All of the conversation about food at Miami Book Fair International inspires the appetite. Unfortunately, if the past is a guide, the food at the Book Fair is not curated with the same care as the authors. It's basically overpriced carnival fare.
However, the Miami Culinary Institute (MCI) is part of Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus, where the Book Fair takes place. MCI houses the student-run cafe, Root Cellar, overseen by Chef Norman Van Aken. The cafe is usually open until 2 p.m., but it remains open until 4 p.m. during the weekend street fair.
At the cafe, students brew locally roasted Panther Coffee and serve tasty pastries and light dishes at good value, especially compared to the sometimes-exaggerated prices seen at street fairs.
There are other options nearby for those who are inclined to walk a little further (a few blocks) in between or after their literary pursuits. We've updated the list we posted last year to reflect some of the worthwhile new spots that have opened downtown:
Bali Cafe: Head just a a block south of the Wolfson Campus if you're in the mood to try Indonesian dishes. The cozy restaurant delivers satisfying meals: a rijstaffel for two offers a sampler of the cuisine. The restaurant also serves sushi. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., weekends 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 109 NE Second Ave.; 305-358-5751.
The DRB: The bar and restaurant otherwise known as The Democratic Republic of Beer boasts a tremendous selection of bottled beers from around the world, as well as rotating offerings on tap. Get decent globally inspired bar snacks like samosas and fried yucca or full-on entrees like burgers, mussels frites and bangers & mash. Open 5 p.m. till late, Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 2 a.m. Sundays; 501 NE First Ave.; 305-372-4565.
Pollos y Jarras: This Peruvian rotisserie, about three blocks from the Wolfson Campus, offers much more than roasted chicken (although it's quite good). Order soups, salads, sandwiches, chifa (Peruvian-style fried rice) or a juicy "Holy Cow Steak." Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week 115 NE Third Ave.; 786-567-4940.
Sakaya Kitchen: This is a longer walk (seven to eight blocks) depending on where you are at the Book Fair. The Asian and Korean-influenced menu features dishes like rice bowls and short rib tacos, with options for vegetarians too. The restaurant also serves Wynwood-based Panther Coffee. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, noon to 10 p.m. weekends, 125 SE Third Ave.; 305-371-2513.
Soya e Pomodoro: This charming Italian restaurant is in the arcade of an old building about three blocks south of the Book Fair campus. It's best to call and make sure it's open as the place is "closed on Sunday and on every major and minor Holidays [sic] American and/or Italian! And sometimes just because!" If it is open, you're in for a lovely meal. Open weekdays for lunch; Thursday through Saturday for dinner; 120 NE First St.; 305-381-9511.
Sparky's Roadside Barbecue: A haven of hearty barbecue and craft beer lies a few blocks south of the Book Fair. The menu includes fried pickles, highly recommended by WLRN-Miami Herald News' Sammy Mack, one of my trusted sources on Southern food in all its incarnations. Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week; 204 NE First St.; 305-377-2877.
Ten Fruits: Get juices and smoothies, like the avocado-based Super Green, and acai bowls, refreshing combinations of slushy, tangy acai fruit with fruits and grains. Ten Fruits also sells salads, empanadas, coffee drinks and flaky whole wheat croissants. Open until 7 p.m. weekdays, open until 6 p.m. on Saturday; 143 NE Third Ave.; 305-373-7678.
Tuyo: The restaurant is located right at the Wolfson Campus at Miami Culinary Institute. It's a worthwhile splurge if you're in the mood for a meal that showcases some of South Florida's ingredients most creatively. It's only open for dinner and reservations are required.
Tuesday night, chefs Norman Van Aken and Scott Conant prepare a special VIP Book Fair dinner ($135, reservations required). Van Aken is executive chef at Tuyo, a WLRN contributor and the author of the new memoir: "No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Norman Van Aken." Conant is executive chef of Scarpetta restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, including an outpost at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Conant just wrote the new "Scarpetta Cookbook."
At Miami Culinary Institute, 415 NE Second Ave.; 305-237-3200.
Urban Oxy: This cafe serves Panther Coffee beverages, including the terrific cold brew. You can also get pizzas, pastries, soups and various incarnations of grilled cheese, including the "Mac Daddy," a gooey sandwich stuffed with bacon and cheddar mac and cheese. Somehow, it works. Open from 8 to 6 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, 101 NE Second Ave., 305-579-0015.