There’s a feeling among the greater Miami food community that we tend to be a bit behind whatever exciting epicurean development is happening around the country. In other words: “Wait five years and we’ll have it here.”
So, back in 2007 when New Yorkers were clamoring for smoked trout salad at April Bloomfield’s Spotted Pig, Miami was just warming up to the idea of a casual, chef-driven restaurant with the opening of Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. Not a gastropub in the strictest sense of the term, but a harbinger of what was to come, Michael’s Genuine eschewed the trappings of fine dining: There were no tablecloths, the beer list was more than an afterthought, and even the fried food felt a little fancy (hello, chili-lime hominy and crispy pig ears).
Three years later the Pubbelly Boys went to the next level with their Asian-Latin hybrid that had food lovers from near and far lining up to dine on duck-pumpkin dumplings and chorizo-stuffed dates. Small space, high energy, communal tables, exposed brick.
The success of Michael’s Genuine and Pubbelly helped paved the way for others to ride this gastronomic wave. And ride it, Miami has, welcoming a fresh tide of comfort-food spots that fly their gastropub flag either in name or spirit, each adding a unique South Florida spin to the formula.
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Not quite a bar and not quite a restaurant, the gastropub is a British innovation, offering a casual-meets-refined atmosphere that welcomes beer geeks and wine snobs, bar-grub lovers and the food-obsessed. Gastropubs hav found a sweet spot in American dining at the intersection of honest, ambitious cooking and humble surroundings.
Take B&S Gastropub (formerly Barley and Swine), a Latin-influenced spot open a year and a half in Dadeland. Its dark-wood tables support the weight of hefty, pork-centric dishes and drafts from the bar’s 29-strong craft beer menu.
“I wanted to create a place where I like to hang to out,” chef-owner Jorgie Ramos says. “It’s close to my home, to where I grew up, to where my family is. And it’s low-key; it’s got a relaxed atmosphere.”
B&S elevates the lowly pig ear by frying it and tossing it with a pad Thai sauce; long-roasted suckling pig gets the taco treatment in another popular dish.
“We try to be different but remind people of the food they grew up eating,” Ramos says.
That ethos also explains the appeal and success of Bread + Butter, a Coral Gables spot that straddles the traditional cooking of Little Havana with the adventurousness of current tastes. It’s a Cuban cafeteria meets American-style gastropub, and it’s a hit.
Opened by chef Albert Cabrera, previously of the upscale (and wildly expensive) Karu & Y, Bread + Butter is decidedly a comfort-food palate-pleaser. Its frita china is a mini burger topped with kimchee, cilantro and sriracha ketchup, and the torrejas (Cuban-style French toast) with guava maple syrup and cream cheese ice cream is decadent and addicting.
Cabrera’s move from upscale dining to a neighborhood joint also points to another culinary trend: chefs trading in fancy restaurants for laid-back pubs with accessible price points. The hope is to attract regular customers rather than sporadic diners who only come on special occasions.
Focus on bar
In the case of Bulla Gastrobar, a Spanish eatery in Coral Gables that was revamped from the upscale restaurant Por Fin, the owners focused on creating an attractive bar scene.
“We designed the bar to be the focus,” partner Carlos Centurion says. “We wanted high-quality food in a bar ambiance, bringing the influence from fine dining but still having a fun atmosphere. And the bar at Bulla is so inviting and so energetic, it just draws people in.”
Once folks are there, they tend to stay for the well-executed small plates that evoke a Barcelona tapas bar. Bulla’s owners have found so much success with their gastrobar formula that they are expanding with another Bulla outpost in Doral and two Peruvian gastrobars: one in downtown Doral and another at the Falls.
“It will be called Pisco e Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar, and we’re bringing in a Peruvian chef who has worked alongside Gaston Acurio,” Centurion says, adding that he plans to ramp up the beer programs for the new places. “We’re seeing that people are interested in craft beers. With the Peruvian gastrobar we hope to have 100 beers by the glass.”
Despite an influx of options — no fewer than half a dozen gastropubs opened here in the past three months — one could argue that Miami has yet to possess an authentic gastropub, one in which the chef and the menu reflect the genre’s British roots.
Point that person to newly opened The Seven Dials. It’s an appealing little place hidden off a Coral Gables side street. The chef, Andrew Gilbert, hails from London and has worked in the kitchens of Michy’s, Sra. Martinez and Catch.
The restaurant’s name refers to the fabled London intersection that figured heavily in Dickens’ work. There’s wallpaper featuring book-reading raccoons that’s sourced from the United Kingdom. The burger is topped with Marmite mayo — “packed with umami,” Gilbert says.
Gilbert and his wife, Katie Sullivan, the publisher of food magazine Edible South Florida, have created a place where Anglophiles can get their fix of dishes like Fish & Chips, Ploughman’s salad (essentially a hunk of cheese or ham with pickles, chutney, toast and a truffled egg) from a menu that includes pub staples like a BLT (again, with that fantastic Marmite mayo), tomato soup with grilled cheese, and hanger steak.
“At first I wanted to play down the British element,” says Gilbert, fearing that the locals might have disparaging ideas about the appeal of British food. “But my wife’s mother suggested we emphasize that. And it turns out she was right.”
And while the British-inspired dishes are its best sellers, Seven Dials also takes jaunts into Asia, like in its banh mi, a Vietnamese marvel with organic poached chicken, pickled cucumber and cilantro.
“To me, a gastropub should have relatively exciting food, but it should be eclectic as well,” Gilbert says. “I’m passionate about whatever it is that I’m doing, whether it’s making a sandwich or fine dining. So my gastropub will reflect that.”
The Seven Dials ties in local purveyors: bread from Zak the Baker, beer from Wynwood Brewing Co. and encased meats from Proper Sausages. And the 46-seater manages to pull off the gastropub vibe without the tired crutches of Edison bulbs or chalkboard drawings of primal cuts.
Instead, it focuses on what’s coming out of the kitchen. And when that includes golden-brown fish and chips served with “mushy peas” (a blend of sweet minced peas), it’s all that matters. And it’s out of this world.
7 to try
B&S Gastropub: 9059 SW 73rd Ct., Miami; 305-397-8678, barleyandswine.com
Bread + Butter: 2330 Salzedo St., Coral Gables; 305-442-9622, breadandbuttercounter.com
Bulla Gastrobar: 2500 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-441-0107, bullamiami.com
OTC: 1250 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-374-4612, otc-restaurants.com
Pubbelly: 1418 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-532-7555, pubbelly.com
The Seven Dials: 2030 S. Douglas Rd., Coral Gables; 786-542-1603, sevendialsmiami.com
Tap 79: 1071 NE 79th St., Miami; 305-381-0946, tap79miami.com