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Today’s Entrée Special: Sautéed Sonnet PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jen Karetnick   
September 2010

bigstock_Place_Setting_Vector_Illustrat_4220439To paraphrase Mark Strand, the fourth U.S. Poet Laureate (1990-1991): “There is no happiness like mine [when] I have been eating poetry.”

Yes, for some it might seem like an odd choice for dining. But I do find myself completely nourished by the metaphor, satiated by the interplay of image and language. It’s a good thing, too, because there were times last year, after school started and I was eating poetry 24/7, that I didn’t have a moment for any other kind of meal.

Dewey LoSasso, when running his own North One 10 restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard a couple a years ago, understood the connection between reading poetry and eating poetry. In an interview given to Belkys Nerey of Channel 7, LoSasso said, “When you mention poetry, people tend to run the other way, so we wanted to do it in a fun way.”

So he actually served poetry. Once or twice a year, he offered up such items as Ashes and Blues (“pass-arounds during chit-chat”), the perhaps self-explanatory Ferlinghetti Spaghetti, Grilled Skirt Steak with a Howl of Heat (referencing Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem), Uncensored Wild Salmon, and desserts that were styled after 1950s-1960s Beat poetry: Smoking Cigarettes Hunched Over a Cup of Coffee (coffee, crema, and shattered chocolate), and a Rucksack of Filo, Tropical in Nature. During the evening, poet Howard Camner would read and LoSasso, the chef himself, would come out of the kitchen and join him on guitar, providing a bluesy beat.

Miami Shores and its environs lost LoSasso, North One 10, and poetry -- the whole tasty caboodle -- when Chef Dewey closed up shop a year ago. He’d been jinxed since the place opened. Construction began on the Boulevard right outside his window as soon as he debuted, then the economy crashed as soon as the construction ended. North One 10 wasn’t an expensive restaurant, but diners perceived it that way, probably because of the creativity of the fare. In truth, most main courses were under 20 bucks.

We haven’t lost Dewey for good, of course. Miami Shores residents, who count the LoSasso family as ours, might have been the first to hear that Chew Dewey was taking over the newly revamped Forge. His time at the helm of the historic restaurant has been getting good reviews. I haven’t been in yet -- yes, to my shame, and despite my friend-in-poetry’s constant invitations -- but I fully intend to dine soon on his brand of rhythms and rhymes. And now that Howl, the movie centering around Allen Ginsberg’s controversial poem (which was actually brought to trial for being “obscene”) is nearing wide release on September 24, is it possible to hope for a theme dinner at The Forge? Could we anticipate, perhaps, a 2010 version of that Grilled Skirt Steak with a Howl of Heat, and a little more Uncensored Wild Salmon? After all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is portrayed in the movie as well. Is it too much to ask for just one more taste of Ferlinghetti Spaghetti?

You might not think that The Forge is the kind of place for poetry readings and eatings, but you’d be mistaken. I gave my very first poetry reading in Miami at The Forge, way back in 1992. And while it was a little eclectic -- gorgeous people in skimpy clothing drinking Champagne while I read about picking out papayas in the open-air supermarkets to bongo beats -- it was also so very, very Miami.

Another intriguing, could-only-happen-in-Miami poetry-eating experience occurred a couple of months ago on South Beach at The Betsy Hotel. Yes, that Betsy -- the luxe boutique lodging formerly known as the Betsy Ross Hotel. Having opened in 1942, it is one of the oldest properties on Ocean Drive and the last surviving example of “Florida Georgian” architecture in the area. It is also the place where another verse-loving chef, Norman Van Aken (now at Norman’s 180 in Coral Gables, where poetry quotes are etched on the walls) first made his Mango Gang mark with his restaurant a Mano. On June 26, in the hotel’s B Bar, I attended the First Annual Poetry Dinner, where the poets who would read the following evening, Ed Skoog and Gregory Pardlo, were feted in royal style (something not seen since Victorian ages).

While we savored carnivorous delights brought down from the lobby’s signature restaurant, BLT Steak, we poetry diners fielded “verse trivia” questions and watched a presentation of “Florida” poems that had been curated by Neil Baldwin, a distinguished author, poet, professor, and leader in arts administration and nonprofit work, who teaches, works, and lives in New Jersey. I was shocked and delighted to find that Baldwin had chosen one of my poems for the presentation. It was an unexpectedly palatable treat to eat my own poetry. Usually I try to consume the words of others.

After the reading the following evening, I had a chance to chat with dinner organizer Deborah Briggs, executive director if the PG Family Foundation and vice president for philanthropy and programs for The Betsy Hotel. As it turns out, Briggs is sister to The Betsy’s co-owner, Jonathan Plutzik. Their father was a poet; their mission behind The Betsy’s beautiful façade is to harbor cultural life.

To that end, they’ve succeeded admirably. The Plutzik clan -- which includes Jonathan’s wife and Betsy co-owner Lesley Goldwasser -- have been at the helm of the Academy Award-winning Music by Prudence documentary tour, as well as the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. Less flashy projects included the fundraiser they hosted for Doctors Without Borders (my husband’s favorite charity) after the Haiti earthquake, and the poetry bookmarks, embedded with wildflower seeds, that are placed in every guest room (along with piles of recently released publications from Books & Books).

Naturally, I’d prefer my bookmark to be embedded with heirloom tomato seeds, and for The Betsy to be located in Miami Shores. But who am I to quibble? We don’t have many public lodgings here anyway, and with the departure of North One 10, we don’t have any creative (with whatever kind of price tag) eats in the village vicinity.

And no, I don’t count the Village Café, which is pleasant enough, but expensive for what you get to boot (although I will say Revales, which springs from similar roots, is excellent quality). I do harbor hopes, however. Another Miami Shores restaurateuring family recently closed their landmark restaurant on South Beach. Having spoken with the Randazzos recently for another article, I know they’ve been looking for a more traffic-driven place to relocate Talula, not to shutter it permanently. Could we possibly see it spring up, like poetry does eternally, closer to home?

 

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