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Tarks and Clarke’s, two disparate, delicious Miami eateries

Posted by Paul Kandarian  May 23, 2011 07:49 AM

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I was in Miami Beach recently for the 3rd Annual Rum Renaissance Festival, where I found it necessary to soak up all that delicious liquor with some food, so I called upon an old high school pal, Glenn, who lives nearby and was kind enough to take me on a tour of the area. Glenn insisted it include a lunch stop at Tarks on Dania Beach, just outside Miami Beach,  a delightfully grubby little clam shack in a gritty little town geographically close to all that high-rise glitz and glamor but light years away in ambience. This little pastel-painted beauty is where residents eat, from heavily tattooed women to craggy-faced blue-collar workers. I always say when it comes to eating good, cheap food, go where the locals go and this place does not disappoint.

For one thing, the food is killer. The oysters were superb, the wings just spicy enough, the beer icy. The rest of the food is ridiculously cheap and plentiful, from eight conch fritters for six bucks to, I’m not kidding, a gator-tail dinner, marinated and deep fried, for 10 bucks.

 

And completely free is the show by Lenny, if you’re lucky enough to be there when he is, who this day was using his hands to shovel fresh fish into a sizzling fry pans loaded with butter and garlic and also talk with them, slashing the air as he spoke, a little man with a big voice. With all that gesticulation, I had to ask: Lenny, you Italian?


"That’s what my mother tells me,” he growled, before the Brooklyn native offered more opinions on the Celtics-Heat game that night and then going full swing into the meaning of life that included “We’re here now, we’re goin’ somewhere else later.” That wraps it up nicely.

 tarks.jpg





He will, Glenn told me, occasionally go into an expletive-laced rant, usually after splashing himself accidentally with hot grease, invoking the F-bomb in every possible colorful combination, none of which the customers mind -- they’re used to it. There’s dining outside, but best to stay inside and catch Lenny’s impromptu act. You want to spend 15 bucks on one drink and triple that on an entrée? Hit the restaurants at uber-trendy South Beach hotels.  Want some of the best and cheapest food around? Gotta go Tarks.

 

One night, I also took in Clarke’s in Miami Beach, a wickedly good, upscale-but-affordable Irish pub, a place of wooded, mirrored atmosphere and serving amazing pub  food, from bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage, to its signature Irish spring rolls. I went with potato soup for $4.95, thick and creamy, flecked with bacon bits and lumps of blue cheese, an appie that made it difficult, but not impossible, to devour the massive $13.95 shepherd’s pie that followed.

 clarke's.jpg

It was also a night to involuntarily burn into the memory banks where I was at a most historic moment. As we dined, CNN broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing, and when President Obama spoke, 75 or so people stood watching, stone silent. When it was done, the place erupted in cheers and applause, louder still when the barkeep cranked up “Born in the USA.” A goose bump moment to say the least.

 

There’s so much great food in the Miami area, these are just two. At next year’s rum festival, I’ll be calling Glenn again to find more.



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