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Thu, Aug. 24, 2006
Mango delight: Chef Allen's spices up Miami
Miami Herald Neighbors  by Carli Teproff
If you happen to have a wheelbarrow full of mangoes lying around and aren't quite sure what to do with them, Chef Allen Susser is willing to help out.

Two hundred pounds of mangoes can be traded in for two free meals at the Aventura Chef Allen's restaurant where the tropical fruit is a staple.

"I love mangoes," Susser said. "You can do so much with the mango."

Chef Allen's, tucked into the corner of a small strip mall near Loehmanns Plaza, has been serving South Floridians for 20 years.

"We were here when Aventura wasn't even a city," Susser said, referring to the city's 1995 incorporation. "A lot has changed since then, but we are still cooking up our favorites."

On a recent Wednesday, the lights were slightly dimmed and candles glowed as soft classical music filled the air. The elegant table decor and the professional wait staff mixed well with the homey ambience. Brightly colored paintings -- done by local artists -- decorated the walls.

About a dozen tables were filled; some guests were on dates, some celebrating special occasions and some just wanting a good meal. Every table had a ceramic bowl with long, hand-rolled breadsticks.

Summer months have gotten busy, Allen said, since the creation of Miami Spice, during which restaurants across the county offer three-course meals for $20.06 for lunch and $30.06 for dinner from Aug.1 to Sept. 30. From Sunday through Friday, more than 30 restaurants open their doors to Miami Spice diners.

"A lot of people come in here to try it, love it and come back," he said. "That's really the point."

Chef Allen's, which is only open for dinner, changes the Miami Spice menu every week, but there usually is a poultry, meat and fish choice.

A sample Miami Spice menu on the restaurant's website featured entrees of pistachio-crusted black grouper with fricassee of rock shrimp, mango, leeks and coconut rum; key lime mojo-grilled free-range chicken with roasted yuca, cilantro pesto and pigeon pea rice; and wild Florida shrimp escabeche with fingerling potatoes, garlic, celery and olives.

Charlene Houser, who has already been to the restaurant three times since Miami Spice started, said she loves to be able to try different foods at a reasonable price.

"It ain't cheap, but for thirty bucks you definitely get your money's worth," said the North Miami Beach resident, who said she loves how Susser uses tropical fruits in his cooking. "The mango ketchup is excellent."

On Friday, as the restaurant prepared for about 180 guests, Susser explained that Miami Spice is a great way to reach out to the community and invite people into his restaurant.

A clear glass panel separates the kitchen from the dining room, allowing patrons to see what is going on in the kitchen. Susser said his main goal for the restaurant is to create a friendly ambience that doesn't feel "stuffy."

Susser, who learned how to cook in France and worked in the Bristol in London and Le Cirque in New York, said he tries to create an atmosphere that will keep people coming back.

Susser bottles, cans and freezes mangoes to make sure the fruit is offered yearround.

The sweet taste of the tropical fruit is used in almost everything.

"Ever since I moved down here I have been fascinated by the mango," said Susser, who even wrote The Great Mango Book.

Susser also encourages participation from his patrons. He holds a yearly contest called the Mad, Mad, Mad World of Mangoes Recipe Contest, where people can submit recipes. This year's contest ends Aug. 31.

"Most the recipes we get are multigenerational," he said. "It's really great to see all of the ideas."

The grand prize is a dinner for two at his restaurant.

Susser said his biggest goal is to continue to reach out the community and keep people coming back.

"We don't just serve good food, we serve the whole experience," he said.

Email the author at [email protected]
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