Behind the Line: El Pimiento in Miami Lakes

El Pimiento in Miami Lakes is an owner-operated Spanish tapas restaurant. Mylo Gonzalez is the dude in charge, but don't call him chef -- he prefers culinary director. Mylo says, "I never went to culinary school. I'm not a chef; forget the chef stuff. This is the real-deal home cooking. I use Old World recipes and throw in my own touch, and I get critiqued for experimenting. People are so hung up on what's authentic. Here's my family history: I was born in Cuba. My great-grandfather was German-Andalusian. My mom was born in Spain, and she breastfed me... I am a Spaniard... that's what I came out of. I grew up eating the food. My mom was a corporate executive chef for the Marriott chain. I use 100 percent family recipes, take what she taught me, and make it my own."

Many consider Spain the world's culinary capital, with cuisine steeped in a tradition of experimentation. Therefore, an authentic Spanish restaurant necessarily pushes boundaries. Maybe that's why the place won our Best Tapas for 2010. You will find 78 items on the menu, some of them traditional, some made up by Mylo. There's a Portobello mushroom stuffed with imported Spanish chorizo, topped with melted cheese, and served on a Canary Islands "mojo picon picante" sauce, for example.

Mylo's right-hand man, Phil, worked as a cook in Madrid and brings his experience to the table as well.

Kitchen staff member Maria D. has been working at El Pimiento for three years. She moved here from Catalunya Barcelona three years ago.

Mylo's wife, Tiffany Gonzalez, who co-owns and helps run the place, started out as a customer at the restaurant. She says, "I came here with my mom and had the garbanzo frito (sautéed with chorizo, ham, green and red peppers, and onions). I liked them a lot, so I kept coming back, and now I'm pregnant. They're the best garbanzo beans ever."

El Pimiento also offers live entertainment. When we were there Friday, there was a DJ and a Spanish dancer. The place was loud and lit like a nightclub. People were clapping and seemed to be having a good time.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen...

Out front there was more dancing.

There's also outdoor seating:

And El Pimiento also bottles and sells its own brand of olives. According to Phil, they're "Directamente de la finca en España."

El Pimiento is a pretty cool little place.

For more info, visit elpimiento.net.

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