I've been tracking Yardbird Southern Table & Bar since I first heard buzz that Jeff McInnis was opening a Southern-concept restaurant.
I stalked the offices of 50 Eggs on Biscayne Boulevard, because there was a rumor that McInnis was creating recipes at a secret Lime test kitchen. (50 Eggs is the parent corporation of Lime and Yardbird.) I didn't find a test kitchen, but did get confirmation of the restaurant's existence from Melissa Trimp, the firm's marketing and public relations manager.
As the months passed, I'd drive by the restaurant, whose windows were covered by butcher paper, chat with McInnis at bartender competitions, and await word of an opening date. The website proved no help and featured only a video of an extremely stressed out chicken.
Then, as if by magic, I received an email announcement, along with a link to a fully-stocked website. I perused the menu and while it looked yummy, some dishes seemed ... pricey. So I wrote that.
Then, I received a very nice call from John Kunkel, owner of 50 Eggs, parent company of Yardbird and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. Driving up to Orlando, he wanted to chat and clear a few things up. He said that Yardbird is designed to be a neighborhood restaurant. That he's leveraging his buying power at 50 Eggs to negotiate the best deals, and that his profit margin is low ... really low in order to keep the average check price down.
He noted that purchasing clean farm-to-table produce and proteins is expensive and that the dishes, while deceptively simple-sounding, are labor intensive. Everything from biscuits to jams to bone marrow butter are made from scratch, which takes time and a team of chefs.
Yes, I replied. It all sounds wonderful. I never doubted McInnis' ability to deliver chef-driven takes on Southern classics. But the prices are still more South Beach than South Carolina, I noted, as I recited figures from some comparable Miami restaurant menus.
Then Kunkel delivered some game-changing news that wasn't on the menu -- entrees are meant to be shared "family style."
He explained that the Berkshire pork chop ($36) is actually two large chops, served with plantain puree, baked apple and G.R.O.W. southern greens. The Elvis rib eye ($42), with bone marrow butter that takes three days to prepare, is portioned for two and that the cast-iron chicken ($32) is, likewise, meant for more than one diner.
He then added that he plans on Yardbird's bar being "one of the cheapest on South Beach," with wine bottles averaging $35 (and starting at a jaw-dropping $8).
Kunkel also noted that Yardbird's small plates, which range from $6 for a pimento cheese jar to $13 for a fried green tomato BLT, come in generous portions and are a good value.
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We ended the chat both the wiser. "I'm getting off the phone with you and I'm calling the printer to mark these dishes family style. Can I give you credit?" he asked.
Just name a chicken after me. And give it a head start.