It’s rare that I review a chain restaurant, and rarer still that I get to Kendall, where there are so many of them, but with the buzz about Devon Seafood + Steak resonating 25 miles away in South Beach, I had to check it out. I was prepared for a Cheesecake Factory experience, but found something entirely different.
The 300-seater is hardly intimate, but it’s somehow sexy with subdued lighting, a hip soundtrack and private dining nooks. Earthy elements like honey-toned butcher-block tables and saddle-brown leather banquettes soften a starkly modern steel- and glass-encased wine wall and black granite bar, while a fire pit with leaping blue-gold flames lends warmth.
Why Kendall? The smart guys who run this Kansas City-based chain (surprisingly, the same ones who brought us Houlihan’s) did their research. And, judging by the lines out the door (especially for Sunday brunch and happy hour), it was a good call.
Service remains a challenge in South Florida, and the team here is perky if not thoroughly professional. We had a young, pony-tailed waitress who described everything as “beautiful” and an older waiter who was funny and endearing but hard of hearing.
The kitchen is commanded by a real pro, executive chef Scott Barrow, who has been with the chain for a dozen years and relocated here from Chicago. His cooking is confident and skillful, even if some dishes fall into the obscenely rich restaurant-food category.
Dense, warm biscuits slathered with creamy honey butter make a decadent start to an impressive meal.
The best appetizers are from the sea. Mini lobster rolls are anything but: Sweet, toasted rolls loaded with big chunks of claw meat in spiced-up mayo are served with a side of crispy, thick-cut, Old Bay-seasoned fries.
Meaty crab cakes with a spicy Creole rémoulade are textbook perfect. Also great is the creamy shrimp and grits, which gets an edge from aged Cheddar and a swirl of tomato, bacon and espelette pepper. In a similar vein, Creole gumbo is loaded with tongue-tingling andouille sausage, chicken, pork, ham, bacon, steak, crawfish and snappy shrimp.
Though a bit too sweet, a roasted duck flatbread had great flavor contrasts with a fig barbecue sauce, sliced red onion, Granny Smith apple chunks and three kinds of melty cheese.
Salads are impressive in their freshness, size and variety. A lobster Cobb that probably had more calories than a double cheeseburger is a crave-worthy entrée. Three of us devoured the strawberry, spinach and arugula salad with red onion and sheets of Parmigiano.
Best of all, the kitchen — unlike many I know — is happy to customize or create a dish for guests with allergies or just a hankering. There are even gluten-free and vegetarian menus.
Sides including perfectly grilled, pencil-thin asparagus and an intriguing apple and celery root slaw cannot be beat, both for price (just $3.50, $4.50 for lobster mac and cheese) and flavor.
There are lots of fine steaks, including a sliced Wagyu flank with mushroom demi-glace, but it is the seafood that really lures. Australian butterfish is as velvety as pompano and plump as grouper. Costa Rican mahi, grilled to perfect juiciness, is just as good.
Our only real miss was an overcooked, overly cheesy shrimp enchilada that was almost redeemed by a crunchy jicama-lime salad.
The wine program has something for everyone, though at a healthy markup. More than 150 mostly New World labels include several dozen by the glass in 3-, 6- and 9-ounce pours, all served in Riedel glasses. Bottles range from $28 to $335 for an 0-7 Silver Oak Cab.
From gooey molten chocolate cake to a delectable carrot cake with buttery pecan praline filling, tangy crème anglaise and cream-cheese frosting, desserts are worth the splurge.
Welcome to the suburbs, Devon. If you make it to South Beach, give me a call.