Kris Wessel, the James Beard-nominated, critically acclaimed chef of dearly departed Oolite, Red Light and Liaison restaurants, is returning to the Miami food scene next month with a barbecue joint in Little Haiti.
Wessel’s Tropical BarBQ, located in the former Cafe Creole at 5825 NE Second Ave., will showcase regional flavors of Florida, the Caribbean and the American South, cooking proteins like heritage pork, grass-fed beef and organic chickens over Jamaican pimento and Florida fruit wood. Dry rubs and sauces will be inspired by Creole, Latin and tropical spices, fruits and flavors.
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In keeping with the gluten-free path he blazed at Oolite, Wessel will serve pulled pork, curried goat, beef brisket, turkey burgers and other sandwiches on roti bread or brioche buns, both gluten-free. Vegetables and other produce will be sourced locally from Little Haiti’s community garden and Little River Cooperative’s CSA.
Perhaps most important to Wessel fans: His New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp will make an appearance on the new Tropical BarBQ menu.
Wessel says he hopes to have the restaurant open for take-out service by the end of February and for full-service dining in March.
At barely 1,000 square feet, the barbecue joint is a small one, but Wessel says it’s enough for him to replicate the wood-cooking traditions of the Taino and Timucua Indians of Florida and Haiti.
“I have some bigger restaurant projects on the horizon, but when I started researching this new concept and uncovered maybe the true history of barbecue, I knew it had to be done,” he says. “I have always cooked regionally and I always will.”
Evan S. Benn is Miami Herald food editor: @EvanBenn