Beyond Seattle 2011: January (Bamboo Fire and Bagel Taste-Off in Florida)

Having failed in my goal to do frequent postings of my out-of-town meals, I now face a backlog of a year’s worth of eating. Time to tackle these month-by-month, starting with January 2011. Let’s see how much I can remember about these meals. (And let’s hope my photography skills improved over the year, though note that I often brought my smaller Panasonic camera on my road trips, leaving the DSLR at home.)

Let’s first get this out of the way: My one work trip in January took me to Potsdam, where I randomly stopped in at a place called Thai Cuisine Restaurant. A lot of thought went into that name, don’t you think? About the same amount of thought as went into the food, which was pretty forgettable. Some noodles (Thai lad nar), which they made spicy by putting chili flakes in the middle:


January meant it was time for the annual trip to Florida (to visit my father), and the eternal quest to find good food in Cocoon-ville. (That would be Boca Raton.) But, first, a visit with a friend immediately after landing. He agreed to meet us at Alegria Tacos in Oakland Park. And the owner agreed to feed us minutes before the intended closing time. Not bad. In addition to tacos, we tasted a torta:


And some menudo:


The menudo was comforting, though far from the best I’ve ever tried. Upon saying goodbye and going to the door, the owner tried to twist our arms into writing a positive Yelp review. Um…that’s not the way to get positive feedback.

I’d actually get to try one more Mexican place a couple of days later: Taqueria Dona Raquel in Pompano Beach. This was a last-minute decision, as I was picking up family members from the airport who wanted a snack. So while I didn’t get a chance to sample much at this highly recommended eatery, I did enjoy a couple of tacos (photo taken with my niece’s camera):


Back in Boca, I was determined to do a bagel taste-testing. Given the large Jewish community (New York imports), I hoped the demand would mean high quality options. (I already knew that the bagels were better than what I can find locally in Seattle.) So I set out one morning to hit three of the most recommended bagel joints. First stop was The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. in Delray Beach. (There are a few locations in Florida, one in California, and many opening up soon around the country.) Larry King is involved in this enterprise, which believes bagels are all about the water:


Then it was on to Way Beyond Bagels, also in Delray. Take a look at the interior…


…because apparently the owners don’t want you to see it. I got “scolded” shortly after taking this photo:


The final stop was BagelWorks in Boca Raton:


Having collected my bounty of bagels, it was time for a relatively blind taste-testing:


Sesame bagels are my favorite, and would be neutral enough for comparison. By far (and by unanimous agreement), the losing bagel was bottom-right: BagelWorks’ bagel. Too large and too soft and airy inside, much like the “bagel bread” you find at grocery stores, and somewhat bland. The other two were fairly close, with our group having to give further bites of consideration. But we again reached unanimous agreement. Bottom-left belongs to Brooklyn Water Bagel, which was our runner-up bagel. At the top, Way Beyond Bagels’ entry scored the victory for being slightly denser than Brooklyn’s bagel, with a little more contrast between crust and crumb, if you will. Both had pleasant flavor, so the victory was more about the texture.

For kicks, we also sampled bialys:


A bialy is baked, and should have a depression in the center (instead of an actual hole) which contains diced onions and perhaps poppy seeds and garlic. Top left is BagelWorks’ bialy, which you can see was a total failure. Bottom is Brooklyn’s bialy, which was a bit bagel-like, with strong onion flavor. My favorite (much to my chagrin, since I didn’t like the customer “service” there–beyond the photography incident, I found the workers to be cold) again belonged to Way Beyond Bagels. The “filling” had good balance in terms of taste and texture, and the bialy was the right chewiness.

(I hope to do another taste-test when I return to Florida next month!)

With more time (and a bigger stomach), it would be fun to do comparative tastings of other food at the Jewish delis near my Dad’s home. During his years in the area, he’s basically done that, developing his favorites. For sandwiches, that means 3 G’s Gourmet Deli in Delray Beach. (Not to be confused with TooJay’s Gourmet Deli, a Florida chain that also has a following.) To beat the crowds, you’ll want to “earlybird” your dinner!

While you’re waiting for your table, you can browse the deli counter to your right upon entry. It’s a good chance to scout the salads, cold cuts, and other things you might want to consider for your meal. I’ve been here a few times, and tend to get the same thing. In addition to pickles (sour, please) and cole slaw, this means matzo ball soup:


…and a chopped liver and pastrami sandwich (not on the menu, so just request it):


A meal at 3 G’s gives me a good fix of Jewish soul food. It’s by no means the best of its class (when I’m ambitious enough to make matzo ball soup and chopped liver, it’s a whole new level!), but it’s satisfying.

My favorite meal this trip to Boca, and perhaps one of the best meals I’ve had in Florida outside the Miami area, happened at Bamboo Fire Cafe in Delray Beach. I found this hidden treasure via Chowhound and was determined to take my family there for dinner. The owners are warm and welcoming, and if you are comfortable enough to relinquish control, they’ll prepare you an amazing family-style meal featuring cuisine of the Caribbean and beyond.

Bamboo Fire is delicious and affordable. Here are just some of the dishes we ate, starting with conch-filled (I’m talking a good amount of conch) conch fritters, served with an addictive mango ginger habanero sauce:


Grilled eggplant dip:


Garbanzos fritos (cumin-seasoned):


Grilled conch:


Jerk meatballs:


At this point, following these starters, the sides and then mains came fast and furious. The table was absolutely full, and I scrambled to capture whatever photos I could. These sweet plantains were simply amazing:


Braised cabbage:


Macaroni & cheese:


Sweet potato fries:


Okra fried rice:


Grouper cheeks (I accidentally ate a whole scotch bonnet pepper, which sent me into some sort of “Comfortably Numb” world for a while):


Coconut shrimp:


Among the meats, how about goat curry, jerk pork, and oxtail pepperpot:



Obviously, we were well-fed. No room to try the guava cheesecake, which sounded enticing. Next time!

Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Alegria Tacos on Urbanspoon

Taqueria Doña Raquel on Urbanspoon

BagelWorks on Urbanspoon

BagelWorks on Urbanspoon

Way Beyond Bagels on Urbanspoon

The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. on Urbanspoon

3 G's Gourmet Deli on Urbanspoon

Bamboo Fire Cafe on Urbanspoon


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One Response to “Beyond Seattle 2011: January (Bamboo Fire and Bagel Taste-Off in Florida)”

  1. January 16, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Hi Jay,
    Thanks for choosing our Sesame bagel and Bialy as the best over the competitors! We have been in business for over 30 years (as we had locations in NY before opening in Delray Beach). I do agree, the key to a GREAT bagel is in the water! I am quite disappointed that you found our service “cold”. I will make sure that I address this w/ our staff. I did notice that you have old photos posted, as the interior color has changed…and the reason for the photo-phobia, is that many of our competitors have come in and documented our concept, and copied…but you know what they say about copying? It is the highest form of flattery! Please let me know when you will be in next, I would love to introduce myself!

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