Vivian Belzaguy, along with British-born Andy Bates and wife Frenchy Mingo (who met over Ms. Cheezious sandwiches), bested six competitors Thursday night during a cook-off at Florida International University's Biscayne Bay campus to decide who would win a free restaurant space for a year.
The trio will open in their British gastropub concept the Avenue in the coming months on the ground floor of the Filling Station Lofts. The North Miami Avenue edifice in the Omni district straddles Wynwood and downtown on the edge Overtown. For nearly a year, the building's developer, NR Investments, has been funding the events and signs you may have seen for the Arts & Entertainment District. There have been live music performances, a flea market, barbecues, and outdoor movies in one of the area's yet-to-be-developed lots.
But the project "A&Eats: The Search for Miami’s Next Great Restaurant Concept" was the most ambitious and likely the costliest stunt to infuse life into the area. Countless entrants from across the world submitted applications for the space. First-round finalists were narrowed down to more than a dozen, and online voters settled on the final six. Among the judges deciding the winner Thursday night was Taquiza's Steve Santana, Beaker & Gray's Ben Potts, and Food Republic's Richard Martin.
Competitors had about 20 minutes each to explain their concept to a panel of six judges, serve two to three courses, and take questions.
Belzaguy, Mingo and Bates took the win with a beef-and-bone-marrow pie topped with puff pastry and served with mashed potatoes. They also seemed to be the only team that took the crowd of about 70 into consideration, and throughout their service, Scotch eggs — soft-boiled quail eggs wrapped in Cumberland sausage meat — made their way around the room. Belzaguy lives in Miami and will be co-managing preparations as Bates and Mingo begin the process of relocating from London. "I want to go back to basics of British cooking," Bates told the New Tropic, which partnered with the district to promote the competition.
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The gastropub element was a big theme throughout the night, and there was no shortage of tattoos, beards, and contrasting canvas aprons.
Triciclo, a Spanish concept, broke the mold with a dish of codfish cheeks, squid aioli, piquillo peppers, and watermelon radishes. Cilantro Gastro Pub, which hoped to fuse Indian and Peruvian elements in the same dishes, offered quinoa papadum crackers with cilantro chutney and huancaína. A coconut grouper ceviche came next, followed by samosas filled with crayon-yellow ají de gallina or botija olives.
Some contestants took time to break away from plated dishes to experiment with cocktails. The team from Art & Craft, helmed by Laurence McMillon, who runs the Adrienne Arsht Center's Brava restaurant, rolled out the bar cart before dishing out lobster tostadas and curried lamb lollipops.
Let's hope the Avenue makes good on its promise to do British food right. At the moment, Coral Gables' Seven Dials, with its bevy of house-made charcuterie and pristine fish 'n' chips with lemon-spiked mushy peas, is the only place in town doing the concept right.