At the Spillover, the Team Behind Lokal and Kush Trades Beef for the Bay
If the men's bathroom inside the Spillover doesn't make you smile, you don't have a soul. The walls are lined with grinning pictures of Roberto Gómez Bolaños, the beloved Mexican screenwriter, actor, and comedian who went by the nickname Chespirito (Little Shakespeare). A life-size cutout of Sábado Gigante's Don Francisco hangs nearby. When you step up to the urinal, you gleefully find your target is a picture of Justin Bieber's face.
They would all seem misplaced if they weren't inside a 3-month-old, 70-seat restaurant owned by ginger-bearded Washington, D.C. transplant Matthew Kuscher.
In 2011, Kuscher opened Lokal, Miami's mecca for burgers and beer, on a shoestring budget cobbled together from friends' and relatives' loans. That restaurant's interior is made of trash — checks come on used corks, and chairs were once destined for the dump.
In early 2014, he opened Kush on the edge of Wynwood in a former brothel-cum-crackhouse. The compact space became a fast favorite thanks to dishes such as pan con bistec with grass-fed beef on a challah bun.
The Spillover is his latest. Located on a gorgeous but long-unused brick patio near the Mayfair Hotel & Spa in Coconut Grove, it diverges slightly from the gritty mantra. The menu branches out from Kuscher's beef and brew bona fides with ciders and meads. There are also larger plates such as a whole fish provided by Trigger Seafood. As of late, lane snapper has been abundant. Managers donning tailored suits dart around the room. Servers sport canvas button-ups, suspenders, and dark-ivy caps. Still, it's the many ciders and sandwiches that will keep you coming back.
Kuscher has taken on the risky challenge of trying to educate Miami about these ancient, highly complex spirits. "We're trying to focus on the European side of ciders," he says. "They're not sweet, they're more like wines, they open up your palate, and they go well with food."
There are plenty of choices from Spain, which is where Kuscher was introduced to them. The Guruzeta Basque cider is an easy drink that offers the full, not-too-sweet apple flavor you find in nonalcoholic ciders; a slight tartness makes it a good match for a rich sandwich. Finish a meal with a bottle or small pour of sweet, mouth-coating mead. A Danish variety called Viking Blod, based on an ancient recipe combining Nordic honey with hibiscus and hops, has a well-balanced flavor that contrasts the sometimes overpowering sweetness of many of these drinks.
Food can be more familiar. A scoop of smoked fish dip, made with amberjack or whatever sturdy-fleshed species the kitchen has on hand is combined with a bit of mayonnaise, fortified with Worcestershire, and spiced with enough hot sauce and horseradish to make your tongue tingle. A conch salad is even spicier but is closer to a ceviche than the chunky amalgam found in the Keys. The bristling tincture of vinegar with lemon and lime juices makes this dish a refreshing must when you're sitting outside in the summer heat.
Just because the place doesn't focus on burgers doesn't mean they're forgotten. The proof is in the orgiastic Bababooey, which can only be described as baked Brie and apple clinging together in burger form, plus bacon. Because, well, bacon. Skip it, only because Kuscher has two other places where you can find similar pleasures. The fried conch sandwich offers crisp fried slabs of the shellfish with coleslaw tucked into a challah bun. Then there is the octopus sushi. Each piece is meaty, not chewy, with a delicately salty pop. A lobster Reuben is one of only a few sandwiches that swaps out the challah, this time for rye. It's an ingenious move — the caraway seeds inside are a near-analog for the celery found in a good lobster roll. Gruyère cheese and creamy coleslaw are a far better binder than the traditional mayonnaise.
Things don't go quite as well with the entrées, which tend to be simpler than Kuscher's usual stuff. The jambalaya is bland, tasting only of barely cooked tomato and Old Bay seasoning. That's a shame considering the Proper Sausages sausage slices and abundance of fish and shrimp cooked to an ideal, buttery consistency.
The gator ribs, though cloaked in a mustard sauce with a good balance of heat and spice, slip into the same trap. Think barbecued chicken breast. But thanks to Andrew Zimmern, people like to pad their eating resumé with a gluttony of strange species. The kitchen seems to bolster demand by limiting supply to 15 orders a night.
All of this will disappear from your consciousness when the pan con minuta arrives. Selling this dish, like peddling the ciders and meads, takes guts. For many Miamians, this tail-on fried-snapper sandwich can never be better than the one at Little Havana's La Camaronera, which has served the sandwich with onion and ketchup on Cuban buns for decades.
Spillover throws it all to the wind. The snapper is crusted in cornmeal. The ketchup has been replaced by cocktail sauce, the onion enhanced by red cabbage and a slide of tomato. It isn't your tío's sandwich, but it's spectacular. And it might be the pan con minuta that pops into mind the next time someone asks if you want to grab one.
2911 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-456-5723; spillovermiami.com. Wednesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Tuesday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Florida fish dip, $10
Key West conch salad, $12
Lobster Reuben, $25
Pan con minuta, $12
Conch sandwich, $12
Paul & Alba's jambalaya, $12
Barbecued gator ribs, $22
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