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In William Least Heat-Moon's travel journal, Blue Highways, he says the best indicator of good diner food is how many calendars there are on the walls. I stipulate that the indicator of a worthwhile Cuban cafe is how long the smell stays on your clothes. And after a visit to Cindy's Tropical Cafe, the aroma of pressed Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains hung on my shirt for a solid 10 hours. Anything longer than six hours deserves a hats-off in my book.

Cindy's "Daily Good Deals" are a welcome rendition of home-cooked comfort food. She offers a choice of thinly sliced pork, steak or chicken, white rice and black or pinto beans, fried sweet or green plantains, and a salad for a measly $5.99 -- and that's the high end of the menu.

There's a wide array of small and large subs (meatball, "Midnight," Cuban and vegetarian), that cost from $2.99 to $6.59, all of which can be pressed. And Cindy's is open for breakfast, too. The only thing missing is picadillo, but there is a great "relleno de papa" ($1.25) that satisfies the spiced-ground-beef craving.

Overall, Cindy's serves excellent no-frills food that's extremely light on the wallet. Stop in for deliciously aromatic Cuban dishes, and look elsewhere for your motor oil and TP.

As the sun set behind him, a voracious jet-skier was yahooing while he churned up the water on Lake Ivanhoe. On the water and off, dusk is a great time of day to enjoy the view from Gaston Edwards Park, off Orange Avenue -- the downtown skyline stands in shadow against the natural light. So my plan to dine at Gargi's (pronounced "GAR-jee's") at dusk was rewarded, the arched windows in the dining room beautifully framing the pastel reflections. Even closer to the water -- and the wind -- is the landscaped terrace, full of diners this night, serenaded by several musicians. This would be a very romantic place to enjoy a drink or dinner and dessert, if the weather was right.

Within moments of being seated inside, we were taken off-guard, as arms from the formally dressed wait staff flew across our table, delivering menus, filling water glasses, helping with chairs and napkins. (It was right out of the now-classic "Bellissima!" skits with Kirstie Alley on "Saturday Night Live.") In 12 minutes, we were sipping drinks and sampling the aromatic bruschetta ($4.95). Though the staff's exuberance wore down as the evening went on, the initial swarm was spectacular.

Within moments of being seated inside, we were taken off-guard, as arms from the formally dressed wait staff flew across our table, delivering menus, filling water glasses, helping with chairs and napkins. (It was right out of the now-classic "Bellissima!" skits with Kirstie Alley on "Saturday Night Live.") In 12 minutes, we were sipping drinks and sampling the aromatic bruschetta ($4.95). Though the staff's exuberance wore down as the evening went on, the initial swarm was spectacular.

I'm one of those people who never ate at the old Gargi's, which stood seemingly forever in a hideaway location across the street. That spot is now Wilfredo's, owned by a former Gargi's employee. Also across the street, diagonally, is longstanding Tirami Su. Together they form a competitive triangle of three very different styles of Italian restaurants.

I'm one of those people who never ate at the old Gargi's, which stood seemingly forever in a hideaway location across the street. That spot is now Wilfredo's, owned by a former Gargi's employee. Also across the street, diagonally, is longstanding Tirami Su. Together they form a competitive triangle of three very different styles of Italian restaurants.

It does seem that Gargi's owner made a sweet deal with the city, when he leased the northwest piece of the park to build his restaurant afresh. So, other than rumors and reputation -- that Gargi's is a hangout for Tony Soprano-types and that the diehards for the original hadn't taken to the change -- our impressions of Gargi's also were fresh. And what the restaurant has going for it is a sense of tradition, rich and classic Italian tradition, served in an atmosphere of familial warmth and forgiveness. (You must be forgiving to eat here.)

It does seem that Gargi's owner made a sweet deal with the city, when he leased the northwest piece of the park to build his restaurant afresh. So, other than rumors and reputation -- that Gargi's is a hangout for Tony Soprano-types and that the diehards for the original hadn't taken to the change -- our impressions of Gargi's also were fresh. And what the restaurant has going for it is a sense of tradition, rich and classic Italian tradition, served in an atmosphere of familial warmth and forgiveness. (You must be forgiving to eat here.)

So, for instance, when the second Ultimat dirty martini ($7) had been sitting in our sight on the bar in the alcove behind us for way too long and Roberto the waiter knew it, he offered to pull the unique bottle of Polish vodka from the bar and share it. "Hey, look at the bottle, it's-a beautiful, no?" he charmed, handing over the heavy glass square of a blue bottle for inspection. This kind of stuff works. And the glass of dry Chilean cabernet sauvignon Roberto recommended was right on the money too ($8.50).

So, for instance, when the second Ultimat dirty martini ($7) had been sitting in our sight on the bar in the alcove behind us for way too long and Roberto the waiter knew it, he offered to pull the unique bottle of Polish vodka from the bar and share it. "Hey, look at the bottle, it's-a beautiful, no?" he charmed, handing over the heavy glass square of a blue bottle for inspection. This kind of stuff works. And the glass of dry Chilean cabernet sauvignon Roberto recommended was right on the money too ($8.50).

We ordered specials all around, except that some of the specials are already on the regular menu, but, whatever, eh? That's the case with "Gargi's grouper Francese" ($21.95), battered and fried, then saut?ed in lemon butter and topped with capers, and with the "lobster fra diavolo" ($22.95). But the osso buco ($21.95) was a special offer, and it turned out to be the best of the three dishes we ordered.

We ordered specials all around, except that some of the specials are already on the regular menu, but, whatever, eh? That's the case with "Gargi's grouper Francese" ($21.95), battered and fried, then saut?ed in lemon butter and topped with capers, and with the "lobster fra diavolo" ($22.95). But the osso buco ($21.95) was a special offer, and it turned out to be the best of the three dishes we ordered.

There was a little trickery with the osso buco: I asked if it was veal and Roberto said no, it was beef. Whatever, eh? So call me gullible, but I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed this Italian version of pot roast, with carrots and a beefy tomato gravy. It's considered a comfort food for a cold night, and I'll consider it again on such an evening. Served over perfectly cooked risotto, the tender veal shank fell away from the center bone, filled with roasted marrow -- a delicate fork buried inside for savoring. (At home, the dog worked it well into Sunday.)

There was a little trickery with the osso buco: I asked if it was veal and Roberto said no, it was beef. Whatever, eh? So call me gullible, but I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed this Italian version of pot roast, with carrots and a beefy tomato gravy. It's considered a comfort food for a cold night, and I'll consider it again on such an evening. Served over perfectly cooked risotto, the tender veal shank fell away from the center bone, filled with roasted marrow -- a delicate fork buried inside for savoring. (At home, the dog worked it well into Sunday.)

The taste and preparation of the grouper was fine, but the thawed fillet had a mushy texture. The accompanying broccoli and mashed potatoes made for another filling, home-style meal. The lobster fra diavolo looked the most colorful, served with the Florida lobster tail on the plate, over linguini, and covered in the crushed tomato and herb sauce. After the presentation, it would be worthwhile to ask the kitchen to remove the tough but tasty meat, if you don't want to struggle with it.

The taste and preparation of the grouper was fine, but the thawed fillet had a mushy texture. The accompanying broccoli and mashed potatoes made for another filling, home-style meal. The lobster fra diavolo looked the most colorful, served with the Florida lobster tail on the plate, over linguini, and covered in the crushed tomato and herb sauce. After the presentation, it would be worthwhile to ask the kitchen to remove the tough but tasty meat, if you don't want to struggle with it.

Both the bruschetta and the dinner salads benefited from the quality and freshness of simple ingredients, such as olive oil and herbs. There was nothing fancy about them, but they tasted fresh and familiar. And the same could be said of the desserts we tried, tiramisu and cannoli ($4.25 each) -- both were fresh and filling without being overly rich.

Both the bruschetta and the dinner salads benefited from the quality and freshness of simple ingredients, such as olive oil and herbs. There was nothing fancy about them, but they tasted fresh and familiar. And the same could be said of the desserts we tried, tiramisu and cannoli ($4.25 each) -- both were fresh and filling without being overly rich.

So Roberto didn't make it to our salads with the biggest pepper grinder I've ever seen, or make sure our coffee cups were refilled. A table of ladies across the room was running him wild and we had fun watching. Next time, eh?

I've never been to Greece, but I hear that eating at restaurants is mostly an outdoor affair. This fact bodes well for the Greek Corner on Orange Avenue, where the outside tables afford a picturesque view over Lake Ivanhoe. Formerly the home of Tiramisu Café, the new restaurant has a better grasp of Greek food than Tiramisu had of Italian. And there's a logical reason for that: The Greek Corner is owned by Demetrius and Tia Tsafonias, a husband-and-wife team from a small village outside Athens, Greece. The couple ran restaurants in the northern U.S. for years before coming south.

The inside space is still cramped and a little cheesy, but fortunately the outside space has been gussied up in Greek décor and is still a great asset. When the weather is right, it's lovely to sit on the patio, looking over the lake that's pooled in front of the downtown skyline, nibbling dolmathakia ($6.50), tightly wrapped cigars of grape leaves surrounding rice spiced with dill, mint and pungent lemon.

Some of the earliest written records about Mediterranean cuisine come from ancient Greece, but the Greek cuisine of today is more closely linked with the Albanians and Turks. Proud of their culinary history, many Greeks would be distressed to hear that their country's cuisine was influenced by surrounding Mediterranean countries, rather than the other way around. For instance, we can thank the Albanians on the Isle of Crete for the technique of spit-roasting used in traditional Greek kebab dishes. Another influence on modern Greek cooking comes from the Byzantine era, which heralded the emergence of the popular dish moussaka ($13.50), concocted with eggplant and lamb baked in béchamel sauce.

The most awe-inspiring dish I ordered at Greek Corner was the hot meze platter ($12.50), one of the restaurant's specialties. Four of us ordered the appetizer, which is recommended for two people, and we were stuffed silly before we finished. The platter has a dizzying array of samplings from the menu, including two distinct salads that deserve honorable mention: melitzanosalat, made from roasted eggplant and red pepper, is smoky and sultry; and taramosalata, featuring the oceany flavor of whipped orange caviar. Besides these two salads, the big fat Greek appetizer brimmed with baked feta, gyro meat, braised lamb and more. If we had known the huge portions on the meze, we wouldn't have ordered the calamari ($8.50) appetizer, which was chewy but had flavor. Its red sauce tasted mostly of the grassy finish of Greek olive oil.

There were many other starters, including the ever-present spanikopita ($6), which stems from a traditional Lent snack. Greek Corner's is a standard envelope of phyllo stuffed with tangy feta and spinach so well-cooked that it almost tastes more like an herb than a vegetable. The Greek salad ($6.75) is an OK version of what you'd expect – mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, kalamata olives and fresh feta cheese with a dressing loaded with oregano. Avgolemono soup ($3), so named from the Greek words for "egg" and "lemon" and heavy on both ingredients, is a chicken soup stocked with bright lemon juice and musky black pepper as well as ribbons of egg yolk.

Among the entrees, the braised lamb ($13.95) was one of the best. The meat was succulently tender and had a heavy sauce rich with sweet spices – I tasted cinnamon, nutmeg and garlic. Pastitsio ($13.50), the Greek version of lasagna, was perfectly crusty and crunchy on the outside, while having an inner layer that was pliable and soft. Spiced beef and cream sauce with a hint of nutmeg rounded out the ziti-like pasta. Culinary historians might be interested to know that pastitsio has both Italian and Muslim influences – Italian in name but Muslim in technique.

We couldn't leave without indulging in the baklava ($2.50) with walnuts drenched in simple syrup. The homemade galaktoboureko ($3.50) may be more difficult to say but is vastly better, featuring a lemony custard. As is Greek tradition, your belly will be full as you finish those last bites of dessert and look out over Lake Ivanhoe, wondering if you'll be able to get up and walk.

In a loud building done in Miami Dolphins colors, you wouldn’t expect to find a dive bar that feels delightfully small-town, but that’s the Hideaway, where people are serious about pool, sports and strong drinks. It’s also a great greasy-food joint in the morning to cure your hangover.
In a loud building done in Miami Dolphins colors, you wouldn’t expect to find a dive bar that feels delightfully small-town, but that’s the Hideaway, where people are serious about pool, sports and strong drinks. It’s also a great greasy-food joint in the morning to cure your hangover.

Sooner or later, chances are you'll end up at White Wolf Cafe on a Saturday night. It might be to catch a cappuccino and dessert after a show at Theatre Downtown, which is right up the block. Or maybe to celebrate a special occasion with a group of friends around one of the bigger tables. From an outdoor vantage, you can watch activity along the strip of Orange Avenue that's an artsy jumble of antique and gift stores. There are a half dozen marble-top tables outside on the sidewalk, buffered from traffic by rows of potted plants.

This antique-market-turned-cafe on the fringes of downtown has become a landmark hangout since opening in 1991, known for its quirky, romantic setting and its easy pace. The comfortable clutter of antique armoires, framed photographs, books and chandeliers add more than ambience. If you like a piece of furniture, the restaurant will likely sell it to you.

Evening entertainment on Thursdays through Saturdays, usually an acoustic guitarist, helps to set the scene that's suitable for drinks as well as full-blown dinner. The eclectic menu includes vegetarian burgers, Middle Eastern mango-nut tabouli, low-fat focaccia pizzas and Moroccan chicken salad with almonds, raisins and bananas.

Inconsistency has been a recurring problem, which we experienced on our visit. Our meal got off to a great start when we took our waitress' recommendation for the "bianca lavosh" ($7.50), a whisper-thin cracker-crust pizza, topped with delicate portions of mozzarella, Romano, spinach, tomato and feta. Brushed with olive oil and dusted with minced garlic, it was sizzling, steamy and delicious.

For entrees, our waitress urged us to try the popular three-cheese lasagna ($9.95), as well as chicken and mozzarella brioche ($10.95). We were stunned when less than five minutes later, we had both dishes at our table. But the outside of the lasagna was only vaguely warm and the inside was cool -- it obviously had not been prepared to order. Had it been served fresh, it surely would have been a winner. The flavors were lively and multidimensional, and there was plenty of mozzarella and ricotta.

We flagged down the waitress, who by now was overwhelmed with more customers and tables than anyone should have to manage. She offered to take the lasagna back to the kitchen to be warmed up, but it was a good 10 minutes before she returned with it.

By then, we were finished with the brioche, which was a delicately seasoned chicken breast, baked inside a baguette of French bread with melted mozzarella. Everything that was good about this dish seemed to get lost in the excessive portion of bread. The menu promised it would be "smothered" with marinara, but the portion of sauce was too slim to make an impact.

White Wolf Cafe generally does an outstanding job with its mousses, layer cakes, cheesecakes and tortes. On the night we visited, apple pie a la mode ($5.25) was no exception. The crust had a brown-sugar/cinnamon bite, and the baked-apple filling was sweet and decadent. Vanilla-bean ice cream melted dreamily over it all.

Although White Wolf Cafe's wait staff is generally friendly, that doesn't make up for requests not being met in a timely manner. But the atmosphere is charming and relaxed enough that this small restaurant will remain a favorite midtown destination. Keep in mind that the noise volume inside can be too high for relaxed conversation during peak periods and especially when there's entertainment.

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