu of sandwiches made with choice meats from the store. And choose from a small but well-curated selection of craft beers and small-farm wines. Just dont forget: its the meat thats the star here. (Proper Sausages, 9722 NE Second Avenue, Miami Shores; 786-334-5734.)
Diana Aquino opened The Market in April because she was tired of driving to get the foods she craved: There wasnt a neighborhood place to get juices and healthy foods in the Gables, where I live, especially on weekends. Her family owns Green Gables Café, the restaurant, but Aquino was interested in creating a re-imagined, modern day convenience store of sorts, a place of wholesome provisions. Aquino teamed up with chef Glenn Rice to create a simple menu of juices, soups and sandwiches that can be eaten at the small counter or taken to go. Here, the shelves highlight fresh produce, local products like piquant pickled green papayas from Verde Gardens Farm in Homestead, and Pop Nature coconut-lime popsicles. Locals check on Facebook to see what imaginative sandwich offering will appear each day. Many of the sandwiches are served on local Zak the Baker organic sourdough bread. A cooler holds to-go containers of chilled soba noodle salad and Rices addicting gazpacho.
A blackboard behind the tiny prep area highlights vibrant, tangy juices like the popular Balancer, made with apple, cucumber, kale, romaine lettuce, celery and lemon juice. The Market also serves smoothies, like a rich-tasting carrot and almond milk combo called Whats Up Doc? Ever the modern day food purveyor, Aquino prefers to call them blended drinks: Smoothies sounds so 1990s. (The Market, 300 Aragon Avenue, Suite 130, Coral Gables; 305-448-4330.)