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Pubbelly made Sunset Harbour a dining destination. Here’s why it couldn’t stay open

Chef José Mendín, who opened Pubbelly in 2011 and became a five-time James Beard award semifinalist there, has closed the restaurant in 2019.
Chef José Mendín, who opened Pubbelly in 2011 and became a five-time James Beard award semifinalist there, has closed the restaurant in 2019. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The buzzy little gastropub Pubbelly, which helped turn a quiet, residential corner of Miami Beach into a vibrant South Florida hotspot, has gone dark.

Chef-owner José Mendín said his Pubbelly Global restaurant group has decided to close its original namesake restaurant, where Mendín was named a five-time James Beard award semifinalist.

The reason? One need only look at their bright and busy restaurant two doors down, Pubbelly Sushi, which has spun off into an international brand with six locations and many more planned.

“Once we started to grow, I couldn’t be there to cook every day,” Mendín said during a telephone call from Paris, where he has recently consulted on a new restaurant.

Pubbelly

Pubbelly started in 2011 as part of a diverse three-restaurant portfolio — Barceloneta, Pubbelly and Pubbelly Sushi — designed to bring a wide variety of diners to a stagnant Sunset Harbour.

The original Pubbelly was Mendín’s first love and his playground, a restaurant bending genres and expectations. He combined several trends — small-plate shareable tapas, a pork-everything gastropub, pan-Asian flavors, craft beer — into a single location.

Think octopus a la plancha with yuzu, chorizo-stuffed dates, a McBelly pork belly slider in a bao bun, duck and pumpkin ravioli, and succulent sweet breads. It allowed Mendín, who opened Nobu in Miami and London, to experiment with all his interests.

For five straight years, from 2012 to 2016, the James Beard Foundation named him a semifinalist for its highest award, Best Chef: South.

“That was definitely my baby, my home where I cooked every day,” Mendín said.

As Mendín’s reputation grew, his restaurant group embraced expansion (notably the name changed from Pubbelly Boys to Pubbelly Global). And when they looked at a restaurant they could duplicate, Pubbelly Sushi, which incorporated some of Mendín’s unexpected flavor pairings in familiar rolls, was the likelier choice.

“It was easier to explain than an Asian gastropub,” he said.

The restaurant group opened three more Pubbelly Sushi locations in South Florida, one in Mexico City and another in the Dominican Republic.

Separately, Mendín moved on to other projects. He opened Habitat in a nearby hotel and La Placita, his love letter to his native Puerto Rico with Spanish television star Julian Gíl.

Mendín spent less time creating in Pubbelly’s kitchen — and it showed.

“Pubbelly started losing some of its charm,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sunset Harbour became one of the hottest corners in Miami Beach. Pubbelly opened the door for other excellent restaurants such as Naiyara, Sushi Garage, Stiltsville and Panther Coffee.

It become a lifestyle center, with a new Publix, Fresh Market and several gyms, from boxing to yoga studios.

So when Pubbelly was forced to close for several weeks in late summer to bring a grease trap up to code, Mendín said he decided not to reopen. He still holds the lease and may reopen it with a new concept.

The inspiration behind Pubbelly won’t disappear completely.

Mendín said he will bring some of the Pubbelly’s greatest hits to Pubbelly Sushi, including the steamed pork buns, chorizo-stuffed dates, fried rice and dumplings — proving that with pork, all things are possible.

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