Sunday, August 15, 2010

Local Love - El Mago de la Frita, Miami, FL

 There's magic inside...

I think it was about a year ago that I received an email from the Burger Beast inviting me to join up with him and a few other people for lunch at El Mago de la Frita.  I work further North and don't really have much of a lunch break, so I had to decline.  Well, it just so happened that the night before that day, I came down with a 24-hour cold that was bad enough to keep me home from work feeling like crap the following morning.  As a kid, sometimes when I stayed home sick from school my Dad would come home on his lunch break with a burger and fries from McDonald's.  I'm not sure if it was the grease from the food or just the spiritual boost a kid gets from Dad bringing home some McD's but it always made me feel better.  So, I decided that a burger would get me back on track and went out to meet the Burger Beast and his band of merry men and women at El Mago.

I'd never been to El Mago before.  Actually, I'd never even heard of it.  I certainly didn't know what the hell a "frita" was either but I remembered "Best Frita" being a category at last year's "Burgie Awards" so I figured it was something I'd have to try.  El Mago de la Frita is located just West of Red Road on Calle Ocho.  I arrived on that first visit to find a counter lined with friends: Paula, Jackie, Gagit, and The Beast himself were ready to scarf down some fritas.  An older Cuban gentleman dressed in a white shirt and apron paced behind the counter cooking fritas to order.  This was El Mago "the magician" himself and he was in the zone, flipping patties with his magical spatula.  A frita, I learned, is a Cuban burger where the patty contains some ground beef, a little onion, and a bit of ground chorizo.  Sounds kinda awesome, right?  It is topped with crispy shoestring potatoes, some magical sauce which I believe is ketchup, and you can add can add a slice of cheese too which I'm told is "for the gringos".  Using Paula as my translator, I placed my order gringo style and added a fried egg for good measure.  Yeah, this gringo came to party.  Once the patty has been grilled on the flat top, it is placed on top of a bun made from Cuban bread and then the toppings are added.  The frita then heads to the panini press for a few minutes to toast the bun and warm the awesomeness inside it. 

My frita arrived and I quickly dug in.  To my surprise, I really liked the Cuban bread bun.  Normally I am not a fan of Cuban bread but this worked and held the frita together without getting soggy.  The flavor of the patty was awesome.  The chorizo adds a nice savory flavor with a little spice.  The fried egg was also a winner of a decision, it's yolk adding a creamy texture to each bite.  I think my favorite part was the shoestring potatoes though.  They were so tiny and crispy and added nice crunch to each bite.  I think my frita lasted about four minutes on my plate.  It was so good that I immediately forgot about my cold and started feeling better.

There was a frita from El Mago here but it magically disappeared
into my belly faster than my iPhone's shutter speed could capture it

I sat at the counter and chatted for a bit before saying "adios" and heading back to my place to veg out on the couch and get some rest.  Since then, I've been back to El Mago a few times and even visited El Rey de la Frita for a comparison.  What I learned is that El Mago es El Rey!! 

See footage of the Burger Beast annihilating some fritas at multiple locations but declaring El Mago the best here.

Check it out:

El Mago de la Frita
5828 Southwest 8th Street
West Miami, FL 33144
 (305) 266-8486 ()

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On the Road: Lobsters, Steamers & Bourbon, Oh My! - Beach Blast 2010 - Long Beach, Rockport, MA

Wow, you know you've lost some focus when you get called out for not updating your blog.  That's exactly what my Dad did a few days ago.  "What's up with Blind Tastes?  I can tell you must be focused on something if you haven't posted about the lobsters yet!", he said.  He was right.  Time to refocus!

 View as the tide heads out on Long Beach, Rockport, MA

Every summer for the past I-don't-know-how-many years my folks have rented a beach house in Rockport, MA on Long Beach.  Well, they actually started on Pebble Beach and eventually scored a spot next to our best family friends, the Flynn's.  Heck, I consider the Flynn's part of our family.  That's how many great times we've had together over the years.  I've been going to Long Beach since I was a wee lad and, for me, it's the best beach in the world.  Sure, there are no palm trees, no exotic drinks, no scantily clad women (besides the one we saw walking the beach whom Dad and I agreed should never wear a two-piece again), and no blue-green warm water seething with sea life.  Nope, just a long arching beach with soft sand and chilled waters backed by an elevated boardwalk overlooking it all.  I'm not sure whether it's the sand, decent surf, or all of the great family memories that make this beach my favorite of all.  It certainly isn't the cold water, that's for damn sure!  Talk about shrinkage!  Maybe it's the good beach folk, falling asleep in the bed on the front porch, or the fact that the beach quadruples in size at low tide, providing ample room for whiffle ball, bocce, and all sorts of fun.  Wait a minute, who am I kidding?  It's the beers, bourbon, lobsters and steamers!

Can't beat sleeping on the porch bed listening to the waves come crashing in

This year the annual lobster beach blast was extra special.  It was Dad's 60th and Mum had conspired for a surprise party and invited friends to "roast" Dad.  This was great for two reasons.  The first was because it guaranteed we would have a great turnout and an even better time.  The second was pure selfishness for me.  You see, I've been grooming Dad into a bourbon connoisseur for a few years now - a trip to Kentucky for distillery tours, a subscription to The Bourbon Review, alerting him when I find a new bourbon, etc - and I knew that he had passed on enough education to his buddies for there to be some nice bourbon gifts as a result.  These gifts would have to be shared, of course.  Poor me!  Wow, some of my favorites just happened to pop up - Eagle Rare, Wathen's, Pappy Van Winkle 23yr(!!), and the new Makers 46.  Dad's only mistake was leaving the Makers 46 out on the table and not tucked away inside.  It was gonzo within a few hours!

Big Ol' Bucket O' Bugs!

Dad's been sourcing our lobsters from Ken Porter at Roy Moore Lobster Co. in Rockport for years.  This year we ended up with over 50 two pounders and about 18 pounds of steamers which were both a few more than we ordered without the charge for the overage.  Great customer service, pricing, and flavor of the lobsters from Roy Moore's ensure repeat business each and every year.  It also explains why they move over 100,000 pounds of ocean-fresh lobster each year (probably more since this was written in 2004 - a good read for more info on Roy Moore Lobster Co.).  I must admit that this year's lobsters were the best I can ever remember them being.  I started my methodical destruction of lobster with my favorite part, the claws, before working my way to the tail, a few legs, a few fins, and even a little lobster roe.  The sweet meat dipped in butter tasted better and better with each bite.  I was more than willing to polish off my cousin Sarah's claws too when she couldn't handle more than the tail.  I still think it's funny when people in Miami try to tell me that spiny lobster found in Florida waters with no claws is better than New England lobster.  That's just plain crazy talk.

Lobstah, lobstah bib, lobstah shirt! ~ Photo by cousin Ben Hodson

The steamers this year weren't up to par with years past.  Their bellies were sandy and smaller than usual and kept coming separated from the rest of the clam, making a mess.  No matter, lobsters and steamers are a dirty sport best enjoyed on a picnic bench with good friends and family.  As usual, we had a few leftover lobsters that were chilled and then shelled the following morning by Dad who didn't leave much left in the shell.  That promptly turned into a nice batch of lobster rolls that my Mum put together with butter-toasted flat-bottom buns, a minimal amount of mayo, and a touch of lemon juice to perk up the flavors.  I like to add some dill flake onto mine too and managed to take down two of these bad boys shown below before leaving for the airport.  Dad's suggestion to take one on the plane was considered but ultimately rejected because I knew I'd have inhaled that roll in the car.

Lobster leftovers = lobster rolls for lunch!

It was another awesome year at our annual Beach Blast, packed with a lot of flavor.  This truly is my favorite vacation every year because I get to fully relax and just spend time with family and friends without a care in the world.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Navigating the Atlantic on my friend Ryan's SUP ~ photo by cousin Ben Hodson

 Sunrise on Long Beach, Rockport, MA - July 2007