As a child, Amaris Jones enjoyed watching the women in her life cook and congregate in the kitchen. Her father was a minister in Philadelphia, and she and her family would sell dinners at church.
Now the soul food recipes she started cooking when she was 7 are expanding outside of her home kitchen and into Miami’s Design District, where Jones recently opened a restaurant and bar, South Street.
The menu at South Street may be different from what some may be expecting from the new soul food restaurant in Miami.
Traditional dishes like fried chicken, mac and cheese, and candied yams are on the menu but other dishes are altered to meet the demands of those who are health conscious.
“There’s no other soul food restaurant, I would say, in Miami that will be doing what I’m doing,” said Jones, 39, who established herself eight years ago as CEO of Elite Home and Lifestyle Management in Miami, where she and her team work as concierges to the stars.
The menu is a combination of what she was taught traditionally and what she learned from watching chefs prepare meals for her past clients.
South Street opened Oct. 5 and has already gotten some positive reviews from customers.
“The cocktails and the staff are the best, and it brings a taste of the South to Miami,” said first time patron, Karen Deamat, 29.
Jones created the menu, designed the concept and hired Chef Donald Wharton to execute the recipes.
“I have an amazing chef that will work with me in the kitchen,” said Jones. “He knows my vision. And he just gets it.”
Wharton has experience at premier soul food restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. He worked as executive chef at Warmdaddy’s in Philadelphia, and most recently, as a sous chef at Icebox Café in Miami. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, he has been professionally cooking for more than 10 years.
He is now ready for Miami soul food.
“There’s such a niche,” said Wharton, 48. “There’s such a desire for this type of scene and sophisticated setting.”
He said South Street is a fusion of his previous cooking experiences, which adds a different taste to traditional soul food.
“The origins of soul food date back to slavery in the south. They cooked with leftovers discarded by slave owners,” he said. “It was peasant food, but it was the only nourishment they had. Everything was so full of pork.”
South Street’s menu will be pork-free.
A traditional dish like smothered pork chops will be served as smothered turkey chops as a signature dish at South Street.
“We’ve eliminated the swine, and we use turmeric and shiitake mushrooms to make it healthier,” said Wharton.
Kia Smith, a personal stylist at Nordstrom, said she loves the pork-free menu so much that she admitted to going to South Street four times in its opening week.
Jones hopes to welcome everyone to her restaurant, named after a popular street in Philadelphia, where both Jones and Wharton grew up.
“There are people from all over the world that come to the Design District,” said Jones. “I want [everyone] to have the soul food experience. A lot of people haven’t. They don’t understand American soul food.”
South Street, however, is not Jones’ debut in a restaurant kitchen.
"New Year’s Day, I created a soul food brunch at this restaurant called Eden,” said Jones. “On that day, I knew I would manifest my desire.”
This summer, Jones said she heard about the closing of the restaurant Sra. Martinez, the location of South Street, and called her friend Amir Ben Zion, former partner of Sra. Martinez and co-owner of many well-known restaurants in Miami, including Gigi, Bardot and Cooper Avenue. They discussed the concept and the deal was set the following week.
Jones said her cuisine twists traditional soul food into “neo-soul.” Just as the music genre, neo-soul blends R&B, jazz, funk and Motown.
“The vibe’s gonna be incredible,” said Jones.
Since it’s opening, patrons have typed their thoughts about the new restaurant through food review sites. The majority are happy with the music and foods but some are displeased with the prices.
Deamat thought the restaurant could use opening incentives but also said the prices were reasonable because its located down the street from Michael’s Genuine, a popular restaurant among foodies in the Design District.
Eric Newell, chief editor of Vault magazine, who worked with Jones two years ago, is betting on South Street’s success.
“A lot of people say things, but Amaris gets it done,” Newell said. “No one can connect people like she can.”