Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oh no! We're late for dinner -- by about 60 years...

One of our minor but very real gripes about South Florida when we moved here in the late 1970s was the almost total absence of Armenian food.

Somehow, we moved to a place where it was probably easier to buy a kilo of cocaine than a sack of bulgur.

As we've noted, the culinary scene has definitely brightened for Armenians and fans of other Near and Middle Eastern cuisines as well. But the advertisement above suggests we may have arrived a little late rather than early.

The enticing prospect of a shish kebab dinner for $1.50 greeted readers of the now long-departed Miami News on May 3, 1950.

Was it any good? The same paper gave the restaurant a rave review a few months earlier.

The headline: "Armenian Dinner Offers Variety at Palm Tree Inn Overlooking Bay." Reviewer Helen Burns warned readers to arrive hungry because "the courses are numerous, the portions are generous and the food is delicious."

Of course, like any good reporter dining on the company's tab, Helen splurged. She ordered the beet soup, salad, borek ("a pastry with hot cheese") and finished up with paklava. The bottom line: $2.58.

Best of all, the lamb kebab was tender and "roasted perfectly."

The setting sounded even better than the food. The dining terrace overlooked the spot where Miami River flows into Biscayne Bay.  As she enjoyed her lamb, "the moon, a great golden globe, appeared to come up out of the very water."

I know the spot. The Bay still shimmers seductively by either moon or sunlight, but you'll get only the briefest glimpse passing over the bridge on Brickell Ave. Mostly you'll be dazzled by the reflected glory of blue-glass office buildings framing the Miami Convention Center.

The Palm Tree Inn gave way to rental apartments many years ago, and they in turn gave way to years of controversy. Excavations in the late '90s turned up evidence of an ancient Native American burial ground along the water's edge.

Today, Googling the Palm Tree Inn's address will land you in Miami Circle Park, which preserves and commemorates the historic site.

Pondering all this left us with yet another destination on our long list of places to visit if anyone ever invents a time-travel machine. (We're betting on Google.)

But it also left us wondering about "your genial host Aram." Who was he?

If any of you remember the glory days of Miami and a certain Armenian who served up shish kebab by the Bay, we'd love to know more.

8 comments:

  1. Great posting. I focused on the "stuffed mussels" or midia dolma. I am guessing Aram was from Istanbul.

    When my Great Aunt Rose-Marie Gavoor passed away, we found a menu from the St. Regis in NYC. It was from their first dinner on their honeymoon. For the price of a cup of coffee today at a top notch restaurant in New York, they enjoyed a full prime rib dinner with all the trimmings and desert.

    Perhaps we need to chronicle all the Armenian restaurants that have come and gone in this country. Perhaps we could start with the Dardenalles in NY.

    Keep up the great work.
    Mark

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Mark! I also have fond memories of The Dardanelles and New York's other long-gone Armenian restaurants. (Check out our post of 4/17/09) Their midia dolma really was a special treat.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How, Doug, did you ever find this? What a great item.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great item. What a lovely spot that would have been, before it became a wall of buildings. No wonder the ancient Indians and '50s Armenians chose it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was personal friends with the owner of The Dardanelles Restaurant which located on University Place, between 11th and 12th streets. Mel was his name, I am not sure of his proper spelling but let me try... Melik Ojohnson. I know his last name might be mispelled, but Mel was a great man. He opened the restaurant in 1958 and in the early 70's we became friends. My dad and I serviced the place for all it's electrical needs, for which we never charged him. At any time of the day or night, we would go to NYC and fix anything he needed. In return, Mel never charged either of us for a meal when we were in town. In fact if he was bored, he would call us into the city, just to enjoy his food and sit with him. Mel attended my wedding in 1982 and brought with him my favorite, 2 large trays of stuffed grape leaves and stuffed mussels. Carol was his wife and he had two daughters. In fact, around the time of my wedding, The Dardanelles closed and Mel was thinking of living the retired life. In April of 83, if I recall, I spoke to him about opening an Armenian Fast Food Restaurant, and he was to come to our house to teach me some of their cooking methods. That very night while playing cards with his wife and friends, Mel suffered from a massive heart attack and died at the card table. He was one of the nicest men and a best friend anyone could have known. I was just thinking of him and searched the web for his restaurant and found this blog. I also found a picture of the inside of the restaurant, which brought back many happy memories. Thank you for the kind words about my old friends place, he made a vast number of people happy with his personality, cooking and restaurant for many years.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nicolas,
    What a wonderful memory of the Dardanelles! Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I saw John Berberian perfom while we ate Armenian dinner with my friends there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And Johnny is still performing at Armenian events these days. Way to go John!

      Delete