While Miami’s restaurant scene is competitive and difficult to be successful in, one restaurant in Coral Gables has made a lasting impression on the neighborhood: Ortanique on the Mile, a popular eatery headed by chef Cindy Hutson, recently celebrated its 15th birthday.
To celebrate the milestone, the restaurant held a lavish dinner for friends, family and its most loyal patrons, serving several courses of new creations from the chef such as blackberry barbecued Colorado lamb and octopus tiradito.
Hutson rose to prominence with Norma’s on the Beach, a wildly popular restaurant that she and her partner Delius Shirley opened on Lincoln Road in 1994. At the time, Miami Beach’s now-glitzy pedestrian mall was far from prime; Hutson remembers in the first years of the restaurant finding homeless sleeping in the doorway of her restaurant.
But Norma’s on the Beach proved to be a hit with patrons traveling from all parts of Miami to come try Hutson’s “Cuisine of the Sun,” a Caribbean fusion style of cooking that she became known for. Norma’s on the Beach cemented Hutson’s status as one of the best chefs in the Miami area and helped raise the profile of Lincoln Road.
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After seeing the success of Hutson’s restaurant on Lincoln Road, she says, the city of Coral Gables came to her with a proposal to open a restaurant on Miracle Mile with the hope that she could help energize the strip, which was then very quiet. When Ortanique on the Mile opened in 1999, it was essentially a runaway hit from the beginning. In its first year, Esquire magazine named it the Best New Restaurant in North America.
While she originally intended to have both restaurants open, Hutson says they eventually decided to close her first restaurant after she began to see Coral Gables as her true home for her family.
“It was kind of easy to say let’s [let] go of Lincoln Road when my heart was really in the Gables. It was more of a community; it felt like home. So we let go of [Norma’s on the Beach] and made this our home.”
While Ortanique regularly adds special dishes to the menu inspired by Hutson’s travels, the restaurant is best known for its neighborhood favorites. Among them are the jerked double pork chop with a guava rum sauce, pan sauteed grouper in teriyaki and sesame oil, and the West Indian curried fresh jumbo lump crab cake. These dishes, as well as a handful of others, command fierce loyalty from customers.
“In 15 years, I haven’t been able to take these items off the menu because my customers won’t allow it. I’ve tried to, but they get so irate over it,” Hutson says.
And while many popular Miami restaurants often become conglomerates or purchased by corporations, Ortanique on the Mile still remains very much a family-run operation. Hutson’s partner Shirley and her daughter Ashley are intimately involved with the operations of the restaurant. And although not related by blood, Hutson says treating her workers like family helps her restaurant keeps the legacy and the quality of the restaurant.
Hutson says that while she hopes to spruce up the decor of her Miracle Mile location, she promises to keep her distinctive Cuisine of the Sun style of cooking that has made her so popular.
“After 15 years, I think my restaurant and myself are both in need of a face-lift,” Hutson says jokingly.