Downtown Miami is getting serious about staying awake at night, it seems, and we’re not talking about Club Space.
The Langford Hotel, a 1925 boutique-hotel gem on Southwest First Street, has been lovingly restored, and its first floor is largely given over to PB Station, the latest salvo from the sharpshooters in the Pubbelly empire.
The boys — Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro — burst onto the scene in Miami Beach six years ago, bringing a new coolness to Brussels sprouts, dates and other shareable bar food. They’ve expanded to Pubbelly Sushi on the Beach and in the Dominican Republic, with another one to come in Brickell. They also partner with Sunset Harbour neighbor Barceloneta.
PB Station looks like a retro railroad depot, with big clocks, high ceilings, white subway tiles and prominent U.S. city names emblazoned on the walls as if they were upcoming stops. The 85-seat space bustles nightly, the cacophony of boisterous business chatter threatening to drown out your server. But it’s a fun place to eat, with a more sophisticated approach to food than the original Pubbelly. The sharing philosophy and sense of humor are still there, but you can follow up your bacon-wrapped dates or taquitos with a pricey steak or steamed fish.
Pubbelly mastermind Mendin developed the menu with executive chef Guillermo Concha, who cooked at the group’s now-shuttered PB Steak on the Beach. It starts with a section called Seafood Charcuterie, from which we selected Octopus Pepperoni (octopus has tentacles all over the menu). Alternating slices of fresh octopus and chorizo are lined up on the plate, and if you eat them together, you get a real Spanish-Portuguese pork-and-seafood experience, enlivened by smoked tomato and a drizzle of chili oil with crispy potato adding texture.
Next is the Raw Bar. It features oysters of the day with an apple mignonette, and also a Wagyu beef tartare slider. (We did say raw bar.) The little burger features hopelessly rich and tender beef, a sharp-flavored herb mustard with parsley, pleasantly aggressive green onion and cilantro, with a Parmesan truffle cream standing in for a burger’s typical melted cheese. Yellowtail ceviche taquitos are as bright and fresh as the slider is rich and dense, the tiny taco’s fish marinated to order in ginger, soy and miso, with jalapeno and shaved radish adding spice and crunch.
Mendin and Concha pay homage to several classics. Their Caesar salad is variations on a theme of celery: celery leaves, shaved raw celery and celery root in the salad; roasted celery root is a component of the dressing. It’s a big shareable serving, lots of freshness and flavor; the salty counterpoint of pickled anchovy left us wanting more.
They take all sorts of liberties here with French onion soup, and it’s perhaps the most successful sharing dish. Out comes a miniature cast-iron pan with six little round slots. Each bears a succulent dumpling stuffed with braised short rib, resting in an au jus of homemade French onion soup. Scattered about are brioche croutons, and a drift of melted Gruyere covers it all. A luscious transformation in which all the flavor elements of French onion soup shine.
Dates are big with the Pubbelly team, who include them on each menu. Here, they are stuffed with smoked brisket, cooled with coleslaw, a barbecue in every sweet, rich bite.
Another favorite, Brussels sprouts, are sweetened with salted caramel, enriched with smokehouse bacon, with peanuts tossed in at the end.
Huge oysters are bathed in a homemade butter flavored with grilled cabbage, grana padano and ample garlic. Roasted octopus is lighter and brighter, with a lemongrass sauce, green mango and cilantro.
In the spirit of not wasting anything, Mendin uses minced octopus head (just as tasty as tentacles) in his ricotta cavatelli with tomato-based octopus Bolognese. The delicate noodles are tossed with preserved lemon, saffron and coins of baby zucchini. If this dish sounds bizarre that’s because it kind of is, the tasty ingredients not melding in a wholly satisfying way.
But another out-there combo is a bonafide hit. Grilled cauliflower is tossed with a rich butter, studded with chunks of king crab, and the lush combination is brilliant. Raisins and capers dotted throughout are sweet and salty surprises. You’ll get this on every visit.
After the parade of shareable appetizers, raw bar items, vegetable sides and salads, you might feel compelled to skip the entrée, validating the original Pubbelly philosophy. If you do go big, you can luxuriate in Wagyu filet mignon or dry-aged cowboy steak, the latter priced by the ounce. One great option is grilled baby chicken, with wonderfully salty, crispy skin and a slaw made with Brussels sprout leaves and zesty Italian dressing. Tender grilled baby artichokes are there, as well.
A light steamed Florida red grouper with braised celery and preserved tomato broth had a nice flavor profile, but the fish was cooked a minute or two too long. Four big meaty Colorado lamb chops crusted with mint persillade had terrific flavor balance, with roasted red pepper relish and lemon jus.
Each of two desserts excelled. Mendin always features a bread pudding, and this one had a pleasant lightness and all the flavors of apple pie a la mode. Fudge My Life is a decadent smorgasbord of chocolate crumble, caramelized banana, peanut butter and ice cream. You’ll definitely want to share. It’s a meal worth staying up late for.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.
If You Go
Place: PB Station
Address: 121 SE First St., Miami
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ (Very Good)
Contact: 305-420-2205; pbstation.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily for breakfast; 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch; 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday for dinner, till midnight Friday-Saturday; till 10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: $7-$35 for starters, salads and sides; $19-$57 for entrees.
FYI: Noise level high; reservations suggested; full bar and reasonably priced wine.
What The Stars Mean: 1 (Poor) 1.5 (Fair) 2 (OK) 2.5 (Good) 3 (Very Good) 3.5 (Excellent) 4 (Exceptional)