I loved Jamie DeRosa’s cooking at Tudor House. His skill was evident in dishes that were colorful, playful, unexpected and usually delicious. Some friends found the pairings odd, the prices high and the portions chintzy, but as someone who has dinner out more often than at home, I don’t have much interest in ordering Caesar salad and roasted chicken.
At his new and very personal venture just south of Fifth Street, DeRosa has combined his talent with a homey sensibility to create a something-for-everyone spot. Set in a warm, open space with wood tables, deep brown booths and a loud, retro soundtrack, Tongue & Cheek will impress foodies and satisfy less adventurous palates as well.
Still everything has a bit of a twist. Even the name, while conjuring images of meaty body parts, is a play on an expression that conveys an irreverent whimsy.
DeRosa and partner Michael Reginbogin offer daily specials like “family dinner” — essentially a staff meal served to guests for $10 — and a happy hour with fantastic cocktails for just $8.
The most popular time to try DeRosa’s creativity is brunch, when cocktails like Bloody Marys and Green Eggs n Ham take advantage of local tomatoes, avocados and tomatillos. Fried chicken with Cheddar waffles and king crab eggs Benedict with Tabasco hollandaise share table space with lighter fare like grapefruit doused in Florida honey.
Dinners start with perfect puffs of cheesy gougéres and friendly servers in black T-shirts who take time to describe what’s to come. Dishes run the gamut from a delicate English pea soup poured over pea-size lime marshmallows to a silken chicken liver pâté with nicely crisped toast points and pickled baby onions and cauliflower florets.
DeRosa also whips cauliflower into a velvety panna cotta and serves it with uni and American caviar. The poppy, briny roe and a bouquet of beautifully pickled baby vegetables create a symphony of textures and flavors.
As the restaurant’s name suggests, meat is a big deal here. The signature burger, made from tender cheek, delivers an intense beef experience with the richness of foie gras. The perfectly charred patty rests like a fat pasha on a toasted, house-made brioche bun crowned with a tangle of sweet caramelized onions and creamy Cheddar pimento cheese. It’s delicious for a bite or two, but then things get messy (and a little soggy).
Tongue & Cheek’s grilled rib-eye beef cap, also known as deckle or butcher’s butter, is the best piece steak I’ve sampled this season. With its visually stunning char and subtle marbling, and its accompaniment of thick, skin-on fries sizzled in duck fat, it’s a meat-and-potato lover’s dream.
Gorgeous mussels, clams, scallops and other sea options are also treated tenderly. A delicate trout served with its silvery skin on is cooked pristinely until just tender and served over a nest of crunchy corn and piquillo peppers in a bright-as-sunshine corn soup.
Another nice surprise, Beijing-style green beans flourish under a sweet-sour sauce dotted with chili beans and crunchy sesame. Salads, though not prominent on the menu, are delightfully composed. Discreetly dressed kale leaves with just the right amount of salt and acid and a spring mix with sugared pistachios and spicy salsa verde are both lovely.
Menu missteps include a chicken pot pie in a half-empty ramekin with a gloppy sauce and a dense, crumbly crust. Likewise, clunky chicken skin fried chicharrone-style looks appealing but has a floppy chewiness that doesn’t work.
Desserts by pastry chef Ricardo Torres are uneven. The salted pretzel ice cream is for teenage slumber parties, while the more grown-up peach crumble is elevated by potent caramel bourbon ice cream. Lucky Charms-like milk chunks, however, don’t add much.
Still, no matter what your taste, you will find good guys doing good things with good food at Tongue and Cheek.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
Follow Victoria on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE and on her Facebook fan page.