As a young girl, I’d sit and play Candyland for hours. This was a time before video games, when we kids enjoyed being outdoors and playing board games. Candyland was up there for me, along with Chutes and Ladders, and I enjoyed getting my little piece across the board, visiting different sweet treats and gaining points along the way. Now as an adult, I can roam the streets of South Miami and score real-life tasty sweets. I can choose from an array of sweet shops situated every few steps, many boasting in-house pastry chefs sharing their talents and love of decadent food with visitors. The tastes run the cultural gamut, from macaroons and arfajoles, to favorites like bread puddings and even doughnuts. Join me in a journey through the Candyland that is our Town Center.
Starting just off Sunset, Café Bonjour sits unassumingly on US1 and 62 Avenue. Many might remember the quaint family restaurant from its time on Red Road. Here I sat with owner and chef Ahmed Youbi as he took me through a sampling of his delicacies. delicacies. Youbi and his wife, Veronique, run Café Bonjour, where he starts baking at 5 a.m. every day and later is joined by his wife after her shift as a nurse at South Miami Hospital. My first taste of his great work was the almond croissant, a choice this chocolate lover would probably never have made. I would have definitely missed out, and have moved this delicacy to the top of my list. Flavored with orange blossom water and filled with an almond paste, the croissant gives off the scent of pure orange blossom with each cut. Chef also offers a delectable chocolate version. The shop’s most popular dessert is the chocolate cake, which is gluten-free, made with chocolate meringue and chocolate mouse, topped with lady finger pieces and served with creme anglaise. My third treat was the napoleon, or in French, millefeuille. This puff-like pastry with cream legero fill is worth every calorie. The bread pudding is made with a croissant base, served with creme anglaise or as the French say, a la venie. In addition to the three sweets I sampled, (I know it’s a rough life), you can also find traditional eclairs; apple tarts; and Paris Brest, a round puff-like eclair filled with praline cream. Ahmed’s passion for sweets means he won’t serve his patrons anything he wouldn’t want to have himself, which is why all his pastries are made fresh daily with fresh ingredients.
Continuing along our stroll, we find Blu by Best Friends, where Chef Peter Bermudez has led the kitchen for the past seven years. The pan di Nutella or Nutella delight truly is. This pizza-like dessert is shaped like a star with a pineapple middle, and topped with Nutella and powdered sugar. Made from the same dough as their pizza and cooked with heavy milk, the large portion is best shared. Also on the menu are other traditional treats such as the fragoi con zabagilone, a light, pudding-like cream made with vino marsala, fresh strawberries and cream of sabayon. You can definitely taste the hint of liquor in this one, but it’s a refreshing dish that’s a great choice in the Miami heat.
Next door at Trattoria Sole, the new Italian and Peruvian fusion dishes added about six months ago were the result of about 18 months of experimenting with recipes gathered from Peru. Chef Leliggia Mora has been heading the making of their pastries for nine months, bringing more than 30 years of culinary experience. Manager Carlos Llaque describes their tiramisu as a dinosaur because it’s been on the menu for about 16 years. Made with lady fingers drenched in american coffee and espresso, mascarpone cheese, and vino marsalla this tiramisu had a great coffee taste, moist texture, and a fine cocoa powder topping. The Italian dish sospiro di donna, is a cold dessert made with condensed, evaporated and regular milk, and looks a like pudding. If you’re familiar with the hispanic dish of tres leches, it has a similar aftertaste. I was surprised by how much I liked this one. The panacotta is like flan, but white in color, made with cooked cream and sambuca, topped with crushed vanilla beans and black cherries, and drizzled with the extract from the cherries. The sambuca is very noticeable with every spoonful of this treat. You can also find mango cheesecake on their menu, made with a macadamia nut base that feels more like a cookie. The cream cheese for the cheesecake is made with mango puree, giving every bite a delicious mango-infused flavor. It’s topped with mango glaze and pieces of fresh mango on the side. If you’re looking for a cheesecake that you won’t find anywhere else, try the lucuma cheesecake, which is served with creme anglaise. Lucuma is a fruit found in the Andes Mountains of Peru and not commonly found at your local supermarket. The taste reminded me of the traditional hispanic turrones, which are often eaten for the holidays. Another menu staple, the chocolate soufflé is soft and filled with warm chocolate, served with ice cream and strawberries.
Jumping across the street to Argentinian bakery Patagonia Nahuen offers an impressive display of sinful sweets, most brought from its Doral commissary. The most popular are the alfajores, a small, cookie-like pastry made with maisena most commonly found in Argentina. Some are plain while others are covered with powdered sugar or chocolate and all are filled with their well-known dulce de leche. Another delicious choice is the Valcarce, which is merengue cream, peaches, dulce de leche layered over pound cake. Their media lunas, or half moons, are a sweet croissant made with a honey like glaze called almeva and dulce de leche. My personal favorite was the conitos. Similar to the alfajores in the cookie bottom, it’s a cone filled with dulce de leche and completely covered by a chocolate shell. The arrollado, also a popular treat, is a caramel roll cake with dulce de leche swirled throughout and a powdered sugar topping.
Walking a few feet down the block, I come across the newly opened Le Macaron. Quentin Garrigou his wife Agnes, who together own the business, moved from France to Miami five months ago. He bakes their croissants and canoles made with rum, soft cake and a hard caramel crust outside. The macarons, made by a French baker with fresh produce and no extracts, are brought in from Sarasota every two days. A trend in France for about 20 years, macarons have become more popular there the past three years, a little like the cupcake craze here. The basil macaron was surprisingly very good and something I wouldn’t have picked on my own. It’s made with natural basil leaves crushed and added to the ganache. The house-made croissants are offered in chocolate, raisin, apple turnover and plain. While browsing for your choice of treat, you’re sure to notice the colorful, gorgeous chocolates that look like marbles behind the glass. Though these aren’t made in-house, they are crafted by a well-known French-educated chocolatier, Normand Love, who ships his chocolate art from Fort Myers. I was able to give one of these little beauties a try. The white chocolate raspberry definitely gets two thumbs up from me. It doesn’t have an overpowering white chocolate taste and the raspberry filling is soft, rich and can stand up to the flavor of the white chocolate. It was a perfect combination and won my love with its heart shape.
Making my way inside the Shops of Sunset Place, I came to L.A. Sweets. This cupcake shop is run by Letty Alvarez and husband Eddie Dominguez, who was in the construction business before leaping into the cupcake world. Their son, Cristian Dominguez is also a chef for the family business after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu. Their Cuban and Spanish roots can be found in some of the flavors offered at their shop, most notably guava, mango, coconut and rum. Raised on guava and pastelitos, Chef Letty says her guava cupcake was a natural addition that put her on the cupcake map locally and nationally. Cake baked with guava in it is topped with a soft cream cheese buttercream icing and a little cube of the fruit. None of their 125 flavors is made with lard and all use the finest ingredients. Though some of Chef Letty’s recipes are her personal creations, refined through trial and error, others were researched and adapted to her liking. She uses less sugar than most recipes call for so her patrons can better taste the all the ingredients. I was sent home with a box of treats including somoa, PB&J, coconut and red velvet and have to say they were all as delicious and perfectly made as the guava cupcake.
Crossing over to La Provence, which has now been open for about 14 months, I had another taste of French goodness. Chef David Thau, who studied in France, spearheads the creation of their sweets at their 7,000 square foot facility in Allapattah. Chef David believes in making everything fresh by hand and doesn’t use preservatives. You can taste the freshness in each of their delicacies, which include eclairs, Napoleons, fruit tarts, tiramisu and entremets. The Royal is round, made with mont-ventoux or chocolate mouse and praline wafers, covered in chocolate. The entremet is a three-layer chocolate mousse made with white, dark and milk chocolates. The raspberry tart, one of their most popular choices, is a strawberry shortcake. Though all the choices in their display looked ravishing, the Napoleon and Royal I sampled were definite hits, not too sweet but fresh with every bite.
A couple blocks down I wandered into Town Kitchen & Bar, where I sat with Chef Michael Altman for a sampling session. First, we went through the choices on the menu: bread pudding, doughnuts, cheesecake with peanut butter oreo crust, apple cobbler, chocolate brownie with ice cream and vanilla bean crème brulee. Chef Michael let me in on a couple secrets — every month a dessert on the menu changes, usually the cheesecake, and the flavor of the doughnuts changes daily. Per Chef Michael’s recommendation, I tried the doughnuts of the day, which were two large malt chocolate versions with chocolate ganache and powdered sugar. My other treat was the bread pudding, made with white and dark chocolate pieces. They were both worth every added calorie to my daily intake. I have to say the bread pudding was so good, I almost couldn’t stop myself, and I’m usually not a fan of bread pudding; this one I will have again.
Next I made it over to La Crepe Bistro, where the charlotte is a local favorite. This chocolate and strawberry mousse cake is made of coulis of strawberry and creme anglaise. The tart etatain is unlike anything I’ve seen before and surely one I didn’t see during any of my previous stops. Its baked apples with no sugar added and served with creme anglaise and pate feuilletee on the bottom, which is like a tart. The bread pudding is made with croissants and also served with creme anglaise. Don’t let the name fool you; you can find a lot more than crepes at this bistro since all of these choices are made fresh in-house.
My final stop was at Misha’s Cupcakes, where I sampled some delicious bites of favorites like the chocolate ganache, cookie dough and red velvet. Misha started her business by making her mother’s chocolate cake recipe, which was
a staple at home while growing up. There are a few local favorites such as the red velvet, vanilla and chocolate ganache, but the latest addition, salty crème, has also become a hit. Misha’s cupcakes are made in house daily, and the recipes are of her own creation.I may not have found a Candyland castle along my SoMi Sweets Stroll, but I definitely did come across Cupcake Commons and many delicious chunky Chocolate Mountains, just like in the game. My caloric intake might have been higher than on most days and my sugar count in the diabetic range by the end of my stroll, but one thing is for sure: You can’t go more than a few steps without stumbling across a talented pastry chef in one of SoMi’s bakeries or restaurants. There are still a few more treasures to be discovered on another Candyland stroll, but maybe the dice roll will lead me to those yet-to-be-sampled sweet spots.
Interested in taking your own sweet stroll? You can download the SoMi Guide to all of the city’s fantastic restaurants and bakeries at somimag.com/guide/ and even add a few more stops along your path. Where will your dice roll leave you?