Old and new favorites take home South Florida “Best of” awards

Last week’s special “Best of 2012” issue of Broward / Palm Beach New Times recognized many of the area’s coolest places to eat, drink and hang out after dark. Among the winners are several Atomic Grog favorites worth noting:

Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton

Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2011)

“Best New Restaurant” and “Best Happy Hour” in Palm Beach County both went to Kapow! Noodle Bar in Boca Raton, which we reviewed in depth back in December. We loved the craft cocktails and small bites on the inventive menu and have been eager to return ever since. The latest recognition just gives us more reason to move it up on our bucket list.

New Times says the restaurant’s Mizner Park location “is flourishing, thanks in no small part to the challenging but accessible dishes streaming out of the kitchen during a slamming dinner hour and an aesthetic that is simultaneously trendy and unpretentious.” In Kapow’s second award, the alternative weekly praised the menu’s $3 bar bites menu: “These are treats — steamed buns, shishitou peppers, roasted cauliflower — that are well worth full price, drunk or sober. Add to that the cool tunes, hip décor, and energetic crowd and you’ve got a solution to the mystery of how to build a happy hour that doesn’t compromise standards.”

Review: Kapow! explodes onto South Florida dining and cocktail scene
Official sites: KapowNoodleBar.com | Facebook | Twitter

Black Magic, November 2010

Black Magic, November 2010. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Meanwhile, it was no surprise that the first “Best Tiki Drink” award went to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic. If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing this blog you’ll quickly learn that the 55-year-old landmark Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale is our watering hole of choice. And the Black Magic is one of the most beloved cocktails on the extensive 47-drink menu that we spent the past year reviewing.

“This potent snifterful of dark rums, lime juice, coffee, and other mystery ingredients is frighteningly refreshing and surprisingly complex,” New Times wrote. “From the first sip, the flavor of coffee lingers on the taste buds without overwhelming them. After a few gulps, the stinging jab of various rums subsides, leaving the gut warm and tongue loose.” Needless to say, we couldn’t agree more.

Review and recipe: The Black Magic emerges from the darkness as a true classic
Official sites: MaiKai.com | Facebook

One of our favorite galleries was also honored. The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach was named “Best Art Museum” for not only its enormous permanent collection of more than 7,000 works, but also its many special exhibitions. We reviewed the Cocktail Culture exhibit back in March. Official site: Norton.org

I haven’t mentioned it on the blog, but one of my personal favorites was named “Best Brewpub.” Big Bear Brewing Co. in Coral Springs also features a great menu of decadent food to pair with its tasty microbrews. It also has a cool vibe for a beer-centric restaurant, as the review agrees: “The atmosphere has the dimly lit, cloth-napkin feel of a much more expensive restaurant with the din (and giant metal tanks) of a more rough-and-tumble brewery.” Official site: BigBearBrewingCo.com

If you dig vegetarian or Indian food, I couldn’t agree more with the pick of Woodlands Vegetarian as “Best Indian Restaurant.” Carnivores won’t even miss the meat in the spicy, flavor-packed (and very inexpensive) meals at this hidden gem on University Drive in Sunrise. We also echo the New Times advice: “Don’t miss the mango lassi; it will come in handy with all of those spices at play.” Official site: WoodlandsUS.com

Last but not least, our newest discovery – Sweetwater Bar and Grill – was named “Best Predinner Drinks.” In the least likely of places (Federal Highway in Boynton Beach) you will find perhaps the best craft cocktails in South Florida.

Sweetwater in Boynton Beach gets crafty with inventive cocktails and food

Sweetwater in Boynton Beach gets crafty with inventive cocktails and food. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2012)

New Times raves: “Behind the bar, you’re likely to find Sean Iglehart, a self-proclaimed bar man whose passion is mixology. It may take a while to get a drink here, but that’s because these handcrafted cocktails are among the finest around. Quality ingredients — homemade bitters, fresh fruit juices, esoteric gins, or bitter Amaro — go into classic recipes from yesteryear, such as a Ramos gin fizz, made with Plymouth sloe gin, lemon, simple syrup, club soda, egg whites, and a garnish in a highball glass. Or go for the Aviation, a lovely concoction of gin and the purplish Creme de Violette. Allow yourself the time and peace of mind to savor one (or three).”

Our first visit to this cozy, speakeasy-esque establishment last week was an eye-opener, from the inventive drinks to the delicious food. Look for a full review coming soon on the blog, but let’s just say Sweetwater is a welcome treat. Among the many mouth-watering items we sampled were the aptly-named Morphine Drip (light and blackstrap rum with cream of coconut and fresh orange, pineapple and nutmeg) and Tempura-Fried Brownie Ala Mode (see photo above).

Official sites: Sweetwater33.com | Facebook

Click here for the full list of New Times winners.

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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