It's happy hour at Tongue & Cheek. Almost every stool is occupied as the bartender explains the specials, which include $4 craft beers, $8 specialty cocktails, and the daily $10 "family meal."
Before we get a chance to order, chef/partner Jamie DeRosa emerges from the kitchen wearing a gray utility shirt embroidered with the Tongue & Cheek logo. "No chef coats here," he says. "It's cooler not to wear them."
By cooler, he means temperature-wise in the kitchen, but there's no denying there's also a cool factor in the dress code at the restaurant, which gives off a vibe as much downtown Manhattan as downtown Miami Beach.
In fact, Tongue & Cheek's subway-tiled walls, Atlas lamps, and thick brown tables are reminiscent of Greenwich Village bistro Pastis. Prominently displayed in the dining room is a framed picture of an ox in a top hat and gold chains, one of the quirky animal mascots on the servers' T-shirts, the coasters, and the postcards that come with the check.
DeRosa is in a jovial mood, even though the restaurant's point-of-sale
system is down. Actually, all Internet is down in the SoFi section of Miami Beach. With a
laugh, he says that owning a restaurant is different from merely heading
a kitchen. Attention must be paid to everything -- from keeping the music played at an even decibel to making sure the
computers have 4G backup. But with ownership comes pride. "The juice is
worth the squeeze," he says.
Then comes the first plate, a cafeteria-style red tray
with sections. It's the daily
"family meal" ($10), served at the bar only. Today it's barbecued beef brisket, potato salad, souffle, corn on the
cob, and a brownie for dessert. Served with a bottled "retro" soda of choice (we got orange Fanta), it's a good deal. DeRosa says that
while he worked at Wolfgang Puck's Spago, neighbors would knock
on the kitchen's back door during the restaurant's nightly "family
meal" and the staff would invite them in to share the food. "I wanted to
do something like that -- to cater to people who live in the
neighborhood. I thought to myself: What can you afford to eat every
day? So we came up with the family-meal concept."
family meal, items arrive from the snack bar. A
plate of almonds, sprinkled with olive-oil dust, are presented. Some are
sweet, some spicy, some savory. All would go well with a cold beer
Pan con tomate is decorated with pearls of garlic sauce and cilantro ($8).
Appetizers, called "mids," are next. Fried clams are served in a
basket, the way they're presented at every clam shack in Rhode Island.
They're sweet and tender, with hot pickled cheery pepper slices thrown
into the mix for balance ($11).
Cauliflower panna cotta with uni
and American caviar is presented beautifully. It's silky, decadent, and a sure way to get someone -- anyone -- to eat their
Roasted trout is served with salted, cured pork
belly, sweet corn, and fregola. A corn bisque is poured on the trout tableside ($28).
Here's the deal with the burger ($15). It's made
with all ground-beef cheek and plunked on a house-made brioche bun with
cheddar pimento cheese and sweet onions. There are only 15 made each
day. "It's not that I want to be some jerk about it, but we hand-grind
the meat and then we have to make each burger individually in a pan."
It's so labor-intensive that DeRosa is limiting the number his kitchen turns out daily. Is is worth getting there early to nab one? Honestly, yes. The meat has a great char on the outside, with juicy and tender beef inside, and is served on a brioche so delicious that DeRosa should think of investing in a much-needed Miami bakery.
DeRosa worked directly on the beverage program, which features a bit of molecular gastronomy in the form of a berry margarita made with liquid nitrogen and four ounces of premium tequila ($22).
If spirited cocktails are your thing, try the Bourbon for Apples, served with little apple ice cubes. DeRosa, a fan of bourbon, has stocked the bar with the entire Pappy Van Winkle
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line. "So far, no one's gone for the 23-year. I might just have to drink
it myself," the chef kids. If he needs someone to drink with, we're always available.