Route 9, a sliver of a restaurant on a quiet stretch of Ponce de Leon, is as straightforward and unpretentious as the northern highway for which it’s named. With just over a dozen wooden tables scattered across wide pine planks and floor-to-ceiling chalkboard next to the kitchen, it’s a cozy and endearing spot.
The menu, advertised as “American cuisine with a bit of Latin and Florida flair,” is a quirky list of what chef-restaurateurs Jeremy and Paola Goldberg do best, from charcuterie to berry cobblers. But their greatest talent seems to be creating a welcoming environment with good food and drinks at a reasonable price. The couple met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. (U.S. Route 9 runs past the school), and earned their chops in Miami — she at Timo, he at Escopazzo and Johnny V’s. Their eclectic (truly more Mediterranean) menu puts quality before creativity. One of the best dishes, for example, is a picture-perfect burger served on a toasted brioche bun. The meat is Harris Ranch, juicy even when slightly over-seared, served with a thin, oozing slab of sharp provolone in which slivers of balsamic-marinated onions float. Fries are fat, herb-flecked and the color of just-milled maple. A well-curated charcuterie selection includes French fromages such as St. Andre, Roquefort and Petite Basque as well as jellies, milk stout whole grain mustard and cured cucumbers and peppers, all house-made. Small plate standouts include a not-at-all-small bowl of perfectly steamed Prince Edward Island mussels in an ever-so-subtly buttery tomato broth with tiny tomato dice and bits of spicy chorizo. A tiny garlic crouton is hardly enough for dunking, but just ask for more. The staff, really just one earnest and enthusiastic guy, seems ready to do somersaults to please guests.The service, which includes a visit from the friendly Jeremy, is so welcoming and sincere it makes you want to invite them to join you. The Mexican-born Paola spends most of her time in the kitchen. Other starters worth sampling include a deep green poblano pepper stuffed with a smoky mahi dip and served with aggressively seasoned toasted tortilla triangles that are great for dipping. Walnut-sized braised meatballs in chunky red sauce are another comfort dish, though I’d wish for some pasta to go along with them. They do offer one, and it’s a gem: perky pink Keys shrimp over fresh, well-timed egg fettuccine with just enough butter and garlic for a smooth kick. A satisfying grilled flank steak is cooked as ordered, medium rare, and served in thick slices alongside a braised heart of romaine with a subtle blue cheese vinaigrette. The Harris Ranch meat could use a bit more flavor, but the cooking was just right. Salads also boast pristine ingredients. Pinky-sized arugula leaves, blood orange and perfectly cooked smiles of beets are impressive even if the salad had a tad too much vinegar. Their “classic” Caesar salad is refreshing but also tastes of too much acid with hardly any evidence of egg or cheese. Daily specials, including ceviches, are a good bet. Our only complaint about an earthy and delicious mushroom soup with a swirl of balsamic vinegar was that it was too much. A tiny bowl would have satisfied.The right-on-the-money wine list includes mostly French and California darlings from a simple 2007 Cote du Rhone to a 2002 Bitouzet-Prieur Volnay, an elegant burgundy worth its $99 price tag—the highest on the list. There are plenty of gorgeous bottles in the $20-$30 range, and the artisanal beer menu is impressive.Homey desserts include a moist and light doubledecker chocolate cake and a banana cream “pie” that’s really a charmingly sloppy ramekin of pudding with slivers of ripe fruit and a touch of whipped cream. Like its namesake, the 7-week-old Route 9 has some rough patches but many more smooth stretches, and we should be grateful that it brought us the talented and hospitable young Goldbergs.
If you go
Place: Route 9
Address: 1915 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables
Rating:★ ★ ★ (Very Good)
Contact: 305-569-9009, www.route9miami.com
Hours: 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Charcuterie platters $13, soups and salads $6- $9, small plates $8-$13, entrees $17-$23, sides $6, dessert $6-$9
FYI: Beer and wine; $20 corkage. Metered street parking. Reservations suggested. AX, MC. VS.