Beet salad
Beet salad

At Pinch Kitchen, First-Time Restaurateurs Offer Simple Thrills

Anyone could be sitting in the dim recesses of Pinch Kitchen. One recent night, six older women in country-club-ready sweatsuits gather around wine and clay bowls piled with bitter brassicas with a fresh snowfall of salty ricotta salata. Nearby, a young couple on what seems to be a first date shift nervously in their seats. Neither is brave enough to demand the diver scallops perched atop a brisk piquillo pepper sauce.

There's a reason for the mismatched crowd. This 50-seater, which opened on Halloween, sits on a sort of line of demarcation between the hip MiMo District to the south and well-to-do suburbia to the north.

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The space, which housed two failed incarnations of Biscayne Diner, was pretty much the only thing first-time restaurateurs Rene Reyes and John Gallo, ages 34 and 29, could afford.

Chefs and co-owners Rene Reyes (left) and John Gallo
Chefs and co-owners Rene Reyes (left) and John Gallo

The idea for Pinch germinated in 2007 when they were working the line at Miami Beach's Casa Tua. At the time, Andreas Schreiner (who would cofound Pubbelly) was managing the place. The acquaintance would prove fruitful. Reyes and Gallo rose through the ranks together, working every station from pastry to rôtisseur. Then, in 2010, they parted ways as Gallo left to launch downtown Miami's DB Bistro Moderne. They would eventually reunite in 2011 to open Pubbelly Sushi and would later run the kitchen at Pubbelly's now-closed Barceloneta in South Miami. They both worked at L'echon Brasserie until its July 2015 closure.

Then they were ready to do it themselves at Pinch, a cozy, pintsize place with monochrome-tiled flooring and smoke-blue walls adorned with DIY decorations. The place is covered in black-and-white pictures of their relatives, who also happen to be investors. It's an inviting neighborhood place with comforting plates, each featuring some refined, unexpected elements.

Organic half roast chicken
Organic half roast chicken

A lengthy list of craft beers ranges from local favorite MIA Brewing to strong Belgian ales. The shifting menu is split into about a dozen choices of appetizers and entrées. Most of the latter approach $20 and higher, pricey for such a casual place. Yet they are simple, timeless joys. There's the perfectly juicy half chicken that's brined for a day in a bath of salt, sugar, garlic, and thyme before a long, slow roast. Before serving, it's seared to a gorgeous crisp and placed atop a biting tousle of Swiss chard bathed in a rich mushroom broth.

The perfect and perfunctory ceviche comes as a heap of shrimp, scallops, and corvina washed in piquant leche de tigre and ají limón. It all sits atop a blend of bitter greens that perfectly accents the seafood's delicate richness. Such light plates are necessary to balance heavier offerings. The cut of pork called secreto — a once-eschewed bit akin to a cow's skirt steak — arrives with an aggressive char that's perfect for the fatty meat. The small cloud of potato foam, cuddled in a cup cleverly fashioned from gossamer potato chips, is almost unnecessary. Still, it's hard to resist.

It's equally as difficult to avoid cleaning out a bowl of risotto. Arborio rice grains are well toasted and then gently cooked in a white chicken stock fortified with Parmigiano-Reggiano. The consistency is perfect. Neither too stiff and mushy, nor undercooked and runny. The luscious knot of oxtail is braised in an intoxicating blend spiked with a bit of dark chocolate that's just barely noticeable.

Chocolate is far more pronounced in Pinch's beet salad. A slick of the stuff rests at the bottom of a bowl piled with delicate roasted cubes of the root dressed with pickled Fresno chilies, toasted hazelnuts, and a cherry tomato confit. It's a good concept that demands a tweak or two to make it perfect. The dark chocolate foundation is unevenly spread. Some bites come with Hershey's Kiss-size hunks, while others have none. The tomato confit can also be overpowering. As the little red gems burst, their sweet acidity washes out the nuance offered by the rest of the ingredients.

The endive salad — dressed with funky Spanish blue cheese, a walnut vinaigrette, apple matchsticks, and the ham called speck — also requires a minor change to rise to peak form: The braised chicory needs a better char. It would allow the smoky, slightly crunchy leaves to become the perfect foil for the rest of the components.

Duroc pork secreto with glazed pearl onions and creamy potato
Duroc pork secreto with glazed pearl onions and creamy potato

Of course, like any new restaurant, this one has the occasional issue. At a recent brunch, a juicy bacon-burger ordered medium-well arrived rare and without bacon. When several strips were served on the side a few minutes later with an apology, a piece of hair turned up in the meat. The good news: The maitre d' tore up the bill and proffered a $25 gift card.

There's no doubt Gallo and Reyes will polish those few rough spots. At the moment, it's just the two of them showing up early to prep, cook lunch and dinner, and scrub the kitchen. Pinch toes the line between being the kind of place you could hang out weekly and one you visit when looking for something a bit more experimental. As time passes, Gallo says, they'll look to bring in additional staff and expand the menu. Let's hope there are more people toiling in one of the Pubbelly Boys' kitchens who can do the same.

Editor Chuck Strouse contributed to this review.

Pinch Kitchen
8601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-631-2018; pinchmiami.com. Lunch Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.; brunch Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  • Hamburger $19
  • Ceviche $14
  • Roasted beets $9
  • Warm endive salad $14
  • Organic half roast chicken $18
  • Secreto $18
  • Oxtail risotto $21

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