You’ve got to love a place that adorns its bathroom doors with pictures of Foxy Brown and Jimi Hendrix. (Are you feeling sexy or electric?)
As further proof of the feel-good vibe at SouthStreet, the “neo-soul” restaurant in the historic post office that once housed Sra. Martinez, consider this: A waiter can forget to deliver your mac and cheese, charge you for it, and still leave you liking him.
Such is the dichotomy of dining at this Philadelphia-inspired eating house and bar in Miami’s Design District. You’re so busy digging the waitresses’ frilly aprons and a soundtrack that reflects the old album covers on the wall — Teddy Pendergrass, Prince, Michael Jackson, Coleman Hawkins, Sly and the Family Stone — that you forgive the sweet potato muffins that aren’t half as moist as your mother used to make.
That’s not to say there aren’t some stellar dishes at the groovy, 65-seat eatery. The shrimp and grits with low-country gravy will tempt you to lick the plate when nobody’s looking (which is difficult because the place is hopping). The fried chicken with its light and slightly salty, crumbly crust over moist meat gives Yardbird’s some serious competition. A blackened snapper topped with okra-tomato stew and served over jasmine rice is a tangy, sweet treat.
The clever creation of restaurateur Amir Ben-Zion (Miss Yip, Gigi, Bond Street) and concierge-to-the-stars Amaris Jones (luxury-home manager for music producers Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Timbaland, among others), SouthStreet is named for the famous thoroughfare in Jones’ hometown. Its recipes draw from the food she grew up eating and cooking, but with a health-conscious twist.
There is no pork on the menu (gasp), a bold move for a soul food restaurant in swine-loving Miami. Instead, there’s smothered turkey chop, catfish fingers, grilled green tomatoes and deviled eggs, along with comforting side plates like collards with smoked turkey, candied yams and black-eyed peas.
A kale salad that mingles sautéed carrot medallions and caramelized onions with greens softened by a superb, grainy mustard dressing, has the ability to make Miamians forget about pulled pork and lechón — at least for lunch.
But some of what should be signature dishes — the mac and cheese (which we were finally served on our second visit) and a lunchtime Philly cheese steak — lacked flavor and depth. And with the exception of a clafouti-like apple cobbler, desserts were just meh.
The kitchen needs to catch up to the enterprising concept in order to make SouthStreet a smooth ride. Even a friendly waiter in a fedora and suspenders can’t change that.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.