On a bohemian block of Española Way where small eateries come and go, Flame Caffe & Grill seems to have found a formula for success.
Offering hearty soups, seafood, steaks, ribs, burgers and pizza at prices that are moderate by South Beach standards, Flame has been catering to budget-minded travelers as well as guests from ritzy oceanfront hotels for more than a year.
Owner Antonio Halabi rebuilt the historic Art Deco building on the corner of Española and Drexel after seeing potential in the crumbling structure. Born in Valencia, Venezuela, with a heritage that melds Armenian, Corsican and native Indian, Halabi graduated from medical school. He never practiced, choosing to take over his father’s construction business, and then relocated to Miami in order to give his two sons a better life.
One can make a meal here of appetizers that include tequeños (fried cheese fingers wrapped in crispy dough); puff pastry pot pie spilling with earthy porcini, portabello and shiitake mushrooms in cream sauce, and Thai green papaya salad with sesame seeds and mint in ginger dressing topped with seared tuna. There’s also creamy potato and smoked salmon chowder topped with avocado cream and red lumpfish caviar and New Orleans-style gumbo.
Entrees include paella made with Valencia rice and shellfish cooked in lobster broth with saffron and white wine and a grilled half chicken crusted in herbs over garlicky mashed potatoes. Goat cheese polenta goes with anything as a side.
The menu may span the globe, but caramel apple cobbler is as comforting as home, sweet home.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami food writer and personal chef who blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.