Restaurant Reviews

Coral Gables' Seven Dials Reminds Us Why We Love Gastropubs

Andrew Gilbert knows his mushy peas would infuriate any bona fide British citizen, including his mother. They're not the kind you'd find at an English chip shop. Instead, a quenelle of the grassy-colored mixture with an occasional whole pea is served chilled and brightened by mint and a squirt of lemon.

The pair plucks the best of the all-too-popular gastropub format and shuns its clichés.

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It's refreshing on a humid Miami night, even more so alongside a massive beer-battered corvina fillet perched atop a mountain of hand-cut French fries.

"I'm waging a war on Sysco fries, but I'm not winning," Gilbert says before confessing sometimes he can't tell the difference. "The science is so good now it's scary."

He and his wife, Katie Sullivan (also publisher of the culinary quarterly Edible South Florida), opened the Seven Dials in September 2014 in a quiet corner of Coral Gables. They were determined to offer pub food without taking any shortcuts.

Their cozy 36-seater — covered in black floral wallpaper and wrapped in reddish mahogany wood — is the culmination of the South London-born Gilbert's nearly two decades in kitchens. He skipped culinary school, starting out as a fishmonger at New York City's Grand Central Market. He later picked up an apprenticeship in a French restaurant before joining Brooklyn's Northeast Kingdom. Former New York Times food scribe Peter Meehan called it "a modest and charming restaurant so far east on the L line that not even the most duplicitous real estate agent could sell it as East Williamsburg."

Gilbert describes his four years there as a seminal experience that planted the seed for a budding farm-to-table philosophy. (He followed with stints at Michelle Bernstein's Sra. Martinez and the Local Craft Food & Drink.) The Brooklyn place was also an inspiration for the Gables gastropub's one-page menu of a dozen or so items, supplemented by a pair of chalkboards with lengthy, rotating lists of specials and charcuterie.

The pair plucks the best of the all-too-popular gastropub format and shuns its clichés. The restaurant's name is a nod to the famed West London intersection where seven streets converge. But there are no block images of bowler hats, mustaches, or monocles. Instead, the pocket-size kitchen hums along on traditional pub food made to complement a shifting lineup of more than a dozen beers culled from Florida breweries such as Cigar City, Funky Buddha, and J. Wakefield.

There's also ample use of local purveyors, farms, and artisans such as Zak Stern, whose whole-wheat bread accompanies two thick, velvety disks of foie gras torchon and a puckery date purée. Gilbert buys whole Canadian duck livers; cleans them; dusts them with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of aged sherry; and lets them marinate for 24 hours. The lobes are later torqued into cylinders with cheesecloth and buried in salt for another two days. The result is a luscious near-mousse whose delicate minerality is enhanced by the sherry's fruit.

House-made corned beef is cured for almost a week in cinnamon, allspice, and cloves and then braised for hours until the sinew and muscle melt into one another. Some of that tenderness is lost because the generous slices, striated with slick fat, are served cold. Still, leaving any leftovers is difficult thanks to the nose-tingling condiment made from Colman's mustard, white vinegar, and Biscayne Brewery's golden ale.

The kitchen also makes easy work of less common cuts. Lamb ribs, an oft-overlooked body part, offer the same gamey tang and juiciness as chops and legs. They're braised for five hours, dropped into the fryer, and doused in a sweet-salty glaze of white miso, brown sugar, molasses, and apple-cider vinegar that makes the rich meat and glossy fat sing.

Alongside the bevy of proteins are plenty of vegetable-focused dishes culled from farms such as Swank and Paradise. Gilbert conjures sweet tomatoes into an unbelievably silky soup without a touch of cream. The secret, he says, is a generous pour of olive oil, a long spin in a high-powered blender, and a push through a fine-mesh strainer. It's topped with a small orb of fried pão de queijo. The gooey, modified version of the cheese bread that's ubiquitous throughout Brazil transforms the whole dish into a smart version of a childhood favorite.

Such simple creativity has made the Seven Dials a Gables mainstay in less than a year. Gilbert says regulars have even nicknamed it "the Dials," perhaps the loftiest praise any place can receive. More important, it's a reminder of what was enticing about gastropubs in the first place. There's no bacon-studded mac 'n' cheese in adorable cast-iron skillets or exposed-brick walls. Such gimmicks are replaced by affordable plates built with quality ingredients in the kind of place you can enjoy a beer in the middle of the day without a hint of regret.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson