Spring Break and the Rascal House just seem to go together. It's been in the same place for 51 years, so it's seen plenty of breaks, and breakers, come and go. It was there when Jackie Gleason "discovered" Miami Beach, a few years ago it starred (albeit under another name) in the film The Crew, and on its sunny stretch of Sunny Isles, nothing much has changed since Wolfie Cohen's restaurant first opened in 1954.
17190 Collins Ave. (Sunny Isles), N. Miami Beach
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Hours: open 24 hours
Bar: full service
Sound level: moderate
Children's facilities: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
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I mean it as a tribute when I say that as a diner, you'd never know Rascal House is part of a chain. Along with a Rascal House in Boca Raton and Epicure Market on South Beach, Wolfie's, as it's known to many fans, was purchased by a Southern California-based deli company in 1998. Jason Starkman, the son of the owner of Jerry's Famous Delis Inc., manages the South Florida properties, and it may be his local touch that keeps this restaurant so vibrant. The food may be down-home deli at heart, but the place runs like a retro champ. The menu at Rascal House has enough breadth and depth to qualify it as a restaurant though everyone still thinks of it as a deli without in any way being dismissive. It's not fancy -- a huge counter forms a ring in the center of the main dining area with dozens of tables scattered around, and night or day -- it's open 24 hours -- the lighting is flat and the décor is simple.
Servers are right out of central casting, striking an engaging balance between gruff New York been-there-seen-that exterior and engaging warmth, and it doesn't hurt that they're efficient without being pushy. Want to linger over your coffee (or wine or cocktail -- it still surprises many people, but there's a full bar)? The staff will bring more lighter-than-air prune mini-Danish and won't press you, though you might feel some heat when the line stretches outside the door and around the block.
I love the Rascal House for weekend breakfast at almost any time of day, especially the fresh-tasting corned beef hash ($8.25, $9.65 with three poached eggs). The corned beef here is legendary and deservedly so -- whether in the hash, a full corned beef and cabbage dinner ($16.75) or a huge sandwich ($10.75). The sandwich is $7.50 for half, and that will fill most people and leave them reeling at how good the real thing can be. No supermarket meat here. Pastrami ($10.75) has a bright pepper flavor, and the chopped chicken liver ($9.25) is good enough to end any thoughts of using it as a metaphor for being ignorable.
Wolfie's sandwiches have the expected choice of breads, all freshly made in the restaurant's enormous bake shop, which also turns out pies with a thick, shortbread-like crust ($4.95), huge macaroons ($4.95) and the moistest cheesecake you'll find ($4.95). But how did I get to dessert already? Actually, between the baked goods on your table and the large display counter by the cash register, dessert is never far from one's eye or thought. But to be fair, dinner must be acknowledged as being much more than the sandwiches and overcooked main courses that make up much of standard deli fare. Here, the roast turkey platter ($15.50) is moist, the potato pancakes ($8.65 for a crispy trio) are light and miraculously devoid of grease, a stuffed spring chicken ($16.25) or boiled beef with matzo balls ($17.85) and even a thick slab of prime rib ($23.50) all seem freshly made to order. The Rascal House has a small wine list of standard bottles, and aside from Samuel Adams ($4.95) and Beck's ($4.95) the beers are mostly domestic. It's not a place to go for intimate dining or a date over a fine vintage -- it doesn't try to be. It is just very good at what it is -- a classic American restaurant that proudly claims to have served 40,000,000 eggs and half a billion rolls since it opened. It is arguably still the best deli in South Florida, and more. It's a great and welcome reminder that old Miami Beach still has a lot going for it, and there is still a place where you can have corned beef hash and still call it fine dining.
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