The Place: The Big Easy Wine Bar & Grill, in the sparkling new Brickell City Centre, opened Dec. 22. Enter to find the Afrikaans word gesellig — meaning a social gathering like a braai (barbecue) with close friends and family — spelled vertically opposite the hostess stand. That’s just what is encouraged here in the relaxed but classy space designed to make it seem like you are in golfer Ernie Els’ living room (more on that later). A communal table sits opposite the open kitchen and wood burning oven, where flames glow and flatbreads are baked. The space is done in earth tones with wood accents, cork decorations on the wall behind a long counter and chandeliers resembling wine barrel rings beaded with small Edison lights. There is also a small covered patio on the mall and a private dining room.
The History: Golfer Els, a partner, grew up east of Johannesburg. He is called “The Big Easy” because of his tall stature and fluid golf swing. Els has an award-winning vineyard in the Western Cape Province, and the wines are available at the restaurant (try the young fruity Chenin Blanc with honeysuckle and mineral notes to accompany spiced dishes). Although Els travels the world for tournaments, he lives with his family in Jupiter. South African executive chef Maryna Frederiksen grew up on a government farm in Transvaal where her father raised cattle and sheep. Her career began in education, but while in Amsterdam completing her master’s, she decided she wanted a change. She landed a job as a bartender on a European cruise ship, got curious about cooking and attended the ship’s chef training hotel in Switzerland. She has worked in San Francisco, Seattle, Sarasota, Orlando and Las Vegas and was recruited to open the first Big Easy in the United States. (Others are in South Africa, Dubai and Malaysia.) Frederiksen creates South Africa comfort fare with Dutch, British, Indian and Malaysian influences.
The Food: This is a non-stuffy steakhouse for celebrations or everyday eating. Start with cauliflower samosas, fried green tomatoes or boerie (farmer’s sausages) with tomato chutney and cowboy candy (orange peel preserves with bourbon). Steaks range from filet mignon and Kansas City strip to dry aged tomahawk and bison ribeye. Or go with the braai with lamb chops, prime top sirloin, sausages and Nigerian prawns that serves two to four, all with a choice of sauces and spiced butters. South African entrees include bunny chow with a braised lamb shank topped with thick tomato sauce in a Zak the Baker bread bowl; angry duck curry in red Madras curry (not hot) with basmati; or the Cape Malay seafood pot with P.E.I. mussels, corvina and prawns in coconut curry broth. In Britain and South Africa, cakes are called pudding. Try the malva pudding (also called marshmallow poeding because the yellow cake has a similar texture), smothered in crème anglaise infused with amarulo cream liqueur. The liqueur is made with the fruit of the marula tree, also known as the elephant tree because pachyderms get tipsy eating the yellow plum-size fermented fruit on the ground.
You Didn’t Know This: Bunny chow originated in the city of Durban on the east coast of South Africa, home to a huge Indian population brought to South Africa to work the sugar plantations. Their lunch consisted of bread with curry. A bunny is a whole loaf of unsliced bread hollowed out and filled with curry, with the removed bread used as a utensil to dip into the curry and eat with one’s fingers. In South Africa, Chinese food is called “chow,” and somehow “bunny” and “chow” came together. Today it is a popular street food that everyone in Durban chows down on.
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Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food blogger and writer and creator of Mermaid Sea Salt and Indian Spiced Toffee, available at Cream Parlor, 8224 Biscayne Blvd.
If You Go
The Place: The Big Easy Wine Bar & Grill
Address: 701 S. Miami Ave., suite 339-B, Brickell City Centre
Contact: 786-814-5955; bigeasy.miami
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m-4 p.m. daily, dinner 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; till midnight Friday-Saturday
Prices: Small bites $6-$9, starters $8-$16, salads $10-$12, steaks $42-$150 (for the tomahawk), seafood $29-$46, sides $8
FYI: The lunch menu does not have the South African dishes, so go for dinner to try them.