Restaurateur John Kunkel's BTW Conjures Familiar Food and Feelings

John Kunkel
John Kunkel
Photo by Michael Pisarri

John Kunkel is going back to his roots. After opening hits like Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House, and Swine Southern Table & Bar, the 50 Eggs chief is again dabbling in fast-casual with Burger Taco Whiskey, BTW for short, and a pair of other concepts.

"John has done fast-casual, so it's a natural progression, especially when there's such a boom in that area of business," says Carrie Copeland, 50 Eggs' vice president of marketing.

Burger Taco Whiskey

1439 Alton Rd., Miami Beach; 305-532-5463; burgertacowhiskey.com. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 p.m. to midnight.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Pork belly taco $4
Mahi-mahi taco $3.50
Swine burger $14

BTW opened in February in the space once occupied by Kunkel's original fast-casual, Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. The open-air Alton Road spot was the spiritual home of Kunkel's Mexican empire, which Ruby Tuesday Inc. purchased for $24 million in 2012. Lime was a place to rub shoulders with nightclub promoters, Miami Beach cops, and cherry-red tourists. Now the brick-lined patio is shaded by auburn beams that let the sun flood in. A chunky wood bar bears dozens of whiskeys, and the familiar chalkboard menu proffers drink specials.

Ahead of BTW's opening, Kunkel brought in Michelin-starred chef Danny Grant, formerly of 1826 Restaurant & Lounge. But Grant left 50 Eggs under unclear circumstances about two weeks in and was followed by 33-year-old Cristian Cuevas, a Puerto Rican-born cook who has worked at three of Kunkel's restaurants.

With him came the Swine burger, made with two chuck/short-rib/brisket patties, Miami Smokers bacon, and American cheese squeezed between slices of a butter-grilled potato roll.

There are also influences from Cuevas' home island. The chef braises pork belly in its own fat, shreds it, fries it, and piles it onto a flour tortilla. It's topped with a tangy, spicy escabeche of red onion, coriander, vinegar, black pepper, and sherry vinegar. Über-crisp fish tacos start with mahi-mahi filets dredged and fried in the same flour Yardbird uses for its chicken. The juicy fish, which gloriously outsizes its tortilla, is crowned with crisp, cilantro-flecked cabbage. Cuevas says he hopes to begin pressing his own tortillas soon, as is the case with a new generation of Miami taquerias.

These kinds of comfort classics in easy-to-operate settings are right in Kunkel's wheelhouse. And soon he'll open a fast-casual Yardbird spinoff, Lewellyn's Chicken & Biscuits, near the University of Miami. What remains to be seen is whether BTW, the fried-chicken spot, or a still-in-development noodle concept will be the next to take off.


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