The 2016 GOLDEN FORK Awards

by Thomas Miller – Food Blogger / Restaurant Critic for Vero Vine

I never imagined myself as a food blogger or restaurant critic until a few years ago.  I’ve been looking for a way to get into the food industry, but could not figure out what to do, and keep my day job with bankers hours.  Back in June of 2015, an opportunity fell into my lap.  A farm back in my home state of Indiana was looking for a chef and content producer to help them promote their products.  They are innovators in their field, and I thought it would be a good way to start learning about blogging and content production.  A lot of their customers follow the paleo and low carb way of eating, so I decided to create a bunless burger recipe for them using their grass-fed ground beef.  Right around this time, I learned of a food photo contest on Vero Vine.  I took a chance and entered the picture of my “EPIC Bunless Burger” and ended up taking 1st place!  From there, my relationship with Vero Vine and Stacy Cook grew and I started guest blogging, and the rest is history!

My Award Winning EPIC Bunless Burger

Since I use forks for my rating system, I thought it would only be fitting to have an annual GOLDEN FORK awards article to highlight the best of the best from the past year.  With over 60 different restaurants and reviews, it took me a while to look them over again and choose my favorites.  I created 12 different categories for this year’s awards. including such as Best Burger, Best Steak, and Best Seafood dishes, etc.

Now on to the awards!  Let’s jump right in and see who this year’s winners are, and see what I had to eat from this past year!

Best Appetizer – Citron Bistro – Shrimp Bruschetta

“The first starter they brought out for me to try was this stunning interpretation of the classic bruschetta.  It had jumbo shrimp served scampi style and were perfectly cooked.  It was served with tomatoes and scallions on grilled sourdough bread and was finished with micro greens as a garnish.  The sauce on the plate was a lemon ver blanc sauce with balsamic vinegar for decoration.  It was outstanding!”

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Best Salad – Chive – Mexican Wedge Salad

“This is not your typical wedge salad you would get at a steak house.  First off, it’s not actually made with a lettuce wedge, which is great, because they are difficult to eat anyway.  The diversity of ingredients in this salad is staggering!  It’s made with Butter Lettuce, Marinated steak, Craisins, Almonds, Bacon, Avocado, Red Onion, Cilantro, Blue Cheese Crumbles, Chimichurri and Peri Peri Hot Sauce!  First bite was an explosion of flavor from all of those ingredients!  It was tangy from the chimichurri, slightly smoky from the bacon, the red onion added a nice crunch,  and the steak was very tender!”

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Best Taco – Alley Tacos – Any taco they serve

“Here are the two tacos that I got.  One beef and one pork.  They come with just the corn tortilla and the meat.  You then choose what else you want on top.  I went traditional and did white onion and cilantro, salsa and lime juice.  They were amazing!  The tortillas were grilled, the meat was flavorful, and the toppings were fresh.”

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Best Sandwich – Dagwood’s – The Dagwood

“This is one impressive sandwich!  Served on their house made sub roll, it contains ham, turkey, roast beef, pepperoni, bacon, cheddar, provolone, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, banana peppers, black olives, jalapeno, and topped off with Dagwood’s special spices.  Oil and vinegar was served alongside.  Trying to fold it up for a bite was a challenge in itself.  Once I got a handle on it and took a bite this sandwich had a lot of flavors and textures going on all at the same time.  It was tangy, crunchy, and a little bit sweet.  This is probably a sandwich that I would not have tried on my own, so I’m glad I got to try it, because it may be my go-to when I return in the near future.”

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Best Burger – Village Sandwich Shop and Grill – The Roadhouse

“Now that is one impressive looking burger!  It’s made with an 8 oz beef patty that has been grilled, topped with cheddar cheese, Duroc bacon, pulled pork that has been dressed with a Carolina BBQ sauce, and topped with frizzled red onions.  I cut the burger in half since there was no way I could pick up the entire burger at once.  I nearly had to unhinge my jaw to take a bite!  It was beefy, smoky from the bacon, a little bit sweet from the BBQ sauce, and crunchy from the fried onions.  It definitely had a lot going on flavor and texture wise, and it was fantastic!”

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Best Pizza – Italian American Civic Associates – White Pizza

“This is easily one of the best bargains in Vero to feed your entire family.  You start with a basic cheese pizza for $7.00, then add what toppings you want on it for $1.00 additional per topping.  This “white” pizza had a garlic pesto sauce, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella on top.  The aroma of the garlic when Tony brought the pizza to our table was intoxicating!  The crust was perfectly baked, the garlic pesto sauce was herby and delicious, and the slices of mozzarella just melted in your mouth.  Hands down this has to be one of the best pies I’ve had in Vero the 2 years I’ve lived here.”

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Best Seafood Dish – Cobalt – Jumbo Grilled Prawn

“Next up was this show stopper!  The chef told us that he had a few larger than normal prawns that came in so he presented us with one of them.  This prawn is a U-4, meaning there are only 4 of them per pound.  As you can see from the picture above, it was plate engulfing in size.  It was dressed with a sriracha aioli, then torched to add a slightly smoky flavor.  It was very flavorful, with just a touch of heat from the sriracha.  It was perfectly cooked and seasoned to perfection.  The prawn was laid on a bed of farrow, and lemon arugula to garnish.”

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Best Steak – Maison Martinique / Havana Nights – Grilled Filet Mignon

“My wife joined me for this review and filet is one of her favorites, so we were happy to see the chef bring this dish out to us.  The dish consists of a 6 oz (also available in 8 oz) filet that has been fire grilled to a perfect medium and seasoned to perfection.  It’s topped with a small lobster tail and a Gorgonzola reduction sauce over the top.  Sides were mashed potatoes and broccoli with sliced carrots.  The filet was one of the most tender I have ever eaten, and the Gorgonzola sauce was the perfect match for the steak.  It was creamy and had a wonderfully bold cheese flavor.  We were fighting over the last few bites of steak and the sauce because it was that good!”

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Best Over the Top Experience – The Yellow Rose Cakery – Industrials Design

As “The Food Guy”, most of the restaurants I review want to give me an over the top experience to write about, to stand out above the rest.  While these experiences are not available to the general public, I thought I would still include this category.  With over 5 fabulous cakes and over 100 servings, and only 6 people at the tasting, I thought this was definitely my best over the top experience of the year.

“All we could say was WOW once we saw what she made for us to try.  These are known as The Yellow Rose Cakery Industrials design and are $65.00 each and serve 20 people.  The price may vary slightly depending on the level of detail you would like, so be sure to ask Andi for additional details.”

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Best New Restaurant – Taco Dive

“Upon first entry into the restaurant, it was nicer inside than I was expecting.  I guess with a name like “Taco Dive” I did not know what to expect.  The other surprise was that it was a sit-down restaurant, and not counter service.  I figured due to the size of the restaurant and type of food they served, you would simply order at the counter, and they would bring it to you once ready.  The interior of the restaurant has been changed quite a bit since the previous tenants that occupied the space.  It has that industrial gastro-pub style decor with dark stained wood table tops, metal legs, and dark gray walls.  Reclaimed wood pallets hang on the walls, and an old spring mattress is suspended from the ceiling that has been outfitted with Edson bulb light fixtures. “

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Chef(s) of the Year – Chef Patrick Hughes and Chef Chet Perrotti

I had the pleasure of meeting these two chefs earlier this year when I reviewed Maison Martinique. They had just taken over the kitchen and were still working out the kinks with the menu.  While I only gave them 4 forks for my first visit, I was invited back to review Havana Nights, and they definitely stepped up their game and earned that  5th fork.  They are two of the most humble, yet hard working and very talented chefs that I’ve ever met.  The food that they prepare is some of the best that I have had anywhere.  These guys deserve the recognition, so congratulations to both of you as my pick for Chefs of the Year!

Restaurant of the Year – Maison Martinique / Havana Nights

My pick for the restaurant of the year should come as no surprise with my choice for Chefs of the Year.  Maison Martinique and Havana Nights continue to impress me with the personal touch that I get each and every time I’m there.  The chefs care about your experience and do make appearances in the dining room throughout the evening to make sure things are to your liking.  You also don’t feel rushed to hurry up and eat, so they can turn a table.  When you are there, they allow you time to sit back and relax and enjoy your evening.  From the dimly lit elegant dining rooms, the romantic atmosphere, the private booths, and the world-class entertainment, this is one of the best fine dining establishments in Vero Beach.  Congratulations to Maison Martinique and Havana Nights, and the entire staff on being my pick for Restaurant of the Year!

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In Conclusion:

It was fun looking back at my first year of restaurant reviews and re-discovering all of the great things I’ve had to eat in 2016.  I can honestly say that I did not have any bad experiences at any of the restaurants that I visited.  I’ve got some new ideas on how to expand my food reviews for 2017, so make sure you check back and read my reviews often to see what I have in store!  One thing that I’m super excited about is our new VIP Foodie events we are working on for 2017.  We had our first event in December called “The ULTIMATE Italian Dining Experience” and we were sold out 3 weeks early!  We are planning to have one per month, and we are already planning events for April of this year.  If you are not yet a member of our new group on Facebook called Vero Beach Foodie, please come over and join us, and share your dining experiences with us!  Hope to see you there!