For more than 20 years, I’ve lived about a five-minute drive from Weston. Many times I’d driven through it, met with clients at offices there, enjoyed the occasional dinner with friends (at Myung Ga, a fabulous Korean barbecue joint on Weston Road in particular), and visited my optometrist’s office in the Weston Town Center. But even though every time I’d visit I would resolve to return on a day when I had free time to meander and seek out the experiences I was sure I’d been missing — fresh boutiques and interesting little eateries, first and foremost — somehow my car always bypassed the exit off Interstate 75 and continued on auto-pilot to the same (tired) old places I’d always gone before.
Then one day, I made up my mind and just did it.
Even though Weston was established as a city 17 years ago, I still think of it as “new.” But the main reason residents — not just of Weston, but also from the surrounding towns of Pembroke Pines, Davie and Cooper City — venture over and enjoy spending time there is that it’s an idyllic environment in which to run errands, shop at leisure, revel in a day (or couple of hours) of beauty, or enjoy an evening out, whether it be with the family or à deux. Rolling stretches of emerald lawns, rows of palm trees and meticulously manicured landscaping in the public areas punctuated by dancing fountains make for an alluring backdrop, whether you need to conduct business or just hit the stores.
The mix here is eclectic: Fortune 500 companies operate among owner-operated boutiques and restaurants, with a warehouse thrown in here and a hotel there. It’s also the home of Cleveland Clinic Florida, Broward Health Weston and the Miami Children’s Hospital Dan Marino Center. And then there are the everyday attractions: the shops, restaurants and salons.
It’s always a good choice to start the day at Mitch’s Westside Bagels, which you might never spot if you didn’t know it was tucked in The Waterways Shoppes II just off Weston Road. Billed as a “little slice of Brooklyn” — as evidenced by the vibe inside, where many of the servers have the accent and the walls are adorned with framed photos of Coney Island and the like — the place has a casual, homey atmosphere and a long-as-your-leg menu with everything from lox and bagel platters to omelets and piled-high sandwiches. It’s nearly impossible to leave without passing by the counter to score a bag of bagels and a knish or two to go.
Right next door, walk through the doors of Acquolina Ristorante Italiano and you’ll encounter another kind of family atmosphere, where the elegant décor belies the familiar tone of the banter between the many regular customers and the owners, who serve gigantic portions — it’s family-style, after all — of homemade pastas with every type of sauce you can think of, along with the house specialty, pollo scarpariello “Acquolina,” a hearty amalgam of garlicky chicken with sausage, broccoli, peppers, onions and roasted potatoes. You’ll fill up and still bring home enough for two nights of leftovers. Note: Dine al fresco on the waterside terrace in the evening; you’ll be able to take in the twinkling lights of the city reflecting on the lake and forget for a moment that you’re not on vacation.
It’s interesting to note that Acquolina also has a location in Aventura. I say that because once many businesses that do have outposts in more metropolitan areas, like Miami, get a taste of Weston, they seem to decide that they either want to have a foot in or relocate there all together.
Even optometrist Harvey Mazer moved his longtime North Miami Beach practice to Weston Town Center about four years ago. His office not only offers state-of-the-art, high-tech exam equipment and that Weston-esque customer service — patients are commonly on a first-name basis with the staff, which is the case at Westside Bagels, too — there’s a fabulous counter chockablock with designer sunglasses and frames where you can try on every last one until you find the style that suits you, without annoying the person who’s serving you. Very un-South Florida, and very refreshing, indeed.
And speaking of Weston Town Center, on the corner of Royal Palm and Bonaventure boulevards and marked by the bell tower that is the shopping center’s logo, if you haven’t been there, it’s sure to be a place of discovery and surprise to the newcomer, given its location in the center of suburbia. Forget the hassle and hustle of the mall. Popping into upscale (but fun) boutiques like Marcella’s, whether for a pair of must-have designer sunglasses, a fistful of bling or a head-turning ensemble; or Fiorelli, an upscale men’s store where you can pick up a pair of Donald J Pliners, a Robert Graham shirt or a sharp suit, trumps having to negotiate the parking lots and garages of the major malls around town. Former Miss Universe and Venezuelan entrepreneur Barbara Palacios installed her first namesake accessory boutique here (think fashion jewelry and handbags) right next door to Dr. Mazer, ensuring I will never miss an eye exam. Also Florida-based and in biz for more than 25 years, Via Moda is known for its comfy flats and sandals and floaty Moroccan one-size dresses, which proved to be the ideal find for my recent sojourn to Jamaica — but they’ve also got everything you need or want for just about any occasion, whether an island vacation or a formal evening out.
Shopping can definitely work up an appetite, so when a friend who lives and works in the area asked me to meet her at The Cheese Course (next door to Barbara Palacios, on the right — notice a pattern here?), I was all for it. So after visiting Dr. Mazer (and spending more than I’d planned on gorgeous Bulgari frames), I settled at a sidewalk table to wait for her. She turned out to be an expert on this place, as well as a number of other spots to grab goodies, which she waxed on about over a sublime Spanish Field Greens salad with Manchego and orange segments. “Go inside and check out the store,” she told me with a devilish look on her face. And I quickly discovered why. Afterwards, I left her with a hug and a weighty little parcel in hand.
Beauty is big in Weston, as is the case for most well-heeled neighborhoods in South Florida, and that’s reflected here. (Idea: if you go with the hubby, coax him into indulging in a hot shave while you sneak off to Weston Jewelers. Afterwards, tell him he looks as good as you do in Cartier). As for my own tresses, I hopped in the car and zipped back over to Weston Road to Sazel’s at Alejandro Salon, where master stylist and colorist extraordinaire Hazel Ismail and her partner, Sabah Najem, work their magic. “We started our career in Weston and have always loved it,” Ismail says, “so it seemed like a natural fit to come back home.”
A little further off the beaten path in Weston Commons, I picked up some pieces for my teenage son at Turnstyle, a haven for tween stylephiles where your haul can range from the coolest kicks, including Air Jordans, to board shorts, jeans and backpacks for guys to skinnies, minis, totes, tees and even bat mitzvah wear for girls — plus gifts from phone cases to candles and other novelties. In the same plaza you’ll find Publix, Boca Tanning, Starbucks and plenty of favorite places to refuel, including Salad Creations, Chipotle, Panera and the universally loved Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Big city it’s not, but Weston’s got much of what the big city offers, without the hassle and chaos. And clearly, when it comes to exploratory visits, once is not enough.
IF YOU GO
Myung Ga Tofu & Barbecue, 1944 Weston Road, 954-349-7337
Mitch’s Westside Bagels, 2310 Weston Road, 954-446-6446, www.mitchswestsidebagels.com
Acquolina Ristorante Italiano, 2320 Weston Road, 954-389-1880, www.acquolinaweston.com
Town Center Optometry, 1673 Market St., 954-384-0266, www.optometrists.org/towncenteroptometry
Barbara Palacios, 1677 Market St., 954-385-0155
The Cheese Course, 1679 Market St., 954-384-8183, www.thecheesecourse.com
Fiorelli, 1718 Main St., 954-659-8566
Via Moda, 1720 Main St., 954-217-1475, www.viamoda.com
Marcella’s Fashions, 1729 Main St., 954-217-7272, www.facebook.com/Marcellasfashion
Ike’s Barber Shop, 1690 Market St., 954-389-1155
Alejandro’s Salon, 2270 Weston Road, 954-217-8787, www.alejandrossalon.com
Weston Jewelers, 1728 Main St., 954-389-7990, www.westonjewelers.com
Turnstyle, 4571 Weston Road, 954-217-8644, www.myturnstyle.com