In 2013, Ray Allen made a game-tying three-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs that was one of the biggest in NBA history. It was the most critical shot of the Miami Heat's championship run. Now the 41-year-old retired NBA All-Star is looking to influence the outcome of a different kind of game: fast food. His teammate is his wife of 20 years, Shannon, and together they want to change the world one organic meal at a time.
This past March, the couple opened Grown, a South Miami eatery with counter service and a drive-through window. Two locations at Hard Rock Stadium followed, and a third outpost will open in Orlando early next year.
But the Allens aren't the only Miamians striving to make an impact on the food scene. Matthew Sherman, founder of Jugofresh, recently launched Paradigm Kitchen in Sunset Harbour with this mission: to build a bridge between our broken food system and a more sustainable way of eating for the mind, body, and spirit.
Like Allen, Sherman commands respect in the community. His successful raw food and juice chain helped pave the way for other healthful fast-casual concepts. Compared to other major U.S. cities, Miami was lagging in that growing sector, but in the past year or two, Freshii, Dirt, Clove Mediterranean Kitchen, Della Bowls, Tocaya Organica, and Dr Smood have set up shop here.
Fast-casual restaurants bridge the gap between typical fast-food joints and informal eateries with table service. Efficient service as well as both take-out and dine-in options are central to their success. But what sets fast-casual establishments apart from McDonald's is their inviting decor and a commitment to using locally and responsibly sourced ingredients whenever possible. Transparency is everything.
Grown and Paradigm check off all of those boxes, though speed isn't a focus at the latter. Whereas Grown aims to fulfill orders in 2:49 minutes or less (2:37 is the industry standard), it's normal to wait 10 to 15 minutes for a meal at Paradigm. Both Sherman and the Allens believe in inclusivity, so their menus meet the needs of carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and individuals with food allergies.
What sets Grown and Paradigm apart from their competitors is their use of organic ingredients (Grown is 100 percent organic, and Paradigm is 95 percent). And then there are the big players behind the concepts, each with a common goal of changing how we eat and think about food. Paradigm's slogan is "Shift happens," while Grown's is "Real food, cooked slow, for fast people."
A mother of five boys, Shannon Allen oversees day-to-day operations at Grown, a business that's been eight years in the making. The Allens were living in Boston when their son Walker's blood sugar dropped during a car ride. A diabetic, Walker urgently needed food, but every place along the highway served only fried, frozen, or processed options, Shannon explains. Her frustration over the lack of organic drive-thru windows in 2008 led her to do some research and eventually open Grown on South Dixie Highway.
"My goal is for Grown to live anywhere where people are frustrated and desperate for an organic fast-food option," she says. "We belong in airports, sports arenas, hospital lobbies, college campuses, and on highways."
Grown's cuisine is an evolution of Shannon's Comcast TV show, The Pre-Game Meal, which was inspired by her two decades of preparing game-day meals for her husband. In August, Jamar Massey from South Miami's Whisk came onboard to run Grown's kitchen, and Shannon has nothing but praise for the Cordon Bleu-trained toque.
With the exception of its soups, Grown's all-day menu is fully customizable. Customers select their protein, followed by a choice of vegetable, grain, and a sauce. There's the option of ordering an individual portion or a family-size meal (three to four portions). Guests can also build their own salad, sandwich, or wrap (gluten-free and lettuce wraps are available).
Initially, Shannon was reluctant to serve red meat, but she decided to offer brisket to satisfy more palates. The grass-fed beef comes from a small farm in Tallahassee that supplies exclusively to Grown. The kitchen covers the brisket in a dry rub and slow-cooks it for 48 hours. After resting, the meat is baked in Grown's homemade Memphis-style barbecue sauce.
Brisket has a tendency to be dull and dry, but this isn't the case here. The meat is tender, and the barbecue sauce dials up the taste. Shannon calls the Mexican corn side dish "a little naughty" because a touch of mayonnaise and crumbled feta are added to give it a delicious layer of creaminess. Grown's roasted sweet potato mash is decidedly lighter, albeit a touch bland.
Ray and Shannon have been on the Paleo diet for years and wanted to have appealing grain-free items at Grown. Vegetables get the respect they deserve here, and both the grilled portobello mushrooms and the roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic are well seasoned and perfectly cooked. Pair them with the oven-roasted tomato sauce for extra oomph.
Lunch for two with a slice of pumpkin pie (desserts change daily) costs $40. Fare that's freshly prepared, flavorful, and organic comes at a price, and the Allens recognize that the cost creates a barrier. Their dream is for all food to be organic, which in turn will drive prices down. But the crowd at Grown — which includes police officers, construction workers, and stay-at-home-moms — is proof they're doing just fine in the meantime.
Farther north, in Miami Beach's Sunset Harbour, a different clientele awaits the food at Paradigm Kitchen. The cheery, industrial space with yellow accents is spandex city. Almost every patron has a yoga mat, stroller, or laptop in tow. Sherman meticulously inspects every detail of Paradigm's immaculate open kitchen. Tongs in hand, the owner carefully arranges pickled onions atop the playfully named "hippy poke poke" bowl before sending it out.
Sherman doesn't want to exclude vegans and vegetarians from the "poke party," so he uses tofu marinated in arame (kelp) and wakame to give the bowl a fishy flavor. It works. The dish also features brown rice, passionfruit kimchee, marinated kale, coconut crumble, sunflower sprouts, avocado, and roasted veggies. It's good regardless of whether you like traditional poke because there are ample flavors and textures. It's also surprisingly filling.
Paradigm's creation is a byproduct of the gap Sherman noticed between Jugofresh's customers and people like his three older brothers, who don't want to be limited to raw food and juice. Asked to describe the cuisine, Sherman says, "We're not ascribing to any dogmatic way of feeding people. We're just trying to make conscious healthy food that speaks to the soul."
That said, 85 percent of Paradigm's menu consists of plant-based dishes, with the other 15 reserved for "thoughtful proteins" such as grass-fed beef and local line-caught fish. The kitchen also relies on ghee, rather than traditional unsalted butter, and Himalayan sea salt.
Portobello mushrooms, brussels sprouts, gluten free pasta salad, oven roasted tomato sauce at Grown.
And though Paradigm's cookery is more approachable than Jugofresh's, Sherman uses ingredients that wouldn't necessarily be familiar to the Grown customer. Wraps, for example, are made with dosa, a pancake/crepe composed of rice and black gram. For the eatery's loose interpretation of poutine, sweet potato fries are topped with avocado plus a combination of parsley, nutritional yeast, olive oil, and sea salt to emulate cheese. "It tastes nothing like poutine," Sherman jokes. He's correct. Still, the sweet potato fries and faux gravy make for a yummy and nutritious snack.
A highlight is the vegan and gluten-free pancakes served during breakfast and weekend brunch. They're prepared using flax and garbanzo flour, and arrive with a blueberry lime compote, a pineapple lime compote, sliced bananas, and maple syrup. On the side there's velvety house-made coconut butter that takes nearly three days to make and as many pieces of machinery. It's excellent, as are the pancakes. The only problem is there's not nearly enough blueberry-lime compote.
Soon Paradigm will unveil a food market next door to the café. Also, the eatery will stay open for dinner, and Friday and Saturday evenings, it will convert to a traditional restaurant and offer a tasting menu. "Miami has been starving and desperate for local people to create more offerings," Sherman says. "I get frustrated every time I see another hotel open with another chef who doesn't know what's going on in the community or doesn't care."
He certainly cares about what we eat and where our food comes from, as do the Allens. Shannon, who grew up in Connecticut witth parents who gardened, jarred, and canned, says this movement isn't anything new. "I think we're remembering who we are and that food isn't made or manufactured; it's grown." Here's hoping these influencers achieve the positive change they're working toward.
8211 S. Dixie Hwy., South Miami; 305-663-4769; grown.org. Daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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SHOW ME HOW
Slow-cooked brisket $18
Portobello mushrooms $15
Pumpkin pie $4.50
1834 Bay Rd., Miami Beach; 786-453-2488. Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hippy poke poke $14.50
Paradigm poutine $10
Missionary pancake position $15.50