Our homegrown gourmands over at @IllHaveThe selected the following three can’t miss spots to check out in Miami.
Little Bread Sandwich Company: Alberto Cabrera
A brick-walled sandwich shop with the feel of a traditional cafeteria accented with Americana. Antique ornaments and vintage photographs line the walls paying homage to Miami, but more important, Cabrera’s Cuban heritage. Little Bread feels similar to its older counterpart, Bread + Butter. Both follow the current chic gastropub code of re-purposed dangling light bulbs and subway tiles. However, the difference between the two lies beyond the décor. The sole focus at Little Bread is the Cuban Sandwich Culture.
Cabrera’s love for all things sandwich is realized in his personal endeavor of elevating iconic dishes. He seeks to create the best sandwich possible by procuring and producing the best products, while remaining true to the dish’s roots and history. He describes his mission as “a fresh approach to classics.”
The elevation of the Cuban Sandwich mirrors the resurgence of Little Havana in the culinary scene. Given its proximity to Brickell and Coral Gables, it is remarkable how Little Havana has been able to preserve its identity and constituency. Old-time favorites will always keep this area relevant in Miami conversations, but several new faces (Miami Smokers, Ball & Chain, Azucar, etc.) have created a stir among people seeking out new options.
Chef Cabrera’s background as a Cuban-American is personified in the menu. He does not limit himself to his Latin roots. He represents his Latin-American upbringing through a mix of traditions, ingredients and cooking methods.
But being Cuban-American cook is not an easy thing. This hyphen represents a single identity, with allegiances to two different worlds. One has to respect and learn from abuela’s recipes, meanwhile develop and collaborate with an American perspective. The struggle between authenticity and innovation is not new. Strict reverence and adherence to classical methods and modern day gastronomical innovation has divided two culinary schools of thought. Purists want to preserve classical recipes passed down through history. Innovators want to alter these recipes with new perspectives, ingredients, and or cooking techniques. In this struggle, a chef must seek a middle ground. He or she must seek to innovate and push boundaries of creativity, while always understanding and remembering the core and historical identity of all dishes and ingredients.
Boxelder Craft Beer Market: Nicole and Adam Darnell (co-owners & bar managers)
A craft beer purveyor in Wynwood hosting a well-curated selection of micro brews. The locale doubles as a craft beer market and taproom. The space is a small to medium sized warehouse with a back patio hosting a local food truck.
The moniker “Boxelder” refers to a type of maple tree that was planted in Florida’s water bank because of its quick growth in an intricate root system. Unsurprisingly, this metaphor works extremely well for the growing beer scene in Miami, in particular Wynwood (Concrete, J. Wakefield, Wynwood Brewing, etc.)
This legitimate “mom and pop” spot is a product of the owner’s mutual love and appreciation of the craft of brewing good beer. Their relationship, however, started through traditional fine arts. An affinity for beer and art has seen them through all their travels in the U.S. and South America. Their background in art and galleries has translated seamlessly with their curatorship and rotation of their store’s pieces.
This is the hospitality industry at its best. Owners serve, entertain, and even built major structural elements in the space (long bar top and shelving). More importantly, patrons are offered a glimpse at the soul of this concept. A product just as real as the variety of beers they sell.
Boexlder exemplifies a Wynwood trend – the convergence of ART, FOOD, and DRINK. This neighborhood is distinctively unique in Miami because it provides a community based platform and support for local “artisans.” When asked about other neighboring bars and restaurants, the Darnell’s shared the same philosophy as many here: “the more the merrier.” They did not view these places and people as competition, but as peers striving for the same goal of supporting the “craft” market.
Why is the “craft” market blooming in Miami? Currently there is a growing niche of young and middle aged people who want and seek out superior quality in products. They are also starting to listen and become more involved in the human story behind these products. Disposable income and evolving consumer interests are bringing these small businesses and the people behind them to light.
Artisanal products share in the fact that there is a small tight-knit community that helps to produce and support it. Consumers are brought in by the notion that there is direct human contact; one can share in the purveyor’s experience. This undercurrent may never reach mainstream status. However, a community’s support for quality craftsmanship and human relationships instead of sterile marketplaces is always welcomed. Ultimately, as the sage African proverb, “it takes a village,” highlights the mentality permeating Wynwood. It requires this neighborhood’s establishment to band together and rear this movement.
Fooq’s: David Foulquier (owner) and Nicole Votano (Executive Chef)
Housed in the former Nemesis Urban Bistro space in downtown Miami, Fooq’s is a cozy restaurant bursting at the seams with personality and soul.
Both through décor and their menu offerings, Fooq’s evokes the idea of eating at your much cooler and well-traveled friend’s apartment. This combination is a harmonious balance between simplicity and sophistication. Take the entryway for instance: this foyer subtly welcomes with a beautiful wooden bench stacked with warm colored throw pillows and a cookbook-covered coffee table. The walls are creatively adorned with diverse trinkets, all of which are reminiscent of those items you wished you had bought at that antique shop. This eclectic refinement appears effortless, which is precisely how the balance between restaurant and hip downtown-loft is achieved.
Complementing the space, Chef Nicole Votano’s cooking is a testament of her Italian upbringing and the mastery of her craft. The concise menu is a culmination of both her and David Foulquier’s backgrounds and extensive global travels. The result is truly unique and free of any gimmicky “fusion” labels. Foulquier’s French-Persian upbringing pairs deliciously with Votano’s Italian. This uniqueness, this thoughtfulness, and this execution are where the soul of the kitchen shines through.
Nothing is more emblematic of what the experience at Fooq’s is like then enjoying the Persian Pomegranate Chicken and the Bucatini Amatriciana. Finish the night off with a one of a kind dessert – Persian Sundae.
Defining a “neighborhood spot” is not an easy task. One could start by asserting that it is community inspired, managed, and supported by the surrounding neighborhood. Here the quality must always be consistent, and the vibe unpretentious. Patrons are mixed, stemming from industry folk and the general populous. Lastly, the cuisine is flexible in terms of its ability to appeal to broad range of customers and ages.
What makes defining Downtown Miami so difficult is that the city does not yet know what to make out of it. As it stands, Fooq’s is straddled between nightclubs, Space and E11ven, and an art gallery, CIFO. What makes this restaurant valuable is that it provides a blueprint for the neighborhood. Hopefully this infectious hospitality philosophy will inspire similar eateries in the future.
Most important, a neighborhood spot has soul. “Feel good” is more than a ubiquitous descriptor for homey meals and ambiance; it speaks of the human relationship between staff, food and drink purveyors, and the community they serve. Long lasting ties with the clientele through invested interests keeps these establishments right where they belong.