At Ember, Brad Kilgore Plays With Fire in the Design District

Fried chicken at Ember.
Ruben Cabrera @rubenpictures
Fried chicken at Ember.
Brad Kilgore's much-awaited Design District eatery is set to debut next week.

When Ember opens Friday, May 24, it will be a departure of sorts from the culinary style most recently associated with the James Beard Award nominee.

The American bistro will offer wood-fired dishes, smoke-laden meats, pastas, and shared sides. Kilgore says his approach to the menu is simple. "This place is all about taking foods that people love and crave and having fun with them," he tells New Times by phone.

The chef, known for his ultra-creative and cutting-edge dishes, is now turning to one of mankind's first cooking tools for inspiration. "I'm really just playing with fire. I'm exploring the elements of fire, whether it's cooking  directly on the grill, changing up woods, or cold-smoking meats."

Though his Wynwood restaurant, Alter, tends to attract more formal dining experiences, Kilgore wants Ember to be a neighborhood bistro — the kind where people can go weekly. "This is food I want to eat if I have a day off," he says. "You want a burger, we got you. There are incredible steaks from the Midwest."

Kilgore, a Kansas City native, describes going back to his meat-and-potatoes roots. "I'm serving the same mashed potatoes I make every Thanksgiving for my table."

Besides steak and potatoes, menu items include fire-roasted lasagna with a mushroom and roasted tomato ragu; oven-baked ravioli with Calabrian tomato jam; and tri-tip steak stroganoff with mushroom crema and ancho chili flakes. All four pastas on the menu are made from scratch. Though prices are not yet available, appetizers will hover around $14 to $18, and entrées, except steaks, will run $25 to $35.

Kilgore describes the fried chicken dish he created with the restaurant's chef de cuisine, Nick Graves. "It's brined for 24 hours, then cold-smoked, double-battered, and fried." The chicken is served with either Kilgore's BKQ barbecue sauce or caviar butter. Kilgore praises Graves, who worked with Sean Brock before moving to Miami to open Ember: "He's a Southern boy, so there are many of his elements on the menu. He makes this cornbread custard that's unlike anything I've ever had."
click to enlarge Turtle cake at Ember. - RUBEN CABRERA @RUBENPICTURES
Turtle cake at Ember.
Ruben Cabrera @rubenpictures
Pastry chef Meghan Neal heads up the desserts, which include a turtle cake, a maduro cream pie made with sweet plantains, and a Rice Krispies Treats dish served à la minute with brown butter, house marshmallows, and dulce de leche ice cream. "I've been wanting to do that one for a long time," Kilgore says.

Though completely separate, Ember is located downstairs from Kilgore's sleek, modern lounge, Kaido, and is designed to complement its sister establishment. "Ember is the Yin to Kaido's Yang," Kilgore says. "They can be for different moments in your life, or you could have dinner at Ember and finish with drinks at Kaido."

Though Ember doesn't open for another week, it already seems like a hit among fans of Kilgore's culinary skills. Without one bit of humblebrag in his voice, Kilgore lets slip a bit of trivia: "We already have 100 reservations." If you want to be one of the first kids on the block to dine on Kilgore's lasagna, fried chicken, and Australian Wagyu steaks, you might want to make a reservation too.

Ember. 151 NE 41st St., Unit 117, Miami; Opens Friday, May 24. Bar opens at 6 p.m., and dinner service begins at 6:30 p.m. nightly.