Each bite-size clam belly bursts like a seawater-flavored Gusher. The fried, slightly bitter orbs are an acquired taste, but at Izzy's Fish & Oyster on Washington Avenue, the $24 appetizer is a bona fide hit. This came as a shock even for chef-owner Jamie DeRosa, who says his wife Amy turned him onto clam bellies five years ago while they were vacationing in New England. The reason you don't often see the stellar but pricey delicacy on local menus is because they're found solely in Maine. Fortunately for Miami, DeRosa gets his clam bellies — and much of his other seafood — shipped directly from Maine and nearby areas at least twice per week.
Proper sourcing is integral to Izzy's success, because the entire concept was born from DeRosa's desire to own a restaurant reminiscent of a New England clam shack. Amy is from Rhode Island, and he was born on Long Island. Izzy's is named for their 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, whom they took to New England when she was a baby.
Unless you're new to Miami, chances are the name Jamie DeRosa rings a bell. The 40-something chef got his start with James Beard Award-winning Allen Susser before heading to the West Coast to work under Wolfgang Puck. The globetrotting toque then made his way to Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in the United Kingdom, followed by Domus in China. At Geoffrey Zakarian's upscale Tudor House in South Beach, DeRosa made his mark in Miami. But the restaurant closed shortly after he arrived, prompting the chef to unveil a Southern-inspired place of his own, Tongue & Cheek, in the South of Fifth area — just a couple of doors down from the space where Izzy's is now located.
The lease for Izzy's was signed more than a year ago, with DeRosa planning to operate two conveniently situated eateries. Yet after a generally successful three-year run, the chef bid adieu to Tongue & Cheek about two months ago. His decision to shutter it stemmed partly from the overly large space and rising rent. But closing became an absolute necessity after his wife was taken to the ICU following complications from the birth of their second daughter, Charlotte.
Fortunately, the baby is healthy and Amy is on the path to recovery. DeRosa credits his talented team, which includes bar manager Maxwell Parise and chef de cuisine William Crandall, with enabling Izzy's to open on schedule during his absence. "I think they worked even harder knowing what we were going through as a family," says DeRosa, who is now much more present at his new restaurant.
Crandall, whom DeRosa refers to as a "true restaurant guy," worked under Michelin-starred chef Andrew Zimmerman at NoMI in Chicago before accepting a post at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental Miami. Three years later, he was promoted to executive chef.
One dish in particular that DeRosa and Crandall discussed for a long time is the clam chowder. DeRosa likens it to grandma's chicken soup — everyone has a version. At Izzy's, the contentious broth is poured tableside over a bowl that contains a leek, clams, oyster crackers, and potatoes. DeRosa explains that in Rhode Island and Boston, the starter is actually a very thin soup that barely resembles the pasty, very rich variety found in other parts of New England and countless canned versions.
Either way, it's a comforting yet multilayered soup that's beautifully seasoned and goes down like velvet. What's more, the plethora of textures resulting from all of the soup's parts — from the silky clams to the pillowy potatoes — make each bite a sensory experience.
It's an elevated dish for sure, but rest assured Izzy's is the type of restaurant where you can show up in shorts without a second thought. The casual 40-seat eatery (with 20 outdoor seats) has a distinctly homey vibe — a welcome change from Tongue & Cheek's overly large dining room.
Also contributing to the laid-back atmosphere is a staff that's eager to make customers feel like regulars.
Something you may recognize from Tongue & Cheek is the work of Claudio Picasso. This time, the mural artist painted a giant blue octopus, its tentacles spanning one of Izzy's white brick walls. The entire restaurant is awash in navy and white, save for a few pops of yellow to give it that Nantucket feel. And a 15-seat bar shares space with the raw seafood display. It's hard to look at and resist the urge to order a couple of oysters, which, much like the clam bellies, are best described as tasting like the ocean.
DeRosa and Crandall attribute the mollusks' cold, briny, and crisp flavor profile to an exclusivity deal they struck with Island Creek Oysters Farm & Foundation during a road trip they took to New England in the spring. The veteran toque was adamant about having his Midwestern chef de cuisine spend time learning the local culture and building relationships with purveyors.
It was during the Portland, Maine leg of their journey that the chefs developed an affection for warm lobster rolls and decided to include them on Izzy's menu. The lobster is poached in brown butter; the remaining butter is turned into a sauce that permeates both the bun and the protein and which DeRosa compares to a lobster Hollandaise.
Each roll features an entire Maine lobster atop a locally sourced bun, accompanied by waffle fries and a pickle. The sharp flavor of the meat is undeniable, and when combined with the buttery bun, it reaches a whole other level of decadence. Order it warm, or try it cold with lobster mayo if you're ready to indulge, not if you're watching your waistline.
The same applies to the yummy lobster poutine, a crowd pleaser comprising waffle fries topped with cheddar gravy and hearty chunks of lobster and bacon. Conversely, a pepper-infused sauce overpowers the delicious meat of a lightly breaded crabcake.
But Izzy's isn't all fried-and-true New England classics — the menu boasts some nice lighter options too. Sugar snap pea salad with Grana Padano, mint, and Marcona almonds is refreshing and packs a nice crunch. Meanwhile, pan-seared Atlantic blue cod is flaky and delicate beneath a crisp golden crust.
Because Izzy's doesn't have a pastry chef, desserts veer toward simple, with three pie options: whoopie, Boston cream, and lemon meringue. The last is a modern take on Amy DeRosa's Italian grandmother Celia's recipe, and after a relatively heavy meal, the tart treat with a perfect crust is a welcome palate cleanser.
DeRosa doesn't want Izzy's to be just another oyster bar, but rather a great seafood place that also happens to serve oysters. This he has achieved. He has also succeeded in creating a warm and inviting neighborhood spot in an area that has too few of them.
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The chef plans to expand the Izzy's brand in the near future. He says he's in talks with a hotel in Key West to launch an outpost on the north end of the island. But while the eatery's pared-down concept and sourcing mechanisms may be easy to replicate, at the end of the day, Izzy's is a chef-driven restaurant, and talented toques like DeRosa and Crandall aren't quite as easy to duplicate.
Izzy's Fish & Oyster
423 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-397-8843; izzysmiami.com. Dinner daily 6 to 11 p.m.; brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Fried clam bellies $24
- New England clam chowder $12
- Whole Maine lobster roll $26
- Lobster poutine $18
- New England crabcake $15
- Sugar snap pea salad $10
- Seared Atlantic blue cod $27
- Grandma Celia's lemon meringue pie $10