By David Minsky
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By Bill Wisser
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Most diners, including reviewers, are sensible enough to take cost into consideration when reflecting upon a restaurant meal. If served, say, a savory but less-than-stellar sirloin for $15, we are apt to cap any negative judgment with a modifying sentiment: "It might not be the best steak I've ever had, but it was decent enough for the money." Low prices, in fact, are an effective deterrent against criticism, and so is a friendly staff after all, it is impolite to say bad things about somebody who has just been kind to you (and here I am not speaking of reviewers, but of regular eater-outers). The formula for positive word of mouth isn't that complex: If a dining establishment makes you feel comfortable, treats and serves you well, and proffers food and drink that pass muster at a price deemed fair, it will likely be favorably commented upon. When such a place is casual and affordable, we generally refer to it as "a good neighborhood restaurant." Scorch Grillhouse and Wine Bar is a good neighborhood restaurant.
"It will probably resemble a smaller Houston's," I said to my wife before we headed out to Scorch. "I'm guessing a cool, contemporary design; smartly framed photos on brick walls; a gleaming and steaming open stainless-steel kitchen; and the wine bar ... maybe mahogany." I was basing my vision partly on the restaurant's chainlike moniker and "wine bar" adjunct, as well as its suave exterior, with corporate-slick logo, darkened glass windows, and outdoor tables under a bright red awning which I had driven by many a time since Scorch's inception in 2004. It's difficult to say which of us was more taken aback upon entering the eatery, with its college-town burger-bistro décor. It is a compact but lofty 60-seat space, the upper reaches of the tall walls all but obscured by oil paintings, television screens, and oversize chalkboards touting nightly drink specials. Other appointments include stacks of shelves lined with wine bottles, a counter piled with wine cartons, and an exposed grill area behind the counter. "At least I got the open kitchen part right," I noted to my wife, who felt compelled to point out that it wasn't really a full kitchen, and was neither gleaming nor steaming. We both agreed the laid-back ambiance was an improvement over my more formulaically envisioned establishment.
Perhaps Scorch reminds me of a burger joint because it sells a lot of burgers. Plenty of patrons here thrill to the fat, ten-ounce slab of chopped, char-grilled meat, but to me these bloated balls of bovine are simply obese sisters to the anorexic patties of fast-food chains: They both have weight problems. A great burger is one of proper proportion of meat to bread, with a crisp lettuce leaf and sweet, acidic slice of tomato (poetically echoed by a tangy touch of ketchup) to contrast the texture and counter the grease. That said, Scorch's hamburger tastes just fine and will certainly fill you up. And thin, crunchy, steamy-hot fries on the side were exemplary.
13750-A Biscayne Blvd., A
North Miami, FL 33181
Region: North Miami
Grilled steaks are Scorch's other specialty. The two main cuts offered are a long, skinny skirt and a "Scorch steak" taken from the bottom sirloin shorter and thicker than the skirt, but with a similarly stringy texture and robustly fatty flavor. The latter was regrettably overcooked and overly garlicked though I suppose I should note that it goes for just $14.95 and like all entrées is accompanied by either vegetable of the day (broccoli and carrots) or one of sundry starches: rice, fries, sweet potato fries, extremely creamy skin-on mashed potatoes, and the widest, meatiest disks of tostones I've ever seen (the plantain these were sliced from must've been the size of a baseball bat!).
Squid were likewise larger than usual, a starter portion of calamari delivering bulky rings and tentacles that were thickly breaded and crisply fried. The rest of the extensive list of appetizers encompasses a multiethnic mishmash of crowd pleasers gazpacho, bruschetta, steamed mussels, sesame tuna, spinach-artichoke dip (probably not a big seller these days), and so forth. The crabcake was the old-fashioned sort, a soft patty the size of a properly weighted hamburger, with an orange-tinted interior of shredded crabmeat, bread crumbs, and lots of Old Bay and other such savory seasonings. Very satisfying, especially if you avoid splashing on the vinegary salsalike side dip or garlicky cream dressing ("chimmitartar sauce"). The Santa Fe quesadilla hit the spot as well; the flour tortilla was piquantly packed with strips of chicken breast and melted jalapeño-jack cheese. Again, though, you might want to go easy with accompanying dressings sappy guacamole and a second, watery pink dip that tasted like garlic vinaigrette.
Service, not so incidentally, is a big plus here; the staff is consistently welcoming, caring, and efficient. Proprietors Tony Puche and Luis Vargas are often on hand as well.
A trio of lamb loin chops is the costliest menu choice ($22.95), and although the meat was succulent and possessed full lamb flavor, like so much of the food here it was too generously gilded with garlic. No such problem with a big, juicy roasted half-chicken which at $13.45 clocks in as one of Scorch's best buys.