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By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
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By Dana De Greff
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By Zachary Fagenson
Kendall? Are you kidding?
Kendall. I am not kidding.
12578 N. Kendall Drive
Kendall, FL 33186
Region: South Dade
The future of fast food is a pinhole-in-the-wall storefront in a typically behemoth suburban shopping center a couple of impossibly jammed intersections off Florida's Turnpike. Bearing the somewhat unwieldy moniker of Off the Grille Bistro, it neatly and quite tastily solves the fast-food dilemma that has existed ever since Ronald McDonald was a zygote:
When it's fast, it's not food. When it's food, it's not fast.
Actually Off the Grille Bistro goes that solution not one but three better.
First, it's not just good food served fast; it's good food that is good for you, prepared with a minimum of fats, a maximum of flavor, and a freshness that suggests white tablecloths, heavy silverware, and crystal goblets instead of bare metal tables, institutional utensils, and flimsy plastic cups.
Second, it is as artfully presented as food at any white-tablecloth, heavy-silverware, crystal-goblet restaurant. Meats and seafood are sliced and fanned out and napped with colorful, flavorful sauces. Rice is molded into tall towers. Ingredients are arranged in pleasing, well-considered patterns. Even garnishes receive careful attention, like thin shavings of crisply, greaselessly fried plantain and a dab of wasabi formed into a tiny pastel hockey puck whose top is delicately crosshatched.
Third, it is damn cheap. A hearty salad containing plenty of crunchy veggies, properly cooked chicken or fish, and fresh, blemish-free greens costs $9, max. The most expensive dish on the menu is $10. You can get a light but filling meal for $6.
It's enough to make Ronald McDonald gag on his Big Mac.
You don't give up much for all of this good, cheap, prettily presented food, either only beer, wine, and table service. No booze, just caffeine. Orders are taken at the counter with your meal and delivered when ready. Still, every dish is cooked to order and plated with its own unique garnishes and sides. And the place is a charmer: a high ceiling crisscrossed by shiny steel beams; rough-textured walls painted vivid shades of purple, red, and green; a distressed concrete floor glowing a soft gold; a handful of brushed-metal tables; and a flat-screen TV.
The menu is divvied up into salads, sandwiches, wraps, pastas, entrées, and a roster of daily specials printed on a chalkboard. Curry chicken salad is a bird of a different species from the usual icky-sweet, mayonnaise-bound concoction. Here it's a grilled chicken breast, moist and tender, served with loads of grilled veggies in a modestly pungent, vinaigrettelike dressing.
Fajita steak wrap is a big, meaty thing, a whole-wheat tortilla stuffed with smoky grilled sirloin, onions, roasted peppers, cheese, and salsa. Blackened shrimp creole pasta gets a chunky, spicy, garlicky tomato sauce more like a salsa than the expected (and admittedly less healthy) cream-infused sauce more typical of creole cookery. No evidence of blackening on the shrimp, either.
An evening's special of sesame-encrusted tuna delivers an entrée-size portion for an appetizer-size price. Slices of quickly seared, rosy-rare tuna are strewn over a king-size bed of rice studded with a mélange of stir-fried vegetables, accompanied by a minuscule plastic ramekin of ginger-soy dipping sauce and that hockey puck of wasabi.
Island roast pork is great stuff thin medallions of pork (only a couple too dry) nicely charred from the grill, served with marinated peppers and onions, a tall cone of mixed rice and black beans, and fat logs of fried yuca. Not so great was chocolate flan bracing chocolate flavor but curdled custard. Too bad, but the future of fast food is still at Off the Grille Bistro in Kendall.
Yeah. In Kendall.