Restaurant News & Reviews

How Gloria Estefan’s late grandmother shaped Estefan Kitchen restaurants

Gloria Estefan, husband unveil Estefan Kitchen Express at MIA

Glorida and Emilio Estefan unveiled the first of their Estefan Kitchen restaurants at Miami International Airport on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.
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Glorida and Emilio Estefan unveiled the first of their Estefan Kitchen restaurants at Miami International Airport on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016.

Naming their newest restaurant Estefan Kitchen made too much sense.

For years, when diners wanted to eat upscale Cuban food at Larios on the Beach, they would say, “Let’s go eat at Gloria Estefan’s place,” her husband, Emilio Estefan Jr. recalls.

It’ll be a lot easier to remember the name now.

Miami’s power couple unveiled the first of their restaurants to wear the Estefan Kitchen badge Friday, Estefan Kitchen Express in Miami International Airport’s D concourse.

The airport quick stop is a snack-sized taste of Cuban crooners’ upcoming flagship restaurant in the Design District, Estefan Kitchen. There are classic sandwiches, croquetas, pastelitos and bocaditos — bite-size sandwiches made with pimento cheese spread — not to mention mojitos. But there are also items such as marinated roast pork and sweet plantain flat breads.

The smartest innovation might be the Cuban Party in the Sky, a box of some favorite bites you might find at a traditional Cuban party: croquetas, chicken salad, bocaditos, coconut-cream cheese empanadas and mini midnight sandwiches for $15.

“This is what people come to Miami for — great food, great drinks, great music,” he said.

It’s all leading up to the Cuban crooners’ Estefan Kitchen, upscale Cuban food with modern twists, which will open in November in time for Art Basel, using many of her family recipes, Gloria Estefan said. There will be live music, a piano bar, and singing bartenders to tap into the couple’s musical roots. Larios on the Beach will eventually wear the Estefan Kitchen name, as well.

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All of the restaurants will carry the gray-and-black Cuban tile aesthetic of their airport quick-stop counter; Emilio Estefan proudly showed off renderings of the upcoming restaurant on his cell phone.

The Estefan’s first foray into Cuban cuisine came 20 years ago as a partnership with Quintin and Maria Teresa Larios, who owned two Casa Larios restaurants and created the menus for Larios on the Beach and Bongos Cuban Cafe. The Larios went out of business but recently went in on a new family restaurant, La Fragua, in their original Flagler Street location.

For Estefan Kitchen, the Estefan’s tapped deep into their roots.

Gloria Estefan remembers being a little girl helping her recently arrived Cuban grandmother in the kitchen of her rented home across from Curtis Park, where parents congregated to watch their children play youth league baseball.

Consuelo Garcia Perez started cooking her own recipes, crossing the road and selling food out of a shopping cart to parents in the stands, Gloria Estefan helping serve.

The Estefan Kitchen restaurants are an ode to her late grandmother, who dreamed of opening a restaurant and whose own, Pantaleon Perez, was the chef to two Cuban presidents.

“She was this 4-foot-6 live wire of a lady, so she was my inspiration,” Gloria Estefan said. “So I wanted to do something very beautiful with Cuban food.”

The recipes are all her grandmother’s, honed by Cuban chef Odell Torres, the executive chef for all of the Estefans’ restaurants, who trained under French chefs on the island until he came to the United States 12 years ago.

“We try to take Cuban dishes and modernize them,” he said. “Everything is made by us, by hand, and that makes a big difference.”