No doubt about it, Matt Kuscher has a following.
There haven’t been this many young people in Coconut Grove since sailboat-dwelling David Crosby fell for coffeehouse chanteuse Joni Mitchell here in the late 1960s.
But there they are, crowds of 20- and 30-somethings, scarfing down grass-fed burgers at LoKal and, now, fresh seafood at Kuscher’s new Spillover in the Mayfair Promenade.
“Kush” is a Washington transplant who developed his appreciation for imaginative restaurant concepts (and Miami) at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. The Spillover is the third restaurant he has opened in the past five years, including the scruffy Kush in Wynwood and, just for kicks, a Miami Brew Bus that offers weekend visits to South Florida breweries.
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There is a fun, anti-establishment vibe that runs through his work, a fresh contrast to Miami’s slick, high-end restaurants. Spillover has that same spunk and spirit.
Along with a local seafood theme — the name of the angler who caught the fish of the day appears on the chalkboard with other specials — there are bright, clean ciders and meads. The Spillover marks Miami’s first restaurant bar dedicated to fermented apple and honey libations, with more than two dozen ciders that emphasize the little-known acetic varieties of northern Spain, and 12 types of mead, the archaic bee booze that is all the buzz in other parts of the United States.
Vintage doors hang on the wall. An old bike doubles as the hostess stand. One side of the rectangular, 50-seat restaurant is dominated by a brick wall painted bright blue, with South Florida city names and newspaper headlines sporadically plastered to it. Outside, in the Mayfair breezeway, fountain-side tables seat another 20, with additional room for dogs, which have their own “yappy hour.”
It’s as if your teenage brother opened his own place.
The same anything-goes behavior dominates the seafood-centric menu, divided into appetizers, salads, sandwiches and main plates, with hit-or-miss results. More of a curiosity, there are BBQ gator ribs and a Buffalo heirloom cauliflower starter, a whole head of cauliflower baked in buffalo sauce then topped with blue cheese dressing.
Hits: Fried Bahamian conch and grouper strips served with creamy garlic sauce are pounded into tender bits of salty goodness. The gargantuan pan con minuta of fried, boneless snapper with coleslaw, red onions, tomato and creamy dressing on a challah bun, gives La Camaronera’s famous sandwich a run for its money. “Ocean City Crab Cakes” bring a Chesapeake Bay blast to the menu.
Misses: Many of the plates, including the creative cauliflower, are over-spiced. The conch salad is a soupy, lime-spiked mix of crunchy peppers, onions and chunks of conch, with tortilla chips on the side. It’s a classic South Florida treat we don’t see enough, but Spillover’s version has so much Sriracha that it overwhelms the simple, fresh essence of the dish.
Same with the jambalaya entrée, which should sport two red flags to warn that the “secret Cajun sauce” is all you’ll taste, not the Proper Sausages from Miami Shores, the local grouper or Gulf shrimp. The stew was boiled down into a disappointing mush of brown, fiery rice, accompanied by two incongruous triangles of crust-less rye bread.
Are you sweating yet?
Don’t worry, not every dish comes with heartburn. There are also mild shrimp and lobster tacos, grouper fish-and-chips, and a lobster Reuben served on more of that crust-free rye bread, along with burgers and a wide array of vegetables.
There is nothing nuanced or delicate about anything that comes out of the kitchen. Plates are thickly coated — not dusted — with spices and herbs for display. Even the banana cream pie has a heavy ground cinnamon ring around it. The whole fried Florida fish of the day — yellowtail snapper with delicious crispy skin on our visit — was drenched in a sweet sauce. It’s a shame that a place that prides itself on locally sourced fish and produce obscures much of that natural flavor.
Yet Spillover’s crew, dressed in suspenders and newsboy caps, is so peppy and enthusiastic about what’s being served that you can’t help but smile. It’s contagious. Spillover is spilling life into this long-stagnant stretch of the Mayfair. For that, we can stand some heat.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Jodi Mailander Farrell on Twitter: @JodiMailander.
If you go
Place: The Spillover
Address: 2911 Grand Ave., Suite 400D, Coconut Grove
Rating: ☆☆ ½ stars (Good)
Contact: 305-456-5723, spillovermiami.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, until 11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
Prices: $6-$12 starters, $8-$25 salads, $13-$25 sandwiches and burgers, $14-$27 entrees, $8 desserts
FYI: VS, MC, AmEx; beer, wine, mead and cider only; street or garage parking
What the stars mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)