Opening a restaurant is a risky business. Patrons are fickle, trends revolve, and time is stacked against you. But in a sea of defunct eateries, Ortanique on the Mile continues to thrive 20 years later. Consistency seems to be the key.
Not much has changed at the restaurant on Miracle Mile since it debuted July 1, 1999. The Caribbean-inspired favorite still maintains the iconic orange awnings and eclectic motif. More important, patrons can still enjoy original menu items sucha s creamy pumpkin bisque and feverish jerk dishes, says Ashley Hutson, daughter of co-owner Cindy Hutson and stepdaughter of co-owner Delius Shirley.
"We have tried to keep the same culture and vibe we had from the beginning. We do keep up with the times and trends, but for the most part, our regulars won't let us change the core menu," Ashley says.
And on a recent Friday evening, business is steady. Lining Ortanique's elevated gold bar is a boisterous crowd enjoying happy-hour bites and cocktails, while the aromas of Chef Hutson's signature "cuisine of the sun" wafts throughout a packed dining room.
Ashley now runs most of the operations in Coral Gables while her parents expand operations, including Zest's locations in downtown Miami and at the Cliff Hotel in Negril, Jamaica. But like most success stories, Ashley recalls her parents' humble beginnings.
When Ortainque opened, it faced the hurdle of selling a Caribbean-inspired fine-dining concept to Coral Gables locals. Despite their success at Norma's at the Beach — aptly named for Shirley's celebrity-chef mother — the Gables was a different animal.
"I was very young when we opened Ortanique, but we were really one of the few restaurants on the Mile. The Gables really needed more restaurants, and our cuisine was very unique. But like any opening, getting new customers and selling the brand and vision my parents created was hard at first. Me and my brother were also both under the age of 10, so building a brand while being a mother and taking care of us was a challenge as well," Ashley says.
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Fast-forward to 2019, and Ortanique is now a matured concept celebrating its 20th birthday. In honor of this achievement, the restaurant will host an elaborate five-course menu created by Hutson and Shirley and paired with wines from Frank Family Vineyards. The event will commence with a champagne reception and hors d'oeuvres tonight, July 17.
Appetizers include savory offerings such as baked oysters stuffed with spinach, sunchokes, and melted Comte cheese; certified Angus beef tartare served in a crisp potato cup; and blueberry and goat cheese tots. The first course offers a cobia tiradito with leche de tigre, Meyer lemon foam, and truffled charred corn bits. Braised Angus short ribs and oxtail, served with foie buttered mashed potatoes and tricolor carrot salad is the third course. A fourth course of Miyazaki Wagyu steak is paired with a hearty portion of cheddar root vegetable gratin. A quince panna cotta with lavender honey and pear apricot compote will finish the meal. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Baptist Cancer Institute. The evening will include a silent auction and door prizes.
Looking forward, the family hopes to continue its success and flesh out some similar international concepts. "We hope to still be around for another 20 years. We love the Gables and hope to continue our legacy of unique fresh flavorful food," Ashley says.
Ortanique on the Mile 20th-Anniversary Dinner. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 17, at 278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-446-7710; cindyhutsoncuisine.com. Dinner costs $275; reservations are recommended.