The time has come: Miami is finally a fine-food town.
The signs are everywhere. The 305 is home to coffee roasters, supper clubs, a ramen house, and a northern Thai restaurant. Sourdough bread is a thing. The word "local" is sprinkled on menus like pepper on steak. The city's beverage scene, once regarded as frivolous and shallow, now boasts a brewery.
The people behind this rise are even more remarkable. They aren't foreign investors or New York imports. In the past year, local entrepreneurs have taken hold of Miami dining. They began with one business. But in 2013, they expanded their ventures and established themselves as royalty.
Miami's Food Emperors
And that's why this is the year of the food emperors. What follows are the ten leading figures in town.
Joel and Leticia Pollock of Panther Coffee. When Panther Coffee opened in 2011, Miami lacked specialty coffee shops. But that year, two other local roasters also debuted: Alaska Coffee Roasting and Eternity Coffee Roasters. Soon, Panther emerged as the strongest. Owners Joel and Leticia Pollock earned accolades in the New York Times. They won the Good Food Award, a prestigious prize for responsible food producers. Their coffee is served in the best restaurants in the city. And this year, they followed their first Wynwood location with a shiny storefront in Sunset Harbour. The Pollocks have already announced a third location, whose construction recently began in MiMo.
Luis G. Brignoni of Wynwood Brewing Company. It's been a long time waiting for a Miami brewery. In 2011, Luis Brignoni announced the opening of Wynwood Brewing Company — first craft brewery to open in Miami-Dade. While he dealt with permitting hassles, the suds began popping up at local events and festivals. Two years later, a taproom started serving beers such as a Panther Coffee stout, La Rubia blonde ale, Pop's Porter, and Wynwood IPA. Wynwood Brewing Company will be followed by several 2014 brewery debuts, including J. Wakefield Brewing Company in Wynwood and MIA Brewing Co. in Doral. Brignoni is the pioneer of the pack.
Matthew Sherman of JugoFresh. Today, there's Cold Pressed Raw, the Juice Spot, Ten Fruits, and Rawsome Juices. But before all of those cold-pressed juicing brands came to Miami, there was JugoFresh. Owner Matthew Sherman debuted his first storefront in South Beach in 2012. Since then, he has opened a 22,000-square-foot facility in Lemon City, a juice bar at a fitness center in Coral Gables, and a shop at Wynwood Walls. And there's more to come. Sherman has three other Miami-Dade locations in the works.
THE RESTAURANT KHANS
Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner, and Sergio Navarro of the Pubbelly Restaurant Group. The Pubbelly Restaurant Group revolutionized Miami's dining scene. At a time when overpriced, snobby restaurants were the norm in South Beach, this trio — Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner, and Sergio Navarro — launched a brand that was geared toward locals. The Pubbelly boys hatched their signature model in 2010, featuring loud music, a young vibe, and cool settings. They opened Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, Barceloneta, and Macchialina (the last now independently owned). This year, they debuted two new concepts: PB Steak in Sunset Harbour and Taco Belly, a pop-up that takes over the steak house during lunch. There's more growth ahead. Next year, the boys will spearhead food and beverage operations at the Hilton Cabana Miami Beach, where they'll also launch a French brasserie named L'Echon.
John Kunkel of 50 Eggs. John Kunkel, the CEO of 50 Eggs, can identify a hit from miles away. After Sean Brock led a Southern food revolution in South Carolina, Kunkel dreamed up Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in South Beach. After Andy Ricker introduced America to northern Thai food in Portland, Kunkel debuted Khong River House near Lincoln Road. And years after Danny Meyer made barbecue cool at Manhattan's Blue Smoke, Kunkel launched Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables. He's a visionary. This year, he introduced Miami to Swine and also Patpong Road, a bar serving Thai snacks and cocktails atop Khong.
Michael Schwartz of the Genuine Hospitality Group. Michael Schwartz is no stranger to expansion. Since opening Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District in 2006, the James Beard Award-winning chef has built an empire that includes six other restaurants. In 2013, Schwartz debuted the Cypress Room, a highly anticipated fine-dining restaurant spearheaded by Roel Alcudia, formerly the chef de cuisine at the critically acclaimed Barbuto in New York. He also launched Restaurant Michael Schwartz, which is part of his gig as food and beverage operator for the fabled Raleigh Hotel in South Beach. He's the biggest restaurateur in town.
THE FAST-CASUAL KINGS
Todd Erickson of Haven Hospitality Concepts. At Todd Erickson's Haven, the gastropub concept meets futuristic South Beach lounge. There are liquid nitrogen cocktails, wraparound LCD walls, and blasting techno beats. But this year, the boyish, blond chef took things in a different direction. He launched Huahua's Taqueria — an order-at-the-counter Mexican joint that serves fried chicken tacos and frozen blackberry margaritas. Located just a few steps from Lincoln Road, the place proffers affordable, chef-designed dishes. It's a winning formula — and that's why this Huahua's might be only the first of many.
Sam Gorenstein of My Ceviche. Last year, Sam Gorenstein quit his gig as the executive chef for the Raleigh Hotel and concentrated instead on My Ceviche, a seafood shack set next to a South Beach hostel. The takeaway-only joint lacked seating and operated through a cramped window. Despite its humble looks, it was a hit. Gorenstein served pristine seafood at modest prices — octopus burritos, ceviches, and fish tacos packed with local, wild-caught fish. In March, he and business partner Roger Duarte debuted their second location: a Brickell restaurant festooned with tables and chairs. There's more in the works for the duo. They're planning a storefront in South Miami.
THE DUAL-DYNASTY CHEFS
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Dena Marino of MC Kitchen. Situated amid designer stores and luxury furniture shops, MC Kitchen is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Since its debut last year, chef Dena Marino has earned accolades for her fresh pastas, pizzette, and stone-oven-roasted seafood. She even scored a spot on Esquire's Best New Restaurants list. In March, she took a step in a more casual direction. Marino launched Mercato, a breakfast and lunch spot next to MC Kitchen. In a neighborhood known for high prices, she proffers affordable sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Jeffrey Chen of Momi Ramen. Before Jeffrey Chen opened Momi Ramen in Brickell, fresh ramen noodles couldn't be found anywhere in Miami. Although the city boasts fantastic sushi restaurants, Chen was the first to introduce locals to the Japanese broth-and-noodle soup. In 2013, he launched Sumi Yakitori — a restaurant located next door to Momi that focuses on the age-old tradition of grilling meat on a stick over binchotan coals. Chen's restaurants have filled gaps in the dining scene.