Food & Drink

Chew Chew! Miami-centric restaurants opening in downtown rail depot

Central Fare will host six resturants and 20 food kiosks.
Central Fare will host six resturants and 20 food kiosks. Contributed

All aboard, Miami foodies.

Big-name chefs — national and local — are bringing new restaurants to Miami’s version of Grand Central Station, the sprawling, rail-fed transportation hub set to open downtown next summer.

Inspired by Madrid’s airy, all-glass Mercado de San Miguel, the 50,000-square-foot marketplace dubbed Central Fare will be the heart — or perhaps the stomach — of MiamiCentral, the 11-acre, live-work-play mixed-use development that will house a new express train connecting Miami and Orlando.

Celebrity chefs and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, who made their names separately in the restaurant world and together as runner-up and winner on Bravo TV’s Top Chef, will combine to open Monger, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant to anchor the food marketplace.

Local favorites such as Richard Hales’ Midtown Blackbrick Chinese and Little Havana’s Miami Smokers and Azucar Ice Cream will highlight a massive marketplace of six restaurants and 20 kiosks of artisanal food shops, fresh meats and vegetable markets, and grab-and-go dining. Other local favorites that have already signed on are Doggi’s arepas, Romanicos Chocolates, Toasted Bagelry and Deli, and Rosetta Italian bakery.

“We want it to become the center of gravity for food lovers within the neighborhood,” said David McIntyre, senior vice president of operations for MiamiCentral and Brightline, which will operate the new rail system to Orlando.

McIntyre said he hopes the marketplace will grab both tourists coming off the Port of Miami cruise ships heading to and from Orlando theme parks and the locals who will live and work in MiamiCentral’s five towers. Those towers will house 800 residences, 180,000 square feet of retail shops, 300,000 square feet of offices and a 95-story tower with a hotel.

The pièce de résistance of the marketplace is Monger, just the second time the Voltaggio brothers have combined forces. Michael Voltaggio, who won Top Chef season six, made his career in Los Angeles, where he was the chef de cuisine for star chef Jose Andres at Bazaar when it was nominated for a James Beard Award, before opening his acclaimed restaurant, Ink.

Bryan Voltaggio focused on the East Coast, where he was nominated for a James Beard Award as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic while running his six restaurants in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

They meet in the middle regularly for holidays in Florida, where their parents live — their mother in Orlando, their father in Tampa. The new express train service from Miami to Orlando was a big selling point for both brothers.

“This is very personal to us. We’re not the type of chefs to drop a restaurant off in a random city,” Bryan Voltaggio said. “We want to be very present here and have our hands on it.”

The idea for Monger came as Michael Voltaggio asked himself: “How are people eating today?” He found himself in a Los Angeles Whole Foods Market people-watching as shoppers floated from station to station, building their meals. It gave him the inspiration for Monger, which will be styled after a ’50s-era grocery store, with three kitchens, each focused on a separate cuisine.

“It’s going to be visually stunning but also tell a story,” Bryan Voltaggio said.

Diners will build their meals according to meats and poultry, produce and baked goods.

“We’re saying to the guest, ‘How do you want to experience the menu tonight?’ ” Michael Voltaggio said.

The central hub is a further effort to revitalize downtown Miami, where Hales had opened another branch of his Sakaya Kitchen. It’s the second so-called food hall in the area, just a few miles north of the upcoming 38,000-square-foot Italian market and dining area in Brickell City Centre. When Hales was approached about a spot in MiamiCentral, he opted not to renew a lease at the location where he has been for four years.

“Our vision has always been to elevate the culture, and I think that’s what Brightline is doing,” Hales said.

The key to MiamiCentral’s dining is local restaurants over chains, and that’s where mom-and-pop operations such as Miami Smokers come in.

Started by two Miamians, Miami Smokers has became the go-to local artisan for smoked and cured meats. Their bacon sticky buns and candied bacon are only the highlight of an operation that is serving more than 30 different restaurants out of their Little Havana kitchen, which is in the process of being USDA-certified as a meat-processing plant.

They are expanding their restaurant and looking at two other locations: a pop-up at the site of the former Sushi Maki in Brickell in June and in Sunny Isles late this winter.

They hope MiamiCentral will be just another place where they can tap into Miami food lovers.

“It’s like an airport venue. You have a huge captive audience,” said Miami Smokers co-founder Andres Barrientos. “Everybody seems to feel this is a really great project.”