With the transformation of the Design District's aesthetic from understated refinement to over-the-top luxury, it's only natural that Michelin-starred toques such as Joel Robuchon and Jean-Georges are moving in.
The kind of sustenance they offer, however, isn't what locals are looking for on a daily basis. For everyday fare, locals head to Michael Schwartz's newest concept, the pop-up café Ella.
Opening sometime this week (cross your fingers for Thursday) through "spring and summer" (we're betting on longer), the light, refreshing, yet intimate café is named for and inspired by his 18-year-old daughter and restaurateur in the making, Ella Schwartz.
Perched inside Palm Court at 140 NE 39th St., just a short block from Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, the café boasts a minimal design of industrial ceilings painted sea-foam green (Ella's favorite color), blond maple trim, and concrete floors. The comestibles are an amalgam of all the things the movers, shakers, and cookers of Genuine Hospitality Group like to eat. "It's also the first time we're doing breakfast," brand director Jackie Sayet says.
So what's for breakfast? On the menu are grain pancakes with organic maple syrup ($9); a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich on a Bay's English muffin ($9); power in the form of Greek yogurt, chia jelly, bananas, blueberries, granola, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, and dried mulberries ($12); avocado toast on True Loaf wheat ($9); and beet-cured wild salmon on a homemade everything bagel with cream cheese, red onion, heirloom tomato, and capers ($14). The bagel, by the way, is handcrafted by the Cypress Room's executive chef, Roel Alcudia. "I think it's pretty funny our Jean-Georges, classically trained Filipino is making bagels," Sayet says. "They're great."
If you're wondering about java, Ella brews Panther Coffee. More of a tea person? Enjoy a cup of Art of Tea's Earl Grey, green tea, or chamomile decaf. There's also homemade lemonade ($5) and fresh-squeezed orange juice ($7).
At lunchtime, which begins at 11 a.m., you can sip Michael's Genuine Home Brew, cider, or wine by the glass. All of those options pair well with any of the chalkboard specials, which will be true to the Genuine Hospitality Group ethos of using local and seasonal ingredients. A daily special (think a big pan of something) will be proffered till its contents run out.
Menu mainstays include a rock shrimp summer roll with crushed peanuts and nuoc cham ($14); local fish escabeche with avocado ($13); heirloom tomato salad with feta, pickled onions, and chermoula vinaigrette ($13); parmigiano-crusted grilled cheese with caramelized onions and tomato jam ($12); and vegetable tacos (with blue masa tortillas from Taquiza) stuffed with black beans, avocado, pickled onion, cilantro, and cotija cheese ($11). For charcuterie and cheeses, check out the daily offerings on the butcher paper.
You can also read a poem about plums by William Carlos Williams as you wait in line to place your order. "In all of the restaurants, we have words on the walls," Sayet explains. "This one was fun. Who doesn't like plums?"
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Whether you're on the run and need to grab and go or have an hour lunch break to kill, Ella fulfills both needs. If you dine in, though, be prepared to take the heat: Most of the seating is alfresco, with space for 40 in the courtyard and only eight at the counters inside.
Somehow the Miami heat seems a little more bearable when there's local flavor involved, especially when it's from farm-to-table pioneer Michael Schwartz.
Ella will be open through the spring and summer Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.