First Words Special Features — 25 August 2012
Editor’s choice: Automobiles, restaurants, hotels

Mark Gauert
is the Editor & Publisher of City & Shore Magazine. He has lived in South Florida for more than 30 years – longer than he has lived anywhere else. He likes just about everything about this place – but, here are seven things he really LIKES.

The Breakers, Palm Beach
www.thebreakers.com
It isn’t just the 116 years of fascinating history here, or the hushed comfort of the lobby, or the impossibly comprehensive selection of wines, or even the opportunity to check into my own private beach bungalow overlooking the Atlantic. What impresses about The Breakers is that it ought to be a stuffy, pretentious, we’re-too-good-for-you kind of place – and yet, somehow, it is not. Like a child of privilege who grows up to be a well-rounded – and charming – individual instead of, well, a brat. I can’t think of another hotel in this country where the staff tries so diligently to connect. They remember your name, your favorite beverage, your interests. They are just the nicest people – and they are what make the formidable Breakers feel more like a friendly break.

 

Jaguar R Performance Academy
www.jaguarusa.com/academy
We may dream of speed, but most of us can only imagine it as we crawl through South Florida traffic. The annual Jaguar R Academy (Dec. 8-13 this year) offers owners of Jaguar XKR and XFRs an opportunity to unleash their 510 HP beasts for a day on the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The NASCAR track in south Miami-Dade County provides the heart-racing oval, the “widow-maker’’ turns, and an enticing dearth of red-light traffic-enforcement cameras – any kind of enforcement, really – on the straightaways. It is so much yeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaawwww! fun, I wonder why other car manufacturers haven’t thought of it. C’mon Hyundai, Honda, Mini Cooper. Step on it.

Neiman Marcus, locations in
Bal Harbour, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach
www.neimanmarcus.com
We are starved for customer service in South Florida. We fight constantly with cable companies, phone companies, airline companies. What a pleasure to walk into a business that seems to have missed the memo on how Corporate America should be surly with its customers. A veritable army of friendly, fashionable people is at work here, keeping Neiman Marcus convivial, well stocked and on fashion point. The hunter-gatherer in me appreciates that I always find what I’m looking for here, too. After purchasing a wedding present recently at the NM in Fort Lauderdale, the sales associate asked if I’d like something to drink while I waited for the free gift wrapping. She brought me a whole carton of Neiman Marcus-branded water, for heaven’s sake, a straw and a napkin. (A napkin! The cable company would have sent me to stand outside with my mouth open to collect rain water). That is the difference between civilization and chaos.

The American Fine Wine Competition and Gala
www.americanfinewinecompetition.org, e-mail shari@americanfinewinecompetition.com
We are so far from wine-growing heaven. With apologies to the farmers who can grow citrus here like nobody’s business, we just don’t have the soil nor climate nor temperament to grow the grapes pressed into pinot noirs, cabernets and syrahs. So what a stroke of luck that we have our own, home-grown wine competition – judged by locals, served by an army of volunteer Wine Angels, benefiting a good cause and featuring some of the best wine produced everywhere else in the United States. This year’s gala featured a meal prepared by Chef Emeril Lagasse, paired with more than 600 wines entered in the contest. Shari Gherman, the indefatigable president of the AFWC, promises to bring the competition and gala back even bigger and better to the Boca Raton Resort & Club, next April 4. Start thinking about tickets now – it will be a very good year.

 

The new Marlins Ballpark
www.miami.marlins.mlb.com
I was not happy when the Florida Marlins became the Miami Marlins. (Hey, somebody stole our team!) Then, just before the All-Star Break, a friend offered free tickets, and I decided to check it out from a purely journalistic sense of duty. Well, I loved it. I loved seeing the city skyline through the outfield windows. I loved the silly bobble-head museum. I loved the steaming steak tacos from Miami Mex. I loved how they set aside a part of the ballpark to honor the great traditions of the Orange Bowl, which used to stand on this spot. I loved the gallery-grade artwork on the walls. I loved how at the end of the game, they popped the top and let it slide slowly over us, Mother Ship from Independence Day-style, until sunshine filled the stands. I loved how Jeff Conine, Mr. Marlin, was there, gently reminding us of the team we connected with so many Opening Days ago. I’m not ready to buy a jersey or a hat yet – I am still not happy with the new logo. But I am thinking about season tickets.

Ristorante Sapori
301 Via De Palmas, Boca Raton
I have never been to Italy. When I go, I hope the food everyone comes back raving about is half as good as what’s on Chef Marco Pindo’s menu here. Try the steaming bowl of succulent gnocchi with clams, lobster and scallops. Or the branzino, smothered in scallops, clams and shrimp, elegantly served on a fish-shaped copper plate. Sitting at the chef’s table, watching Chef Pindo grate black truffles on a fresh ravioli appetizer, I can’t think of a better place served by a more generous and talented cook. And I wonder if I really need to go to Italy at all.

St. Demetrios Greek Festival,
Fort Lauderdale
www.stdemetrios.org 
Greece may be at the root of Europe’s current economic miseries, but there isn’t a miserable face in this crowd. People sit shoulder to shoulder at the annual February event at long tables, laughing and talking, feasting on hot gyros and loukoumades, dancing to live music, clapping hands, throwing dollar bills at the feet of the dancers. Some quantities of ouzo and Athenian lager are consumed (though, importantly, not at the same time). It’s great fun. Go, and you’ll be ready to forgive all debts.

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