Andre Azevedo was sitting on a bright yellow chair, shucking corn. One after another, the cobs fell into a shiny trash can lined with plastic. This was the corn that later in the day would be used in esquites, the Mexican snack made with roasted kernels of corn, mild poblano chili peppers, cotija (a hard aged cheese) and lime juice.
The delicious snack — a variation includes mayonnaise — is ubiquitous in Mexico and Los Angeles and catching on in Miami, where I recently found Azevedo outside La Pollita, a happily painted food cart sitting incongruously in the heart of the high-end Design District, Miami’s new, ultra-chic retail attraction. (La Pollita was tricked out in its cheerful paint job by local artist Beth Rhodes.)
In the Design District, retailers like Cartier, Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Versace (the late local icon) hold forth along with the boutiques of rising stars in the glittering Miami fashion world. Anchored to the pavement, La Pollita is the brainchild of co-owners Alex Meyer and Luciana Giangrandi, both Michelin-trained chefs. They thought there might be a market for esquites and other quick bites among both shoppers and workers in the district’s stores and upscale restaurants. (Both Gloria Estefan and Pharrell Williams own restaurants here.) Judging by the lines at La Pollita, Meyer and Giangrandi were right.
Hidden away in tiny Jade Alley off Paseo Ponti, the lushly landscaped, pedestrians-only thoroughfare that runs through the middle of the District, La Pollita can be a little hard to find. To its fans, however, it’s Mecca. (Count my wife and me as two of the pilgrims.) Every time we visit the District, either to visit the Institute of Contemporary Art, the spanking new Miami art museum just up the street, or to gawk or take pictures (we’re camera bugs), we make a beeline for La Pollita. Its guacamole is the best we’ve tasted, as is its salsa. A friend who joined us recently and is partial to fish had a mahi mahi taco, which he found delicious. La Pollita is also politically correct: it serves only fair-trade coffee and uses only locally sourced ingredients.
Like the patio outside La Pollita, the public spaces in the Design District are often crowded. One, the Palm Court, is surrounded by shops and restaurants and focused on a Buckminster Fuller Fly’s Eye dome, a type of structure pioneered by the visionary in 1965 as an environmentally-friendly “dwelling machine.” Construction of this incarnation of the Fly’s Eye, of which only three originals were produced, was supervised by the Buckminster Fuller Institute, which OK’d the use of contemporary materials that were nonetheless true to the original design. Intended in this location as art, the dome is surrounded by sidewalk cafes and seating areas under the shady canopy of dozens of palms. On a recent Sunday, guitarist Mariano Brascich entertained with lively Latin tunes, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Sometimes the public spaces are art themselves. Above the Palm Court, Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto created a blue glass canopy over a balcony sidewalk lined with shops. When the sun is shining, the walkway is bathed in blue light. A larger-than-life bust by Xavier Veilhan of the famed French-Swiss architect known as Le Corbusier rises out of the floor at one end of the passageway. Another sculpture, the Survival of Serena by Carole A. Feuerman, stands outside Markowicz Fine Art, a gallery that often shows her work. It’s a hyperrealistic likeness of a bathing-capped swimmer and a magnet for visitors who pose beside her.
Another work, a giant collage depicting tropical foliage and birds with long, pointed beaks stretches for the better part of a block on the side of a building bordering the district’s Jungle Plaza. Created by the New York artists’ collaborative 2×4, it’s the backdrop for two of the world’s largest 3D printed objects, giant rust-coloured “pavilion” sculptures in the plaza named Flotsam & Jetsam. (They were designed by New York’s SHoP architectural firm.) Most of the plaza, however, is intended for public use. We were disappointed when the weekly farmers’ market, intended as an amenity for the surrounding, somewhat faded neighbourhood, closed. But we were delighted on a recent visit to find the plaza being used as a skateboard park where boarders were practicing their aerials and backsides, among other maneuvers, occasionally with exceptional skill.
The Institute of Contemporary Art, like La Pollita, can be a bit hard to find. It’s sandwiched between other buildings and across the street from the towering block-square Museum Garage, the largest Design District parking facility. The museum is built right to the sidewalk; its stunning, silvery façade is best viewed from across the street. The garage itself is worth a look. Each seven-story façade is a work of art.
Unlike the decorative mesh or neon-draped garages one increasingly finds in edgy Miami, the garage walls bear colourful, building-size artworks that one might otherwise expect to find in Miami’s Wynwood Art District, a hotbed of outdoor art. My favorite wall faces the museum. It’s by noted Miami architect Manuel Clavel and consists of 45 vertically arranged cars painted in metallic colours. The other walls include surrealistic and geometric motifs as well as one fanciful, if truly bizarre wall inspired in part by Japanese anime characters.
On our most recent trip to the ICA, a Judy Chicago retrospective was mesmerizing, as were the other exhibits, some featuring work by local artists. Shows change quickly. Most of the art in the museum and the sculpture garden behind it is contemporaneous, reflecting Miami’s obsession with what’s in vogue. (It’s hard to find a Frederick Church, let alone a Monet in any of the Miami area’s plethora of art museums.)
Best of all, the museum prides itself on its accessibility to those with limited incomes, thanks to an endowment specifically earmarked to pay all admission charges for the next five years. The museum didn’t cost the city a cent; billionaire Miami art collector Norman Braman rounded up enough money from Miami donors to pay for its construction and operation.
Free is good. We’ve come to love the Design District for its public art and exuberant crowds. Of course, La Pollita is our real object of affection. It’s what keeps bringing us back, despite the drive from our home in a small beach town 50 miles north. We no longer need our GPS: We can always find alluring La Pollita — the pretty chick.
Shopping in the Design District
• Cartier: Jewelry and accessories. (147 NE 39th St. 305-894-2960)
• Daniella Kronfle: Miami-based international jewelry designer. (4141 NE 42nd St., 305-374-7079)
• Dior: Designer fashions. (162 NE 39th St., 305-576-4632)
• Dior Homme: Fashions and accessories for men. (161 NE 40th St., 305-571-3576)
• Fendi: Men’s and women’s apparel and accessories. (150 NE 40th St., 786-655-5400)
• Gucci: Men’s and women’s garments, gifts, décor. (139 NE 41st St., 786-915-8710)
• Markowicz Fine Art: Contemporary paintings, photography and sculpture. (110 NE 40th St., 786-615-8158)
• Opera Gallery: 151 NE 41st St, 305-868-3337, paintings and sculpture by renowned contemporary artists.
• Simona’s: Luxury home goods and gifts. (162 NE 40th St., 786-801-0116)
• The Bazaar Project: Intimate boutique on the perimeter of the district selling international fashions, jewelry, home goods and collectibles. (4308 NE 2nd Ave., 786-703-6154)
• Tiffany & Co.: World-famous jeweller. (114 NE 39th St., 305-428-1390)
• Vacheron Constantin: Luxury watches for men. (140 NE 39th St., 305-908-3898)
• Versace: Men’s, women’s and children’s apparel and gifts. (186 NE 39th St., 305-573-8345)
• Click here for a complete list of shops and galleries in the Design District.
Miami Art Museums
In the Design District:
• De La Cruz Collection: Vast contemporary art collection of a Cuban-American couple engaged in business and philanthropy, steps from the Institute of Contemporary Art; free. (23 NE 41st St., 305-576-6112)
• Haitian Heritage Museum: The art, culture and heritage of Haiti; admission $10. (4141 NE 2nd Ave., 305-371-5988)
• Institute of Contemporary Art: Galleries, sculpture garden and research centre; free. (61 NE 41st St., 305-901-5272)
Elsewhere in Miami area:
• Bass Museum of Art: Mainly contemporary art in a museum whose exhibits are dedicated to promoting inclusivity. (2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-7530)
• Lowe Museum of Art: Collections embrace art from ancient Egypt to present day, University of Miami; admission $12.50. 1301 Stanford Drive, 305-284-3535
• Perez Art Museum Miami: Contemporary art of the Americas in a spectacular waterfront structure with shop and restaurants; $16 admission. (1103 Biscayne Blvd., 305-375-3000)
• Wynwood Art District: 50 city blocks with 70 galleries, museums and collections and more than 200 building-sized murals in a former textile manufacturing area that radiates from Wynwood Walls; free. (2520 NW 2nd St.)
• Aubi & Ramsa 21+ Ice Cream Co.: Ice cream hand crafted with alcoholic beverages, up to $26 a pint. (172 NE 41st St., 305-946-9072)
• Estefan Kitchen: Sophisticated Cuban fare in a Palm Court restaurant owned by singer Gloria Estefan. (140 NE 39th St., 786-843-3880l)
• Harry’s Pizzeria: Wood-fired pizza in an old-time Florida setting on periphery of district. (3918 N Miami Ave., 786-275-4963)
• Mandolin Aegean Bistro: Authentic Mediterranean cuisine steps from the Design District. (4312 NE 2nd Ave., 305-749-9140)
• Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink: Locally sourced comfort food, happy hour from 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. on weekdays. (130 NE 40th St., 305-573-5550)
• St. Roch Market: 11 different options in an upscale, curated food hall overlooking the Palm Court. (140 NE 39th St, 786-542-8977)
• Swan and Bar Bevy: New restaurant co-owned by Pharrell Williams; cuisine by Top Chef winner Jean Imbert. (90 NE 39th St., 305-704-0994)
• The Mayhaw: Craft cocktails and other beverages in the heart of the St. Roch Market. (140 NE 39th St., 786-542-8977)
For coffee and baked goods:
• Blue Bottle Coffee: Trendy chain. (3818 NE 1st Ave.)
• Mrs. Mandolin: Café and market in an art deco bungalow. (4218 NE 2nd Ave., 786-420-5110)
• OTL: Craft coffee and tea, breakfast items all day, sandwiches and salads. (160 NE 40th St., 786-953-7620)
Hotel rooms are in demand and expensive in high season, which lasts until mid-April. Accommodations are listed from most to least expensive in each location.
• W Miami: Chic high-rise boutique hotel downtown with many amenities, very expensive. (485 Brickell Ave., 305-503-4400)
• Hotel St. Michel: Small refined European hotel in exclusive Coral Gables, expensive. (162 Alcazar Ave., 305-444-1666)
• Alton Brickell Miami: Modern rooms, rooftop infinity pool, moderate to expensive. (1500 SW 1st Ave., 786-600-2600)
• Days Inn by Wyndham Miami Airport North: Inexpensive rooms with pool. (4767 NW 36th St., 305-888-3661)
• Fontainebleau Miami Beach: Very expensive world-famous resort with vast number of amenities. (4441Collins Ave, 800-548-8886)
• Kimpton Surfcomber Miami South Beach: Very expensive retro boutique hotel on beach. (1717 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-7715)
• Blanc Kara: Contemporary studios in a hip hotel one block from the beach, moderate. (205 Collins Ave., 786-216-7205)
• Eurostars Vintro Hotel: Modern rooms, numerous amenities, excellent value, moderate. (2216 Park Ave., 305-674-9200)
• Miami Beach International Hostel: Some rooms with private bath, free breakfast and dinner, free airport shuttle, beach gear provided, inexpensive to very inexpensive. (1051 Collins Ave, 305-534-0268)
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