At the dark and compact B&S Gastropub in Kendall, chef Jorgie Ramos and his crew are pushing out dishes of beer-friendly comfort food with roots in Latin America, the Mediterranean Basin and the U.S. South that taste very much at home in South Florida.
Take the pig tails: crispy, meaty nuggets of humanely raised pork, slathered in a zippy chimichurri sauce.
Or the croquettes: fried balls stuffed with chopped Serrano ham and oozy Manchego cheese, served with a guava sauce that balances their saltiness.
Both show Ramos fresh way with familiar flavors.
There is, however, a mac n cheese schedule that Id be more apt to forgive if its Saturday lobster version had any discernible lobster in it.
Still, Ramos and his dad, front-of-the-house manager Jorge, seem to have taken the best of what worked at their short-lived Pinecrest restaurant, The Joint Bar & Grill. That includes over-the-top burgers like the Hangover (beef, pork belly, fried egg, Cheddar and chips on a pretzel roll) and the Caprese (beef, fried tomato, mozzarella, basil, balsamic marmalade and aioli on an Italian roll).
I enjoyed the Latin burger: a thick slice of chorizo on a half-pound Angus patty, cooked to a proper medium-rare and topped with Swiss, fried sweet plantains and a chimichurri aioli. Each bite was salty, sweet, spicy and beefy, and I couldnt put the thing down. Sweet potato fries had a nice crunch and were seasoned with just enough salt to let their natural sweetness speak for itself.
A big octopus tentacle was finished on the grill and served in a skillet with roasted fingerlings and blistered cherry tomatoes that gave its smoky, briny flavors a pop.
Grilled cauliflower had a slow-building heat from curry spices, cooled by a side of yogurt and fresh mint.
Lamb belly was aggressively seasoned and tender, sitting on a mound of white-bean hummus with tangy tzatziki. The lamb seemed out of proportion to the other elements, getting somewhat lost among the purees.
Like the lamb belly, a few items I ordered at B&S would have benefited from more texture on the plate, a crunch to keep things interesting. Even the fried green tomatoes closer to a pale red were glopped with an onion-buttermilk sauce and honey-spiked sriracha that tasted good but made the breading soggy.
Half a dozen counter seats overlooking the open kitchen allow a front-row view of the action. That can be fun Theres your dinner being made, one cook said to us as another shaped our burger. And it can be awkward, as when a cook burned his hand on a cast-iron skillet. He cooked through the pain like a pro, but winced long enough that we had to ask if he was OK.
B&S stands for Barley & Swine, but the Ramoses transitioned to the abbreviated name after getting a cease-and-desist letter from Barley Swine, a critically acclaimed gastropub in Austin, Texas.
The restaurant lives up the barley part of its moniker with 29 craft beers on draft (there are wines and spirits, too). The strong selection includes many brews that pair well with Ramos gastropub fare, like the lemony Saison from Hinterland Brewery in Wisconsin. But be prepared with backup choices: I was bummed when B&S was out of my first two picks on each visit.
Other hiccups included bathroom doors left wide open during service, exposing our table to an unpleasant view and the harsh glow of fluorescent bulbs. The bathrooms also appeared to double as storage space, with stained chairs and other odds and ends strewn about.
Jorgie Ramos has said that service was a weak point at The Joint that he wanted to fix at B&S. Indeed, servers here are friendly and efficient, quick to respond to requests like extra silverware and to keep drinks flowing.
Lucky for the Metropolis at Dadeland tenants who live above the gastropub, B&S is poised to be a prime neighborhood hangout. Lucky for the rest of us, it could become a regional destination if Ramos keeps the fresh, South Florida-friendly flavors coming.
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