The Biscayne Times

Jun 19th
Waiting for Joe PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jen Karetnick - BT Contributor   
June 2012

Even with a Whole Foods scheduled to open nearby, Miami Shores could still use a local gourmet market

Pix_for_Jen_Karetnick_6-12In Samuel Beckett’s two-act absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, the two main characters wait, waxing philosophically, for an unrecognizable individual who, in the end, never appears.

So how many of us in Miami Shores feel like itchy Vladimir and sleepy Estragon? You know, tapping our toes in vain not for someone, but for something: an organic-market alternative to Publix.

Count my husband and me among the forever sanguine. Without going into too much detail, we both have chronic illnesses, thanks to centuries of intermarrying Jews with faulty genes -- an argument for marrying outside the faith if I ever heard one -- and try to maintain gluten-free diets. (I cheat when I review restaurants and test recipes, which means, in the busy season, I’m a really bad girl. But that’s another story.)

Living without wheat, oats, barley, and the other grains that produce gluten is both easier and harder than people think. If you are a good home cook and have the time to make everything from scratch, using quality local ingredients, you won’t, after a while, even miss the stuff.

Rice, corn, potatoes, and quinoa are delightful starches that serve just as well for bread mixes as they do on the plate. If you’re not personally inventive, a slew of cookbooks offering gluten-free recipes -- including breads, pizza dough, and cakes -- has recently come on the market.

But -- and it’s a big “but” -- who has the time to cook this way? Jon and I don’t. He often works 14-hour days, not counting the nights he’s on call. I have two full-time vocations. And we share the responsibilities of kids, cats, dogs, and mangos. As for the house, well, that’s falling apart; my stiletto heel recently went through our wood floor. (But again, that’s another column.)

So half the time, our gluten-free family dinners revolve around a restaurant table. We search beyond Miami Shores -- where Pizza Fiore makes it far too tempting to cheat -- for South American places that rely on potatoes or Asian restaurants that serve rice-noodle dishes.

A big winner? Peruvian-Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant SushiSamba Dromo on Lincoln Road (and soon to open in Coral Gables), where chef Michael Bloise, formerly of American Noodle Bar in the Upper Eastside, has an extensive chart in the kitchen for all his cooks detailing what on the menu is free of gluten (and other allergens) or if it isn’t, how to make it so. The restaurant now offers hand rolls made with quinoa and beers brewed from rice and sweet potatoes.

Other nights, we pop prepared convenience products into the microwave or onto the stovetop. But eating this way can be even more expensive than dining out, because gluten-free items are outrageously priced. And when you have to drive to a Fresh Market or a Whole Foods far out of your neighborhood, you add the cost of our all-too-expensive gas to what will be a pretty hefty bill.

Yes, the Miami Shores Publix does have a gluten-free section, composed mostly of sweets, snacks, and mixes, along with random prepared items mixed in with the frozen foods and “green” fare. As this type of diet becomes more popular with folks who want to lose weight -- along with tamping down PMS bloat, osteoarthritis attacks, and a whole range of other common complaints -- our Publix is attempting to keep up.

But it’s almost impossible to afford it. For instance, I recently paid more than $7 for a bag of Glutino pretzels there. Sure, I could probably have done without them. But I am a snacker of pretzels; it’s my preferred nosh. Not having them around would just lead me to cheat on regular pretzels and inflame my symptoms.

If Waiting for Godot had a third act, the two men might have seen at least a shadow of hope, just as we are about to: Whole Foods will soon open in the former Office Depot site on the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 123rd Street.

Unlike the Miami Shores Publix, which only stocks a few products from one or two dedicated gluten-free brands, we will have plenty of options, ranging from Udi’s bagels and pizza to Kiss My Face bar soap. (Yes, some people are so sensitive they can’t even tolerate gluten on their skin.)

What’s more, Whole Foods has its own “Gluten-Free Bakehouse,” and the products, from the apple pie to corn muffins, are pretty darn tasty. In fact Whole Foods offers a gluten-free shopping list to make the lives of people with celiac and other diseases easier; now you don’t have to waste your time reading labels. (Check out the shopping lists for other food allergens as well.)

The drawback -- and it is a drawback -- is that Whole Foods is so expensive that it’s earned the nickname “Whole Paycheck.” In addition, though this site is significantly closer to Miami Shores than the one in Aventura, it will be located at on a stretch that already includes Home Depot, Walgreens, and Office Max. In high-traffic times, the area is impossible to navigate. Want to pick up something on the way home from work? Good luck.

The solution to both problems -- expense and location-- is to resume petitioning for a health-minded market in Miami Shores. It wouldn’t be a Whole Foods, whose extensive cooked sections make that an impossibility given our lack of a sewage system. (Besides, they would never open two branches so close together.) What we need is a Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s is a chain of grocery stores that began in Southern California in the late 1950s. It’s dedicated not only to wholesome, fair trade, gourmet products -- emphasis on gourmet -- but to keeping prices consistent and low. I became addicted to shopping there as a grad student at the University of California, Irvine. While my peers were supping on cheap spaghetti, I was feasting on foie gras and French baguettes for basically the same price.

Trader Joe’s began to expand across the country in the ensuing decades, and in May opened its first Florida store in Naples. A second store is debuting soon in Sarasota. It has no plans to come to this coast anytime soon, but that doesn’t stop me from believing it would be an ideal fit for Miami Shores.

The products that are packaged in-store don’t require elaborate preparation, and the philosophy of the management -- give the people what they want and what they need -- is something everybody in Miami Shores could use.

Until Joe decides to show, unfortunately, I see a lot of road trips in my future.

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