Chef Ralph Pagano's Ferris pop-up at the Sole on the Ocean in Sunny Isles launches this Saturday evening complete with a drum circle, fire dancers, a DJ, and a belly dancer.
Before that show, there's work to be done in the kitchen. Grape leaves must cook overnight, pita must be baked, and giant skewers of lamb and chicken must be fired on the grill. Chef Pagano, who says this is his most personal endeavor yet, has prepared a menu that explores the Lebanese half of his family tree.
In fact, the entire concept of the pop-up is a tribute to Pagano's family. The restaurant is named after the chef's grandfather, Ferris, and the recipes were handed down from his great grandmother, "Grandma D," Aunt Sylvia, and his mother, Christine. "My Aunt Seeya [Sylvia] makes the best mumhumara and my mom is the queen of all things tabouli. She goes by the name Chrissy tabouli. Truth. This restaurant is all about girl power."
During a recent test run of some recipes, Pagano checks on a simmering pot of grape leaves and frowns. The leaves are falling apart, so he calls an impromptu meeting of his staff, demonstrating the correct grape leaf-rolling procedure to ensure a perfect batch next time.
Stuffed grape leaves, finished with lemon juice.
Pagano then proceeds to plate some grape leaves for me to try. As I reach for one, the chef intercepts me to squeeze lemon on them. "Now they're finished." Grape leaves ($10) can be served hot or cold.
As we chat over some of his mom's famous tabouli and a Peroni (completing the circle of the chef's heritage), Pagano tells me this is his favorite way to dine. "I love this food. It just calls for talking and sharing. I could eat this every day."
The kitchen is a flurry of activity at this "dress rehearsal." Lisetty Llampalla, who's been with Pagano for five years ("from STK to Gulfstream, now here"), makes fresh pita from scratch, while simultaneously making vegetable skewers for the shish kabob platters.
Shish kabob platters are available in lamb ($21); chicken ($19); Moroccan spiced fish ($12); vegetable ($14); and steak ($21). All are served with almond rice.
Yes, Pagano kibbutzes as he cooks and his restaurants incorporate more than a bit of showmanship (see above mentioned belly dancer). But behind the line, there's a chef who is about to share his most intimate family recipes with Miami. After all, guests may come for the drum circles, but they'll return for the food -- and "karam," which means "generous" or "hospitality" in Lebanese. "Every meal at Ferris will start with picked vegetables, just like my grandma's house. That and a shot of pomegranate and vodka."
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Ferris opens Saturday, July 12, with a full moon celebration. To RSVP for the party, send an email to email@example.com. After that, Ferris will be open Thursday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight.