The goods: The best dining deal in Miami isn't necessarily Miami Spice, it's your local college dining hall. The student-run restaurant at FIU's School Of Hospitality campus in North Miami offers a gourmet three-course lunch for only $18, less than what you'd pay for a cocktail on South Beach. The restaurant is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and you're encouraged to make reservations, although they do take walk-ins. The fresh-faced culinary hopefuls prepare, cook and serve the restaurant-caliber meals which include homemade bread, a glass of wine and virgin cocktails like a refreshing mint-muddled mojito. Chef-Instructor Michael Moran initiated the practice almost twenty years ago and the program has launched the careers of hundreds of future Michelle Bernsteins and Allen Sussers. In addition to working at the restaurant, the students also pitch in and help prepare the thousands of meals served during the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, often working side-by-side legendary chefs.
Ambiance: The dining room is a light-filled affair, filled with tables set with white tablecloths and crafty centerpieces consisting of roses arranged in vintage cigar boxes.
The grub: Menus are executed according to region and culinary tradition (so it might be a good idea to call ahead to see what is offered). Each three-course menu includes an appetizer – usually salad or soup – a choice of main course and a dessert. The meal begins with fresh baked bread, which on a recent occasion included crusty French baguettes, but can also include breadsticks, biscuits with honey butter (on Southern food day) and jalapeno corn bread (New Orleans day). Offerings on the New Orleans menu include crab cakes with remoulade and a choice of Cajun grilled trout with Apple Salsa or Jambalaya followed by bread pudding with vanilla sauce. When French cuisine is the theme of the day expect a starter of shrimp bisque and a choice of Coq Au Vin or red snapper en papillote and a classic tart tatin.
Verdict: You might be eating in a college dining hall, but you won't find a three-course gourmet meal of this caliber for this price anywhere else in the city.
Foto: Mitchell Zachs/FIU School of Hospitality.