Chef Adrianne is reopening this waterfront restaurant that’s been closed since Hurricane Irma

Red Fish Grill at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables has been closed since Hurricane Irma damaged it two years ago. Chef Adrianne Calvo will reopen it in October 2019.
Red Fish Grill at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables has been closed since Hurricane Irma damaged it two years ago. Chef Adrianne Calvo will reopen it in October 2019.

A glancing blow by one hurricane shuttered Red Fish Grill, and a near-miss by another is heralding its return.

The scenic bayfront restaurant in Miami-Dade county’s Matheson Hammock park will reopen in October with Adrianne Calvo, a chef with a devoted suburban following, in charge of the kitchen, she said Wednesday.

Red Fish has been closed since Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to the structure in September of 2017. But Calvo said the county has invested million of dollars renovating the coral rock building, including solving an issue that caused its parking lot to flood about 14 days a year.

That means Coral Gables’ only waterfront restaurant, situated at 9610 Old Cutler Rd., will reopen new and improved, Calvo said, with an Oct. 20 target date.

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“To me, it means to carry on a legacy. It’s like taking the torch,” Calvo said.

Now just called Red Fish, the restaurant is uniquely situated at the county’s oldest park, opened in 1930 on land donated by the wealthy Matheson family. The restaurant was originally a beach bathhouse, built from coral rock quarried from Coral Gables. In 1996, the restaurateurs who owned Coral Gables’ Christy’s turned it into a restaurant and it became an iconic, romantic waterfront restaurant and venue for weddings and parties.

Matheson Hammock 14 EKM
The rooftop deck at the Red Fish Grill has an amazing view of the waters off Matheson Hammock Park. The popular waterfront restaurant has been closed since Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to it in September 2017. Emily Michot

But what made it unique also made it a liability when a hurricane struck. The restaurant, with the park’s lush foliage and coconut palms as the backdrop, sits within low-lying areas that the county has looked into protecting against sea-level rise. (A county study in 2018 showed it would take roughly $55 million to protect the restaurant, waterside walkways and the unique saltwater atoll that naturally refills with the tide.)

When Irma struck, Biscayne Bay intruded and flooded the restaurant with more than five feet of water. The county deemed walls structurally unsound. And it wasn’t the first time. The original owners signed their first least in 1992 — before Hurricane Andrew hit and caused damage that delayed the restaurant’s opening four years.

Chef Calvo said she’s ready to help Red Fish rise from the waters.

Calvo, a Chicago native with Cuban roots, who moved to Miami at age 6, has built a cult-like following at her West Kendall restaurant Chef Adrianne’s over the past 12 years. It was the first restaurant in the western suburbs that wasn’t a chain or a mom-and-pop, instead relying on her classic French techniques and a culinary school background to bring what she calls “maximum flavor” to dishes.

chef adrianne
Chef Adrianne Calvo opened Cracked in South Miami in August, now she is going to reopen Red Fish Grill in Coral Gables this year. Handout

She recently announced her second restaurant, Cracked, a quick-service sandwich and lunch spot in nearby South Miami. She said Miami-Dade County was looking for a restaurateur with proven success and a recognizable name to set up at Red Fish for the long haul. (She has signed a nine-year lease with an 11-year option.)

At Red Fish, Calvo will lean into the restaurant’s seaside setting. She envisions the menu as “New American fish house.” That is, seafood classics from whole fish and fish sandwiches to Bouillabaisse. She said she will use local fish but also fresh fish flown in from the west coast.

Upstairs, with unobstructed views of the bay, she will open a rooftop bar. And yes, she will still host weddings and private parties; she even kept the restaurant’s old telephone number and has already been fielding excited phone calls from locals.

The restaurant, at heart, was a neighborhood spot for the well-to-do, a place adored as much for its views as for its food (maybe more so).

Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein’s first job as a head chef was as Red Fish Grill’s first chef, where she perfected her own version of a Bouillabaisse with coconut milk. The restaurant has been coveted by chefs who had hoped to revive the romantic waterfront spot. Calvo won that prize.

“It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to marry the old and the new,” she said. “I love what this place means to the people of Coral Gables.”

Red Fish

9610 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables

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Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”